Hardwood for DIY projects

Norway is not known for its DIY culture. Because of this, a major obstacle is obtaining hardwoods suitable for making furniture. As far as I am aware, my closest lumber yard offering hardwoods is located 120 km away in Trondheim: Nilsson Trelast. The selection of hardwoods available there is limited to ash, birch and oak.

An alternative approach is to use oak material made especially for shelving and kitchen counters, and to cut this into suitable strips. Shelving is typically 18 mm thick and in a variety of widths including 200 and 300 mm. These are available in 800, 1200 and sometimes up to 2100 mm lengths. Kitchen counters are 25 mm thick 600 mm wide and 2400 mm long. These materials are available from Biltema: http://www.biltema.no/no/ and Clas Ohlson https://www.clasohlson.com

A third source of materials is to re-purpose existing furniture. Yesterday, we visited four used stores in Levanger. There I found in total one oak table that could have been re-purposed.

If I could select any type of hardwood for my current furniture projects, I would choose beech. My second choice would be birch. At the present time, I cannot find these materials in suitable dimensions. Thus, I am reduced to using either oak, pine or spruce.

Pine has two major problems associated with it. First, pine scratches and dents easily. It is extremely soft, even writing on a pine surface can leave imprints on the wood below. Second, it darkens with exposure to sunlight. This means that what you see, is not what you get, at least over time. Related to this is a problem with knots. These need to be specially treated before use.

Spruce is a better product than pine, but is still not suited for the furniture projects I am interested in doing.

I am using oak as a default material. My hope is to locate sources of beech and birch. In North America, one of the most commonly available hardwoods is Maple. Yet, this is not available in Norway, despite growing here in copious quantities.

The following list of traits of hardwoods and softwoods expresses generalities. There are many exceptions.

SourceDeciduous treesConiferous trees
Main useFurniture and detailing, including doors and floors.Construction including studs, joists, rafters (building framework) and paneling and siding.
CostRelatively more expensive than softwoods.Relatively less expensive than hardwoods.
DensityHigher density than softwoods.Lower density than hardwoods.
Areas foundFound almost everywhere.Temperate northern hemisphere.
Growth RateSlow.Fast.
Other propertiesHarder and more dense (with exceptions such as Balsa). Greater durability.Softer and less dense. Lower durability. More knotty.
Notable speciesTemperate areas: Ash, Beech, Birch, Elm, Maple, Oak, Walnut.
Tropical areas: Balsa, Mahogany, Teak
Cedar, Douglas Fir, Pine Spruce

This weblog post was updated 2021/12/21. to eliminate Weeds from the title. This post formed part of a Needs, Seeds and Weeds website that belonged to my daughter, Shelagh. In addition, other things are also out of date, or my opinions have changed. Apart from the title, updating the text to a block format and other minor formatting changes, the text above this paragraph remains as it was before. Any significant content changes are found below this paragraph.

Maximum Dimensions

When a workshop is being designed, one of the first questions that has to be asked (and answered) is, What type of raw material is being used? While there are a lot of general workshops that can handle an assortment of raw materials, one material may distinguish it above all else. Currently, my workshop is oriented to woodworking, with an emphasis on hardwoods and furniture. Hardwood is harder and slower to cut than softwoods. So, whenever I have evaluated woodworking tools, it is to ensure that they can work with hardwoods. In many cases, it means having more electric power. For example, while many table saws and chop saws can operate using 1 200 Watts, I have selected machines that have 2 000 Watts.

The second question that has to be asked has to do with maximum dimensions. Many woodworking machines are designed for use on construction sites. In Scandinavia (not to mention USA and Canada) this means that they will be used with softwoods. The maximum sized board that has to be handled is typically 4 800 mm long, with a width of 300 mm and a thickness of 50 mm. Of course they also have to be able to handle a wide variety of sheet goods. these will typically have dimensions of 1 220 mm in width, by up to 3 000 mm in length. Thicknesses over 30 mm are extremely rare.

A furniture oriented workshop has to focus on other dimensions than those found on construction sites, although sheet goods are similar to those described above. With respect to lumber, there can be a need to work with thicker materials. At the Unit One workshop, the maximum design thickness is 75 mm. The maximum width is 300 mm and the maximum length is 2 400 mm. It should also be mentioned that boards up to 6 000 mm can be “chopped” into shorter lengths without problems. Beyond this, some doors may have to be opened. It is also possible to handle widths up to 600 mm. First position a board accurately at the chop saw using end stops. Make the first cut, flip the material, reposition, then make the second cut.

All of the woodworking equipment has been purchased with these dimensions in mind. This, in part, is why it has been so difficult to buy a chop saw, a sliding compound mitre saw, that can handle materials 300 mm in width, and 75 mm in thickness. Many chop saws are not suitable. It should also be noted, that I wanted to keep the commonality of blade size with the table saw. This meant 254mm x 30 mm. For several weeks I have tried to purchase a Scheppach HM 100 LXU. While the Scheppach is slightly over-dimensioned in terms of cutting width, it only just meets the workshop standard in terms of cutting depth. The reverse is true of the Ryobi EMS 254 L. With the workshop standard firmly in mind, I was able to substitute the Ryobi machine for the Scheppach without technical difficulty. Living with Ryobi green (or is it yellow?) instead of Scheppach blue may be another matter.

Ryobi EMS 254 L 1
Ryobi EMS 254 L, a sliding compound mitre saw. (Photo: Ryobi)
Ryobi EMS 254 L 2
Ryobi EMS 254 L in staged use. (Photo: Ryobi)

Sliding Compound Mitre Saw comparison

AttributeRyobi EMS 254 L Scheppach HM 100 LXU
Cross cuts at 90°90 x 300 mm78 x 340 mm
Compound cut 45°/45°58 x 200 mm 42 x 240 mm
Bevel cut 45°58 x 300 mm  42 x 340 mm
Mitre cut 45°90 x 200 mm78 x 240 mm
Speed4 500 /min5 000 /min
Power2 000 W2 000 W
Weight16 kg15.7 kg
Blade size254 x 30 mm254 x 30 mm

With table saws, the critical dimension is depth of cut. The Scheppach HS 105 table saw is adequately powered (2 000 Watts) and is able to cut material up to 80 mm in thickness. With planers, it is the width of material that is critical. The Meec 250-025 planer is also adequately powered (2 000 Watts) and is able to plane materials up to 330 mm wide. Combination jointer planers are often sold. The jointer on top is unnecessarily wide, while the thickness planer underneath is too narrow. My jointer needs will be met with a self-built spindle moulder capable of using a router bit 80 mm in height. This exceeds the workshop thickness standard.

One exception to the material rules of 75 x 300 x 2 400 mm maximum dimensions, has to do with lathes. Here, the maximum size is 300 mm in diameter, with a length of 1 000 mm. No lathe has been purchased yet, and this purchase will probably be delayed by up to four years because these will mainly be used in the production of dining room chairs.

This weblog post was updated 2021/12/21. to eliminate Needs from the title. This post formed part of a Needs, Seeds and Weeds website that belonged to my daughter, Shelagh. In addition, other things are also out of date, or my opinions have changed. Apart from the title, updating the text to a block format and other minor formatting changes, the text above this paragraph remains as it was before. Any significant content changes are found below this paragraph.

I am on table saw #2 at Cliff Cottage, a Bosch PTS-10 model, that works considerably better than its Scheppach predecessor. I have had even discussed replacing the Ryobi EMS 254 L mitre saw with something as simple as a Bosch PCM 800 S. Regardless of what happens, the Ryobi will not be allowed to exist as a functioning saw after the end of 2023.

Renewal of Furnishings

Ye have been enjoined to renew the furnishings of your homes after the passing of each nineteen years; thus hath it been ordained by One Who is Omniscient and All-Perceiving. He, verily, is desirous of refinement, both for you yourselves and for all that ye possess; lay not aside the fear of God and be not of the negligent. Whoso findeth that his means are insufficient to this purpose hath been excused by God, the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Bounteous.


Since I retired, Alasdair and I have made a few simple modifications to that building formerly known as the garage (with attached shed), but now referred to as the workshop (with attached annex). My hope is that this building will result in something more than just more conspicuous consumption, but will be a small center for practical social change.

In the Baha’i Faith, there is a requirement to refurbish, as shown in the above text. This text generates discussion, not only in terms of what should be included (cars?) but also the handling of antiques and rare possessions. Some days, I read the text as an admonition to keep possessions longer than is common today. The Tripp-Trapp chairs in the house are about 34 years and 28 years old, respectively. They are still used daily. None of our cars have lasted 19 years, yet. However, I will be very disappointed if my 2023 VW Buzz doesn’t last at least 19 years. In fact, I have every intention of keeping it until my 100th birthday in 2048, when it will be 25 years old.

VW Buzz
A VW I.D. Buzz prototype from 2017. It is expected to enter production in 2023. I am not sure how often I will be carrying surf boards on the roof, as I expect to end my active surfing career in 2018, at the age of 70. The Buzz may be in some way described as environmentally friendly, but it does consume large quantities of materials. It could become a symbol of conspicuous consumption in the future. (Photo: VW)

The workshop is designed to aid refurbishment, not just selfishly – but also in terms of community. It is a place where products are to be designed, and prototypes made. If the prototypes are successful, then further copies may be made. This may even involve batch production.

An equally important act is the publication of product information. The workshop is, naturally, an open source environment. Products designs developed there are to be made freely available to others.  This blog will be an important element in distributing information. However, there are other things that need to be done. One of the challenges of the open-source movement is quality control. Products need to be tested, and the results of those tests have to enter a feedback loop, so that designs can be improved.

Woodworking is the initial focus of the workshop. Shop cabinets and French cleat storage units will be some of the first products to be made. The goal is to have the workshop in working order by 2018.01.01. “Machine Alley”, a 6-meter (20 feet) long section of the workshop will consist of eight 600 mm (24 inches) long units, with a uniform height. Machines will have their own particular unit assigned to them. However, it should be a relatively easy task (less than one hour of work) to move a machine to a different location.

The first production machine purchased for the workshop, a planer. This length of wall is to be known as “Machine Alley”, and will be the location where stationary machines will be kept. Photo: Brock McLellan

A large number of wooden products are being considered for the workshop including: a replacement garden shed, a winter garden, kitchen cabinets, a replacement dining table and chairs. At the community level there may be a need for geodesic dome greenhouses that could be produced at this, or another workshop, in the Vangshylla community.

As our own personal refurbishment becomes more complete, I see a gradual transition to other materials than wood. A solar water heater is one example of a product that uses very little wood, more plastic and a lot of metal. With the use of active systems, it is here that we are entering the world of mechatronics (mechanics + electronics + a lot more).

Aerial Euler diagram showing the sub-fields of Mechatronics (Photo: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2012).

Personally, I would also like to learn other construction skills. I have made a decision that using a gym or studio to exercise is a waste of time and money. Lifting a few tons of wood or steel is as good exercise as lifting weights. I won’t even mention the word, spinning. In the Unit One blog, there has been some discussion about making paving stones, and using stucco (rendering) on walls. These activities will keep anyone in shape.

While I would like to work with heavy materials for as long as possible, aging is an ongoing process. At some point a refocusing on robotics may be natural. Regardless, a key element is a focus on community – and the needs of others. I am looking forward to using the workshop over the next 19 years. By then, at the age of 88, there could be yet another refurbishment, with new horizons opening for me to explore.