From The Shop: Thin Stock   4 comments

It all started with a phone call. There was a wedding in crisis. They needed my help. It was an emergency.


Some other engraver had dropped the ball, somehow, and a wedding planner was left without some key elements for the wedding she was producing. She needed 200x engraved wooden menus for a wedding happening in 8 days. There was no time – no time – to order thin stock from the vendor my engraver typically uses. Could I make some thin stock blanks … and what would it cost … to deliver in just 2 days?

OK, go.

Getting information was problematic from that point. What stock did they want? They didn’t know.

It looked like the original prototype from the previous engraver had been done on plywood from a big box store … which is generally some IDKWII (pronounced ii-DUH-kwee) wood imported from southeast Asia that does not engrave well – it looked and engraved very similar to red oak, in fact. Pretty enough as sheet stock, but engrave on it? Bad idea.

IDKWII, by the way, is I Don’t Know What It Is. Woodworkers have an answer for everything.

So, OK, we could use real wood … but what kind? Pine from the local big box store? That’s easy to get, and I could get it in quantity … and pay high prices for wood that’s known to be green, wet and have huge numbers of defects. I ran the numbers, and found that I could go shop at the big orange store, to buy what they call “white wood” (what they call any of the soft wood species they happen to have. It’s usually Pine.). Or, I could go buy some Hard Maple at my favorite somewhat local lumber yard in Oxnard, and pay about the same.

The best wood for engraving, in my opinion, is Hard Maple. This close-grained, light-colored wood makes a highly legible engraving – something that is lost on woods with a higher porosity, darker color, or both. Pine would be OK, but since the price would be about the same…. Other woods might also work (Beech?), but I just didn’t have time to do more research. I had 48 hours, and the project wasn’t even approved yet.

So, I called my engraver – hopefully soon to be my client – and proposed a price that was high, but fair. She built that into her proposal, and took it to the wedding planner.

Saturday, 10:30am: approved. Get it done. Quickly.

I immediately turned and went to my lumberyard … because in my extensive research, I learned that they close at noon on Saturdays. And they’re 60 minutes away … so I would have 30 minutes to select, buy and have them cut the wood into pieces small enough to fit into my Jeep. No time for alternate transportation. There’s just enough time to go. Go. Go.

While driving, I decided to buy 6/4 Hard Maple – that is to say, boards that are 1-1/4″ thick when purchased sanded smooth on 2 sides, as this lumberyard sells. I felt that I could get good yields of thin stock from 6/4 Hard Maple, plus I had planned to buy some this month for my next batch of serving pieces, so I could over buy, have plenty for this emergency project with NO TIME FOR MISTAKES, and use the remaining Maple in a few weeks.

When I got to the lumberyard, I walked straight to the 6/4 and started pulling boards. I tried to select boards about 5″ wide to minimize waste and offcuts, but there were only a few of those in the rack. I ended up selecting 15x 9′ lengths that were between 5″ and 10″ wide. The yard guys tallied it up, and I went to the cashier … who told me it was 118 board feet for $237. Then, realizing his mistake, told me it was $948. I told him that also wasn’t right, and we settled on $450.08. You have to be smarter than the process….

On the way home, I called my client, who told me there were also blanks needed for table numbers and gift tags. Surprise! It was such a good idea that I planned to over buy lumber! In the end, the order was for:

  • 200x menu blanks, 4-3/4″ x 10-3/4″ x 3/16″
  • 25x table number blanks, 4″ x 6″ x 1/4″
  • enough blanks to make 200 1″ diameter gift tags, 1/8″ thick

I had thought I would use the bandsaw to do a technique called resawing, which is how you slice thin stock off of vertically held, thicker, wide stock. I have tried that before and never been good at it … but I have a new band saw. Maybe now? Nope, that didn’t work well, and it wasn’t going to be quick, either.

So, I switched to the faster but more wasteful technique of resawing on a table saw. Why is it wasteful? Because my table saw blade is 3/32″ wide (MUCH wider than a bandsaw blade), and it converts that much stock to sawdust every time I take a cut. And when you’re making 250x blanks, it adds up. Quickly.

But, I have had great success with this technique on my table saw before, and I was in a hurry. Table saw resawing it is.

Here’s the photo essay of how it went, from boards to blanks to engraving.

Delivery in 48 hours? No problem.

4 responses to “From The Shop: Thin Stock

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  1. I hope you doubled your price for getting everything done within a week. Very nice menu board. Are you going to buy an engraving machine to start doing this type of work on a regular basis?

    • I’ve considered buying a laser engraver, but I have a wonderful local engraver that is great to work with … and her machine doesn’t take up more room in my crowded shop. Win, Win. I’ll stick to the boards & leave the decoration with laser-induced fire up to her.

  2. You know that once you fill in an “emergency” you’re going to get more of those calls! Good advertising but too many expectations of “48 hours” or less and you’ll go nuts, lol – make sure you get ‘fair’ recompense for that beautiful work!!

  3. I definitely have a policy of “no one-off projects,” but this one still snuck in there. Doing a favor for a friend is always a good thing.

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