Blog #1

Welcome to my brand new blog. I’m Roy Gibson, the owner and principle labor force for Laughing Coyote Woodworks, the site where I sell my work.

Though this blog is part and parcel of our business and its purpose is in part, to help generate interest in our site, I do not intend to write a series of thinly veiled sales pitches. I may often use one of our items as a starting point, but I hope to cover a wide range of topics that all fall under the very large heading of woodworking and hopefully pass along some of the fascination and interest I feel.

I have been working wood in some way or other for as long as I can remember. My father had a basement shop that he used to build many of the things in our house, from my sisters’ bunk bed and desks to the grandfather clock in our dining room. I was down there watching and helping with simple tasks from my childhood and as I grew I learned more. I’m now in my mid fifties and still own some of the tools I inherited from my father, tools I literally grew up with.

I’ll attempt with future posts to share with you some of the things I’ve learned about the technical aspects of woodworking like joinery and finishing, about the wood itself in its many varieties and how trees become lumber, and on the infinite variety of things we use it for. I don’t have much of a plan yet, a few ideas, some topics I’m interested in exploring, but I expect the blog will develop a “personality” of its own in time. I’ll do my best not to bore you to tears.

Since I’ve spent so much space on the introduction, I‘ll make my first topic a short one and go over some wood terminology that can be confusing.

Perhaps the biggest confusion regards the difference between hardwoods and softwoods. The confusion results from the fact that a wood’s actual hardness has nothing to do with its classification. Though it is generally true that woods classified as hardwoods are harder than those called softwoods, the distinction is made based on the type of tree, with softwoods coming from conifers, and the hardwoods coming from angiosperms, which here in the mainland US are usually deciduous trees. Balsawood, the ubiquitous craft material that you can cut with a box knife is a hardwood, as is the similar sounding basswood, which you have probably encountered in the form of wooden matches, while Yew, being an evergreen, is classified as a softwood, though it is hard enough and strong enough to be a favored wood for making the famous English long bow.

Another area of confusion is in the way wood is sold. Dimensional lumber, such as you can buy at home building centers in the US, is particularly notorious for this since a “2 by 4” is actually a 1 ½ by 3 ½, and a “1 by 12” is actually ¾ by 11 ¼. The nominal or named dimension originally came from the rough sawn dimensions, not the finished dimension that you see stacked up at the building supply store. Even worse, the standard dimensions have changed over time. A “2 by 4” used to be 1 5/8 by 3 5/8 and a sheet of ¾ inch plywood did in fact used to be exactly ¾’ thick, but has now been downsized to 23/32.

With hardwoods it is even more confusing. Hardwood thickness is listed in “quarters” or ¼ inch increments starting with “4 quarter” for a nominal 1 inch thickness, “8 quarter” for 2 inch and so on. Hardwoods that have been surfaced and sold as “4 quarter” are actually 13/16” thick. So, not only is a dimensioned piece of wood sold as being 1” thick not a full inch, its actual thickness will depend on whether you are buying a hardwood or softwood construction lumber. In addition, since most hardwoods are sold in random widths and lengths, the price will be for a “board foot” of wood which is, in essence, a measure of volume. A board foot is a piece of wood exactly one foot on each side and one inch thick, a board 2 inches thick, 6 inches wide and 1 foot long also contains exactly 1 board foot of wood.

Now that I’ve completely confused you, I hope you will join me for my further musings on my trade, and of course I hope you’ll visit our website, maintained by my wife Patti, and take a look at our offerings.

Good day to you. Happy Thanksgiving.


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  • paperkingdoms

    Good to see you up and running! And I’m pondering, a bit, how those things that we got introduced to early on (I spent chunks of time in lumber yards with my dad, too) seem more like… secret languages, or code than similar things that you encounter later on that seem ridiculous and confusing. And it’s good to unpack them. But it’s striking how much this carries nostalgia for me. Anyway.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  • rgibson

    Hi paperkingdoms! Every craft and profession has it’s own set of arcane terms and jargon. I’m glad this awakened some pleasant memories for you. I have many fond memories of trips to buy wood and materials with my father too. Thanks for reading!

  • Bob

    Roy, I must say that was very interesting. Now I understand softwoods and hardwoods much better. Nothing like a trip to the lumber yard as a kid to fill my head with creative ideas. Even when out of town visiting family we would somehow end up going to the lumber yard. I wonder what memories my kid will have? Lowes or Home Depot? Looking forward to your next entry.

  • rgibson

    Hi Bob, thanks for stopping buy. I’m glad I was able to clarify the hardwood/softwood distinction for you. I am lucky to have a couple of good lumberyards not too far from me, and though I drop into Home Depot now and then myself, it would be a shame if that’s what we’re all reduced to using. The next one is written in draft, it’ll be up when I get my lazy butt around to cleaning it up.
    Thanks for reading!

  • Lowell Wilson

    Hey Roy, I just heard about this site and thought I would stop in long enough to say “hello.”  Haven’t seen you since we were in school together as kids.  I hear you’re still listening to Oriole games up there in Vermont at night when the signal carries (heard this from Artie Warshaw and Jim Skipper).  Sounds like you’ve found a very nice niche for yourself.  Hope all is going well!

    • Roy

       Hi Lowell,
      Great to hear from you. Yep, I’m still an Orioles fan, looking forward to the upcoming series against the Nats this weekend. I hope you’re doing well also. Do you still live in the Balto area? Since you are in contact with Skip and Artie, I assume so. Lets hope the O’s keep playing the way they have been so far. Take care.