Welcome to Issue #07 of
Wood Shop News

brought to you by: wooden box maker.com

sharpening woodworking tools

In this issue:

  • the difference between hardwood and softwood
  • woodworking classes
  • new and for sale
  • in progress: holiday show dates
  • on a personal note
  • final words

  • The Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood

    Someone asked me recently about hardwoods. Specifically, she wanted to know why balsa - one of the softest woods in the world - is considered a hardwood.

    Good question. The answer is that hard and soft are the wrong words to use, since the wood classification has nothing to do with the strength of the wood.

    As you may have already discovered, not all hardwoods are hard and not all softwoods are soft. The designation actually depends on how the trees grow.

    Technically, the type of seed the tree has determines whether it is hardwood or softwood. Angiosperms are trees with covered seeds (such as fruit and nut trees, or trees with keys that spin like little helicopters as they fall from the tree).

    Gymnosperms are trees with naked seeds (pine cones for example). hardwood and softwood

    A more familiar classification is the distinction between deciduous trees (angiosperms) and conifers or evergreens (gymnosperms).

    Deciduous trees loose their foliage in the fall (with a few exceptions). Apple, birch, beech, walnut and maple are all common New England deciduous trees with covered seeds, and hence are hardwoods. hardwood and softwood

    Conifers, such as the pines and fir trees, are gymnosperms, trees with naked seeds. These trees retain their leaves (needles) year round (again with few exceptions) and are among the softwoods.

    There are also cellular differences between hard and softwoods, but as a woodworker the important distinction is not the classification as much as the characteristics of a given species. Most likely, your introduction to the different species of trees will be once they become boards, so for more on that check out this article on how lumber is milled.

    As always, there are a few exceptions. Palm trees are technically neither hardwood nor softwood. They come from a separate family known as Arecaceae, and have significantly different cellular structure from either soft or hardwoods.

    Bamboo is also an exception. It isn't even wood, rather it is a species of grass. hardwood and softwood However, it is strong (hard-grass?) and works well for everything from flooring to furniture.

    Woodworking Classes

    (Located S/SW of Boston)

    Learn new skills or hone old ones in small group sessions tailored to the individual. woodworking classes Classes are limited to 3 people and take place in my shop outside Boston. They generally meet once a week for 2-3 hours. The sessions go on as long as students are interested, a few months or a few years.

    woodworking classes As students progress, class becomes "open shop" time when they work on the projects of their choice while I answer questions and give suggestions as things come up.

    Individual instruction is also available.

    Click on the links below or contact me for more information.
    woodworking classes
    student work

    New & For Sale

    Visit my sale page for new work and sale items.
    Or visit wooden box maker recommends for ideas on books and tools (category list top right of page).

    In Progress

    This time of year I'm usually busy making smaller items to sell at holiday art/craft shows. I have just a couple this year, one in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Ma and the other is my annual Open House.

    But before we get to that, it seems to me I promised a photo of the finished vanity I discussed in the last issue. So here it is:

    bathroom vanity

    Sat/Sun November 28 & 29

    Harvard Square Holiday Fairs

    3 Church Street
    Cambridge, Ma
    Sat 11:00-7:00
    Sunday 12:00-6:00

    December 6

    My third annual
    Open House and Holiday Sale
    at my shop outside Boston

    contact me for directions

    On a Personal Note

    I’m not sure if pessimism is an inherited trait, but it seems that I come by it naturally, so I was pleased to learn of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault aka the Doomsday Vault in Norway.

    Located deep in the arctic permafrost, the seed vault is a repository of seeds collected from across the world. The idea is that, in the event of a global catastrophe (rapid global warning for instance), a global repository of seeds will survive to insure the biodiversity of our food plants. Svalbard seed vault

    The vault is located in Svalbard Norway, an archipelago just 1000 kilometers (620 miles) from the North Pole. The building is dug into a mountainside and is entirely underground so that, even in the event of a prolonged power failure, the location will remain below freezing. The location also takes into account all known scenarios for rising sea levels (due to the above-mentioned global warming). The designers made the building to last “virtually forever.”

    The vault came about when scientists realized that war, politics and global temperature changes are causing, and will continue to cause, various plants to become rare or to go extinct. Of the thousands of food plants that were historically used in human diet fewer than 150 species are used today. Of those a mere 12 species make up the majority of today’s source of vegetables (keep in mind that each species includes a number of different varieties. Think of all the different tomatoes for example). Svalbard seed vault

    While science is good at manipulating plants to encourage growth in various conditions (producing drought resistant wheat, for instance), the process can take up to a decade. With the polar ice caps melting more rapidly than expected, it is possible, even probably, that global climate change may occur more quickly that expected. So it is essential that we maintain biodiversity in the plant world.

    While there are other gene storage banks in other parts of the world, many are in danger either from political instability (funding, wars, etc) or climate upheaval. The Svalbard vault is designed to be safe from both types of pressure.

    The Svalbard vault is not a gene bank, but rather a safe storage facility for duplicate seeds found in other banks. The seeds will not be accessed unless they are the only remaining seeds of that plant. Svalbard seed vault

    The facility itself consists of three separate underground chambers. Each chamber will have storage shelving for 1.5 million prepacked examples of food seeds (approximately 500 seeds for each species) from donor countries. As the seeds age they will be planted and new seeds retrieved so the vault will always have a fresh supply of seeds.

    The entrance of the vault is brightly lit so that it can be easily seen (reassuring for those of us with the previously noted pessimism). seed vault The vault opened February 2008 and within a year had over 400,000 species in storage. For more information visit their website: Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

    Final Words and Errata

    I hope you have enjoyed reading this ‘zine. Do you have ideas for future topics? Comments? Feedback? I'd love to hear from you. Just hit reply and tell me what you think.

    If you know someone who might enjoy this newsletter, please feel free to send it on. If a friend passed this on to you and you like what you read, please subscribe by visiting my website.

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    Kate Taylor Creative Woodworking