Monday, September 20, 2010

Floor Me

The search has been on for solid wood flooring and paneling for the tiny house for almost three weeks. I've looked all kinds of places, but the selection is limited and prices for even the most basic - knotty pine - are quite high.

We got an offer a while ago for several pallet loads of cheap 2 x 4s. The only drawback is, they're all about four feet long. At the time we weren't yet ready to start building our tiny house and the only thing we could imagine using them for was blocking. We had no easy way to look at them and assess the grade of the lumber, and at that naive early stage we didn't appreciate the difficulty and expense of sourcing solid wood for flooring and paneling.

Fortunately, our source called us back and reminded us before it was too late to accept the offer. This time around our imaginations were on fire with ideas for using so much doug fir, especially after our friend told us it was stamped "kiln dried". Doug fir of this mixed low grade is never offered as kiln-dried, so I gather it must have been used as sticking between pieces of higher grade lumber as it was kiln dried. From what I understand, kiln drying takes the wood down to a certain low moisture level before sale, reducing further warping and cracking. A wood purist would acknowledge that kiln drying doesn't mean the boards haven't picked up atmospheric moisture that will dry out again later. After milling and installation there will still be some changes and irregularities, due to natural variations in wood grain and structure. Nonetheless, we could rip these 2x4s and  use them as plank flooring without excessive risk of buckling, cupping, or lifting. With a few extra milling steps, we could even make our own tongue and groove planks, improving the stability even more.

This time we said yes to the doug fir, and took delivery on Sunday. I was nervous. Nine pallets sounds like a lot, and we don't have an accessible consolidated area to store them, so we knew we'd have to break down the piles and move them by armloads to a couple piles strategically placed around the tiny house. Plus I hadn't even seen them. Would they be scattered with nails? Ridiculously knotty? Why would anyone give away perfectly good lumber?

It turned out to be perfectly good lumber. Mostly. It was clear right away that a certain small percentage was good for nothing but firewood. The remaining boards fell into three categories; good enough to make two ripped planks, good enough to make one ripped plank, and not good for planks at all. Overall we sorted out over 550 boards we wanted to keep and mill, and approximately 750 we'll find another home for (see our Craigslist post).

After we deconstructed the massive shrinkwrapped pallets, sorted and restacked them by hand into our keep and go piles, we got out a few power tools to see how the milling process would go. The first feasibility tests weren't so hot. Our 8" bandsaw has only a narrow scrollwork blade currently, and we suspect it doesn't have enough engine power to drive a bigger blade. We ended up hand feeding a couple boards through the table saw in two passes each. For production we would set up feather boards and keep things beautifully aligned, but we were just trying to get a quick idea of what our method would be and how fast we could produce usable tongue & groove.

I think the resulting boards were quite beautiful after we ran them through the planer twice, once on each side. Now we're trying to source the router bit set designed to produce tongue and grove on 1/2" stock. We've been to three stores already with no luck yet. Might have to order that one on the internet.