In search of custom cut hardwood
July 25, 2010 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Are there any good lumber suppliers that can provide hardwoods (maple, cherry, etc) cut to specific widths, lengths and depth and ship the cut wood within the US? The reason for the specific dimensions is that I use a service called Ponoko (Ponoko.com) for the initial laser cutting of my art. They currently can only accept three generic sizes in their laser-cutting machines with a maximum depth of 10mm (roughly 3/8"). I've contacted a number of hardwood suppliers but none of them can supply widths of 15+ inches.

Additional info: Ponoko offers a limited number of materials to choose from (and no hardwoods, just veneers), however they will work with other suppliers at their client's (me in this instance) request for custom materials, which is why I am searching for suppliers for hardwoods.

Specifics:

1) Custom plane/rip hardwoods to thicknesses of 10mm (~3/8") or less?
-- (Ponoko's laser-cutters cannot cut through lumber over 10mm [~3/8"] thick)

2) Can finish cut the lumber to a variety of sizes:
a) 7 1/2" x 7 1/2"
b) 15 1/2" x 15 1/2"
c) 15 1/2" x 30 1/2"
(These are Ponoko's template dimensions for the three sizes they allow)

3) Can provide these specifications in a variety of hardwoods (maple, walnut, cherry, etc)?

4) Can ship the lumber to Ponoko's US factory in San Francisco, CA?

At least initially these would be very small quantities as Ponoko would actually be working with them to order the lumber on an as needed basis (so I won't be able to do any bulk ordering since I will actually just be providing the information to Ponoko who will then provide me with a custom quote for the lumber and laser-cutting work...hopefully that makes sense).

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide. I've been exhaustively searching the web for the last two weeks but have had no success.
posted by ogunther to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Of all the US hardwood trees that get processed, only a very small percentage are large enough to provide single boards over 15" wide. When you see solid wood cabinetry with doors or drawers of such large dimensions, they are almost always either glued up from multiple narrow pieces. So, you first have to establish whether you're looking for 15" wide single boards or for glued-up panels. Then you have to look for both an appropriate lumber dealer AND ALSO a woodshop willing to do the gluing and/or machining for you. The roughsawn boards will start out at 1" thick or thicker. They will have to be resawn into thinner slabs with a large and well-tuned bandsaw, then surfaced with a planer and/or a widebelt sander. In other words, you're looking for a good cabinet or furniture maker, because that's the sort of business that keeps these sorts of machines.
posted by jon1270 at 12:32 PM on July 25, 2010


Timber much above 15cm (6 inches) wide is pretty hard to come by anywhere. When people who work with wood need wide boards, they usually join several lengths of timber side-by-side using biscuit joints or dowels. Timber wider than a few inches tends to be very prone to 'cupping', where stresses in the material cause the wood to shrink more on one face than the other; by joining several lengths of timber you can reduce this effect overall by alternating the directions of the rings (I'd need a diagram to explain properly). If you simply cut a piece of timber 15" wide and 10mm or less thick, it's going to distort all over the place, which is why hardly anyone ever does it.

And to be honest, you're unlikely to get close to 10mm thickness even with biscuit-jointed planks, unless you can find someone with some pretty sharp woodworking skills. Boards used in furniture tend to be at least twice that thickness.

This is why you'll almost certainly have to make do with veneers if you need single pieces 15+ inches across, and why Ponoko don't supply such a thing.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:36 PM on July 25, 2010


Additionally, are you considering the likely stability problems you'll face with such wide boards? Unless you're using quartersawn lumber (which would be exponentially harder to find in such sizes) these wide boards will cup with any significant change in moisture content. If these things need to remain very flat then you're setting yourself up for huge headaches.
posted by jon1270 at 12:36 PM on July 25, 2010


condon in white plains ny might be worth contacting: (914) 946-4111‎. doubtful on sizes 15" and above, but they had quite an amazing selection of exotic woods when i was last there (years ago).
posted by kimyo at 1:10 PM on July 25, 2010


I think the suppliers you've been talking to have done you a bit of a disservice by a) not telling you how relatively crazy your stated needs are; and b) not suggesting joined/laminated options for your dimensions. Perhaps you didn't state your goals clearly to them, but as above it's clear there are ways to get what you want without being boards that haven't been available off the shelf for ages. Heck, but maybe you do require the quartersawn, in which case you'd probably be better off making friends with demolition crews than new-wood retailers.
posted by rhizome at 1:19 PM on July 25, 2010


I expect the above advice is pretty accuate, you might try places like Boulter they handle some amazing wood. High end plywoods may also work for you.
posted by sammyo at 2:59 PM on July 25, 2010


I have the tremendous luck to be local to A&M Wood, a world-class supplier ... and the two larger sizes you're asking for basically doesn't exist in their stocks except in rare specimens. And my god that stuff is expensive. You can get in touch with them, but I wouldn't be surprised if you heard a characteristically Canadian bit of quiet silence where someone else would be snorting in disbelief.

For your purposes I recommend applying veneer (for the clear grain) to glued-up panels of the same species. You should be able to find a cabinet maker jobber who is willing to make such panels for you for a reasonable fee.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:07 PM on July 25, 2010


As has been said, lumber 15" wide is pretty uncommon (and bloody expensive when you can get it).

If I were doing this, I would get a piece of 8 inch wide lumber, resaw it (rip it in half longways), true up the edges and then edge glue the pieces together and run the whole thing through a thickness sander. Yes, there would be a glue joint up the middle but if you book match the pieces (and the Ponoko people will center their pattern on the work piece) that could be a feature, not a bug.

I imagine their size requirements have more to do with how they hold the workpiece in place than anything else. So the question is, what are the requirements of the pieces you're having them make? Are you making a larger complex thing, or cutting a bunch of little things out of a big board. Does the grain need to run a specific way due to the stresses on the piece and seasonal expansion/contraction of the wood. Depending on this, the 7.5x7.5 might be the better option even if there is a lot of waste. You might even be able to source lumber from old pallets (which are made from nice hardwood a shocking percentage of the time). American Woodworker (I think) had a picture of a spalted maple jewelry box not to long ago - made from a pallet.

If solid wood (not hardwood ply) is that important to you, it may be worth your while to find a serious hobbyist who is looking for a way to make their hobby pay for itself and tell them you'd be willing to pay $X for Y panels. If you go that route, it would probably be better to pick up your stock, then place your order with Ponoko and ship the stock to them rather than hope they'll have the stuff ready on time.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:28 PM on July 25, 2010


Thank you all for the information. I've had to eat a bit of humble pie as I really should have considered a lot of the points made here.

In response to some of the additional questions and for clarity:

The only pieces I would actually be using the laser cutter to "cut out" pieces on would be the smaller size. For the pieces 15-1/2 inches wide I would be using the laser cutter to etch (basically carving) the surface but other than finish cutting the sides later, the piece would remain roughly 15-1/2" x 15-1/2".

For now, based on all the excellent information here I will be pursuing the veneer solution for the larger pieces though I have some projects in mind for the future that I can see using a hobbyist to custom create pieces for me once I have my own lasercutter and can better control the results.
posted by ogunther at 10:20 AM on July 26, 2010


We offer a few hardwoods for laser cutting on our website. As suggested on this thread, our wider pieces are, in fact, glued side-by-side.

Our supplier can get us 6 x 24 inch (nominal) pieces of various hardwoods, sanded, in 1/4 inch nominal thickness . We can also get these pieces glued up to 15 x 24 inches.

They do a good job with the joining; you have to look closely to tell that it's not a single piece of wood.
posted by BigBlueSaw at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2010


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