Question for woodworkers
April 21, 2017 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning to build a couple of tables and a laptop desk/cart loosely based on the design of these nesting tables—specifically, bases made of 1.5"x1.5" wood. The bases will be painted. Please help me choose the wood.

Menards (only option available) sells 2"x2"x8' (actual dimension: 1.5"x1.5"x8') select pine boards, with square edges for about $9, which makes this project more expensive than I planned. Could I use either of the following instead?

2"x3" studs, ripped down to 1.5"x1.5". Assuming I know how to choose the best wood from the available studs, am I likely to find the quality I need among this stock? (Note: I want the edges squared, not rounded like a typical 2"x2".)

3/4" "premium ACX" plywood, ripped into 1.5" strips, then glued back-to-back to make ~1.5"x1.5" boards, with woodfill on exposed edges. (As I mentioned, this will be painted.)

If I use anything other than plywood, is it necessary to let the wood acclimate before using it for this project? If so, for how long?

Other comments and advice (e.g., if the plywood option is feasible, what would I use to join the corners?) appreciated.
posted by she's not there to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Most wood you buy at a big box store is going to be kiln dried so it doesn't need much acclimation. You should, however, let it sit for a couple days at home (or wherever you're working on it) to acclimate to your environment.

Ripping studs can be tricky. They often have knots or twists in them that can make them downright dangerous to rip on a tablesaw. If you go that route use only the straightest ones you can find. Also, you're not going to rip them down to 1.5 if they're 2x3. Unless you're starting with rough sawn stock a 2x3 is going to be more like 1.5x2.5. If you then square off the edges you're going to lose even more. Also you'll lose 1/8 inch from the saw blade.

Look into poplar. It's usually pretty cheap and big box stores tend to have it in various useful dimensions.

Plywood would certainly be more stable. You can usually find edge banding that you apply with a hot iron. I'm not sure how it takes paint though.

A Kreg pocket hole jig would probably be the easiest way to do the joinery.
posted by bondcliff at 6:38 AM on April 21, 2017

Dimensional lumber sold for stick framing of houses is only sorta-dry; it's not fully kiln-dried like lumber that's meant for furniture or interior trim. Ripping 2x4's down the middle is likely to produce a lot of twisted banana shapes, not straight sticks.

What kind of equipment do you have? The linked plans suggest a circular saw, but ripping studs neatly with a hand-held circular saw is almost impossible, and would leave you with a lot of heavy sanding to do at the very least. I would guess that the author of those plans is conveniently forgetting to mention that he has a table saw and maybe a small jointer to make such constructions quick and easy.

I would not laminate plywood for these frames. It's great for broad panels, but it doesn't make good sticks and would give you weak corner joints.

If you have minimal equipment and experience, then I'd say the select pine might be worth the price. All you'd have to do is neatly chop it to length, keeping the lengths very consistent and the ends square (do you have a miter saw?), drill for pocket screws (do you have a Kreg jig?) and put it together. It might be more expensive than you hoped, but chances of success and satisfaction would be high and it wouldn't take forever.
posted by jon1270 at 7:44 AM on April 21, 2017

3/4" ply is actually 23/32". Just FYI.

If it were me and I really wanted to stay as close to 1-1/2" members, I'd go with cutting the studs to length and then ripping them. But I'm quite comfortable with a table saw. I'm not sure what "quality" you're going for, so I can't say if stud material is right for you and your project. Studs are usually graded "No. 2 or better" which means there's lots of wany edges, knots and varying straightness.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:46 AM on April 21, 2017

I would second the poplar suggestion - it's often used for paint grade projects is fairly affordable, and is quite nice to work with in my estimation. The pine is a good option too, though is a bit soft and I find it doesn't keep sharp corners very well if getting banged up (poplar might fair only a bit better here though). As mentioned, just keep the lumbar in your space for a couple days to acclimatize. Wood movement shouldn't be a huge concern with this particular design, especially since you are screwing things together and this is narrow stock.

I'd hesitate to use the plywood face to face like this only because it could become tough to woodfil the edges to smoothness, though this depends on the quality of your plywood as you know. Adding edge stripping seems unnecessarily complicated to what seems like a simple project.
posted by elke_wood at 8:23 AM on April 21, 2017

I don't have the kreg jig, but will likely purchase this if I can't borrow it. I will have access to a table saw and a miter saw—I wouldn't attempt to rip the studs with a circular saw. (Although I use my circular saw often, the times it's kicked back on me with a bead toward my femoral artery are never far from my mind.)

Re cutting to length before ripping: that seems embarrassingly obvious now, but I hadn't thought of that.

Appreciate the answers so far and I'll check into the price of poplar, which I had assumed would be significantly more expensive.
posted by she's not there at 10:29 AM on April 21, 2017

And re ripping the 2x3 (1.5"x2.5"), I'm talking about taking off the sides of the 2.5" face.
posted by she's not there at 10:35 AM on April 21, 2017

Rather than take the sides off a 2x4, I would get 2x10s or even 2x12s if you can find them. They are usually to my eye more solid/dense than 2x4s. They "feel" nicer as wood. The reason to get wide ones is that you can cut sticks off the sides and leave the center chunk, which will often be small circular end grain. 2x4s are usually kind of *all* the small circular end grain.

Here's someone who describes it way better than me

Like him I tend to go by the lumber area every time I go to Home Depot or Lowes and I'll take home a board or two if they look good. I mostly use these for informal or shop projects, but I think they'd actually make fine furniture. Once you have cut boards square and straight they stop looking like 2x4s.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2017

I'm sorry, are you suggesting buying 2x12's, paying the higher board foot price, just to cut out the middle 15% of the board and waste the rest? Certainly applying the advice given about selecting boards by their end grain, in the article you linked to, to 2x3 or 2x4 material is a far more prudent choice.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:46 AM on April 22, 2017

I'm sorry, are you suggesting buying 2x12's, paying the higher board foot price, just to cut out the middle...

I'm pretty sure RustyBrooks is suggesting discarding the center and keeping the pieces cut off the edges. It's not a bad idea.
posted by jon1270 at 9:46 AM on April 22, 2017

I'm pretty sure RustyBrooks is suggesting discarding the center and keeping the pieces cut off the edges. It's not a bad idea.

Yeah, this. I'd use everything but probably an inch or two of the middle. Some of the boards will have usable middles and you can use the whole thing.

You can sometimes find good 2x4s. But you can make a 2x4 from tiny narrow trees, and they often do. These are usually terrible. You can't make a 2x12 from a tiny tree so they at least have a decent chance of being a decent piece of wood.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:38 PM on April 22, 2017

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