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Rare Woods USA Blog

Latest news and happenings at Rare Woods

Wedding of the century


Nope, not Chelsea Clinton.

My son Seamus and his beautiful wife Lucy were married in Surrey, England, this last weekend. It was a magical day and a powerful reminder of how much we should cherish our families, friends and life itself!

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CONGRATULATIONS SEAMUS AND LUCY, AND MUCH LOVE!!

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Rack and roll!


In South Africa where we had cheap wood and cheap and plentiful labor (as a result of a heart-breaking 65% unemployment rate) we built solid wooden racks, which over time are looking dangerously not four-square. Here in the USA there are brilliant interlocking steel racks that slot together like Meccano and can be bought cheap on the internet.

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Racking in a pile on the ground (and a lot of hard work to come)
We had lots of fun assembling them and my boss (my wife Jenny) gave a hand with the hammer on the first batch and even had fun driving the forklift. As the racks came from different manufacturers there was some ingenuity required in assembly (and also some ingenuity in keeping the marriage going) so for the second lot I used a local crew and now we have approx 165 racks which are filling up rapidly.

Choosing your wood is now much easier as each rack is labeled carefully as well as being listed on the computer and bundle book--- so we know exactly what we have in stock at all times (in theory at least Wink).

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Now stacked, labeled and ready for you

I am constantly amazed at how fast the world is changing. The second lot of racks we bought came from Alabama and were bought on the IRS Auction site (see www.irsauctions.com) which I find brilliant for woodworking equipment. I bought them whilst I was in Cape Town, South Africa via my computer. After paying I had two weeks to find a transporter to take to Maine (an expensive exercise) but we also had to find a rigger as they were in poor shape. Lots of fun but we sorted it all out on Skype (another great service!) and we saved about 50% over new stuff. Only later did I find that I could get good second hand stock at same sort of price much closer to home, but I’m not going to beat myself up too much.

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A fool and his bandsaw are easily parted


Bad days… We all have them and so often they are caused by our own damn foolishness. With this little mishap I have only myself to blame and I do feel pretty stupid about it.

But first some background....

It has been my intention to get a Baker resaw (www.baker-online.com), as we have a need to resaw our ebony, kingwood and tulipwood cants amongst others. These woods being extremely hard, dense and somewhat abrasive require special care in conversion. In our South African operations we have perfected the process by using quality narrow bandsaw blades (see www.simonds.cc) and our own special hook angle. We resharpen using old precision German equipment (Vollmer- see www.vollmer-us.com) and get between 12 and 17 sharpenings per blade, which is very cost effective.
For our American operations we are going to use “monkeys” (www.munkfors.com) - top quality Swedish steel. Yeah, I know - US steel in South Africa and Swedish steel in USA—talk about globalization!!!

Until we increase sales substantially, we cannot afford the Baker resaw. Instead I have bought a really nice looking Italian Centauro 28 inch bandsaw, with intentions of adding a feeder unit and resawing manually. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the IRS Auctions site (www.irsauctions.com) is in my experience the best site to find good woodworking machines on auction.

Unfortunately the Centauro had 560 volt electrics and the cost implications to wire up were such that it was more effective to buy a 440 volt machine and sell it. Frustrating, but I guess you live and learn - I certainly do (and subsequently sometime forget again!). So we needed to move the Centauro out the way to make space for the new machine.

Pretty simple job – just pop it on a forktruck, have two strapping guys on either side to steady it and move it 300 yards between sheds.

Simple. Simple. Simple…

…Except that apparently it was actually me that was simple… in the head! We set off and picked up some speed… that rapidly turned into a minor speed wobble… strapping guys jumped for their lives and the machine took an awkward nosedive into the dirt.

That look, my friends, is called 'sheepiness'. Please appreciate how we also managed to the forktruck stuck in the process!


Even more attractive from this angle (as the forktrucks have a giggle together in the background)

Amazingly we only broke the table angle adjustment device, but into many pieces and cast iron needs great skills in welding and/or brazing. All I needed to do to prevent it was to strap it to the uprights of the forktruck. Now I have got bits of bandsaw lying all over and every time I sight them I feel dumb.... that's about $300 of damage for 30 seconds of stupidity.

Anybody with cast iron welding experience looking for a bargain???

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.


Not good

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Live and let dry?


Our South African operation runs 23 low temperature dehumidification kilns to dry wood. They work well for most 1 inch wood but get a bit iffy on thicker sizes. They are also incredibly costly to run (on average $266 / cubic meter compared to cost of $70 in USA and €80 / cubic meter in Europe (and this is after labor costs in South Africa that are 10% of the USA).

We use them less and less these days but where we are unable to source wood in kiln-dried form we do need to resort to doing the hard work ourselves heavy. This is generally painfully slow and pretty expensive – approximately eight men for two days to load and four hours to unload and four to six weeks in a kiln that is constantly consuming costly electricity.

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Kiln drying can involve a huge amount of back-breaking labour
We were very fortunate to already have two functional kilns in the Maine facility when we acquired it, but the technology was old (Irvington Moore) and relied on principle of an integrated mill - when the Thurston dowel mill operated everything from the bolt mill to dowel-making created off-cuts and waste which fuelled the boiler which, together with the hydro plant, in turn provided power and heat for the building and processes. Now that we are basically a buy, sort, market and resell facility, the waste is not created and the whole process breaks down.

The kilns have not gone to waste however. Instead we have converted them into much needed storage space and an extended machine shop. This is a win-win situation for everybody, as we will use efficient local custom kiln-driers for specialist work, and we have used plenty of local contractors for the conversion process.

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More toys: Pineapple-headed thicknesser and surfacer


More than anything else, it is the high precision German four-sided tungsten carbide replaceable cutters in a pineapple head that allow us to achieve smooth finishes on some of our highly figured and abrasive woods. The small individual cutters also have the added bonus of less noise. The cherry on top however, is that in our South African operations - where we use them eight hours a day all year long – we are able to go about FOUR MONTHS before rotating the cutters, saving huge amounts of time and money.

We relied on the venerable British firm of Wadkin for years to supply solid well-made cast iron woodworking machines and I have immense respect for their solid engineering. Sadly they have not kept up with the times and eventually we were forced to look eastwards to get the latest and greatest technology (at a reasonable price).

Specifically, the Taiwanese have developed some really high quality machines that deliver superb performance and a fraction of the price of their German, Italian and American competitors. Having run some of these machines for over ten years now, I think that they are excellent value and so have ordered (and now received) some for our US operation. In the attached photos you can see us having fun placing the machines right out of the box.

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Note the intense concentration
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Delicate work
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Our brand new surfacer

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Located in beautiful Maine, USA

Come and explore our huge warehouse, with its large showroom and convenient racking to aid selection

Perhaps take in some of our wonderful Maine woods while you're here

With huge stocks of gorgeous exotic lumber from the four corners of the earth

Latest Blog Posts

01 July 2011
Good showrooms can give people ideas and the stimulus to begin that project they have been dreaming about.  Unfortunately they can also cost a lot! Our challenge as a fledgling business was to come up...
24 June 2011
Life as a timber merchant has often been a steep learning curve. I’m not ashamed to say that many mistakes have been made, some worse than others!Below I thought I would run you through some of the sc...
18 June 2011
Luthiers are a different breed with very exacting needs – often happy to sort through mountains of wood to select that specific piece with the perfect combination of grain, color and taptone. With my...
30 May 2011
Many woodworkers are surprised to find a “full house” exotic wood dealer in Mexico, Maine. 500,000 bd ft of exotic hardwoods 180 species displayed in racks and bundles Extensive showroom Milling fa...

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