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The Essence of Board Matching
If you ask any craftsperson, they’ll tell you that the beauty of our products begins in the rough mill. It is here that the subtle art of selecting rough-hewn slabs of wood to match woodgrain and color makes the difference between a nice piece of furniture and an exquisite piece of furniture. Once selected, these boards are trimmed down, chiseled out, sanded, and expertly molded by our craftsmen into the beautiful forms that grace your homes, offices, and public spaces.
The rough mill is where every piece of furniture we make begins. Every board is carefully hand-selected for grain and color match – a process that requires the craftsmen to visualize how the piece will come to life from only a pile of boards.
With nearly ten years of experience under his belt, craftsman Jim Wisser primarily works in our rough mill and has a keen eye for detail. “I had no woodworking experience before coming here, but I’ve learned a lot in a short time,” says Wisser.
Jim starts his day by selecting a job ticket that specifies which product will be built next. He then moves to the stacks of boards with the correct thickness and begins sorting through the pile in search of boards with similar grain patterns and colors. However, there are times that this process takes up much of the craftsmen’s time. “Sometimes, just to get a tabletop, we can go through 2-3 different piles of wood,” says Wisser.
1. The Crescent Four Drawer Bureau in walnut displays the beauty of selecting proper boards that make the front look as if it came from the same tree.
2. Upper right diagram: The far-left board showcases a deeper red hue of cherry, while the centerboard is a lighter tannish hue of cherry. Their extreme color variation is an example of a poor match based on color. The wood grain on the boards to the far right shows cathedrals in the wood grain, creating a suitable example of a good board match based on color and the openness of the grain.
3. The Crescent Four Drawer Bureau in cherry in the lower right corner shows a beautiful grain and color match.
Being the only dark wood native to North America, black walnut covers an impressive swath of land extending from southern Ontario to South Dakota, northern Florida, and eastern Texas. Our walnut trees come from the banks of the Missouri River. Here the acidic and loamy soils produce trees that can grow upwards of 2ft a year and be over 120ft, with an equally impressive canopy when fully mature. Walnut is prized for its rich bittersweet chocolate to deep burgundy color. Still, it poses a unique challenge when selecting boards for a proper color match due to its vast spectrum of color variation.
The above image of the Crescent Six Drawer Dresser is an excellent example of a perfect board match. The color is consistent throughout, and the grain appears seamless, creating the illusion of one solid board even though it is several perfectly matched boards. The circle in the upper right image indicates the glue line in the panel.
Once Wisser has selected enough boards for the product, he cuts them to the specified sizes and glues them into a panel if necessary. All panels need to dry for a minimum of two hours before they can be used in the building of the product. When this is complete, he places all parts on a cart and sets it aside for another craftsman to take and build the product.
Why is it important?
When a piece has good grain and color match, it appears to be seamless. It also ensures that the furniture will age uniformly, maintaining and developing a beautifully consistent color and patina for generations. When working on a case with drawers, Jim selects wood for the drawer fronts first and builds the rest of the case around those drawers. That is why our craftsmen in the rough mill carefully select boards for large panels, whether a tabletop or the back of a case piece. “We want each piece to be consistent all the way through, and that includes wood grain and color. It is very time-consuming to go through various piles of lumber to select boards of the same grain pattern and color,” Wisser explains.
I support our craftspeople by selecting wood from the rough mill, so it will match perfectly on the piece they’re building. It takes a while to be good at it, and I take pride in doing it well, especially on something like Dr. White’s Chest. Getting all the wood to match on a large piece is a challenge. While board matching has its challenges, Wisser finds his role in the process rewarding. “I may not build it,” Wisser says, “but I get to significantly impact what the piece will look like by carefully selecting similar boards. When I see the finished product, it makes me very proud.”
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