One of the most difficult things of late has been sourcing my beloved sugar pine for tool chest classes. It’s “imported” from the West Coast – and with lumber companies struggling to fill demand and the still-high cost of shipping, it has been impossible to get. I’ve heard time and again from my local supplier that “we expect some next week,” but no joy. So I had to find another solution.
I looked for Eastern white pine (another good tool chest choice that’s usually easier to get around here than sugar pine), but all I could find was #2 (at best), and usually too thick (I like a full 7/8″ for the “Anarchist’s Tool Chest” builds). Another decent option is poplar – but it’s harder to cut and chop, so it takes longer for students to work their way through the 52 dovetails that go into this chest (if you go the poplar route, 3/4″ is thick enough – no need for the additional weight). I’ll use poplar for the ATC class if that’s all I can get – but I don’t like to (though it is typically an economical choice). I want my students to have nothing but success, and that’s easier to achieve with a softer wood that has a better “mash factor” – by which I mean you can get away with squeezing a few joints together that really shouldn’t go together because they’re slightly tight, or the cuts aren’t quite straight. Everyone needs a little forgiveness now and then, and poplar has less of it to give.
So, on the recommendation of Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted, I got in touch with the Amana Furniture and Clock Shop. (Amana Colonies is in Amana, Iowa – it’s where Benchcrafted holds Handworks which, by the by, is now scheduled for September 2023.) Amana cuts and kiln dries linden from the property for use in the shop’s own projects, and Jameel thought there might be some to spare some for tool chest kits. He put me in touch with Chris Ward, sales and manufacturing manager, who worked with his team to make a sample kit for me to try out earlier this year.
I was sold, and I ordered 13 more kits – seven for the class that concluded yesterday, and six for my February ATC class (to save money on shipping). I can’t make the kits for less than Amana charges (and right now I can’t even get material) – and they have better facilities and industrial-sized equipment for making the multiple large panels for many chests all at once. Plus they have more than one person to do it! And to be frank, they can produce better large panels than can I, because they have a panel clamp system and a wide-belt sander to level the seams if need be. I have K-bodies and handplanes (which work just fine – but not quickly when there are 28 panels to glue up and flatten). I did the final squaring and sizing in our shop…because I’m anal retentive. But perhaps for my next order, I’ll have their team do that, too; my back is not getting any younger.
But I wasn’t completely convinced on the linden (which is also known as basswood and American lime) until we started cutting the joints. With experience now in a class setting, I actually think it is in some ways better than pine – there are no sap pockets or streaks, so saws don’t get gummy and therefore cut more smoothly for longer (no need to stop and clean them), and it’s a little less fragile on the corners. That makes sense, given that it’s slightly harder on the Janka scale (sugar pine is 380; linden is 410) – but not so much more dense that it weighs significantly more. (I meant to weigh one of the finished linden chest for comparison…but I forgot. But I did help lift four of the six into various vehicles, and I’ve lifted dozens of pine ATCs into cars and trucks over the years, and I noticed little weight difference. I’d guess maybe 5-10 additional pounds.) It also takes paint nicely – much like pine and poplar. I tested General Finishes “milk paint” on an offcut, and was pleased to find that two coats will likely be sufficient (at least in dark blue).
My only complaint is that linden has little odor; I missed the scent of the pine. When seven people are working hard, well, a bit of natural pine air freshener is a bonus (I’ll hang a pine air freshener under every bench for the next class!). And the students did work very hard – everyone left with a chest just about ready for final cleanup (finish planing/sanding) – and they all looked great.