Olly Writes

Woodwork, writing, walks, DIY and more!

Working with PAR

At one time or another, you’ll probably have considered buying your timber as PAR (planed-all-round). Perhaps only in the beginning, when the lure and cost of your own planer/thicknesser (or, even, two separate machines) seemed like one giant leap too many when you were just getting in to this past-time. While timber and other tools would put enough of a burden on your bank balance, it has to be said that there’s a lot of money to be saved in the long-term, if you’re able to prepare your own boards. Also, you’ll be able to control the selection of timber and grain patterns for each component.

Then again, if you don’t do a lot of woodworking in a single year (some people have real lives, or so I’m told…), you may as well be better off just letting the yard do all the hard work for you. Whatever your situation, there are a few things you need to be aware of, if you’re considering letting someone else do all the prep-work for you, and paying for it…

3.6m long, and it's a bit of a squeeze!

Most of the work I do involves working with locally-grown hardwoods, which can be supplied as anything from 6in to 26in in width! This is where I would be making a piece of bespoke furniture, which is what I specialise in; and so, I prepare all my own boards as I like to be selective and in control of which parts of a tree are used where.

A little sideline to this work, which started a few months ago, involves supplying a small shop in Bristol with ‘French country‘/’chic‘-style [I don’t know what these words mean…] furniture (mostly kitchen and shelving stuff, so far), which they will display and then sell. I prefer to refer to it as “cheap, painted furniture“, which makes a lot more sense! πŸ˜€ For this, we buy the timber in as PAR and it’s delivered to my workshop in long lengths that simple need to be cut to length and then drilled, shaped and whatever else needs doing.

In that photo above, the boards are about 3.6m (12ft) long and so, had to be fed on to my workbench via. the bobbin sander, situated behind the bandsaw! In the past, I’ve timber as long as 4.8m come through the door – the less said about that, the better!! πŸ˜‰Β  With the last load that arrived, I was fortunate enough to receive some of their 2.4m (8ft) lengths, which were far easier to manage and could rest quite safely on top of my mitre saw station – it all depends on what the yard, mill or merchant has available at the time.

These are only 2.4m long.

In situations like this, it’s very rare that any supplier will go to the effort of correctly straightening or flattening the boards over a surface planer (aka. a jointer, in the US). Instead, they’ll either feed it directly through a thicknesser (a planer in the US, confusingly!), repeatedly, until each boards has four planed sides of the correct finished dimensions. Or, and this is more common now; they’ll feed the boards through what’s known as a four-sided planer (four-sider, four-header, four-cutter, etc.). This machine basically has four cutter blocks which, once set correctly, will make a cut on each face and edge of a board as it’s fed through. This type of machine is four-times more productive than a thicknesser as you only need to feed each length through once. The downside though is that, anything that’s bowed or bent going in to the machine will only come out the same the other end; only with a better finish. Also, there’s no real guarrantee that, however well the cutter blocks and knives are set, the timber will come out perfectly square all around; particularly if the wood was distorted at all, along its length.

That should give you a basic understanding of how the process of supplying PAR timber works. But, there are still several other traps you should be prepared for…

First of all, you may find that some areas of a board (particularly on wider stuff) are a little ‘rough’, where the cutter hasn’t been able to reach at the required setting. Some yards may replace a board, in this situation. Though, it’s not uncommon for a firm to send it to you anyway – I’m sure you’re well within your right to refuse it and request an exchange anyway, when you’re paying a premium (for painted stuff though, it can usually be sanded out so, I don’t kick up a fuss).

Not what you would expect when paying for PAR...

One highly common irregularity is what’s know as ‘snipe‘ (or, ‘drop-on’) at the ends of a board. This is one form of wastage (a defect, even) that should always be accounted for when you’re calculating the quantity of timber you require. It can range from 1Β½in up to 4in wide, as in the photo below! This happens when a long length is fed through a four-sider or thicknesser and, when the one end of the length is unsupported, the other end that’s inside the machine lifts in to the cutter block before the timber reaches the outfeed roller (on the infeed) and again, as it leaves the infeed roller (on the outfeed). Basically, it’s where a length of wood isn’t being supported correctly. It’s not a problem during the rest of the cut as the timber is supported by both feed rollers inside the machine.

What is commonly known as 'Snipe'!

I should also add that both ends of a board will most likely be painted (to prevent the end-grain from losing moisture and drying too fast), and that you should cut those off before doing any further machining with these boards (otherwise, it can damage or blunt your cutters).

It’s unlikely that most suppliers will account for any defects (knots, splits, shakes, cracks and, as in this next photo, insect damage). So, you could end up with boards like this:

Watch out! Beetle's About!!

Whether you’re having your timber delivered or not, there’s a good chance it will have been moved about with a forklift at some point. So, damage to the edge of boards, as below, is not uncommon; regardless of whether your boards are sawn or not.

Using the Forks, alright!!

I should also mention that, based on past experience of working in a local timber yard, I can confidently say that this is nothing compared to the damage forklifts can do when in the wrong hands…! I was a forklift driver myself, once. Yeah, I hit plenty of things and broke several others…. πŸ˜€

Even when they try to look after your order, someone will come along and do the straps up too tight, so that it leaves these permanent indentations on your boards’ edges:

That just about covers some of the main dangers to watch out for when buying PAR timber. I’m sure there are some I’ve neglected to mention but, I hope this puts you in good steed, next time you’re in need of some more timber for a project. Bare with me and, shortly, I’ll show you exactly what I’ve been making with this (I felt it might be easier on your head if I broke it up in to two parts… πŸ™‚ ).

At the end of it all, it is surprising just how much wood can end up in the bin…

Wood Waste.

Thanks for reading.

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