What is the hardest known variety of hardwood?

Answer at the bottom of the email...

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Building Knowledge

building knowledge

It’s Here!

The Season of Outdoor Projects

June has arrived and with the onset of summer comes the season of outdoor projects. Our gardens are in full swing so now’s the time to build outdoor structures and accessories than enhance our yards. This month, we have a Q & A with Spike Carlsen, who advises beginners on how to get started with their first woodworking project; an essential but simple building project to help your garden beans grow up; a bundle of building bulletins giveaway; and woodworking trivia. Summer is here — get outside and build something useful!

Ask an Author

Woodworking Wisdom

Spike Carlsen gives aspiring woodworkers some tips to get started on their first outdoor building projects.

Spike Carlsen is an editor, author, carpenter, and woodworker who has been immersed in the world of woodworking for over 30 years. He ran his own construction and remodeling company and was executive editor at Family Handyman, where he wrote hundreds of articles on home improvement and woodworking. He has written for several other publications and currently writes “The Great American Woodworker” for American Woodworker. He is the author of Storey’s Woodworking FAQ as well as the award-winning A Splintered History of Wood.

Why do so many people enjoy woodworking?

In this fast-paced world, woodworking offers a little oasis of calm and “reality.” At the end of the day, you have something concrete — I guess “wooden” would be more correct — to show for your efforts, not just another file folder on your computer. Your goals are clear and you get to decide how to reach them.

It’s also a process and a product — the proverbial journey and destination. Creating sawdust is fulfilling, but seeing, using, or giving away the final product is just as rewarding. And it can be both a solitary and a communal endeavor. Most woodworkers work alone, but once the chisels are put away, the camaraderie begins. Woodworking clubs, guilds, tool swap meets, friends, stores, and websites provide lots of opportunities to share and learn.

Woodworking also offers just the right level of challenge. It’s not so simple as to be boring yet not so complex as to be off-putting. It’s like golf: The only person you have to compete against is yourself. And you get instant feedback; if the miters don’t meet (or the ball is in the sand trap), you know right away. Some woodworkers love following step-by-step directions exactly; others like to improvise as they go. There’s plenty of room for both approaches.

Another great feature is that woodworking knows no age, gender, or other bounds. There are 95-year-old woodcarvers and 5-year-old toymakers. There are specialty groups, such as Woodworking for the Blind and Wheelchair Woodturners. All are welcome to the table.

Finally, when your spouse says, “The _____ is broken,” or “We could sure use a ____ around here,” you can respond, “I can build (or fix) that!”

What's a good basic set of hand tools for someone getting started in woodworking?

There’s no single right answer, since there are so many different branches of woodworking. But there are a few across-the-board tools everyone should have:

  • 16-ounce claw hammer. This is small enough to drive finish nails yet beefy enough to drive larger ones
  • 25' tape measure. A 1"-wide blade makes it easy to take long measurements without your tape going limp
  • Triangle square for squaring off boards before cutting and for finding and transferring angles
  • Utility knife for sharpening pencils, opening packages, marking precision cut lines, easing sharp edges, and dozens of other tasks
  • Multi-bit screwdriver. One with Phillips, slotted, and square-drive bits stored on board will handle most situations and screws
  • Sharp ¾" chisel for mortising, removing waste, and other tasks
  • Three or four squeeze-type (one-handed) bar clamps for glue-ups, joining parts, and securing jigs
  • Carpenter’s apron or belt to keep the above tools close at hand and to minimize time spent searching for misplaced tools

Do you have any other advice for someone who wants to get started with woodworking but has limited or no experience?

Start with a project that’s simple in order to build confidence and your comfort level with tools. And select a project you actually need or will use, that will give you the motivation to dig in and get it done. Building a picture frame, simple bookcase, or piece of outdoor furniture are all good starter projects. To toot my own horn a little, I have a book titled Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects that contains 40 useful, well-designed projects anyone can tackle. Beginners may want to check that out for ideas.

Storey’s books feature many building projects for outdoor use. What are some common rot-resistant woods to use for these projects?

There are dozens of woods that are rot-resistant, but some make more sense to use outside than others. For example: Walnut, oak, and chestnut are rated by the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory as woods having heartwood with a “high” resistance to decay, but they are rarely used outside because of cost, weight, availability, and other factors. The most commonly used softwoods are cedar, redwood, cypress, and pressure-treated pine. The most commonly used hardwoods are teak, Ipe, mesquite, and white oak.

Part of this interview was adapted by Spike from Woodworking FAQ.


A-Frame Bean and Pea Support

Certain plants, such as pole beans and climbing vines, benefit greatly from tall supports. Although you can purchase these supports ready-made, it’s fairly easy to construct your own out of hardwood stakes. One option is this A-frame-style support, a basic design that props together a pair of vertical lattice panels.

Excerpted from The Vegetable Gardener’s Book of Building Projects
by the Editors of Storey Publishing. Photo © John Gruen.

A-Frame photo

Final Dimensions: 1 frame: approximately 4' w x 5.5' h (after staking into dirt)

Preparation time: ½ day

The lattice panels of this plant support provide ample height for lofty pole beans and climbing vines.



Thirty-four 1⅛"×1⅛" hardwood birch tomato stakes (80" long)


2" exterior wood screws (80 or so)


Tape measure


Carpenter’s square

Wood saw

Power drill

5/32" twist drill bit

Driver bit to match screws

Cutting the lumber. Leave four stakes full length for the frame sides (A). For the lattice, leave twelve more full length (B) and cut four others in half (C). From the remaining stakes, cut two 55" lengths for the frame tops (D), two 48" lengths for the frame bottoms (E), two 28" lengths for the long end braces (F) and two 16" lengths for the short end braces (G).

Constructing the A-frame support. Assemble each of the two A-frame panels by attaching the frame tops (D) and bottoms (E) to the sides (A). Lay a diagonal pattern of lattice strips (B) & (C) on one side of each panel, predrill the screw holes, and fasten the lattice in place. Trim the ends of the lattice where they extend beyond the frame. Flip over the panels and repeat the process, only this time lay the lattice strips in the opposite direction. Next, lean the tops of the two panels against each other and screw a long brace (F) and a short brace (G) to each side of the A-frame.

Storing your plant support. To store the support between planting seasons, simply remove one screw from each brace and fold the frame flat, tacking the braces to the frame sides until it’s time to reassemble it.

A-Frame diagram

Did You Know?

The world’s tallest bean plant was grown by Staton Rorie (USA) in 2003. It was 46 feet 3 inches (14.1m) tall.

As reported by Garden Forum, Yahoo Answers, and ChaCha.

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Around the Web

Good news from all over

Storey Authors will be hosting workshops on preserving, gardening, seed saving, making hay, and more at the Mother Earth News Fair this weekend in Puyallup, Washington.

Kindle Monthly 100 is promoting three Storey books in June: The Bird Watching Answer Book, Attracting Native Pollinators, and The Locavore Way. Not a Kindle user? That’s okay — those same three books will be sold by all ebook vendors for $2.99 each!

Bald Man Mod, a.k.a Chad Kelly, contributing designer to PlyDesign, has a really cool blog and website — check out his modern home furnishing and woody decor.

Zoë Bradbury, editor of Greenhorns, rallies the new farmers’ movement in an interview with Civil Eats.

Rubber Hose Chair. PlyDesign contributor, William Holman, will talk about his unique furniture design on Craftsman® Experience TV airing on June 6th.


Win a Bundle of Building Bulletins!

Grow your digital library! Enter to win Building Homebrew Equipment, Easy-to-Build Adirondack Furniture, and Simple Home Repairs.

buidling bulletin bundle

Do you know about Storey’s Country Wisdom Bulletins? We’ve been publishing these short, to-the-point guides for over 25 years, and there are now almost 200 of them in print (even more are available as eBooks)! Each one covers all the key information you need to do a project right. Our bulletins cover all kinds of sustainability skills: gardening, crafts, building, raising animals, cooking, and a whole lot more.

Retweet to Advance:

The prize includes:

  • Three digital versions of Building Homebrew Equipment, Easy-to-Build Adirondack Furniture, and Simple Home Repairs — nine files total. You will receive an ePub file (for iPad, Nook, Kobo, Sony, and other eReaders), a Mobipocket file (for all versions of the Kindle), and a PDF (for PCs and many other digital devices). These are all DRM-free files
  • Your bulletins will be delivered electronically. An e-mail address will be required for delivery. We will not save, sell, or use this e-mail address for any other purpose

The Library

Building books that inspire and instruct.

woodworking faq compact cabins plydesign

Woodworking FAQ

by Spike Carlsen

Compact Cabins

by Gerald Rowan


by Philip Schmidt

the vegetable gardener's book of building projects chicken coops The Kid’s Building Workshop

The Vegetable Gardener’s Book of Building Projects

by The Editors of Storey Publishing

Chicken Coops

by Judy Pangman

The Kids’ Building Workshop

by J. Craig Robertson and Barbara Robertson

new building books coming this july homebuilt winery rabbit housing

Homebuilt Winery

by Steve Hughes

Rabbit Housing

by Bob Bennett

Coming Up in July



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This month’s illustration by © Elayne Sears. Do you want to illustrate a Short Storey? Give us a shout at newsletter [at] storey [dot] com.

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Scrolling Bonus!

What is the hardest known variety of hardwood?

Australian Bull Oak (or Buloke) has the highest rating as measured by the Janka Hardness Scale. The Janka scale measures the force necessary to embed a half-inch steel ball into a piece of wood up to half the ball's diameter. Australian Bull Oak rates at 5060 Janka (or pounds of force). For reference, Brazilian Walnut (or Ipe) is 3684 Janka, Ebony is 3220 Janka, and White Oak is 1360 Janka. Balsa wood is just 100 Janka.

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