features
#026 / 2000

Aspen appeal

Carol Wiestra, a cabinetmaker in 100 Mile House, BC, started working with aspen by chance a few years ago. When a neighbour who was felling a large aspen for firewood decided to mill the clear 30-foot trunk into 5/4" x 10" planks, he brought a sample to her Buffalo Creek Woodworks workshop. She was introduced to aspen in this form for the first time (aspen grows throughout the interior of BC in dense stands - see photo). Impressed with the beautiful white straight grain with no obvious distinction between heartwood and sapwood, Carol gladly purchased her neighbour's aspen.

Her next task was to dry the timber for use in her furniture making. As it was early spring, she was able to start the drying process by stacking the planks outside her workshop, using one-inch pine stickers to allow for air flow. After one year the moisture content of the pile had reduced to 12 per cent. She then moved the material into her heated workshop where the aspen reached six per cent within six months. Though she used fairly "unscientific" drying procedures, the resulting timber was tension-free and no warping or twisting occurred when it was machined.

Her cabinet shown here is made with solid aspen and aspen plywood with stained accents. Carol designed the piece around a long pane of salvaged ribbed glass that is no longer in production. The interior is designed to conceal entertainment equipment behind the solid door while decorative items can be displayed behind the glass door.

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Technical properties of aspen with lodgepole pine data for comparison *

designing with aspen

Aspen's light weight can be exploited to appeal to consumers in today's mobile society, and the ease with which it can be stained offers designers many possibilities.

The large pores and low density of aspen require careful attention to finishing. For small-scale production Carol found that using a belt sander (instead of an orbital sander) with 120 grit paper gave a superior finish.

To maintain the almost white "look" of aspen, use a water-based acrylic finish. More traditional polyurethane finishes add a slight amber colour.

technical reports

Machining and Finishing of Aspen by Derek Williams

. . . Results of an Aspen Milling Trial by Ainsworth Lumber (pdf)

Trembling Aspen by Forintek Corp. (pdf)

suppliers of aspen in Canada

Aspen Valley Lumber, La Crete, AB, 780.928.3888

Borderline Lumber Service, Christina Lake, BC, 1.800.404.4244 (green)

D & S Calver Lumber, Pembroke, ON, 613.638.2800

T.L.B. Forest Products Lachenaie, QC

densification

The low density of aspen is a disadvantage for furniture applications that require high resistance to impact, such as table tops, chair legs, etc.

However, a new densification process trade-marked Indurite has the potential to make aspen competitive for furniture applications. Developed in New Zealand, the Indurite process impregnates low-density timber such as aspen with a non-toxic cellulose-like filler, claiming significant increases in the timber's strength, hardness, stability, machinability and other properties.

With assistance from members of the UBC wood-science list server, VCR (now furniturelink) contacted BC and Canadian "value-added" wood agencies to check if the Indurite process was being evaluated for use with aspen. To date furniturelink has received no response from these agencies.

* Strength and Related Wood properties of Woods Grown in Canada, A.P. Jessome, Forintek Canada Corp. 1986

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© furniturelink 1999 (text and images)