I am totally new to woodworking and am currently cutting my teeth building Paul’s workbench from his videos.
I am thinking about other items that I may want to make in the future and I keep coming back to the same question…
How do you know what weights and loads things you make can support? This seems like a design question – the choices you make in terms of the materials you’re using, the dimensions you’re working with, etc. will govern how strong something is. But what is the best way to learn that when you’re totally new? Are there any books that tackle this subject? Or is it just a case of trial and error?
Any thoughts welcome. Many thanks!
Understanding Wood by R. Bruce Hoadley might perhaps be one source.
Another one is perhaps The Wood Database (available on line and in printed format)
Both discuss the main properties that govern when wood will bend and break.
Prudence, I think, calls for pointing out that two of those properties (Modulus of Rupture and Modulus of Elasticity) rest on rather widely dispersed observations. So the point values presented by these two sources should possibly be taken with some care.
There is a very good correlation between the density of a specific kind of wood and its tendency to bend under load.
I’d advise you to take a step back. You’re very far down a rabbit hole right now. In summary, just build things and you’ll develop a feel quickly. Time spent determining the “perfect” dimensions of a piece cannot be replaced.
Strength of materials is of course important, but is unlikely to be a major concern for you at this time. Most furniture pieces you’re likely to build will use material thickness greater than 1/2″ and usually significantly greater. This is likely to occur because proportionally ultra-thin legs, rails, stiles, etc. look “wrong” to your eye and are “unattractive”.
Additionally, you’re unlikely to buy stock less than 3/4″ thick from a commercial distributor.
Learning to understand grain direction, and how it effects strength, is more important than whether a particular component should be 1/2″ or 5/8″ thick. I suggest buying a copy of “By Hand & Eye” by George Walker and Jim Tolpin. It’s a good introduction to furniture design and drawing.
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