A Day in the life of Teak and Fancy Timbers

By Rupert Goodall
Article in Australian Woodworker, July/August 2002 edition.

Many first time visitors comment on the delicious aroma associated with the racked storage of hundreds of tonnes of globally sourced timbers. Optic senses then cut in as the amazing range of size (who said size doesn’t matter?), colour and species becomes evident. Finally, auditory senses tune into the humming machine shop where band saws, moulding, sanding, ripping and all manner of machinery processes timbers to amazing tolerances for all manner of timber applications.

O.K., you’ve got the picture. A very large tin shed on the Gold Coast; all doors open, sun shining and warm, jug on, it’s 7 in the morning, come on in, role up your sleeves and join us for a day in the life of Teak and Fancy Timbers……..

First thing, we normally take cramps off, loosen up the fingers and leads onto sanding of partially finished jobs. Today we have a couple of jobs coming out of cramps, a couple of kitchen bench tops in two different timbers, P.N.G. Rosewood and Jarrah, both the same size and rather unusual specifications as the client wanted the individual laminations to be only 10 mm wide. We comply exactly with individual requirements unless we feel the client might run into difficulty based on our experience. We glued the tops with epoxy and sanded them initially with 80 and finished with 120. The tops will later be cardboard wrapped and despatched via courier to their eventual inter-state destination. The second job of the day is quite interesting. We have been involved in supplying some Sydney Harbour-side apartments featuring solid timber joinery. We have been supplying componentry to Project’s Queensland for the construction and install of the apartments. This was the last piece of the job where the clients wanted a fire door to look like their other doors. A standard fire door was purchased and we then laminated two flat panels of Sirian Batu timber at 5 mm thick and 40 mm by 5 mm edging was glued to the fire door edges, we then prepared the vacuum bagging table and pump. Vacuum bagging was developed for the Aerospace industry and is now understood by a widening range of trade applications. In our case we use custom wood as a base to ensure a flat smooth and stiff surface, the base is cross sawn to ensure a full air flow once the pump is turned on. The timber panels are coated with epoxy (Techniglue supplied by ATL Composites (07) 5537 7636) before securing the panels onto the fire door surface with a couple of countersunk pins (pin heads positioned below the surface to prevent tearing of the polythene membrane). To ensure the panels do not slip when under vacuum, standard builders’ grade clear polythene is used to form an airtight membrane over the top of the sandwich and sealed onto the custom wood with 50mm wide grey duct tape, available from all hardware stores. The vacuum pump and fittings are becoming fairly standard and very user friendly. We prefer to vacuum in the mornings so we can monitor the curing process and this overcomes the problem of leaving pumps on overnight. As epoxy cure is sensitive to temperature we normally leave the pump on for around 8 hours and allow a further day before continuing with the job.

O.K., now what’s next?……. Time to meet Geoff, my youngest tradesman who cut his teeth on moulders and giant bandsaws at Byron Bay. Geoff has to select some imported Red Cedar (some call it Calantas or Sirian Red Cedar) to run into panelling and moulding for a client doing a home renovation. The timber selected is 100 mm thick or 4 inches. We slice the Cedar down the band saw at 6 mm thick and then run the slices through our 4 sided planning machine, at 95 mm by 4 mm before putting a small harness on two corners. When these are butted together and glued onto gyprock they look like tongue and groove joints. We devised this particular system for applications where clients want to use the look of traditional panelling but need to be weight sensitive. What’s more, it’s very economical as the timber consumption is efficient for the area covered, and it also alleviates the need to remove gyprock which provides an ideal flat gluing surface. Teak and Fancy Timbers have a huge range of mouldings. In this case the client had picked out his profiles and we checked to ensure we had long timber lengths, as he was particularly concerned the timber was all of a similar colour as he did not want to have to butt joins on some of the long runs. We do our best to accommodate these requirements where possible, depending on the species.

Well, good morning Mandie, the voice of Teak and Fancy Timbers, the woman who makes sure the right shipping company collects your timber and runs all things in the office, web site, email and accounts. I swear I’ve seen smoke coming out of the computer and that’s nothing to do with the Queensland temperatures.

Now over to Arthur, my senior tradesman. Arthur served a traditional apprenticeship nearly 40 years ago and since then has built installed and fitted out just about anything you can dream up. If you are the kind of guy who likes to talk feet and inches then Arthur is your man. Arthur is currently talking to a gentleman who is a retired pattern maker, he has decided to make a classical guitar and they are sorting out some timber. They are discussing the neck material as he wants to shape the neck from one piece of timber. This requires a 4″ by 4″ or 100 mm by 100 mm piece of timber. Many of the muso’s who visit us laminate necks from several pieces of timber so this was a first for us. By the way, when Arthur isn’t handling timber he’s off with the Ulysses club on his 750cc.

I see a trailer load of slab timber arriving, this guy phoned earlier and asked if we can dress and sand the timber. It’s amazing what species arrive in this way. In this case the timber is McKay cedar. For the uninitiated – the saw dust off McKay cedar can be extremely irritating so thank goodness for our turbo charged dust extractor. 3″ thick slabs with good grain are sanded for table tops whilst we rip up and dress the under frame. This guy had no gear at home so we docked the components to length, cut lamelo slots and provided some lomelo’s. Now all he has to do in his workshop, or should I say the kitchen, is glue up, fine sand and apply his chosen finishing product.

It’s time for a bite to eat. Welcome Lester, my Tasmanian tiger. Now, young Lester is a trade mechanic (very handy if we have any gear problems, and does a good deal for servicing the boss’s car). Lester is our store man and does a fantastic job unloading the truck deliveries and sorting and racking out the timber. All the racks are labelled allowing the discerning to select their own stock. So much for lunch. Arthur reckons people queue up outside the yard until smoko and then all lob. Well you just never know, a couple of likely looking characters are arriving. Turns out these guys are model makers and are looking for some lightweight timbers in blond colours. When I said models we are talking 8 foot wingspan! I show them several species of timber. I carry balsawood up to ten feet long, so we sorted out some flitches. They want something a little stiffer so we look at Jelutong and Obeche, both low density blond timbers. They liked the look of the straight grain on the Obeche, maximum stiffness for minimal weight. They stayed for a cuppa and told us about the Brisbane club they belonged to. We suggested they may like to raise a motion to have a club night or Saturday morning at our factory.

As the afternoon goes by, I notice Geoff is clamping up some Tasmanian Oak, judging by the size it’s probably a vanity. Arthur is on the spindle doing a rush tongue and groove job to help get a builder out of the proverbial, apparently it’s a renovation job and they needed an unusual size of cover for the floor boards. They brought in an old piece of the flooring and we advised them of the species, in this case hoop pine, and then promptly ran off the job.

Back to the office for me. Mandie has a bunch of questions and I have a few quotes to work out. I find an email enquiry asking if we can supply a kit of Western Red Cedar so he can make up cedar shutters, and another email enquiry for a teak grating suitable for a yacht cockpit. I hear the factory suddenly quiet. Door chains rattle and motorbikes begin firing. It must be the time to close shop. I wonder what tomorrow will bring. It’s certainly a refreshing aspect to our lives, here at Teak and Fancy Timbers that no two jobs are the same. Before I leave, I just want to have a look at the epoxy sample we left out of the vacuum bag to make sure the epoxy has set enough to allow the pump to be switched off. This epoxy is a great product. There are just a few tricks too guarantee results every time; you must be aware that epoxy is temperature sensitive during cure, so in lay man terms, it goes off quicker on a hotter day It is quite cool here today and as there is no air in the vacuum it tends to retard the cure scheduler further. The sample is solid so I’ll switch off the pump…. I see Geoff has a stack of Walnut out ready for the morning and Arthur has the four sided planer stripped down ready for sharpening the cutters in the morning as we have a timber heavy in silica to cut tomorrow………………….. It’s time to rub some wax onto my balsa mal and check out ‘The Ally’, not a bad way to wash off the dust………