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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Frozen Wood

Sometimes I find new things to worry about. My latest irrational worry concerned the wood that is stored in my unheated barn. I actually woke up in the middle of a sub-zero night wondering if the moisture in the wood would freeze and damage my precious cherry, walnut, oak, and maple boards.

After a fair bit of paranoia-fueled and somewhat frantic research, it turns out that the water in wood is considered "bound water." It never freezes, as the water molecules are chemically held in the cell walls, therefore the water is not liquid, vapor, or solid like "free water." Were there still any free water in my lumber, it would likely not freeze either because of the various chemicals in the water.

This topic and much, much more is covered in a book by Christen Skaar called "Water in Wood." It is difficult to find, but for anyone interested (and not intimidated by complex formulae), everything you ever wanted to know about water in wood is scientifically and thoroughly illuminated.

As long as we are discussing books, readers of this column know that I relish any reference to woodworking or tools in any novel. Lee Child's series of books follows the exploits of Jack Reacher, a former Military MP who bums around the country solving crimes, rescuing people, and generally being a lovable, albeit quite violent, character.

While undercover at a shady character's house in "Persuader," the seventh book in the series, Reacher needed a weapon and found one in the garage:

"Then I found a chisel. It was a woodworking item. It had a half-inch blade and a nice ash handle. It was probably seventy years old. I hunted around and found a carborundum whetstone and a rusty can of sharpening fluid. Dabbed some fluid on the stone and spread it with the tip of the chisel. Worked the steel back and forth until it showed bright… I got the edge square and true. It looked like high-grade Pittsburgh steel. I wiped it on my pants. Didn't test the edge on my thumb. I didn't particularly want to bleed. I knew it was razor sharp just by looking at it."

That the author of fifteen novels and a former television writer would work woodworking tools into an action/suspense novel shows just how mainstream we are. And no, I will not divulge what Jack Reacher does with the chisel… you will have to read the book yourself!

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson13@mac.com.

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