- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

The use of wood components in early cars is well known to all of us. The use of wood for entire car bodies, however, created some unique challenges, which only became more complex as car bodies became more sophisticated.

For example, early Ford wagons, such as depot hacks, had relatively straight square lines with simple moldings for detail. By mid-century bodies included complex compound curves and wood joints.

Because complex wood designs cannot be economically cut out of a single piece of wood, the use of finger joints to join smaller pieces together was widely used. Reproducing these joints is one of the most serious challenges in restoring these wood cars.

Finger joints are common, as you can go to your local lumberyard and find them in molding pieces and other applications where small pieces are joined together to save wood and money. The difference between what you find at the lumberyard and in a woodie is the depth of the joints in the car, which are much greater. In the old Fords, the finger joints are 1- 1/8 inches deep, and it takes a huge cutting tool to make them.

The tools to cut these cannot be easily found and to my knowledge must be custom made. The wood expert of White Post Restorations showed me the setup he uses on a shaper machine. The cutting head cost thousands of dollars, and he considers using them very dangerous because of how long and thin the blades are and how fast they rotate. A California woodworker wears a bulletproof vest during these operations.

Another option, which I use, is a milling machine, which is usually used for cutting steel. A Connecticut machinist had restored the wood part of a car that I bought. He had a Bridgeport milling machine in his shop at home and he had made a stacked set of six cutting blades to be used in the Bridgeport. The cutting tool came with the car and I was able to use them recently to cut several of these joints on a Bridgeport machine at Green Enterprises in Hamilton, Va.

Once the joints have been cut, gluing them together is no picnic, but that's another story.

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