Thursday, January 23, 2014

I strayed

With a crude plan for my son's desk in hand, I headed off to the lumber yard.  I decided to make the entire desk from riftsawn white oak because legs made from it look good.  I don't like the traditional practice of making legs from pieces so they look quartersawn on every face: it's unnatural.  The advantage of riftsawn is that the legs naturally look similar on each side.

The lumber yard had a good selection of 8/4, 6/4, and 4/4 stock but nothing thicker than that, so the legs will be laminated and the base of the desk will be made from 6/4 material.  Then I turned my attention to the top and things took an unexpected turn.  On the pile was a board with a live edge that was unlike every other straight grained piece in the pile.  There was sapwood, the grain went every which way, the planer had torn the faces up badly, but you could still see what it could look like.  It shimmered, the grain undulated forward and back; it was unique and distinctive.  Unfortunately, only 8' was usable, so that would mean the desk would have to be the minimum width I believe to be acceptable--4'.  I decided to give it a try.

Once I had the two pieces for the top roughed out, I needed to joint the edges for the glue-up.  I went about it as I always do and got a big surprise:  it didn't work.  My plane skittered along the edge, sounding like a railroad train going clickety-clack as it tore out grain.  The seam had noticeable gaps that moved around each time I tried.  I posted a request for advice on Woodnet and got back a number of suggestions.  Even though I thought my plane was sharp, I resharpened carefully.  I moved the chipbreaker as close to the edge of the blade as I could get it with the naked eye.  Finally, I dampened the boards with alcohol.  It was a totally different experience and after a few passes I had a tight joint.

I had decidedly mixed feelings about trying to plane the top.  The planer at the yard had torn the board badly because of the many grain reversals.  I wanted to end up with a 7/8" top, so I only had 1/16" of material I could remove.  The success I had jointing the pieces encouraged me, but removing that much tearout and keeping the top flat seemed daunting.  I confess:  I succumbed to temptation.  My guild has a 4' wide belt sander in its shop and a professional member offered to help me use it.

 He supervised as I completed more than a single spaced page of detailed setup instructions which probably took me half an hour.  The actual sanding process took just a few minutes.  I can't wait to see what this looks like with finish on it.  I think it will pop.

 I am somewhat in awe of this behemoth with its massive sanding belts and I just couldn't help laughing as I stood there with my completed top almost before I realized what had happened.  Do I feel guilty?  Yes, but the wild grain was just too much for the current state of my hand tool skills.  Now that I have confessed I can move on to cutting 16 mortises by hand to assuage my guilt.  I won't be using the horizontal mortiser the Guild has.  :)


  1. Looks beautiful. I've had good luck with the veritas toothed blade for their low angle jack plane. The slots in it also reduce the effective width of the cutting edge, making it easier to push through hard, knotty wood. A high secondary bevel on a LAJ blade can handle stubborn tearout that might be a problem for the smoother set up as you describe. Derek Cohen goes int it in detail on his site.

  2. Haaa. 16 mortises by hand. It reminds me of saying 16 Hail Mary's as penance. :-)

    Looking forward to seeing the completed desk. I bet that top will make it.