Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Barking up the wrong tree?

Looking around my shop the other day, I noticed some 8/4 slabs of alder with the bark still on them from a tree I cut down some years ago.  I was sure I would come up with something to make from them but I never have, so I decided on an experiment.  I would make a small rustic table with the bark left in place.  I am aware of all the arguments against leaving bark on slabs and I am pretty sure that, if you are going to do it, alder is not a good choice but that's what I had so that's what I used.

These were the largest pieces I have ever surfaced by hand from roughsawn; it took awhile but I eventually got it done:

I wanted my rustic table to look as simple as possible, with no exposed joinery or anything else that would draw attention away from the slab, so I settled on two slabs for legs set at an angle.  I decided that long mortise and tenon joints would be the best way to join the table slab to the leg slabs, so this meant that I would be making angled mortises and tenons for the first time.  I immediately wondered whether I should angle the mortises or the tenons, so I did an internet search and, of course, immediately found a pitched argument among the experts as to which is better.  Laughing, I decided to angle the tenons and chose 15 degrees by eye.

Let me begin by confessing that I wimped out:

Yup, I cut the leg slabs and the shoulders to the fifteen degree angle with a tracksaw.  That was it though and from here on out I used hand tools.

After completing the shoulders, I laid out the tenons, chiseled them out and cleaned them up with a shoulder plane, leaving them slightly oversize for fitting:

I then drilled out the waste for the mortises and finished them with a bench chisel.  The next problem I had was to figure out how to keep the bark from falling off, as it was loose in quite a few places.  Not wanting to rely on the finish to hold it in place, I decided to use a glue spatula and "butter" the seam with epoxy adhesive:

I let it dry and then planed and sanded it smooth.  It seems to have worked but only time will tell.  The next issue was how to finish the bark.  The alder bark is much too thick and rough to apply finish with a brush or cloth, so I got a spray can of polyurethane and applied five coats.  Then I wiped polyurethane on the rest of the table.  Here's what it looks like:

I'm pleased with the way it turned out but I have no idea as to whether it will hold up. If any of you know of a better way to do this, I'd be very interested.

1 comment:

  1. Nothing like learning by doing. BTW, I like the bench but maybe keeping it away from the fireplace for while might be a good choice.