I’ve now processed the top for the boot bench and it is waiting to be dovetailed to the end pieces. Every project provides different lessons, and while processing the top I started thinking about the challenges of working on pieces of a different scale to what you’re used to (which also stopped me writing another simple “hey I flattened a board by hand” post, which could get dull quite quickly).
If you are used to working with small casework, or (in my case) guitar-sized components, the move to larger casework can feel a little daunting. The Policeman’s Boot Bench is 43″ wide, which makes it my largest piece to date, something I’ve noticed all the more so given that the majority of last year’s projects tended to be in the region of 10-20″ wide. In particular, the top of the bootbench is the largest piece of timber I’ve processed entirely by hand, especially as I cut all my components a little oversized to start with so that any minor shakes can be identified and dealt with as the timber settles. When I first started to work the top it was 47″ long and 15″ wide, and covered the majority of my workbench. I may have had to buy a longer straight edge as a result.
The thing about larger scale work is that it is both the same as smaller scale work, and a little different. Well that sounds wonderfully nonsensical, but when you stop and think about it, processing a 47″ long board requires exactly the same techniques as for a 15″ wide School Box. The difference, I think, is that the fundamental techniques need to be cleaner and more deeply embedded to be effective for larger scale work. Let me explain.
The only real difference between a 15″ long board and a 47″ long board is the size of the workpiece. So the same techniques will work, the trick is not to be overawed be the extra timber in front of you, and not to panic. That is where deeply embedded core techniques come in – remembering that regardless of the size of the workpiece, the same workflow will equally apply, traversing cuts and all. Cleaner technique becomes relevant because that extra expanse of wood gives a greater opportunity to get in a muddle and create problems through sloppy technique.
The good news is that expensive gadgets or new ways of working are not necessary – just doubling down on those core techniques. The best example of this I’ve found from working the top of the boot bench is when jointing the edges square. On a long edge there a greater potential for the plane to wander or skew, and consequently for localised areas of the edge to slope out of true, or even worse, in an opposite direction to the rest of the edge. Using the off-hand fingers to keep the same portion of blade cutting along the entire length of the board becomes even more important, as it keeps the angle at which the blade meets the edge constant. The result is an edge which is at a consistent angle, and which can be worked to true even if the plane blade itself is a little off being level. Secondly, good technique with stop cuts becomes more important because it is more likely on a long edge that there wil be localised areas which need addressing.
Unsurprisingly, the top took a little longer than usual to process, but the same basic techniques resulted in a board that was flat and square. That was a lesson in reinforcing the core handplane techniques, which I expect will be further embedded as I have four shelves (each 42″ long) still to process.
The above sounds all very forboding, but it is not meant to. If anything, I think that working on a piece that is of an entirely different scale to your usual work is a very beneficial way of honing the fundamental techniques and developing as a woodworker, whether it is building an 8ft long Roubo bench (on my project list for 2018), or some Marco Terenzi style minatures. Anything which forces us out of our comfort zone and makes us think critically about technique has, to my mind, to be a good thing.