A lot of woodwork, especially if you are hand tool focused, isn’t cutting fancy joinery or applying esoteric finishes. Instead, much of woodwork comes down to a few fundamental processes – sawing and planing boards to take them from the rough to smooth, square and straight. If your stock is properly dimensioned, and free of twist or cupping, everything that follows will be smoother. The converse is that without properly processed and dimensioned stock a project will fight you every step of the way – joinery will not fit properly, and the various components of the casework will not be coplanar.
I’ve been processing the stock for the four shelves of The Policeman’s Boot Bench, and I’ve found a quiet sort of joy in practicing those fundamental techniques; ripping the shelves to width, jointing the edges, and smoothing the top surface of each shelf ready for applying the finish. Finding that with each shelf that passes I’m a little more efficient, a little more accurate, and that the core techniques are a little more deeply embeded.
I left the shelves slightly over thickness initially, as I knew that it would be a few weeks between processing them and being ready to glue the casework together. As a consequence I wanted to avoid any wood movement in the shelves once they were at final thickness, as planing out that cupping would result in them not only being under thickness but also risk having unsightly gaps between the shelves and dados. After a few weeks of sitting in stick, the shelves had stabilised and were ready to be fitted. Because I had cut the dados prior to processing the shelves, I decided to fit each shelf to the dados individually rather than just plane them down to 3/4″ thickness. Although I marked the dados out to the same dimensions, cutting the joinery by hand means that there is likely to be small variations between the dados and fitting the shelves individually gave me the opportunity to address these and achieve a good fit. As a health warning, I would add that the following process makes a lot of sense to me, but woodworkers with many more dados under their belts may think the process I’ve adopted is frankly nuts.
First I measured the width of the dado with a pair of Starrett callipers – yes I know we’re not supposed to use these for woodwork, but for reading an internal measurement within an enclosed space they simply can’t be beat. I took several readings along the length of the dados to check for variations in width. With the final width ascertained, I planed a 3/4″ wide rabbet at the end of the shelf using the Veritas Skew Rabbet plane, stopping just shy of the final thickness. This rabbet was planed to the bottom edge of the shelf, and provided a very easy and controlled way to reduce the shelf to final thickness without having to worry (at this stage) about thicknessing the rest of the 42″ long shelf. With the shelf hovering on the limits of final thickness it was then a process of repeated test fittings and making a note of where the shelf would catch on the bottom lip of the dado. Localised adjusgments were made to the shelf with a shoulder plane, until the end of the shelf slid fully home.
All four shelves have now been fitted to the left hand end piece, and I now have to repeat the same process for the opposite ends. Once both ends of each shelf have been fitted to their dados I will then finish thicknessing the shelves by planing the underside of each shelf to reduce the thickness until it matches the tongues at each end.