A (dove) Tale of Two Battens

One of the unexpected, but really rewarding, elements of the staked worktable build is the different senses of scale across components in the project – moving between the large surface area (and edge joints) of the table top, the battens, octagonal legs, and finally drawer parts. Today I prepared the two battens that hold the table-top flat and accept the tenons for the legs. After edge jointing 53″ long boards for the top, working on two pieces no more than 25″ long felt quite dainty, and was certainly a fun change of scale.

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Squaring up the battens before laying out the angled sides

The two battens are an easy stage of the build, but they still involve some points of interest. The battens are trapezoid (or possibly dovetailed) in cross section, which I approached in two stages. Firstly I planed the long edges flat and square to the reference face, to ensure that I had accurate edges for layout. The move from 53″ long edges to much shorter pieces definitely had an impact in terms of how quickly the battens were squared up, and it is a helpful reminder that working on different sized pieces is key to improving that core skill set.

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The 4″ Vesper bevel is the Rolls Royce of bevels, and perfect for this sort of precise layout.

Once the battens were square on all four sides, I then laid out the angled sides. The Vesper 4″ bevel is wonderful for work lik, as it is exactly the right size to balance on components where a larger bevel would be too much of a handful. I struck the angle onto the end grain of both battens with a sharp making knife, before laying out the bevel on the face of the battens. It’s not really advisable to use a marking gauge or knife when laying out the lines of a bevel or chamfer on the face of the workpice, because the kerf left by the blade will remain below the surface of the chamfer (and Charles Hayward had some strong things to say about that). Instead, a pencil line is safer to work to, even though it is generally a less accurate method of marking work than a fine knife kerf. Until this week a pencil based marking gauge was one of the key omissions in my tool chest. Fortuitously, I saw good friend and tool maker Bern Billsberry on Friday, and quite unexpectedly he gifted me with a beautiful cam-lock pencil gauge from his latest batch. This was perfect for laying out the rest of the dimensions for the angled sides of the battens. I set the gauge to the knifed lines on the end grain of the battens, and used that setting to mark the edge of the chamfer on the face. The gauge locked solidly and left a good clean pencil line to work to.

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An unexpected gift this week turned out to be exactly the tool I needed. A cam-lock markng gauge by my good friend Bern Billsberry.

With all the layout done, I held battens into the vise and planed the edges to the correct angle using my No.8 jointer plane. Angling the plane removed the bulk of the corner, and then it was a case of adjusting the angle at which I was holding the plane to achieve a surface that was parallel with the line on each end of the batten, removing the waste until I hit the line on the face of the workpiece and those on each end. Again, the small bevel made it easy to check that a consistent angle had been achieved along the length of the workpiece, without needing to remove the batten from the vise. I also used a straight edge to make sure that the chamfered edge was straight and without any bumps or hollows. All in all, the four edges took little over an hour to plane from square, so this was a swift but very satisfying operation. It’s been a hell of a week for various reasons, and getting back to my workbench always helps to re-centre me. All of the extraneous pressures and concerns melt away as soon as the first shaving comes up through my plane.

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The two finished battens – angled and ready for the mortices to be drilled. On the lower batten you can just about see some alternative angles I marked on the end before making my mind up.

Next week I’ll be working on the legs, which if I’m totally honest are one of the reasons I chose this design. Also it means I’ll be taking a dive into the world of lathe work and turning.

One thought on “A (dove) Tale of Two Battens

  1. Nice article. I’m closely following along because I plan to build a similar staked table to replace a computer desk. Keep up the nice work.

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