This just tops it all… part 2

Everything you make is practice for the next thing you make. And every time you practice a technique, or carry out an operation on a project, is practice for the next time you use that particular technique. I was reminded this as I started to flatten the top of the staked desk yesterday. Although the top is the largest piece I’ve flattened by hand, the techniques are exactly the same as I practiced on the Joiner & Cabinet Maker projects last summer, and the Policeman’s Boot Bench earlier this year. All that is different is the amount of time, and the patience, required when flattening a 52″ x 24″ top rather than a 15″ x 9″ panel for a School Box (or a 40′ x 13″ shelf for the Boot Bench). Ultimately it just boils down to traversing cuts, then a 45 degree skew across the piece, and finishing by working along the grain. Just those simple three steps, repeated on a larger scale.The important thing is to remember the core techniques, and not to get overawed by the scale of the piece.

IMG_8267

Cleaning up the top shows good tight joints

When I started work on the desk the thought of flattening such a large piece as the top didn’t bother me at all – I’ve flattened enough timber by hand over the past couple of years to make this second nature. What I did feel a little nervous about was jointing up the top – at 54″ long in the rough, these were the longest edge joints I’ve planed. As it turns out, the joints weren’t as difficult as I had anticipated, and cleaning up the show face of the desk top revealed two tight and gap-free joints, a success I attribute to all of the long edges I planed up for the Policeman’s Boot Bench (there were a lot of long panels that needed square and true edges on that build).

IMG_8260

The underside before flattening. This is a big old surface to work, but the techniques are essentially the same.

Checking the desk top with a straight edge revealed that while most of the top wouldn’t need much cleaning up, the board at the back of the top had cupped after glue up, resulting in the show face falling off by over 2mm (0.7874″ – don’t ask me what this is as a fraction). My first reaction was to rip that board off the top, re-flatten, and then joint back on. This would avoid removing too much material from the top overall, but would stall progress on the desk for a while. After considering my options, and checking the thickness of the top in multiple areas, I decided that I would be able to flatten the top without needing to rip the problem board off – I left the boards at just under an inch thick, so even taking into account the fall-off at the back edge, I still have enough material to make a viable desk top. The top is also currently overwidth, so if I remove the excess entirely from the cupped board that will remove the lowest edge and mitigate the worst of the cupping. Traversing the boards with a jack plane flattened most of the top quickly, and I then marked where the low area started with a pencil and straight edge. Cross hatching the low areas gives a quick visual indication of my progress.

IMG_8271

The familiar feathery texture of traversing shavings

Once the majority of the top was flat, with only a couple of inches of width in the low spot remaining on the back edge, I flipped the top over to flatten the underside. The jack plane made short work of flattening this face, and I’m going to leave the traversing marks on that surface – there’s no need to smooth the underside and the scalloped texture will remind me of the handwork that went into this desk when I am writing at it in years to come. I then moved back to the top surface, planing at a 45 degree angle to the grain with the jointer. This approach removes material easily but reduces the risk of tearout compared to traversing at 90 degrees to the grain, which means less clean up once the top is flattened.

IMG_8263

Flattening the underside with the No.5 jack plane

 

All of this is pretty straight forward, and in fact the hardest thing was my bench fought me most of the way. While the Sjoberg bench was a very good initial bench when I bought it, and perfectly fine for lutherie work, it is simply too lightweight for processing stock by hand. I moved it against a wall in January of this year in an attempt to stop it skittering¬† around the ‘shop, which has worked to some extent. But for this operation I had to move it back from the wall so that I could traverse the 24″ wide top (which is the same width as the workbench). To hold the bench in place,¬† I ended hooking my left foot over the lower rail in order to pull the bench towards me as I plane forwards. These workshop aerobics have me dreaming once again of a stout and stable Roubo bench, so now might be the time to call a couple of sawyers and see if anyone can cut me a 24″ wide, 5″ thick oak slab. Roubo is coming.

IMG_8265

The jointer plane keeps everything flat and coplanar. The crpsshatching identifies the low spots.

I didn’t quite have the time to finish flattening the top this weekend (with all the snow I had to assist the Apprentice with snowman building) but that break has given me the opportunity to take stock of progress and decide the best next steps. So, next up I will bring the top to final width and length, including squaring up the ends, all of which will help to reduce the amount of flattening necessary.

Applying Body Mechanics to Octagonalisation

All of the legs for the staked worktable are now octagonalised, and I spent a couple of hours today making them pretty – final smoothing to remove a few spots of tearout, plenty of time with an eraser to remove stray pencil marks, and refining the fit of the tenons. Finalising the tenon size was a good opportunity to revisit the lathe and get a spot more turning practice in.

IMG_8214

The 50mm maxi-cut bit by Colt is a monster, and chewed through this oak rapidly while leaving a very clean finish and no splintering on the exit side.

When I originally turned the tenons I had been quite cautious and left them a touch oversized, which also abetted by wear to my “go block“, the corners of which had become burnished and slightly widened when checking the still-spinning tenons. So I prepared a new test mortice in some scrap oak left over from the Policeman’s Boot Bench, and took the barest shaving off each tenon until they all fitted smoothly without any slack. I also took the opportunity to clean up the shoulder of the tenon. Ideally I would like to turn a gentle cove into the shoulder, but my turning kit currently extends to one tool (the Easy Wood Rougher) and until I order the Easy Wood Finisher that particular shape is outside of my grasp. Instead, I made sure that the shoulder was clean and square to the tenon, with no stray bumps or unslightly catches.

IMG_8217

My standard grip for traversing boards and heavy stock removal is no good for octagonalisation – placing the off-hand on top of the bun raises the centre of gravity and encourages the plane to wobble during the stroke.

One of the advantages of performing a repetative task, such as octagonalising a set of four legs, is that it provides the opportunity to review technique and make incrimental changes towards efficiency. An aspect of woodwork that I find constantly interesting is the impact of body mechanics – the way that posture, including hand and foot placement in relation to the tool and the workpiece, will influence the outcome of a technique (for instance, cutting to a line, or planing a square and straight rabbet). Body mechanics have been a constant focus throughout my martial arts training, particularly when training with Clive, and that emphasis is something I find increasingly useful at the workbench. Octagonalisation is a case in point.

IMG_8215

This jointing grip helps hold the plane steady when removing the corner and establishing the facet. My fingers are pressed against the face of the leg to centre the plane on the aris of the workpiece.

When octagonalising the table legs, I found that my standard off-hand grip for planing wasn’t providing the control or comfort I wanted. Mainly this was because the initial strokes find the plane balanced on the aris of the workpiece, which makes holding the plane in a constant orientation to the leg difficult until the the facet is established. My standard grip works well for traversing boards with the jack plane, as it provides downward pressure to keep the plane in the cut, especially in ornery timber. But for octagonalisation it meant that the centre of gravity was too high and the plane was prone to wobbling.

IMG_8218

I transition to this grip once the facet has been established. Keeping the hand low to the plane body lowers the centre of gravity and keeps the plane in a constant orientation to the workpiece.

Instead, I established the facet by dropping my hand to the sole of the plane, mimicing the grip I use when jointing an edge – the thumb grips the side wall of the plane and the fingers curl under the sole to provide a fence to register against the workpiece. Once the corner is knocked off and the facet established, I shifted my thumb so that it was curled around the base of the bun while the fingers gripped the front edge of the bun – this kept the centre of gravity low for stability, but provided more power behind the plane stroke for rapid stock removal. After a few facets transitioning between these grips became second nature, providing a comfortable and precise way to carry out the operation.

IMG_8221

Four legs octagonalised, and made pretty. These are ready to be fitted to the sliding battens.

When I started octagonalising the legs I did not think much abut the plane grip I was using. Starting with a jointing grip, and transitioning between the two hand positions, occured insinctively in response to the feedback from the tool and the need to stabilise the plane on a narrow surface. Just as the projection of a plane iron is adjusted throughout a planing task (for instance, backing off for a finer cut as you near your layout lines), I would suggest that body mechanics are not static but also evolve throughout an operation in order to reflect to the changing state of the workpiece. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of how body mechanics influence woodworking technique – I’ve previously written about how posture can contribute to effecive use rabbet planes and tongue and groove planes. But what are your favourite body mechanic tips for woodworking?