The search for “shelf awareness”

There are many ways to carry out any woodwork task, plenty of which will be effective for different types of woodworker or with different tools. It’s why I’ve never understood makers who get too dogmatic about process. Yes, be dogmatic when it comes to quality (quality always matters) but cutting your dovetails one way with certain tools (for instance) doesn’t mean it is the only way to do it. And sometimes, trying a different approach can help to improve understanding of technique or tools, or can simply get you out of a rut. Learning opportunities abound if you are open to them, and they are nearly always useful.

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If in doubt, sharpen. If you don’t feel any doubt, sharpen anyway.

The next stage of the bookcase build was to joint and glue up panels for the three shelves. The shelves will be 12 1/2″ wide, and I’m using two boards for each shelf, one 9″ wide and the other (currently) 6″ wide. The excess will be ripped off once the shelf is glued up and the show-face planed. In the past I’ve jointed each board separately and then bought them together to test the fit and identify where any gaps arise. That’s a solid approach, and worked very well on the staked desk build. One challenge is that balancing a No8 jointer on 1″ wide stock can tempt the plane to tilt, which throws out the edge. I was chatting to my good buddy Jim McConnell about what we had on our bench and he explained that he often gangs both sides of the joint together and works it as one process. The idea being that providing the joint is straight and tight, any variations in angle across the joint will be cancelled out when the two halves are introduced to each other. A further benefit is that the work surface is doubled, providing a greater bearing surface for the plane, which reduces any tipping.

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A quick grip clamp holds the two boards together for jointing

This all makes sense, and I thought that trying a different approach would be good. The iron in my jointer is normally honed with a gentle camber to avoid leaving plane tracks when jointing the face side of workpieces. The camber also helps to correct edges when they are out of square (don’t touch the adjuster on the plane, just move the plane so that the proud side of the iron is cutting the high spots), but a camber won’t help when you are looking to cut dead flat across two halves of the joint simultaneously. Instead of grinding out that camber and having to reinstate it once the shelves were glued up, I ordered a spare iron and once it arrived got to jointing the boards.

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Whispy maple shavings, and a full view of the work holding arrangement

Lining up two workpieces in a leg vise can be a bit of a chore, but having one board narrower than the other became very helpful in this instance. The narrow board sat on the bench top, while the wider board was placed in the leg vise so that the top edges of both boards were coplanar. A quick release clamp at each end held both boards tight against each other, and the result was a quick and easy set up, with both boards stable ready for working. Trying out any technique for the first time involves some learning, but Jim’s method works very nicely and I had two shelves jointed and glued up quite quickly. The prospect of glue lines showing is always a risk with maple due to the marked contrast between the light timber and dark brown hide glue, and the key to avoiding them is getting a good tight joint. I tested these joints back and front with a 0.05mm feeler gauge while under gentle clamping pressure, and couldn’t gain any purchase with the feeler gauge. So they should hopefully pass muster once cleaned up. Normally I don’t use feeler gauges for furniture making – that particular torture is saved for lutherie, but for these joints I wanted assurance that they were good and tight. Now to wait for the glue to cure and the clamps to come off.

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Two shelves glued up, one more to go

2 thoughts on “The search for “shelf awareness”

  1. Not having a free standing Jointer yet I often use that same approach with very good success. But think I would really rather have a really nice 8” or 12” Jointer 🙂 But I do understand what you are saying sometimes doing something different can just but and you might accidentally learn something to.

    • If space and budget were no object, then a 16″ jointer would definitely find a home in my workshop. But in the meantime it is satisfying knowing I have the hand skills to be productive without one 🙂

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