My second commission – part 4

31/3/2016

This past weekend I finally mustered enough courage to take on the Witpeer stock for the trapezoid leg of this table. You might remember the picture below, which is were I got to with these boards some weeks ago. The Witpeer (meaning white pear) is the light coloured wood at the top of the pile.

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On Friday afternoon I fed them to my electric planer, just to get rid of some of the nasty stuff. Of course the problem is that the planer does not get rid of any wist, bowing or cupping (length wise any).

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They then sat clamped to each other overnight, awaiting the major assault by hand plane the next day.

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Like most of these African wild timbers I mess around with, Witpeer is freaking hard. Therefore, if you have a serious amount of work to do like this, it is best to go into battle with razor sharp cutting edges. Now can you imagine anything better to do with your first cup of coffee on a Saturday morning than sharpening a couple of plane blades.

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First flattening the water stones.

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Then touch up the cutting edges.

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Two planes ready to rock.

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The first board was not too bad as you can see from the reading on my winding sticks.

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The next board unfortunately had at least 5 times more twist, which made me realise that I was a tad optimistic with the two planes I prepared. Clearly I needed to call upon the savage beast that is my shop made scrub plane.

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In the pictures below you can see the telltale scalloped appearance left by it’s heavily cambered blade.

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The extent of the wist in some of the boards necessitated the use of a wedge to stop it from wobbling all over the bench.

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It took the best part of 5 hours of hand planing to work my way through 7 boards on the Saturday morning. By the time I was finished all seven were marked as illustrated in the picture below. The flat (or face) side were marked as usual (bottom in picture) and the opposite side had scribble all over it to help identify when it is completely flat during the process of lazy planing (aka planing with an electric planer).

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Once the lazy planer did it’s damage, the boards looked like this. As you can see, the Witpeer has quite a few areas of visual interest. The cracks will eventually receive Nakashimaesque butterfly keys.

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Just to remind you of were this stock fit into the project I include two pictures of the prototype model. The stock that I am preparing will form one of three layers of timber that will ultimately make up the big solid trapezoid leg. The leg will have an overall thickness of 44 mm (therefore exactly double the thickness of the top of this table) of which this layer will make up 20 mm. It will be the timber you see when looking at the table from the end seen in the second picture.

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At this stage I had to quickly work out the exact measurements of the trapezoid leg using the prototype as my guide. It came to these numbers (in mm of course).

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Once I knew what to aim for I straightened one edge of each board by hand planing and used that as a reference surface to rip the other edge with the help of the table saw.

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After nearly two days I ended up with boards looking like this. This means that I am now just about at the stage were most woodworkers start their project. In other words with straight, square and wind free timber. The only difference is that apart from well prepared stock, I received some blisters and muscles on the house.

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2 thoughts on “My second commission – part 4”

  1. Hey Gerhard,

    Perhaps I’m just lazy, but have you ever considered an electric joiner? I know I’ve never asked you this before, but it occurred to me just now. I certainly understand the appeal of hand tool woodworking and the desire to do things the “old” way, but you work with some very hard and warped boards on a regular basis.

    Perhaps I’m off base. Is it that a 6 or 8 inch joiner is hard to find at anything approaching a reasonable price in Windhoek?

    I have an 8 inch Grizzly Joiner with a spiral segmented cutter-head, and I couldn’t help but think as I read this, that stock prep would have taken me about 30 minutes. It made me realize that I’m a bit spoiled. I hope this doesn’t come across as some sort of brag. That’s not what I mean by this at all.

    Of course, the flip side to all of this is that I’m building out of Douglas Fir (practically a weed in Washington State) and you have all that gorgeous Whitpear, Assegai, and Ysterhout. I’m very jealous on that front, though I certainly see the extra work it causes you.

    The boards you have milled are beautiful. I can’t wait to see what you do with them.

    I hope you are all well.

    Jonathan

    1. Hi Jonathan

      You are quite right, an electric jointer will and does get the job done a hell of a lot faster. I used to have one (a DeWalt) that belonged to my father before he passed his tools on to me. In my current shop I only used it a few times until realising that the motor’s attachment to the main frame (a cast iron thing) cracked and it was slowly getting worse. Since then I have never gotten round to buy a new one, but got to learn a lot and improved my understanding of the wood I am working with. What I have realised is that by doing the jointing by hand, these very hard and wild timbers tend to be more stable afterwards. I can still remember quite well that the boards flattened on the jointer would almost immediately assume a new warped configuration. It must have some thing to do with the amount of tension release and how quickly it happens. This does not seem to happen much at all when doing it by hand. I am therefore happy that my journey took this detour as it helped me to realise something very important about the wood I work with. I might buy a jointer at some stage in the future, but even then I will be better off for having this understanding. I might need to then do the milling in very small chunks over several days to mimic the hand planing effect, without the same amount of sweat. Another major advantage I have realised is that you end up getting to know each bit of timber better during the process of planing. I have chucked out several piece while planing that would have stayed in my working pile in the past when doing it on the electric planer. It has helped me to be more aware of grain direction, stability of the board etc etc while picking appropriate pieces.

      I hope that gives you some insight into my modus operandi.
      Always a pleasure to hear from you.
      Gerhard

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