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A Leg To Stand On

Progress, and it feels pretty good.

I got all four of the legs for my Rouboish workbench trued up on four sides this weekend.  What a workout.

Three down, one to go

The steps to dimensioning lumber with hand planes is well documented in books and blogs, and I think I followed the general practice:

1. Flatten one face, checking it for flatness with a straightedge and using winding sticks to check for twist.  Mark this face with a loop.

2. Repeat the process with one adjacent face, also checking that it’s 90 degrees (square) to the first face.  Typically this is an edge, but my stock is square so there you go.  Mark this with a “V” pointing to the first reference face.

3. Use a gauge to scribe a line parallel to one of the reference faces all around the stock for the thickness.  The gauge rides on one of your reference surfaces.  Plane down to the line and check for flat and twist.

4. Repeat step three, scribing off of the other reference face.

I spent a lot of time getting the two reference faces as perfect as I could.  All of the joinery will be laid out from these surfaces.  The thickness of the legs are slightly different, but the two non-reference surfaces are flat, smooth and true.  And yes, it’s a lot of work.  Here are some things that help:

- A sharp plane blade.  It’s obvious, but it bears repeating.  The blade will cut even when it’s not optimally sharp, but with decreasing efficiency.  Which equates to more physical energy on your part (or my part, in this case).  It’s not always obvious when it’s still cutting but could be sharper.  I could tell more easily when taking a thin shaving.  It also seemed to be more accurate with a sharp blade, I think because it will take a wispy shaving if necessary when sharp, but would leave material in that area when it started to dull.  Does that make sense?

- Wax on the sole of the plane.  This makes a HUGE difference, way out of proportion to what I expected when I first tried it.  I have a cake of beeswax and just give the bottom (of the plane) a rub now and then.

- Check all of your references and adjust your planing strategy to remove material accordingly.  I generally make 2 or 3 passes with my Stanley #8 to knock off the high spots, then stop and check with a straightedge and winding sticks (and square if it’s the second reference surface).  If there is twist I try to account for that early.  As opposed to planing it flat and smooth and then checking for twist, and then having to flatten it again.  I try to balance it all so I do the minimum amount of planing.

First reference face, no planing yet

Same face after two or three light passes with a #8

- Knots can throw off your planing.  If I have any hard knots that stick up I’ll knock that area down with my low angle jack plane fitted with a toothed blade.  It’s the best thing I’ve found for knocking down a knot.  Once the surface is close, a sharp blade and light passes with the #8 will handle any knots just fine.

- Find an efficient chip thickness.  I try to take fairly aggressive shavings when I’m working to correct twist or cup (or whatever), but it’s a balance between the effort to push the plane for one pass versus making 10 light passes.  Find what works for you.  As I get closer I lighten up the cut, and on the last few passes I’m taking a pretty light shaving.

- Check for twist with winding sticks at the ends of the board, and then move one to the half way point and re-check.  Sometimes the twist is localized to a smaller area of the board.  Plane diagonally from high corner to high corner and re-check.  I’ll make 3 or four passes corner-to-corner in the same track, than one one each side of the track.

- Make sure the face is flat from side-to-side before you check for twist.  Or, at least, that the winding sticks aren’t rocking on a high spot.

This face is done, flat, smooth and twist-free

In addition to monitoring “flat” and “twist”, check “square” when doing the second reference surface

Use a panel gauge to scribe a line parallel to the reference face, then plane down to this line, checking for flat/twist/square

I need to upgrade my panel gauge.  This one has a pin and it’s really, really hard to use accurately.  It wants to catch the grain and follow it, which of course is less than useful.  I recently got a Hamilton marking gauge (it’s sweet!) and I think I’ll get his panel gauge too.  It seems like a thumbnail-shaped knife would have less trouble cutting across the grain.

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