Planing the Last Face of the Workbench Top

A couple of weeks ago when I started on this workbench project I had essentially no experience using hand planes.  Looking back, this has been a great learning experience.  I feel pretty confident now that I can get a surface true with just hand tools.  Planing the first two edges to glue up the first section seemed to take forever, but ya gotta start somewhere.  I ended up adding a #8 jointer plane to my kit because I was having trouble getting the edge flat with just my #6.

As I’ve worked more with the planes I’ve gotten a better feel for which tool I should be using at any given time.  At this point I have one face flattened, and all four edges square and straight.  Time to flip it over and start on the last face.

The first thing I did was to find the thinnest area of the top, and then draw a guide line all the way around the edges.  The goal is to plane down to this line so that I end up with a consistent thickness.  I used my combination square to do this because my marking gauge was too short.  I need to make a panel gauge, it’s on the list of projects.

The next step was of course to work across the face with the scrub plane (“traversing” according to Moxon, Schwarz, et. all).  The alignment between the glued up beams was off on one of the beams by about 1/16″, so I brought that down first, then worked across the entire face to remove the rough exterior.

I worked in sections, here I’ve finished the first 1/2 of the bench top.  It’s really gratifying to take of big, chunky chips like this.

After traversing with the scrub plane I worked lengthwise, with the body skewed to the direction of the plane.  My goal was to remove more material, but have the plane read more of the surface to keep from getting out of control.  I’m watching my red thickness guide line, and checking with my straightedge.  Note that the near corner (bottom right in the photo) is marked off so I avoid it.  That is the thinnest part of the bench and I want to bring the rest of the surface down to that.

I worked as much with the scrub plane as I dared.  In hindsight, I could have gone further with it, but as I get so many grooves on the surface I get concerned about overshooting the mark.  So I switched to the #5 jack plane that I restored working first across the surface, than at about a 45 degree angle, then along the length of the surface.  In the picture you can see the marks from traversing the surface.  With a little wax on the sole the plane just flys over the surface.  At first it’s just cutting the tops of the grooves, then it starts taking large shavings as it removes the troughs from the scrub plane.

I worked everything down close to my thickness line.  The line isn’t as accurate as I’d like, but I’ll check measurements as I get closer.  At this point the top is approaching the correct thickness, but has an uneven surface from the heavy work with the jack plane.  I also used my #6 plane a bit, it covers more of the surface and I have a slightly cambered blade in it.

Finally on to the #8 jointer plane.  At this point I’m fairly out of breath (read: gasping for air), but the surface is coming together nicely.  I’ve been working it lengthwise, with the body of the plane slightly skewed.  I need to work out a few small problems, which will probably require working it at 45 degrees with the #8.  But I’m beat, and it’s dinner time.  Three sides and one large face planed, plus shuttling my son to various activities and helping him with his Math homework makes for a full day.  Frankly, I think the homework took more out of me than the planing.  “We” don’t like homework.

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