…But it’s better than a bad year or worse still a bad decade. Last week I invaded my wood storage. That’s wood I’ve gathered at different points in pockets of madness and good deals or good choices. Most of it I have had around for a decade or more and less but I lose track in the whole scheme of finding bits.
Mesquite I have had since the mid1990s to the mid 2000s. Pieces left over from the cabinets I designed for the White House. Some pieces were full-width, waney-edged boards in ten different woods; rough-sawn and then planed too all add to the complication of remembering where this or that came from. It gets moved a dozen times in searching for the exact project piece and soon the web gets bigger. I recently decided to bring my planer out of mothballs to surface plane the wide surfaces at least because the mass would take me many weeks.
Using my under and over would break the tedium and muscle work for me, freeing my time for developing the idea for the future furniture I will be designing for filling a home. My age is starting to tell on me. Whereas a few smaller pieces for a single piece is not so much a problem at all, truing up the wood for me to select the grain and wood type I want or need for a particular piece is more difficult to do in its rough-sawn state, especially when it ages and gets covered in dust. Imagine the thought of having to true up foursquare 75 or a 100 pieces ranging from 3 to 8 feet long, 4 -24″ wide. That definitely becomes a very different animal.
The issue for me as it is for many woodworkers is the time it takes to true up rough sawn wood. Removing twist, cup, crook and so on and then to thickness it down to the necessary parallel thickness can be a serious undertaking as many of you are finding. On top of that of course there would be squaring one faced to the other. It is a time consuming process and the machine was created to do such donkey work for us. This may sound as though I’m changing my mind and telling everyone to buy a shop full of machines. I’m not. I have always owned a surface/thickness planer and with good reason. 20 students needing 40 pieces of trued and squared wood for six days of projects translates into 800 pieces all dimensioned to within fractions of a millimeter. In my month long classes the issue was multiplied many times. The machine does indeed become the essentiality; it’s the only way, otherwise either I or the students would spend all their time doing that and not project building.
Moving into my new sphere has made me think more about the future. Whereas I am not and would not generally advocate an amateur woodworker intent on making a single piece or even a few pieces go out and buy several machines, my situation is a little different. I just had too much rough sawn and untrued wood to think I have enough time left to surface plane so much and still be making furniture. But once this wood is indeed milled down, I will be scrapping four machines and not replacing them. I haven’t used them for years. My love for working by hand has increased through the years and not decreased. If I need ready planed wood I can buy it or hand plane it from here on. I can also have it milled for me. It’s good for my physical workout and my general wellbeing to hand plane and saw as much as I can and have time for. It’s what I will continue to do in the years to come. If I do get to an age when strength becomes an issue I may change. For now it’s hand work that spurs me on. I plan to keep a mortise machine even though I have not used one in almost a decade. Keeping one in the background to see if I need it seems like common sense to me. I have never used a mortise machine on any of the pieces I have made for woodworking masterclasses and what you see me make is doubled by the prototypes I make behind the scenes. I am thinking that as time goes on I may indulge myself and use a mortiser for my prototypes. I will never use one in the videos even when off camera work is going on on the actual filmed work. I just have to face the limitations on the hours in my day.
The title of this blog? It took me 16 hours over two days surfacing and thicknessing the wood I have. Ten sacks of shavings later were the result. I am just under half way through the pile. I was reminded of the weeks and months spent milling wood in the past for mass-making some of my designs. Add it all up and it comes to several years. I never want to go back to those dark days.
For the past twenty years or so I have made a piece and sold a piece. In the last 10 years much of my work came from rough-sawn wood I planed and trued by hand. This period gave me the greatest pleasure of all. When time or age or strength or illness become an issue then there is nothing wrong with using the machine as your donkey. For me, now, the bandsaw is my donkey. With the right instruction, the gaining of experience, the bandsaw is a joy to use and hand sawing for dimensioning is most likely some of the most demanding work.