Chris Schwarz's Blog

Sweating While Cheating

Take six boards. Nail and glue them together. How hard could it be?

I began building the first reproduction of the White Water Shaker meeting house bench on Monday. And the first step was a doozy. The bench is a tad more than 13′ long with a seat that is 12-3/4″ wide and made from a single 1″-thick piece of walnut.

Thanks to the generosity of Dr. David Bryant, I got my hands on some 13-1/2″-wide walnut that was cut from a tree about 15 miles from White Water and air dried. That was the easy part. The walnut was rough-sawn and about 1-1/8″ thick throughout.

I considered doing the entire project by hand. It was the same process I went through when I considered going to law school: Ummm, nah.

Our jointer isn’t wide enough to handle these boards, and we don’t even have 13′ of outfeed room in our shop, so I turned to local woodworker Phil Hirz, who has a nice European jointer/planer that would just barely accommodate our walnut. And his shop is big enough that 13′ wouldn’t be a problem.

So about lunchtime yesterday, Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick and I trekked up to Phil’s shop with the walnut hanging out the back of her Subaru wagon. And that’s where the work began. Surfacing 13′-long boards with just one person is nuts, even with machines. It was easier with two people (thanks Phil).

And though the machine was doing most of the work, it took Phil and I about 90 minutes to dress three boards. And by the end we were sopping wet.

In the end we got the boards to the thickness we needed, but the board for the seat isn’t completely clean of the marks from the band-saw mill. The board had a slight bow to it. And a slight bow in a 13′-long board can make it impossible to get the board truly flat.

So I’m going to have to dress the underside with handplanes.

As the walnut came out of the planer, I was happy with its color. Air-dried walnut looks nicer to me than walnut that has been steamed to migrate the sapwood color into the heart wood. However, I was dismayed when I got a good look at the figure of the board. The grain reverses at least six times in the board.

So perhaps law school would have been a good idea. I would have been able to afford the wide-belt sander that would tame this plank.

– Christopher Schwarz

12 thoughts on “Sweating While Cheating

  1. Jonathan

    I’m in the same boat as Jeremy and Gregg: I went to law school and can’t afford the machinery to handle that board. Not to mention that I think woodworking is more fun than the practice (except when a jury comes back with a good verdict).

    Jonathan

  2. Gregg

    Like Jeremy I went to law school and can’t afford mahines like that jointer/planer in Phil’s shop. Besides, woodworking is much more fun that practicing law.

  3. PAUL

    Chris,

    As far as period authenticity, use the hand finished surfadce for the top!
    NO PROBLEMO, LOL.
    I wish I had some of that Walnut!
    Later,

    Paul
    ("But I’m Muchbetter Now" GomezAdams)

  4. Jeremy

    Even having been to law school, I can’t afford the tools to work with that piece of wood. Hell, I can’t afford the piece of wood itself.

  5. Gye Greene

    Truly flat: That’s a good point!

    Are you building it "pre-nine decades of butt wear", or "post-"?

    –GG

  6. Mike

    Uh, why does the seat piece need to be "truly flat"?

    It is, after all, a utilitarian piece of furniture.

    Take care,

  7. Gene

    "So about lunchtime yesterday, Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick and I trekked up to Phil’s shop with the walnut hanging out the back of her Subaru wagon… Surfacing 13′-long boards with just one person is nuts, even with machines."

    You mean you were going to make Megan do all that work herself!?

  8. Phil Hirz

    Hi Chris,

    I’m glad I was able to help you out yesterday. Even though it was a lot of work, it was still fun having you and Megan up to the shop. I definitely didn’t mind taking a break from my real job to go and do some woodworking in the middle of the day.

    At least we didn’t look too sweaty in the pictures.

    -Phil

  9. dave brown

    Chris Schwarz worried by reversing grain?! What is the world coming too?

    You’ll have to tell us which hand plane best dealt with that challenge. The dogs I’d throw in this fight are: one of your Sauer smoothers, the Hamler scraper insert or Marcou’s smoother. If it were me, I’d grab my Lie Nielsen anniversary smoother and use a Veritas cabinet scraper to clean up any rough spots. 😉

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