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
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