Medieval Stock Preparation
Though planes have been around for millennia, they haven’t always been the essential woodworking tool that we may think they were. In Medieval Europe, and especially England, lots of good woodwork was done without handplanes. Surfaces were prepared and smoothed with wide chisels.
I often use chisels rather than saws or planes, to quickly remove stock. The example above is leg stock for a coffee table I’m making. I needed to remove a good 1/2″ to finish squaring up this stock. I could have sawed this material off, but at nearly 4″ thick, I didn’t think that would be too fun to saw or hold. I could have planed it down, but that would have taken too long. So I cross cut some “breaks”, saw cuts who purpose is to prevent wood from splitting beyond my gaged line, then I simply split off the excess with a 2″ framing chisel. You can control the depth of the split somewhat by using the chisel flat side down (for deeper cuts) or bevel side down for shallower.
I tend to smooth as I go by paring away any irregularties. In just a few minutes of splitting and paring, I was within 1/16″ to my scribed lines. Honestly, I’ll finish this surface with a plane. But it’s easy to see how you could work for a few minutes more and really have a respectable finished surface.
The resulting surface is pretty smooth and pretty flat. This is minutes of work. 18″ long, 4″ wide.
I think this is one of those tricks every woodworker should have up his sleeve. It really is amazing can quickly and accurately you can prepare stock with a chisel. Try it! It may get you out of a jam sometime! Certainly helped me today.