Planing is Everything

“Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” -Dwight Eisenhower

After a week of volunteering, I jumped headlong into my sabbatical project, a dining room table inspired by Sidney Barnsley’s hay rake table. So far, it’s felt like planing is everything.

One of my goals for this project was to use the swamp white oak lumber I harvested in 2008. Many of those boards were wide planks, 12″ and wider, with a few that were 17″ wide and over 8′ long. At 2″ thick, these widest boards weighed in at 90 lbs each, so this first week has been mostly about wrestling big planks, jointing them flat and planing them to a uniform thickness.

Do the twist.

Had I gone to the lumber yard and purchased the lumber, I could have picked boards with less twist or fewer defects, but I wouldn’t have had the same connection to the wood – wood I’ve taken from tree trunk to planks, and now to table.

bushels of shavings

What’s emerging from the bushels of shavings are four boards, each with a gentle arc to the grain that will come together to suggest an ellipse in the rectangular tabletop and provide an interesting counterpoint to the series of butterfly splines I’ll inlay down the center of the table.

elliptical grain pattern

I’ll edge joint and rip each to 10″ wide before the glue-up. Given the amount of twist I had to contend with, it wasn’t practical to insist on using the full width of those 17″ boards. It turned out to be a good decision, granting me much more flexibility and permission.

My initial plan was to do the project in the remaining three weeks I’d have after my week of service, allowing about a week for the top, a week for the base, and a week for the finish. This plan gave me plenty of flexibility: if I need to, I can apply the finish once I return to work. I also left my weekends free in this plan, so if it’s close, I can work through my two remaining weekends.

While I underestimated the work It would take to joint the tabletop pieces, I learned a lot for the next project, and I’m grateful for the flexibility I left in my plan at the start.

I Didn’t Know Jack

For my latest project, I’m working with a lot of 12″ to 18″ wide boards, so jointing by hand is the road home, and the jack plane is getting some serious mileage.

and miles to go before I sleep

While jointing the first two boards, I learned a lot about what makes a jack plane comfortable in my hands.

First, I learned that while my eyes prefer the subtle elegance of the low knob, my hand prefers the taller knob to keep my palm away from the base of the plane.

(Insert knob joke here.)

My No. 4 smoother had a tall knob, so I swapped it for the low knob from my No. 5. Since the smoothing plane swoops in toward the end of the project when the jack has done all the hard work, it seemed like a good trade.


The second lesson I learned was the importance of the horn on the tote. Here on the island of broken totes, the tote that was on my jack was missing its horn, leaving an annoying nub that pressed into the web of my thumb.


Reaching into the parts bin, I found a tote that had broken in half, had been glued back together, and then broken again along the glue line. I glued it together with tinted epoxy, but didn’t quite get the pieces to line up. A shame, really. The rosewood is beautiful on this one.


As I was about to install the re-glued tote on my jack, I looked up and saw the No. 7 jointer plane that’s been sitting on the shelf just looking good since I got my No. 8 a few years ago. The No. 7 tote is compatible with the No. 5 body, if slightly larger. I won’t complain.


I didn’t know my jack plane could be so comfortable in my hands.

Thirty Days

I’m one weekend in to a month-long sabbatical, and catching up on my blog is one of a few goals I have for my time. Over the course of the month, I’ll spend a week with my local Habitat for Humanity, followed by three weeks of woodworking.

The main project I’ll focus on is a dining room table. I fell in love with Sidney Barnsley’s Hay Rake table. I love the honesty of the construction and materials. There is no pretension in the design, no game being played; just an homage to honest work and work’s reward. It seemed the perfect use for the swamp white oak I harvested in the summer of 2008.

In the interest of time, I’ll be taking cues from Don Weber’s rendition, published in the February 2009 issue of Popular Woodworking. The design is available on the magazine’s website.

I’ll deviate somewhat from the plan by making the table about 20″ longer than the one Weber built. The extra length will make optimal use of the space in our dining room without overwhelming it. And that is the beauty of a custom-made piece. You get a piece that will last a lifetime without wearing out its welcome.

To get to this point, I’ve been busily finishing up old projects, tidying up and rearranging to find a better flow. My back saws are tuned up, my workbench is finally complete, and I’m no longer tripping over redundant tools. I’ll take some time this week to make some final preparations, and then we’re off to the races.