Hey, Rake!

I left home yesterday for a two-week business trip, and I’m already missing my workshop. (Okay, so I’m missing my wife and kids, too!) Maybe this is a chance to update the blog with some recent work.

With a functional (if not yet painted) tool chest, it was time to pick back up on a neglected project: my hay rake table. I know, I started this project well over a year ago. Let’s just say the cobbler’s children may finally get new shoes this fall.

The hay rake stretchers came together relatively easily. I was pleased with the way the legs came together with the stretchers.

The base is now nearly complete. I need to complete the scroll detail at the ends of the top bars that support the tabletop, and join those to the legs.

I’m tempted to embellish these scrolls with more detailed spiral carvings, since they already suggest the volutes of an Ionic column. I’m really torn here: I’d been looking forward to adding carving to my work, and the minimal carving to define the scroll went very quickly. I worry a bit that an overtly Classical reference would seem a little out of place on an Arts and Crafts piece. It could work, especially in the context of the volutes on a Windsor chair.

What do you think? Stop with the scrolls as they are, or continue to carve a more intricate volute?

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.

Harvesting urban lumber

This is an exercise in delayed gratification.  I have two more years to wait for this urban lumber harvest to come to fruition.   But the hard work is finished.


About a year ago, this tree fell in my neighbor’s back yard, crushing her cinder-block garage.  The tree finally gave up in the rain-saturated ground.  Luckily nobody was injured.

With my neighbor’s permission, I began the process of harvesting the tree for use in furniture. 

The tree trunk was on average 48″ in diameter – much larger than the deck of a portable bandsaw mill – so I had to split the log into quarters. The process was slow at first, but once I discovered this 30″ chainsaw available for rent locally, I got the job done.

Plan A involved bringing the bandsaw mill to the logs, but we soon discovered that the quarters were each as heavy as the average log, and much more awkward because of the geometry.  It was on to Plan B, which involved renting a skid steer loader and hauling the logs to the sawmill. 

The second truckload

These were the narrow boards, believe it or not.  I brought the first 15 boards, the widest of the bunch, home from the sawmill the night before.  The widest boards were well over 20″ wide.

I unloaded five boards and got them stacked before I gave up, exhausted.  I got up early the next morning, stacked the rest of the boards from the first load in the driveway, and drove back out to the sawmill to pick up this load.  It was one of the few times in my life when I was relieved to have some narrow boards to work with.

Finally, with a little help from my brother-in-law, I got all the boards unloaded and leaning against the back of my garage workshop.  The moisture content of these boards were enough to make the wider ones very difficult to manage. 

There was a long piece of iron, like a large nail, several inches long and coiled inside one of the four logs.  This caused staining on some of the boards, and ruined a few saw blades. 

Some iron staining

It’s hard to feel bad about it, because there was so much good lumber out of it.  I’m looking forward to experimenting with the stained stuff. 

One option would be to ebonize it, but I can also picture a more postmodern approach, making use of an Arts and Crafts design vocabulary appropriate for quartersawn oak, but tinting the pieces blue with a dye.  This might make for interesting children’s furniture, or even a hip update on a Stickley design. 

Don, the man with the sawmill and my go-to guy for urban lumber, asked me if I’d do it all over again.  “I think so,” I said.  That was before I finished unloading.  Still, I’d have to say yes.  It’s an amazing sense of acomplishment, taking the wood from tree to lumber.  Hopefully I’ll have the chance to see it the rest of the way through the lifecycle.  Knock on… well, never mind.

Here it is, all stacked and ready to air-dry behind my workshop, a time capsule to be ignored and forgotten until summer, 2010. This should be enough oak to last me several years.
Stickered and Stacked

Update:  Cross-posted at Moseley WoodWorks.