Kung Foo Woodworking Masters

If you don’t try, knowing you might fail, you will have already failed.
      -Kung Foo Woodworking Master, Jan 1837, somewhere in Maine.

On occasion it is best just to jump in and give it a try. The piece of walnut measures 19.5 inches long x 6 inches wide x 29 mm thick (which is almost 1 inch, but I through in a bit of metric, just to see if you were paying attention). To inhance the difficulty, the board had a nice bit of twist to it. The mission, take off the rough edge and flatten the board so that the twist is gone.  It is a tough mission, thousands will die, many more, will have their feelings hurt.

I started by using my Stanley 4 1/2 with a corrugated base. It cuts like a hot knife though a runny French cheese. The 4 1/2 has been used quite a bit on my practice board, where I plane, just to get a feel for how they work. I am not one who has a clear understanding of how long one can use a finely sharpened blade, before it needs to be given a touch up. So after a while, I took the blade out and was surprised by it’s sharpness. It seemed silly not to give it a bit of a touch up anyway, so I did.

The hour was late and I can’t recall when I began to make shavings. I can’t be sure, but time may have actually stopped, or at the very least, it slowed considerably. The process was extremely enjoyable. There is still much to learn. I have read an article or two about reading grain, to avoid tear out. It has been a while and to say I am a bit unsure of my grain reading abilities, is a grotesque understatement. In fact, I plan on trying to dig out those articles, for a refresher, after I finsih the blog.  So I am saying, right now, I am 70% guess, 30% random stab at it.

Is this the only aspect of using a hand plane, which seems to be eluding me?  Not, not even close.  I have a vague recollection of an article about slightly rounding the corners on the blades, to avoid those tracks that the perfectly straight edge leaves. I have such tracks in my walnut.  So I may not have the blade tuned perfectly.  The importance of having a 4 1/2 and a 5 in one’s hand plane is mentioned in many articles which discuss getting started with hand planes. What I can’t remember is the point of each of them. I assume that like sand paper grit, one uses one then the other. This is what I did. I started with the 4 1/2 and then I used the 5 for a bit. Both worked well, or so it seemed to this amateur.  After using them both, I am not any closer to understanding which should be used first.

I am sure that a more seasoned woodworker, or even a kung foo woodworking apprentice, would know when and how to use both planes. In their hands, it would also probably be apparent on the wood, that they had been used in the correct order. I can only assume that the reason I can’t tell which one does what, is because I am not very good with them yet. Or perhaps they are used in different situations, like bringing in a left hander to face a left handed batter.  The Reds beat the Nationals 5 -1 tonight, but I digress.

So let me give you some stats from the wood, as it is now. One side is flat. The twist is gone. The other side is not flat yet. The low point on the board is 21 mm. The high point is 25 mm.  I should mention that I am not finished, but simply stopped to see where I was in the process, and to think about what comes next.  So it seems to me that I should be able to shave off bits from the high part and bring it closer to flat. There is an air of confusion hanging over my workbench.

It seems I will need to start from the high end of the board, because of the direction of the grain. Before I stopped to write the blog, I had been taking, or more aptly, trying to take full end to end shavings off the board. My little grey cells want me to start at the point on the board where it starts to get a little bit thicker and continue to the end. Thus removing some of the wood from the higher part.  If I do this, I will be going against the direction of the grain, which is frowned upon by the Kung Foo Woodworking Masters.  Or so I would assume.  I am not sure about starting on the high end and then not continuing all the way to the other end.  Maybe it is as simple as using lighter pressure on the plane at the point where one wants to stop mid board?  I just don’t know.

I am caught between following the grain direction and going against the grain but only attacking the high part. If I go against the grain, I will get tear out, which is bad. I sit in my chair, look at the board, and feel completely unsure of the correct methodology. But that is the point, isn’t it? It is the discovery of solutions that leads to an improvement in one’s woodworking skills.

It is true, that when I began to plane this piece of wood, I was mentally prepared to do such a poor job, that it would render the board useless. Now that I have been at it for a little bit, this board is really pretty. The walnut has a golden glow to it. The grain pattern is delightful. So if at all possible, I would like to get it flattened, learn a bit about my hand planes, and then actually be able to use it for a future project. The beauty of the wood has made me want to succeed, but even if I don’t, it will still be worth the sacrifice. If nothing else, I can almost imagine how people use their hand planes to prepare their wood for projects. Yesterday it seemed like it was only possible by the Kung Foo Woodworking Masters of the secret north eastern woodworking guilds.


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