Planing and Patience

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We ran the black walnut through the planer in the vacant parking lot of the non-profit where I work. It was Thanksgiving week. School was out, so the elementary campus across the street was empty. The likelihood of us receiving a noise complaint was considerably less than if we planed in my backyard, as I did a few years ago. That was a mistake, though I timed it for an early weekday afternoon in hopes nobody was home. Nobody called the cops, but I sensed a distinct chill when I passed one of my neighbors. From now on, I find a spot away from civilization, even if I have to drive out to my brother-in-law’s farm some 50 miles away.

Our neighborhood, especially in the fall, is rarely quiet during the week. Several platoons of lawn maintenance crews descend, especially on Thursday and Friday, so lawns are pristine before the weekend. Blowers are a constant refrain, harmonizing with large mowers that drivers stand upon, maneuvering large levers instead of a steering wheel. I likely would crash into a house attempting this.

But the noise of the yard crews pales in comparison with my Delta planer. I wear large noise- reducing earmuffs, and it is still loud. On occasion I lift them off my ears to remind myself how much noise we’re making. If I had been my neighbor, I would have called the cops.

Planing lumber is laborious, loud and messy. Wood chips cover your clothes and get up your nose. One can only take off about a sixteenth of an inch at a time, which means a few dozen passes to reduce a piece from nearly an inch to five-eighths thickness. It is fulfilling work, watching the transformation of a dirty, dusty board, that some would consider only useful if cut up for kindling, into a glorious piece of walnut with swirls of grain. I never tire of watching the process, especially if someone is helping who has not seen this before and can share my appreciation of the process. Plus help me clean up the mess.

I am helping a friend build a tabletop to replace a metal top on a covered porch table. After planing the lumber, we headed to my house and rolled the tools outside:

  • A jointer planer, to straighten the edges.
  • The table saw to rip boards to the desired width.
  • Chop saw to cut to rough length.
  • Sawhorses and my rolling worktable.

It felt great to be back working with lumber, re-teaching myself how to use these tools, make the necessary adjustments. I definitely was a bit rusty. One board in particular was giving us grief. It was badly bowed, and no matter how I tried to plane the warp out, it stubbornly remained.

The board kept getting smaller and smaller. I hauled out the bandsaw and tried to get a straight edge that way. That did not work. Neither did my friend’s attempt with the circular saw. We were running out of both tools and lumber. In frustration, I looked over where I stack planed lumber in my small shop. There was a nice, wide straight piece against the wall. I grabbed it and quickly had two straight edges. The warped board might end up as kindling.

By then, we had run out of daylight and patience. The latter is absolutely required in woodworking. My dumbest mistakes are made when I lose patience. I have learned when that feeling of irritation starts to well up inside, it is time to walk away. That’s not a bad plan for life in general, actually.

Sometime soon, we will use yet another tool, a biscuit joiner to fasten the boards together. Then we’ll add some cross pieces below to keep the top from warping, a pair of end pieces to hide the edges, several rounds with the orbital sander. Then several coats of Danish Oil, finished off with a light, satin varnish. In the meantime I have been Googling how to straighten a warped board. I think I have it figured out now.

Next project? I plan to build a large chessboard out of red oak and black walnut to do justice to the chess set my late mother made for me, mentioned last week. That will be a challenge, manufacturing 32 squares from each type of lumber, and joining them together. Patience will be required.

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