Now it is time to turn the plans into actions. The first step is to gather the raw materials. We decided to tackle the top first as it is the largest and most important piece of the puzzle. It is the star of the show, the main attraction. My wood of choice before the trip to the lumber yard would have been American Walnut for its dark, almost purple tones but we decided on African Mahogany for its almost iridescent sheen and the awesome selection of boards offered at the yard (if you ever need lumber check out Downes and Reeder).
The lumber yard was truly impressive. Six or more warehouses full of palettes on palettes of wood varieties you have never heard of from all over the globe. Our guide through the wood playground was the lumber yard’s owner (who’s sons also happened to be my father’s students long ago, small world). 50 board feet later and we had our top selected.
We kept the momentum that day and went straight from lumber shopping in the morning to working the individual boards into a one coherent story in the afternoon. One lesson I learn with more conviction every time I step into the shop is that the setup and planning require much more attention than the doing. The actual doing takes very little time, but to ensure the doing results in something done right, you have to invest in the setup. Creating schemes and jigs that make consistent cuts, not just for the first cut, but for all the cuts at the exact same length, height, angle, etc is a puzzle. A puzzle where the least amount of moving parts and the fewest opportunities for error is the solution. Unlike a math problem with one solution, these problems have many solutions and only varying shades of better or worse as the answer.
Our current problem – join six 6.5 foot boards together. It starts with a jointer which is a table with a spinning set of knives perpendicular to a guide rail. Hold the board to the rail and the knives will cut at a right angle.
Next we used a biscuit joiner to cut small incisions into the sides of each board. A small biscuit fits between them to help align the boards when you glue them. Gluing is a stressful procedure. Take too long and the glue will set prematurely and the table is ruined. Rush the process and create extra work in the future that requires tedious corrections. Luckily the gluing went smoothly and the few spots that did not go smoothly can be taken out with a hand plan.
From lumber yard to a rough surface in one day! Not bad. The next process I always imagined as a romantic activity. The craftsman meticulously hand planing and scraping a lovingly constructed piece. The reality is hand planing and scraping is a great arm and upper body workout!
Now the hard work starts to pay off as the planing and scraping reveal the grain and character hidden under the rough boards. My main attraction and star is shaping up to be quite the beauty. Next time we will give her some legs and under supports to help it retain her graceful shape.