Woodworking Myths Demystified #1 – Low Angle Planes For End Grain

Note: The content of this post has been moved to my new blog.  You can find the new post here:


Observations on Working Green Wood

So after riving my red oak log, finishing the preparation of the leg stock for my joint stool and preparing some of the stock for the upper and lower rails, I’ve made a few observations about working with this green stock compared to working with dry stock. I know Peter has already covered this stuff dozens of times on his blog and in his book, but I figured I’d share my thoughts from the point of view of someone who has not done a lot of this kind of work. So here are a few observations I’ve made during the last week and a half of working on this project.

Snap a Line
Snap a Line

Take a Tip from the Carpenters – I’ve found that having a reference line on one side of the leg riving has been helpful for me in getting the first face of the leg stock flat and straight. I think the logs we got were very good, especially compared to most of the green stock I’ve riven and worked with in the past. However, even being very good, the logs still had some minor wave and twist in them as they were split. You have to remember that riving will follow the weakest point, in this case, the medulary rays. So if the log isn’t absolutely 100% perfect, then it is very unlikely that the log will split perfectly straight and in a single plane. There’s going to be some uneven terrain on all four sides of the stock to deal with. A 1/4″ of twist or wave may not seem like much, but over the length of a piece, the impact can look deceiving. With practice I’m sure I would find the guide line an additional unnecessary step, but since I’ve done very little work of this sort, I’ve found that having a straight guide line to judge my planing against has been very helpful for getting the first and second faces straight without planing a lot of extra material off from the wrong spots. This line can be established with a straightedge and pencil (I used a soft black pencil for a very visible guide) or a chalk line.

Find the Truth
Find the Truth

Unwind – If you’ve used winding sticks before, you know how valuable they can be at helping to identify twist in a board. Well, this has been nothing like sawn boards. Most dry sawn boards that I’ve worked have been relatively free of twist, so anything identified by the winding sticks has been pretty minor and easily corrected. This wood was not like that at all. While the twist was easily removed, it required the use of the fore plane, not a finely set try plane. Again, we got some good logs, but they weren’t perfect. The twist was easily seen without the winding sticks, but with the winding sticks, well, let’s just say I don’t think you’d miss it. The neat thing was though that it was very easily remedied in this green stock. I checked at three positions: (1) sticks positioned at each end; (2) sticks positioned at far end and middle, (3) sticks positioned at near end and middle. Once all three of these positions checked out and the face was straight when checked with one of the sticks as a straightedge, the face was done. The second, adjacent face was done exactly the same way. First I snapped a guide line on the flattened face, then I squared that line across the end grain and connected the end grain lines along the opposite face to guide my planing flat, straight and square to the first face. I made sure to check that the second face was maintained square to the first through the fore and try planing. The pair of hand screws were very helpful in keeping the stock from rocking all over while the first two faces were planed.

Go with a Pin
Go with a Pin

Shelve the TiteMark – A lot of folks prefer wheel style cutting gauges or gauges whos pins have been filed to more of a knife shape. These styles of gauges work well in dry woods, leaving a nice thin, crisp line. They’re useless in this green wood though. I tried using one of my French style gauges with the pin filed more knife like. The knife shaped gauge simply divides the fibers of the wet wood, and then the wet wood just closes up behind the knife as the gauge passes, leaving no scribe line whatsoever. Gauges with very sharp knife shaped cutters proved completely useless in this stock. I needed to pull out my old conical pin marking gauge to get a good visible scribe line along the grain that I could plane the second face down to in order to establish the final width and thickness of the stock. The conical pin makes a nice, rough, fuzzy scribe line that can be seen from across the room. When you plane down to it, you’ll know it. I made several light scribes with the pin gauge until I had a nice deep scribe. This left a very visible fuzzy perimiter around the face when the plane hit the scribe line. It was very easy to know when to stop.

Bring Your Axe
Bring Your Axe

Hew Can Do It! – Having a nice hewing hatchet (single beveled & flat on the back side with a bit that is offset toward the stock) proved to be very valuable for preparing this stock. Can you do it without one? Sure. You can use a splitting hatchet (double, knife shaped bevel with a symetrical bit) to hew. You can also use a drawknife to remove excess material quickly, or simply use the fore plane. None of these, however, proved as fast and efficient as the hewing hatchet, and I tried them all, just to see for myself. The splitting hatchet worked ok, but it was just awkward to use for hewing due to the symmetrical bit and double bevel. I wasn’t fond of it. The drawknife worked OK, but when there was almost an inch to remove in some spots (do to a tapered riving) over a 2-1/2″ wide surface, it was still slower and more work than the hewing hatchet. As for the fore plane, well, even when set for a very rank cut (I was peeling between 1/32″ and 1/16″ thick shavings) it still was no match for the hewing hatchet. The hewing hatchet was capable of removing a good inch of extra thickness from the stock in no time flat. I was able to make a couple of hewing chops down the side of the leg stock, to within 1/4″ or less of the scribe line, and then it was very quick to clean up the hewn face down to the scribe line with the fore plane and try plane. I’m very glad I spent the $15 to get the hewing hatchet.

Overall, this has been an extremely satisfying project so far, and it’s really just getting started. I can’t stress enough how easy this green oak has been to work with. Of course we did get some very nice logs to work with that were very straight grained and split very well, but I’m simply amazed at how easy it is to plane this stock. I think I said it in my previous post that I equate it to planing dry eastern white pine or poplar. It’s nothing like working with kiln dried red oak. I’m really looking forward to turning this stuff.

If you’ve never tried working in this style before, I highly recommend you give it a try. Even if you don’t like the style of 17th century pieces, there’s still no reason these techniques couldn’t be used on more contemporary styled stuff. The tools are very inexpensive and not many of them are required, and the wood can be found for practically nothing more than a little leg work on your part. Call up a local tree service or your state’s forestry service and tell them what you’re looking for. I’m sure you can find something suitable with just a little leg work. Trust me, this stuff is fun!

Joint Stool Leg Stock

Big Pile of Shavings

I finished preparing the leg stock for my joint stool this weekend. The dimensioned stock is buried in this pile of shavings to slow down the drying process. Planing “green” red oak could almost be considered a pleasure. Nothing like planing dry hardwoods. I would equate it to planing dry Eastern white pine or poplar. I “peeled” shavings about 1/32″ thick from the riven stock using my fore plane. These are shavings who’s thickness would be measured with a ruler, not a caliper (if you are the type that is into measuring shavings). The wet, tannin rich stock will cause your plane iron to rust very quickly though. DAMHIKT.

Make a Joint Stool from a Tree

One of the greatest, if not the greatest benefit of joining a local woodworking club or guild is the freely shared knowledge, experience and time. Where else could you find a mentored “class” in making a project from start to finish for $40? Need more reasons to seek out and join a local woodworking club? Keep reading.

The club I belong to, the Central Jersey Woodworker’s Association, recently started what we are calling group builds. As part of these group builds, an experienced member of the club mentors a small group of other members through a project. We typically have several of these going on at a time so that everyone who wants to can get involved. The projects range from small tables, to boxes, to whatever else the membership and mentor(s) desire to build. This past weekend, a small group of us, led by member John Aniano, set out to begin work on one of these projects, a 17th century joint stool.

While this project was chosen before our mentor was aware of the new book by Peter Follansbee & Jennie Allexander, the book was a very valuable guide in our beginning stages as we chose and prepared our “trees”. The version that John and I are making is going to be a copy of an original in the Albany Institute of History & Art. The other members working on the project, Wilbur Pan & Frank Vucolo, have decided to use the original, and the works in the book, as inspiration and put their own spin on it to suit them. This is the great thing about being woodworkers. We don’t have to settle for what the catalogs feed us. We’re free to design and build to our own personal tastes and desires.

So before we could get started, we of course needed to get a tree. You might think that this fact makes a project like this impossible for you to consider, but you might be surprised to find that getting a tree isn’t all that hard to do. While our ancestors had to go out into the woods and cut down the perfect tree, we actually have an easier time. Seek out your local forestry service and ask them about obtaining a permit to cut firewood. In NJ, there is acutally a program where homeowners can cut their own trees down on state land for $20 per cord. There’s no reason you couldn’t use this program to get a log for a project like this. I’m sure there are many states with similar programs, if you just call the forestry service and ask. Another option is to seek out a local tree service. While these folks usually don’t have trees as nice as those from the forrest (tree services are typically removing unwanted or nuissance trees from more populated areas), you can still find some gems from time to time. Call a couple and ask around. You might be surprised at what you can find. A third option is the lumber mill. Many of the mills that saw and dry the lumber we commonly use for our other projects are very happy to sell you a green log. So call a few and ask. Believe me, this stuff isn’t as hard to find as you might think.

In the case of our project, John took us to see a local arborist and tree service owner (lumber sources – another great reason to join a local club). Dan was more than happy to let us stroll through his property and he showed us a nice group of freshly cut red oak that we found to be just right for this project.

Once we had our logs selected, Dan was kind enough to buck them to length with his 3′ chain saw, move them with the Bobcat and split them into quarters for us to make them easier for us to load and unload into Frank’s truck. Even split into quarters, these things were heavy. With 5 soping wet red oak logs, each about 24″ long and 22-26″ in diameter, loaded into Frank’s truck, we made our way back to John’s shop to go through the process of riving the oak down into smaller pieces and talk about next steps like working the leg stock to dimension and planning for a 2 piece top (unfortunately, none of the logs we were able to get was large enough for a one piece top). By the end of the day on Saturday, each of us had a good pile of red oak wedges, ready to be further riven into stock for legs, aprons and stretchers.

At home on Sunday, I took to the task of breaking down the wedges a little further, removing the juvenile wood at the center from the wedges that still had it intact from Saturday, and removing the bark and sap wood. This was really satisfying work and really was much easier than I had anticipated. I have done a bit of riving before, but never in wood that was this nice and well behaved. After working with this oak this weekend, I have a new found respect for it. I was never really a big fan of red oak prior to this, but after riving this stuff out, I have to agree with Follansbee. It is a real pleasure working with nice, straight grained green oak. It split beautifully, easliy and straight, using nothing more than a couple of steel wedges, a froe and a hatchet. After splitting everything down, I managed to split out 6 pieces for legs (I split out extra for when I screw up the turning) and tons of thinner pieces for aprons and lower stretchers. I have so much extra of these thinner pieces that I already have plans to make a couple of Peter’s carved boxes as well. All this from one 2′ section of a log. I’m really beginning to see why Peter likes this kind of woodworking so much. I think I’m really starting to like it as well :).

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