Woodworking II: Planing Board

Once the sawhorses were completed, I needed a place to chisel and plane my work. I based my design off of Covington & Son’s atedai, [当て台], which is a traditional japanese design for small spaces. I didn’t have access to a large wood slab like he did, as I constructed my board during COVID lockdown. However, a narrower board allows one to squat/sit on the board itself more easily if it is placed on sawhorses, almost like a cooper’s mare. Since my garage floor is very cold, and also because my board is a soft, light wood (port orford cedar), I decided to make a 9.5″ x 60″ atedai instead of Campbell’s 17″ wide board.

Planing without a planing board.Note the support beam in the back. I used this as a stop.

I started from rough stock, and planed the board down. It was a big task by hand, and it took a few days and a lot of sore muscles.I used my little planing board from my previous project, but mostly I used my two waist high sawhorses from IKEA and the support beam of my house. The board was badly cupped, and I ended up taking off quite a bit of material.

I used both my planes – my veritas and my old japanese smoother. The veritas plane is a little bit short to joint something so long. I didn’t worry about the edge being perfectly square, because I typically flip the board on its side and vice my legs around it to square it, or use a shooting board. Since port orford cedar is soft, it would be very easy to plane the side while jointing against it.

I used my planes before on my previous project, but none of the pieces I was planing were very big, so I didn’t get to really work with them. This time I definitely did, and I finally got my first real plane shaving. At a friend’s urging, I signed it and stored it in my toolbox.

Once the board was flat enough, I moved on to cutting the sliding dovetails that would attach the feet. There are a lot of ways to cut a sliding dovetail, depending on the tools at your disposal. Battens cut at an angle are commonly used, and another popular method involves a magnetic fence. Since I’m bootstrapping, I wanted a ready made solution. I used a sawing angle system made in japan that I ordered from amazon.jp. It was around $80, but I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it since, so I think it was worth the money.

The jig is a little awkward to set up, but once it gets going, it gets going. It’s simple to clamp to a large board and cut the slots, but more difficult to cut the leg dovetails without using a lot of clamps or a vise. Normally I would hold it with my body, but I couldn’t find a safe way. You can’t use a two-sided ryoba with it, which is a disadvantage, so towards the end of the cut I just used the previous part of the cut as a guide for my hardwood ryoba. Still, using the guide honestly felt like cheating.

This sort of dovetail is normally done with kote-nomi, a type of gooseneck dovetail chisel that specializes in the pan of long grooves. Kote-nomi are hard to find even from japanese carpenters, and used ones sell out very quickly on yahoo auctions. However, 9″ is about the limit of width I would attempt without a gooseneck chisel of some sort. It’s just wide enough you can get at both sides with bench chisels, and you can begin to see how cleanout would become difficult without damaging your bench chisels (like I did….). I did luck into a golden week sale of kote-nomi after this project, and my next 17″ wide tabletop project post will cover their usage.

I chose some purpleheart originally intended for a knife handle for the stops. I have to say I regret buying purpleheart – it is a very hard to work, and it (actually, I) chipped one of my favorite chisels because of its toughness. The color in purpleheart fades over time if it’s not treated with uv stabilizers, so the beautiful eggplant tone is fleeting.

I was very grateful the stops were small, and I leaned heavily on my hardwood saw for them, trying to limit the chisel time spent. I actually cracked the port orford putting one in, and I’m not sure if it was because I cut the dovetail too tightly, or my force was too hard, or if it’s because the woods were so different.

Nevertheless, the cracks were small and the end result was good enough. I did have to trim down the dovetails to be aligned once I slotted them in. You’re not supposed to glue them, but I glued all the dovetails, including the ones for the legs. By the time this bench wears out, I imagine I will want to replace the whole thing. I also used wood filler on my less than perfect dovetails (quickwood), and relieved the legs slightly in the middle.

I stained and sealed the bench with kakishibu and odie’s oil. Traditional construction would be completely unglued, unsealed, and unstained, but I woodwork outside quite a bit, and I do refinishing in my garage, so this worked better for me. The one thing I learned during the staining process is that kakishibu doesn’t stain quickwood very well, so it wasn’t a very graceful looking transition. Something to keep in mind for next time!

I started using my horses and board the next day when the finish was dry, so I have to say I’m pleased with the result. I’m still not sure if I like sitting on the board with the horses underneath or just sitting on the floor, but having the choice, especially on a cold day, is nice.

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