I was fortunate to locate a set of Ash book matched slabs some time ago and as I’ve been in need of a desk for several years now, the Universe smiled and they magically appeared in my shop. Total length runs to about 8′ with 3′ width. Two years ago I designed and built a coffee table for my sister, naming it the Taughannock. I used Walnut for that project (and White Oak for the leg) and wanted to expand on that design with a bigger piece. I also kept one of the live edges and for this piece, I’ve decided to remove both live edges, which is closer to the original design.
The first step was to joint the edges for glue-up. It took me 2-3 hours for each edge using a 22″ jointer and my low angle block plane in tandem. I ended up sharpening both blades twice for each leaf. Ash is a pretty tough wood and tear out comes easy, especially with a dull blade. It’s difficult to check for a completely flat edge along the length of an 8′ piece. I have a 3′ straightedge that I basically side-stepped all the way down and then used my longest engineer’s square. This was done multiple times throughout the course of the jointing.
And then after jointing. Ash has a lovely grain that when planed properly results in a unique surface. It has some similarities to Oak in its appearance but I find it to have a finished quality all it’s own, one completely distinct from Oak.
And the glue-up. The Roubo bench came in handy here. It’s weight was more than enough to offset the incredibly heavy Ash and the side panel clamp allowed for me to use gravity to my advantage during the gluing and clamping. I used 3 cauls to help insure everything was lined up properly. (a good tip here is to cover the cauls with duct tape which prevents them from being glued directly to the piece).
To take the bark off, I used a draw knife my dad gave me a year ago when I went to visit him. It was my great-grandfather’s tool and is really in good shape-it needs some cosmetic work to look pretty, but for now it just needed to be sharpened. My great-grandfather was born in my hometown in IA in 1871 and so I think this would date the tool to about 115-120 years old. I’m blessed to be able to give this tool new life and to know it was held in the hands of my namesake over 100 years ago. There’s a goodness in that history that I’m too poor with words to describe. If I can do it even the smallest amount of justice with my woodworking now, then I will have taken a small step in honoring my family and my work.
Here’s a dry fit to test the 45 degree mitre. It took a few passes and was no easy task given the weight and size of the pieces. I was able to use my table saw to cut the 45 on the leg, but the top of the desk was a different story. This involved using the circular saw and a series of clamps and a straightedge and a soft touch if that’s possible when slicing a 45 degree cut across a 1 3/4″ thick and 30″ wide piece of Ash.
And here are all the pieces. The final design will be slightly different than the coffee table, primarily to account for the extra support needed for a piece as large and heavy as this one. You can see some live edges here that will eventually be incorporated into the base. I wanted to incorporate that aspect of the wood but have it be more subtle on this design.
Six+ minute video demonstrating how to fit a post to a stone using traditional Japanese joinery. Check out the hybrid sawhorses at 3:30. A cross between typical Japanese sawhorses with added height to appease Westerners.
I was fortunate to recently come across a few pieces of wormy Chestnut boards while out picking up some other lumber. Prior to that, I had only heard of American Chestnut (as a wood to be used, and only lamentably, given the current situation), never actually seen a tree, other than a few stunted shrubs in the woods of VA several years ago, let alone any rough lumber, and never conceived of getting the chance to work with it. The story behind the few board feet I was able to purchase came from a tree that had fallen on its own several years (maybe decades) past, and when discovered lying in the woods 17 years ago, was sawn and dried. The tree itself stood in the forests of Northeast Illinois and was likely introduced as the natural range only barely made it into the state, near the very southern tip in Pulaski County.
The board shown here is about 8″ wide by 22″ long by 7/8″. I have maybe enough extra material that…down the road when and if we build a house, could feasibly be used for a place of honor in our home in something like a tokonoma. I feel like a having the opportunity to work with this old tree, and a rare one at that engenders a responsibility to treat it with respect. And given the tradition that the tokonoma should never be stepped on except to change any art that may be displayed within and on it, lends itself to using a special tree for the floor.
In keeping with that line of thinking and also with my desire to work with the wood now rather than just 20 years down the road, I thought it fitting to build a frame to house a very special piece of art in our current home. The walnut strip to the right of the chestnut will be used for the tsukeko, or internal frame. It provides a pleasant contrast to the white/yellow of the chestnut. I used hand tools for the majority of the work, but for the initial ripping of the two boards into their component pieces I used my thinnest kerf rip blade on the table saw (about 1/8″) so that I might not waste any more wood than necessary.
The chestnut is then ripped into approx. 1 7/8″ strips for the rails and stiles and the walnut is ripped into about 1/4″ strips. Throughout the process I marked the original orientation of the wood to help determine the final layout.
And here’s a shot of the strips placed back together after ripping and then jointing to ensure flatness on the edges and the face. I have to say, Chestnut may be my new favorite wood to plane. It looks somewhat like oak, smells a little like it, planes like Alaskan Yellow Cedar and is just as light. It’s a joy to handle.
The next step is to cut the rebate where the glass, matte and foam backing will sit. For this particular piece the rebate needed to be 5/16″ deep and 5/16″ wide. I marked this with a knife and then using a medium shoulder plane, some clamps, and a straight-edge started planing. I had to check my progress somewhat often to ensure that the rebate was even through-0ut the planing.
As a side note I haven’t had much opportunity to use the shoulder plane and it’s nice to get the chance to try out a different way of planing for a task other than simply flattening or smoothing, using it as more of a shaping tool as it were.
Once the rebates on the stiles and rails were fashioned, I added a chamfer to the interior border of the frame. I used my low angle block plane for this and just counted off the passes. To get the chamfer below, which is about 1/16″ wide, I made approximately 15 passes-but this of course will vary depending on how deep of a cut you take with each pass. I used a a jig from Des King’s 1st shoji book to facilitate this. Essentially it allows you to place the rail or stile at a 45 degree angle so that when you make your passes with the plane you can hold the plane parallel to the ground rather than try to approximate a 45 degree angle by hand. This is much easier.
Here’s an image of the whole jig.
I then did the same thing to the walnut tsukeko with the only difference being the width of the chamfer-this one is more like 1/32″ of an inch. Doing this was a simple design consideration-I just wanted to mirror the chamfer on the frame with the tsukeko. Unless you get close to the frame on the wall, you don’t even notice, but I like that. Have details that become apparent only to those who take the time to really evaluate the piece adds a nice element.
And now for the tsukeko. This is a challenging element and I recommend you check out Shoji and Kumiko Design. You will be far better off learning from an expert on how to do this, rather than a beginner like myself. Keep in mind with the following photos that the tsukeko pieces are about 1/2″ wide by 3/16″ thick and as long as the stile or rail they sit upon.
Cutting the 45 degree miters on the Chestnut was straightforward-to get a perfect 45 every time, make the initial cut by hand, then use your 45 degree jig to finish the angle to spec. The mortises for the tsukeko were 3/16″ x 3/16″ so I hadto cut them by hand. If you ever choose to do this, take your time. It’s challenging and rewarding to try to accurately cut these mortises. You can see that mine overshot the marking line just a hair. The mortise will be covered up, but a tight fit is still necessary for the integrity of the frame.
And the finished piece. I did not apply any finish, rather I just stuck to a fine finish plane pass or two and burnished the wood with the shavings. I spent about a week making this frame and it came out nearly as good as I could wish for. The only thing I’d change the next time around is to finish plane the tsukeko prior to cutting and fitting as even the slightest smoothing pass can make a difference in terms of how the tsukeko frame pieces meet at their miters. Always room for improvement, right?