Tear-out and Grain Direction

I know what you’re thinking; “All these quotes from his Pappy and his wise old friends are just colorful metaphor”.  “He probably never cut down a tree in his life.”  “I doubt he really swears at his handplanes.”

Well, I’m here to tell you; my Pap and my friends did say everything I attributed to them (I don’t even know what colorful metaphor is), I cut all my own lumber, and you’re cotton pickin’ (this is a family-friendly blog) right I swear at my handplanes.  Profusely. And frequently.  Occasionally, I have to open up the big door to let out some of the blue fog.

Let me start by saying I love my handplanes.  When the irons are really–and I mean really–sharp, they leave a finished surface that sandpaper can never equal.  Truly, if you’ve never pushed a properly sharpened and tuned handplane across a well-behaved piece of cherry, you don’t know what you’re missing.  The word “chatoyant” comes to mind, because it’s the only word that describes the beautiful sheen and luster of a piece of cherry that has been attacked by an experienced (or lucky) handplane user.

My love affair with handplanes began when, as a teenager, I stumbled across a video tape of four or five woodworkers taking turns showing a particular tool and explaining how it works.  Michael Dunbar showed how to disassemble, clean, sharpen, and reassemble an old Stanley-Bailey No. 4 smoothing plane.  I was hooked.  What a graceful and beautiful tool.  The long curly shavings he was making were mesmerizing.

Well, being a teenager, and without the funds to start hunting and buying such graceful and lovely tools, that video was all the further I got for a few years.  Eventually, the internet came along, and, with it, Ebay.  I never forgot that beautiful No. 4 and eventually found one, up for auction along with a No. 5 jack.  I knew exactly scratch about the vintages or quality of these particular planes, but I had to have them.  Luckily, the No. 4 was a Type 11, a well-built tank of a plane built pre- WWI.  That was a lucky find; it’s a great plane.  The No. 5 is a good plane, though not from such a quality era.

Anyway, I eventually got those planes tuned properly and learned how to put a good edge on them.  When everything was working properly–nirvana.  But every now and then, when the plane’s iron just began to dull, or, worse yet, for no reason at all, the grain would begin to lift instead of shear, and behold: tear-out was born.  “What the @#%!”  Wow.  What happened? How am I going to fix that? @#$ %$^&* %$#@!!

Tear-out.  The bane of every hand-tool enthusiast, but the ruination of lots of new hand-tool enthusiasts.  When you don’t understand what’s going on with the grain of the wood, you really are stumbling ahead blindly.  I know.  Been there.

As I said before, I am almost finished with the Enfield cabinet, and it turned out pretty well.  While waiting for the hardware and some router bits to come in the mail, I decided to start on the already “chosen” and rough-sized lumber for my daughter’s bookshelves.  While the lumber for the Enfield cabinet was acclimating to the shop environment, I decided to run the “choosing of the wood” ceremony for Emma’s bookshelves.  I’m glad I did, it allowed me to start milling during my time waiting for parts.

Anyway, it occurred to me while I was monotonously feeding board after board through the planer that I was subconsciously checking the end grain and flipping the boards accordingly.  It’s almost second nature to me now, but it was not long ago that grain direction and it’s effect on the direction you work a board was only a distant rumor.

Soon, we’ll talk about that grain direction.  We’ll talk about the epiphany that led me to work wood more efficiently and enjoyably.  Until then, I have to get out my card scrapers and see if I can clean up some of the $#@%^& tear-out I left after trying to use my No. 4 past it’s peak sharpness.

In the meantime, here are some pics of the unfinished Enfield Shaker cabinet.  The aforementioned router bits are for the moldings that go under the top.  I also need hinges.  I was particularly pleased with how the shiplapped back turned out; I left the backs flat while I chamfered the inside edges with a block plane.

About Sam

Young, good-looking, manly--you get the picture. Novice woodworker with just too much rolling around upstairs to keep to myself. Random thoughts, philosophical questions, the occasional flash of insight or just dumb luck that needs to be shared with anyone who cares.
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