The Joy Of Planing

Planing walnut with gnarly grain

Those of you who follow my posts know that during the last few years I have dealt with some boring health issues. Slowly but surely I’m returning to being a dulcimer builder on a regular basis. As I am able to do more I have to remind my self not to do too much more; not the easiest thing for me to do. I love my job and I like to work. I’m catching up on orders and hope to have some inventory on hand in a few months.

This past Thanksgiving I realized that on Thanksgiving the year before I was using a walker and now I use a cane. This was a good reminder of how far I have come along and these moments are helpful to remember when having a day when I am unable to work as much as I had hoped I would. And speaking of using a cane:, several people have told me using a cane makes me look distinguished. Who knew it was so easy! I would have bought a cane 30 years ago!

I mill all my lumber by hand and I enjoy the process.  Planing is a full-body experience; my lower body is as involved as my arms. When planing a long board I step along with the pushing of the plane. I am still not able to plane as much or for as long as I would like but I am able to do what needs to be done in multiple short sessions.

In the photograph above is a piece of walnut that earlier today was a rough piece of lumber. After several sessions of planing  it is now ready to be sawn and shaped into parts for a some of the dulcimers I am working on.

This piece of walnut had some areas where the grain was moderately wild and changed direction here and there so for the final smoothing I used a high-angle plane to avoid tear-out. The plane shown below is a Chinese high-angle smoothing plane. When set for a very fine shaving this plane will smooth just about any wild grain or figure. It also can be used both pushed away and pulled towards the user. The crossbar is removable but I usually keep it in place as it provides a variety of grips that add versatility to the plane’s use. Sometimes I take the crossbar out if I am planing small parts.

Dulcimer Builder's Still Life Like all wooden planes I occasionally have to true the sole of this high-angle plane. If the blade is freshly sharpened and I have trouble getting a fine, thin, shaving it usually means the sole of the plane needs to be trued. I check the sole of the plane with a straight edge and true it up with a scraper or another plane.