October 25, 2007
Planing Osage Orange
Since I wrote here last, I have completed several projects, one of which was six step stools in six different woods: claro walnut, southern yellow pine, osage orange, african paduk and purple heart. Most of those materials plane quite well, except the osage orange, and to a lesser extent the purple heart. Part of the mystic of my step stools and step chests has been that all the parts are hand planed. Material like osage is roey and virtually un-planeable. Roey wood basically has grain running in opposite directions in the same board. At first I thought I would have to sand everything, but was depressed at the thought of the scratched, light refracting surface that would result. I looked at my tool cabinet and there lay my L-N large scraper plane that had never been mastered. A still untamed tool in these fumbling hands. One of my first forays into the use of this scraper planed brought to my attention that the bottom was not flat. That is one of the boasts of Lie-Nielson, that the bottoms are dead flat. Well we all know that flat and square and plumb are all fictions of some mathematicians mind. Even when we are deluded by Madison Avenue advertising that such things exist. Remember, diamonds are for ever and there are WMD in Iraq and that buck you got under your pillow was from you know who. So the plane was not performing well so I checked for flatness with my handy dandy Starrett straight edge, flat to within three thousandth in thirty six inches. Yup, the plane was not flat. I sent it back. L-N did their thing and bingo it return flattened. That problem solved, I proceeded to do some proper scraper planing. Did not work. I was aghast. How could this be? I was missing something. I could not figure that planes mysteries. I put the thing aside with grim thoughts of its early demise as an anchor or projectile. I get these deep emotional reactions to to tools that don't cooperate.
That was several years ago . Now I have osage orange to give a satiny finish. Out comes the recalcitrant #112 L-N. It is truly a beautiful plane: cherry handle darkened with age, brass frog, a flat bottom and nearly mint. I sharpened the thick blade. It gets a forty-five degree grind. then I polish the edge and pull a burr. I place the plane on a sheet of glass to set the blade and snug it into place. There is an adjustment to tip the blade backwards and forwards. I use this to set the blade just so. I put plane to osage and oh dear, eureka, the thing actually works. There is a beautiful curl of a shaving nestled in the throat of the scraper plane where before it had been clogged with wood crumbs and frustration. Good thing I did not toss that devil. Now she is my friend and a new tool in my arsenal to combat resistant woods.
So for now, may your chisels be sharp and your shavings long,
Rob Hetler, Cabinetmaker