Tuesday, December 15

Strip Rippin’

OK, we have a lot to accomplish today, so lets get to it. We’ll start out by selecting a cherry board with consistent color and even graining – or as even as we can find. Because all the old-growth timber has been cut and we’re working out of much younger trees now, trees that were planted and harvested after just two or three decades, we rarely find the kind of boards that our forebears had: wide boards with straight even grain. Being much smaller trees, lumber we work with now has a lot more “direction” in the wood, and areas of straight, clear grain are small and short. But I digress. So I lay- out the board and chunk it up on the chop saw into the rough-length blanks for TV Tray Table ribbon strips. Because this board was cut from the center of the tree and contains the pith, it cupped as it dried. But that’s OK, for I am cutting it into short lengths and then the lengths into narrow strips. To salvage more useable thickness, I rip the worst pieces along the pith line, where the board bends to separate it into two much flatter pieces that will require far less jointing to flatten the first face. Which is done on a jointer. A cutter head under the red, swinging guard removes a little wood from the downward face of the board. The infeed and outfeed tables are perfectly parallel to one another, with the outfeed table perfectly even with the top of the knives in the cutter head, the infeed table can be lowered to adjust the depth of cut. Together they work to remove any twist or cupping from the face of the board. Here I’m jointing a wide board and you can clearly see (I've flipped this board over for you) how the outer edges have been cut onto and smoothed, the center part of the board is still rough because the knives have not gotten to it yet. Another couple of passes will have this entire face smooth, flat and straight. After flattening the wide face, I flip the board up on edge, press the jointed face against the fence at the back of the jointer and run one edge over the cutter head until it too is smooth and flat. This also makes the two jointed faces perfectly square (at 90°) to one another. When I’m finished I mark the two jointed faces in pencil. The two triangles point to the square corner. This is called a joiner’s bow-tie and is a hold-over from the days when an apprentice in a woodworking shop did nothing but flatten rough lumber boards using a hand plane – because they had no power tools. Using these marks, the master craftsmen would know for certain which faces have been jointed and were ready for use. Then the boards go to the surface planer. On this machine the cutter head is above the wood and the freshly jointed faces are placed down on the flat bed of the machine and fed into the cutter head by a tractor mechanism or feed rollers. The cutters remove some wood to smooth the upper surface and make it parallel to the jointed face. We now have only one rough edge, the rest of each board is nicely smooth and rectangular. In most cases a rough part blank would now be trimmed to the proper width on the table saw and that last rough edge is cut away. If in doubt about whether the table saw blade is square to the table top a machinists square or electronic angle finder can be used before making that final cut. In this case I will be doing something just a little different; instead of making one cut to finish the part blank, I will cut the blanks into multiple thin strips which will then be edge glued into the tray panel. Because the wide faces I’ve been working with will become my glue-joints, I take the added precaution of running the blanks through the drum sander to remove any ripple that may have been left by the jointer and planer. Then cut the strips, setting each aside and keeping them in order as I cut them off the blank. This helps to keep the grain patterns flowing smoothly, where just tossing strips randomly together would create a rather chaotic look. When done I have enough strips cut to make 2½ tray panels, which is good because I like to have extras in case a strip or two turn out to have a defect. If so I pull it out, close the gap and bring the next piece in order into the edge of the collection. While milling the ribbon strips for Ann's table, I also milled the maple and cherry pieces needed for Dianne’s cutting board (on the left) and set them aside. Now we lay the strips out on a flat surface and look them over carefully. Ignore the burn marks; a result of close-tolerance cutting, they will be sanded away when we dress the panel. What I’m looking at is the coloring and grain patterns. Sometimes the end result is better if I flip every other ribbon over to get a book-matching effect in pairs of ribbons. Other times I need to rearrange the order, maybe taking a dramatic section from one side and centering it in the panel - yet avoiding any sudden changes in pattern that will offend the eye. When I’m happy with the pattern I square the collection up and secure them together with three strips of wide masking tape. A mass produced table would be using a piece of veneered plywood here instead of going through the trouble to make the solid wood ribbon strip panels. But our tables, being solid wood, can easily be repaired should one become scratched or dented. The veneer used on plywood – even good veneered plywood – is only as thick as 3 or 4 pieces of 24 pound printer paper stacked together and sanding such a surface is extremely risky. You can not sand through as solid wood tray! Well, OK, you *could* but it would take an awful lot of determination! When both panels are ready, I take them into the assembly room where I have a gluing fixture set up, glue pot at hand and clamps laid out ready for use. The fixture allows the panel to fold over the edge, opening the joint so I can brush in some type III polyurethane (waterproof) glue, the tape holds it together and acts like a hinge as I work down the panel. When there glue in each of the joints I lay the panel on the clamps, even up the bottom face (which will become the visible tray face) and begin snugging up the clamps. I wipe both faces with a wet rag once all the clamps are tight to remove the glue squeeze-out. This saves a good deal of scraping later and is much easier on my planer knives as well. These panels will sit overnight to allow the glue to set up good and stiff. It won’t reach maximum hold for 5 days, but will be quite workable by tomorrow. So it’s time to clean things up a bit, and go do the blogging thing. Join me again tomorrow as we clean these ribbon panels up and make them into tray tops.

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