Unfinished Finished Wood


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Established Member
24 Aug 2015
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In 2006 or so, an Englishman got me into woodworking.

He was a fanatical fine woodworking reader and has never been a fan of my turn to all hand tools ("Luddite!"), even though all is just most.

Fine woodworking had a project "a blanket chest with legs", so off we went to west penn lumber and blew a lot of money on figured hard maple. I had no sense of design at that point other than what made a pretty guitar and had been woodworking for about 1 year.

Well, we struggled with the figured wood because he had a large typical heavy planer (Delta DC580) and no such thing as a drum sander.

I followed all of the advice on the forums - sanding, scraping, scraper planes, high angle planes, and found the wood in these panels to be a huge pain. We ultimately paid someone with a Beach OSS to finish thickness the pieces and then after that was done, of course they adjusted their flatness to not before I managed to get them finished and assembled.

Everything touted as good for hand tools either failed or was unbelievably impractical. The wide scraper planes from LN and LV were agonizing, and I can set them up as well as anyone. They are limited to a shaving a few thousandths thick and when you get to that thickness, they become a real bear to push, and the surface left behind not that great.

The 63 degree chinese planes? Zero to unpush-able in a few thousandths of shaving thickness.

I ultimately ended up buying a Lie Nielsen small scraper, which worked well for no reason other than that it was much narrower, but it didn't produce a good result to the eye.

We slathered the panels with BLO and I eventually brushed on a bunch of shellac....

....and then I guess life changes, I don't remember exactly what, I stopped going to my friend's shop to work - I got married or something, it wasn't any one thing. And I've had these boards sitting here ever since waiting for an excuse to finish making a blanket chest that I think, frankly, is garish.

We also didn't have the good sense to do what was done in the article and just empty the wallet on single boards. I still have a surplus of the wood, but I don't care for the chest style, and I think there must be something better for the wood.

So just to start, I'm going to finally strip these boards of their finish and think about whether or not I also want to plane off the cove edge detail, as it's also just not attractive.


And I think I can plane with anyone in the world, and so can anyone else on here. It's not difficult, and the suggestion that it should be is just terrible advice.




I have scrapers and sanders, just like everyone else, but I don't think I spent 5 minutes planing the finish off of this side, and the yellow goes deep (soaked the thing in BLO). I did get a taste of scraping the shellac off on a couple of the panels when I laid it on heavy 16 years ago and it didn't look very good. That was terrible.

Off of the plane, at least this is flat, too, and there's nothing in the surface that needs more than light finish planing, and if you're afraid of that, scraping and sanding with a single fine grit will do it.

it is *free* to do this if you have a single bailey plane. Why everyone wants to fight it and pretend it doesn't work is beyond me.
FTR, this is by no means finish planed, but that would be another five minutes. It is just finish knocked off and any minor undulations that occurred from wood movement have been removed with a stout shaving.

The more I look at it, the more I'm convinced that it has much higher value, especially given that it's settled, for being used to make highly figured laminated maple guitar necks where its thickness is the face of the neck as well as the fingerboard surface.

I can't think of any good reason to finish making a piece of furniture out of spite more or less.
I would argue that the best guitar necks only have mild figure in them, I don't like a neck to be too 'blingy' if you know what I mean so I'd prefer say an AA maple to AAAAA maple, it's all a matter of taste, I haven't made enough guitars to know but have heard from several luthiers that highly figured can mean more movement and less stability, then again that is a very nice looking piece of maple, it would make a very nice capped top if it's thick enough.
I would argue that the best guitar necks only have mild figure in them, I don't like a neck to be too 'blingy' if you know what I mean so I'd prefer say an AA maple to AAAAA maple, it's all a matter of taste, I haven't made enough guitars to know but have heard from several luthiers that highly figured can mean more movement and less stability, then again that is a very nice looking piece of maple, it would make a very nice capped top if it's thick enough.

You are exactly right, and it's caused trouble with makers sometimes. Heritage attempted to make a 335 copy that had a single piece neck - highly figured. Copy is a weird term, because it was the original gibson company before gibson left and allowed them to make similar pattern guitars under a different brand. they switched to laminated pretty quickly.

I guess it could be done (one piece figured), but it would only be possible hanging figured necks for a couple of years and culling the ones that moved at all. That's a good plan for an individual.

That said, the highly figured necks do well if they're laminated, so you'll see that fairly often. they're more stable laminated than a one piece neck that's quartered, and the laminating takes some of the demand of finding perfect wood away. As in, to have a bookmatched full thickness top with even figure end to end is pretty difficult. Laminating neck parts, you can just find similar bits that will show and glue them together.

In theory, figured wood isn't as ideal for timbre, either. I posted my first shot at building a les paul style guitar on here - I think - early in the year. It was so/so (it takes a skilled builder to do a great version of something new - I have to have the first one to find out what didn't go right), but one thing it had was a rosewood top and laminated figured maple neck. It's straight and stable, but it sounds like a piano.
As I typed this, I realized that i do actually have a figured guitar neck in process that's quartered and highly figured, but it's also baked.

And though I have made half a dozen guitars, this neck is .....still waiting to be made into a guitar as I stole the body to make a short scale strat style guitar.

It's stayed flat as of the last time I laid it on the bench, but it's a matter of odds and building 20 guitars with all one piece figured necks - would not be a great gamble.

EDIT: found the post of making this guitar earlier in the year. which is where I learned that this wood (which was run through power tools eons ago, and I didn't have a sense for) was hard maple. I've got a couple of large wide boards of it - it has good figure, but it's not really furniture worthy and it's flatsawn, so it's also not worth trying on a one piece neck. This style of neck (better aesthetics than mine, maybe, though) is common on upper range jazz guitars - they are always laminated, too.

that aside, it just seems a shame to put it in a blanket chest that will just sit in the basement and get abused - just to be able to feel like I finished what I started.

I found the article for that, too.
My eye has changed enough that I don't like the looks of that case at all. To each their own. Just wanted to build something at the time with nice wood.
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....... My eye has changed enough that I don't like the looks of that case at all. To each their own........
:) Funny how that happens...

I lived in Canada for close to 15 years during the period when the "craft revival" in woodworking was getting underway. Those early FWW mags (they kicked off in '76 iirc) featured lots of figured wood and I picked up a taste for the stuff & went hunting for figured maple or cherry for several projects (few of which appeal to me now!). I guess I thought the wild figure would distract from poor design & execution - it doesn't, of course. That blanket box you linked to doesn't appeal to me for a few reasons, the contrast of the two woods is just too stark, but to each his/her own, as you say.

About the last time I used highly figured wood in a large-ish piece was for my current desk, for which I acquired the wood about 25 years ago. I used more plain stuff for the sides, thankfully, & that reduces the overall impact a bit. Most of the time the flap is down & covered with clutter (to the mild annoyance of my spouse), so you see very little of the front:
Desk 1.jpg

The wood is called "Queensland maple" (Flindersia brayleyana). No relation to "true" maples, but it's vaguely similar in appearance. It's about as hard & dense as A. sachharum, but far, far nicer to work with as a casbinet wood, it's up there with good mahogany for workability & durability & was much used in the first half of last century, particularly in the Art-Deco style of the time. Even stuff as figured as this is easy to plane cleanly, chisels crisply, and despite having a fairly open grain, it also polishes very easily.

Not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure, and I'm a bit iffy about it myself nowadays, but at least I'm happy with the proportions, so I could always paint it to tone it down if it starts to really annoy me.... :LOL:

Ian - I think that wood looks striking. The thing I like about your piece is that it's straight up and down. It doesn't try to be straight and curved in weird ways, and the blanket chest with legs type misses the mark where there could be nice visual facets (a more traditional raised panel, though making that cleanly was maybe over the head of most of the readership in highly figured maple), and oddball straight lines connected to curves.

Topped off with the hot-at-the-time through tenons.

I'm tapping out on all of those things.

I'd see the piece you made in someone's house and find it interesting, though - it has a more credible look. Love the ribboning on the bottom - reminds me of avodire, which can have the interesting diagonal ribboning like that, too.

I planed the rest of these boards clean to put aside for later and planed a couple at lunch today. Hard maple just isn't a great hand tool wood and with heavy figure, it's kind of a pain for a different reason than tearout- it planes like pushing a cart with wheels covered with intermittent strips of velcro.

I wish we could all get a good shot at the various interesting moderately priced woods from around the world. Cherry is dirt cheap here if you're close to where it grows, but things cheap around the world that come into the importers yards end up being about 3x the price elsewhere.

I'd like to be able to get inexpensive avodire and quartered okoume.
David, thanks for the positive comments. I did take some pains to keep the lines simple and let the wood figure do all the talking - the most elaborate decoration is the stepped cove around the plinth. I used 'flat' panels for the doors because I though raising them would make them too fussy.

Unfortunately, Qld maple is almost a rare wood now, our forbears were far too profligate with our limited rainforest woods so there ain't much left! What little heavy forest cover the country had when Europeans arrived was quickly cleared for agriculture & much beautiful wood was turned into CO2. F. brayleyana really is a great wood - it's quite stable (enough to be used for rifle stocks at one stage), and presents few problems to hand tools. Some highly figured pieces will respond rather badly to powered planers but I had no problems at all with hand-planing the stuff in the desk...