heart pine • boxes & trays

A summer stroll plus chance equals victory.  The dumpster of old wood and plaster alongside Curtis School of Music had that smell.  Among the refuse, a few damaged 1×6 planks.  100+ year-old pine flooring.  Bingo.  Unsuitable for union work, salvageable for the determined.  Our Arts & Crafts effort is back to breakneck speed.

Step one, reacquire a table saw.  This takes four months.  The bar is high.  While awaiting Fate I gather information on my chosen plank from other crafters.  The consensus is heart pine.  Harder than red oak, prized for its strength and color, longleaf pine was logged to endangered status by the 1920s.  I’ve not yet realized its beauty.

🎶 Amazing Grain, how sweet it is …

First project, a shelf.  Channelling tolerance of imperfection, I am happy with the outcome.  Amazing grain.  It’ll come back down for detail scraping to its underside, crisper counterbores for mounting screws, maybe hand-buffing to a gloss, but is substantially complete and will support eye glasses, a cell phone, even a healthy cat of uncertain age.

Onward to the new.  Childhood stacking blocks, only hollow.  Each crafted from six pieces of wood, sometimes more.  I call them Idea Blocks.  You toss yours out of the way, a drawer or bookshelf.  When something wants thinking, you retrieve your block and handle it as you would a Rubik’s Cube.  Admire grain, smell, lightness, tight smooth seams.  Far nicer on hands, nose, and mind.  When you stop thinking about the idea you’re looking for, it’ll pop out of thin air, out of the Block.  The Idea Block®.  It works every time, guaranteed.

Now we’re cooking!  I take delivery of Lie-Nielsen tools and “new” c.1980 Hatagane brass bar clamps.  We admire our heart pine scraps and cut-offs.  Tray crafts begin.  I use every cut of the plank but the squeak!  “Pieces Make Music”, the sound of violins and a kitchen craft table.

Still I return to the dozen or so items, notice machining marks from initial power saw cutting.  More planing, scraping, sanding, buffing.  We want the final to appear entirely handcrafted.  I retrieve Micro-Mesh buffing sticks, 1,500 to 12,000 grit, from basement luthier stockpiles.  The wood begins to shine;  the end grain glows.

I’m inured to sawdust in my grits but Bobsled The Cat is tired of pawing pine chips out of his water.  We scale back, pack tools, take one last photo shoot.

Scooping cutoffs from the kitchen table, I wonder if our plank will yield other projects.  Of the wood, we crosscut, resaw, plane, scrape, sand, scroll, glue, clamp, pick, but rarely discard.  Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, Redux.  A pen tray for the desk or drawer of a favorite someone.  Or simply for the act of being creative.  Plenty of wood.  Even for two.  Where there’s wood, there’s a way.

Wood crafts bring many pleasures.  Reclaimed longleaf pine smells wonderful after scraping.  Matching grain with a good tight glue joint is visually pleasant.  Nonstop problem-solving is better than any board game.  Each of the many learning steps makes us more complete in ways both associated with crafting and others far removed from the manual, physical side.

The hardest parts are often the most rewarding.  I’ve never been good at putting a decent edge on kitchen knives, hand planes, chisels.  Properly maintaining cabinet scrapers?  Forget it!  Always hit or miss if a good burr would form on card’s edge.  This effort was different.  Fine wispy shavings upon bench and lap, the scraped surface crisp and glowing.  Respect for talent, ability, art, tradition.  I make time to understand varying steel hardnesses and tool edging techniques. 

Good tools are a must.  After you learn how to use crappy tools.  Back to overcoming obstacles and problem-solving.  Lest you end up like the new-construction plumber who does not know how to replace a water heater.

Epilogue   I am making a pen tray, mindful of dwindling wood supplies.  Thinking five steps ahead.   Inconsistent thickness of the base is hand-planed and scraped to acceptable variance.  Even more pleasing, the side rails have also been planed and scraped to remove saw blade marks.  And most surprising for a guy who eats his meals standing at the kitchen counter, I use a jig to square edges receiving glue.  Clamping techniques are explored.  End rails [stiles, in door speak] are chosen for interesting grain.  Minor wastage;  the scraps no doubt becoming part of an even smaller shelf for friends of Mr. Willowby.

Addendum   The card scraper sharpening process:  First, two ancient estate-sale honing stones are properly cleaned – three scrubbings with 0000 steel wool and WD-40 to float out embedded metal shavings.  Emory paper is fastened to stout glass, the stones flattened in wet slurry.  Mike Staib’s article made all of the difference.  Patiently the scraper edges are squared with file in jig, then edges flattened on honing stones.  Finally, with the harder steel of my new carbide burnisher, the card edges are flattened again, forming a tiny lip which is curled back into a tiny burr.  I work with precise angle and pressure between differing hardnesses of steel.  Like fitting a violin bridge, 60 minutes of work comes down to a final 15 seconds.  But I can finally put an edge on my tools.  A skill once learned is not soon forgotten.  Even better, I’ve acquired new knowledge and skills to share.

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