Walnut Mantle
#10
  
A family I know asked me to make them a new mantle for their fireplace.  They dropped off this walnut beam a few days ago.




It's just over 7' long, 12" wide, and 5" thick.  And it's not really dry yet, so the thing is pretty heavy.  (Good thing they're okay with the "rustic" look, because this is going to have a few checks in the ends once it's actually dried out.)  I have a 4' offcut from it, too, so I can make corbels to go under it.  

Because of its size, the beam is kind of a challenge to work.  I'm not about to hoist the thing up onto my workbench, and it's way too big to run through any kind of machine I have access to.  But fortunately the thing is so heavy that it pretty much says put when I work on it.  

First order of business was to plane down one edge so I can see what I'm dealing with.  







Oh yeah.  That's going to look nice when it's done!  

But that's going to be a little while yet.  The next thing to do was to rip it to width and get rid of the bit of sapwood on the opposite edge.  

I had to use a combination of strategies to do this.




First I made cuts with the circular saw as deep as I could, sneaking up on the final depth over several passes.  That left about 1" in the middle that the saw couldn't reach. 

No problem.  




I used a handsaw to stat finishing the cut.  Problem is, this handsaw is a bit dull, so I glanced around for something faster.  




I spotted my froe and club over on a shelf.  They worked even faster than the handsaw, and because I had already hand-sawed in from both ends, and this is the back of the mantle, any tear-out will be completely hidden. 




In a minute or two, the piece was split off. I'll probably make some wooden spoons out of the offcut.  




I used a drawknife to take down some of the last splinters.  That was fun.  

So now I get to plane down the faces of this thing, again using my jack plane.  Because I just have it up on a couple blocks, I found myself sitting on the beam and pushing the plane in front of me.  It wasn't an ideal posture, but then I remembered videos I've seen of Japanese woodworkers sitting on long workpieces but pulling their planes toward themselves.  




I tried it out (with two hands--one had to snap the picture) and it worked pretty well, even with my Western jack plane.  Best of all, it allowed me to quickly change directions to deal with grain reversal.  I could push it or pull it, depending on what the grain wanted.  Planing toward myself allowed me to pull with my back, kind of like rowing, and I got less fatigued that way.  

Between hand-planing sessions (I did NOT do all this in one day), I needed to design the corbels.  




The customer had given me a sketch of what she had in mind, so I pulled out my compass and straightedge and tried to remember every Design Matters column in Popular Woodworking that I've read in the last five years.  After some experimentation, I think I came up with a template that will yield a handsome profile.  

I'll spare you the details of some screw-ups that I and my bandsaw made when breaking down the stock for these things.  I'm not sure whether it was me trying to push the limits of my bandsaw, or whether it was the fact that I still haven't mastered the adjustments, but regardless, I nearly ruined the stock but managed to get it all sorted out. 




I'm not really looking forward to sanding out the saw marks on those profiles, so I think I'll be using a fine rasp and file on them first.

And that's as far as I've taken the project so far.  I should have it done later this week.
Steve S.
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Tradition cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour.
- T. S. Eliot

Tutorials and Build-Alongs at The Literary Workshop
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#11
  Re: Walnut Mantle by Bibliophile 13 (A family I know aske...)
Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to seeing the finished project.
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#12
  Re: Walnut Mantle by Bibliophile 13 (A family I know aske...)
We are all our own worst critic!

You are doing just fine, it is looking good.

The customers will be pleased. How are they mounting
this beast?
Mark Singleton

Bene vivendo est optimum vindictae
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#13
  Re: Walnut Mantle by Bibliophile 13 (A family I know aske...)
That is an awesome looking piece of wood. Looking forward to seeing the final product.
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#14
  Re: Walnut Mantle by Bibliophile 13 (A family I know aske...)
The customers are mounting and finishing it themselves. I’ve recommended they anchor four or five metal rods in the fireplace and drill matching holes in the back of the mantle and just slide it on. The husband is a diesel mechanic with a shop full of some impressive tooling, so I’m sure he can figure it out.
Steve S.
------------------------------------------------------
Tradition cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour.
- T. S. Eliot

Tutorials and Build-Alongs at The Literary Workshop
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#15
  Re: Walnut Mantle by Bibliophile 13 (A family I know aske...)
It's done now!  Here are more process pics. 

Shaping the corbels was one of the genuinely interesting parts of the project.  




After cutting out the profiles on the bandsaw, I used handplanes to remove saw marks where I could, including on the convex portion of the curve.  Skewing the plane almost sideways and making slicing cuts worked really well.

The rest of the work required a rasp followed by a card scraper. 




A sharp cardscraper worked surprisingly quickly even on what is mostly end-grain.  I was afraid I was going to have to spend a lot of time sanding this profile, but in the end, I just had to use sandpaper for a final touch-up.  

The other fun part was thinking through how I was going to attach these to the bottom of the mantle.  I wanted the joint to be invisible, of course, as well as really strong.  After some thought, I settled on a big sliding dovetail. 




I beveled the edges of a couple scraps of white oak, and then glued and screwed them to the tops of the corbels.  Any hardwood would have been fine--I just had the oak on hand.  

I used each one to lay out the matching slot. 




Then I sawed the sides out as much as I could with a hand saw. 




A Forstner bit in the hand drill removed most of the waste.  I just eyeballed the depth. 

A broad chisel (and a couple skew chisels--not pictured) took care of the rest.










Then the router plane took everything down to final depth.  




They fit perfectly, with a little help from a small sledge hammer. 

Perhaps you've noticed the water spots all over these workpieces.  Yeah, it's hot outside.  Really hot.  And there's not much air circulation down here where I'm working.  I had to take a lot of water breaks.  




Before installing the corbels, I did plane, scrape, and sand the surface.  The wood has a lot of character, but also a lot of reversing grain.  The card scrapers were lifesavers on this stuff.  




And that's it!  It all looks so simple once it's put together.  

I delivered it sanded but unfinished.  The customer will finish and mount it.  Hopefully they'll do that soon and send me a picture that I can share here.  

In the meantime, this project gave me a lot of time to think about stuff.  Two things especially occurred to me during this project: 

1. If the workpiece is big enough, you don't necessarily need a workbench even for hand tool work.  It was nice to have a workbench to hold the corbels while I shaped them, but I never even brought this beam into the indoor shop.  I just worked it where it lay, propped up on blocks.  I would have had it up on my sawhorses, but my wife was using them for another job, so I had to make do with blocks. It was a good challenge, figuring out how to bring the tools to the workpiece when the workpiece was much too big to bring to the tools.  

2. The whole "hand tools vs. power tools" thing is idiotic.  There were certain parts of this project I would never have wanted to do with hand tools, and while I could have, it would have just about killed me.  Sawing out the profiles of 4" thick corbels was a snap on the bandsaw.  But there are also parts of this project that I would never have wanted to do with power tools.  Smoothing out the contours on the corbels, for example.  Doing that on a power sander would have been such a mess, but the card scrapers were quick and clean.  Even cutting out the sliding dovetails was a joint operation.  The Forstner bit hogged out the waste quickly, and the chisels did the precision work of cleaning out the corners.  I couldn't have built this in the way I did without both kinds of tools.  The trick is knowing which kind of tool to use for which part of the job.
Steve S.
------------------------------------------------------
Tradition cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour.
- T. S. Eliot

Tutorials and Build-Alongs at The Literary Workshop
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#16
  Re: Walnut Mantle by Bibliophile 13 (A family I know aske...)
Great idea on the sliding dove tails.  I probably would have gone with "loose tenons" using one inch dowels, but I think your way is much smarter.  Hope I am lucky enough to remember this, should a similar opportunity arise.
"I tried being reasonable..........I didn't like it." Clint Eastwood
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#17
  Re: Walnut Mantle by Bibliophile 13 (A family I know aske...)
Looks great. I did one nearly identical a couple of years ago. I remember using my Fein oscillating tool for sanding the 90 degree inside corner after it came off the BS. I was sick of lifting and moving that walnut slab after it was all done. On the bright side, it got lighter as the work progressed.


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#18
  Re: Walnut Mantle by Bibliophile 13 (A family I know aske...)
It would be great to see the installed and finished product. You did great work.
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