Woodworking in India

The Story of my Journey as a Hobbyist Woodworker in India

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Getting a Silky Smooth Surface

Neeem Wood Table Top

Some people may be of the opinion that it is quite unnecessary to achieve a silky smooth surface on wooden boards that will be used in furniture assembly. I am no expert but for me the feel of the wood in furniture is a very primal instinct. I like to touch wood, run my fingers over it and nothing feels better frankly than a silky smooth finish.

The key of course lies in properly sharpening the blade iron of a hand plane. I am not aware if planing machines can impart a similarly smooth surface; perhaps they can but that is something beyond my experience.

What I do know is that hand planing can produce an extremely desirable surface of great sensuous appeal.

For the past few weeks, I have been joining and planing 4 inch wide White Oak planks to make the sides of a smallish chest. Much of the timber was wet when I procured it and over the Monsoons it warped and twisted more than a little.

This forced me to rip the pieces, straighten them somewhat and rejoin them painstakingly. The process was further slowed by a paucity of clamps.

At any rate, once I put together the six pieces required, it was clear I would have to do a fair amount of planing to perfectly flatten at least one side in each piece in order to produce a datum surface. The other side would also have to be planed but not to the same precision.

The problem as always was my lack of a sharpening habit. Most of my planes simply bounced off the hard Oak.

I consulted my little grey notebook where I jot down details of each of the hand planes I possess, including when and at what angle they were last sharpened. It was evident I had neglected sharpening all through the Monsoons. It was remarkable that they were working at all.

A polished bevel

After a day of sharpening, the blades were razor sharp again; some of them had beautifully polished bevels. The thicker blades look prettier with polished bevels.

Flattening the Oak pieces became a pleasure instead of a tedious chore. The Oak seemed to purr in pleasure as the shavings flew.

Oak Shavings

Ah! The satisfaction of feeling a smooth board. A source of recondite pleasure. 

I will not sand these boards even though some believe that would be a mistake. Finish and stain, they claim, requires a sanded surface.

Planed Oak Board

Pigments might have a problem with a fine surface but dyes do not. A light dye and a coat of Shellac works perfectly.

Shellac will stick to the smoothest of surfaces. I have tried it on plastic and it works. This is one way of painting over plastic laminates.

With Shellac in place, I could shift to polyurethane or some sort of varnish. But I usually lay on more coats of Shellac. The resulting finish is of a very high sheen. For a more matt finish, rubbing down with 600, 800 and 1,000 grit wet/dry sandpaper helps.

Indranil Banerjie
25 September 2016