January 24, 2012 § 4 Comments
Logic would dictate that a softer wood would cut more easily than a harder wood. While this may be true, a softer wood will not necessarily cut cleaner. Western Red Cedar is a good example. I’m building a rain barrel stand out of Western Red Cedar, an inexpensive, readily available wood that will hold up in the rainy winter months. I sawed half laps on the stretchers, but needed to do a little cleanup work on a few of the shoulders where I didn’t quite make a perfectly square cut. After re-establishing a square line, I decided to just quickly chop out the small bit needed to true up the edge. In the picture above, see if you can tell which portion of the shoulder was cut with the saw, and which part was done with the chisel. This is what can happen with a very soft wood. The weaker, but more elastic wood fibers of a softer wood compress and tear out rather than sever cleanly. Even though it looks terrible, it really doesn’t affect the joint at all. And remembering the motto, “No one sees the inside of a joint”, it doesn’t overly concern me. But there may be another situation where it does matter, and there would be a few ways to prevent this.
- Sharpen you chisel to a razor edge. My chisel was sharp, certainly sharp enough to do 95% of the routine tasks I require of a chisel. But to cleanly cut the end grain of a very soft wood in a chopping motion, your chisel needs to be very, very sharp. I don’t challenge myself to get the absolute perfect edge when I sharpen each and every time, so I skipped this option.
- Decrease your bevel angle. My working bench chisels are all ground to about 30 degrees. Anything less than that and I get some edge failure when chopping. I have some thinner chisels dedicated to paring that are ground to a lower angle, between 20 and 25 degrees. But I suspect it would be a race to see if you could finish before the edge gave out. Chopping very lightly would probably keep the edge, but it might be slower going.
- Skew the chisel as you chop. By chopping straight down, as if you were chopping out a dovetail joint, you are asking a lot of the blade edge. If you skew the chisel slightly and chop at an angle, it has a better chance of not tearing the fibers. I tried this on a few, and though it takes a little more time, it worked better.
- Put down the mallet and simply pare instead. The amount of wood I needed to remove was very slight, in most cases being around a 1/16” or less. Carefully paring to the line will keep a clean look, and can go quite fast. More attention is needed to keep the shoulder straight and perpendicular, however.
- Use a very fine saw to get as tight as you can to the line, and from there pare as necessary.
I think I’m ready for some oak.