Elm hassock

Elm was a wood I had not worked with so when I came across it at an urban salvage yard, I bought some. The main board was 1 1/8" x 14" x 8' rough. After picking out the best section of it, I ended up with a piece about 60" long. My objective was to attempt mitered blind dovetail corners all around and learn about working elm.

Well it did not take long to discover that elm has squirrelly grain, it smells bad, it is rubbery, and it kills cutting edges rapidly. And don't you mind the snide comments expressed by fellow woodworkers upon the mention of elm, like "what you want to do that for?", and, "I have some of that in my barn. It's the flooring." But I'd show them, though I soon had good reasons to replace the linoleum flooring in my chicken coop with elm.

The milling (the madness):
A scrub plane (western) used cross grain does fast work, but "fast" is a relative term. The elm was cupped, bowed, and twisted so getting the concave face flat took some effort. With that done, I scribed a line parallel to the flattened face around the perimeter of the board and started planing to it. A couple days later I had a usable board and was up to date on the latest prices for jointers, surface planers, and rotator cuff surgery.

Next came the careful layout and cutting of the board into 4 equal length sections, about 14" each. You want to minimize the kerf because you want the grain to appear to be continuous at the corner. Of course the grain at one corner will not line up, but the other 3 should:

Board cut into 4 equal sections.
Scribing lines for the miters and the length of the pins and tails was followed by laying out the pins based on the widths of chisels that I would use to cut them. It is common in sashimono work to make smaller dovetails toward the edges and gradually make them wider at the center of the board. I think this is done to ensure that the corners to not work open over time. 

Careful layout of pins is not that necessary. What is important is to make sure you leave enough room at the edges to permit any edge treatment you may have planned. Also, if you have a groove for a shelf or bottom you may wish to make that groove in the middle of a pin so you do not sacrifice holding power. 

Rough pins and tails. 

A side trip was to make the plane pictured here. 

The chamfered corner rides against the end of the pins and and tails and shaves the 45 degree miter across the board. I have seen a number of designs for these planes but I just made mine from a blade I had and a block of hickory. It works well and yields a straight miter. The angle cut is only as accurate as the ends of your pins and tails. I ended up making those ends with a rabbet plane for accuracy. 

And the result. Never mind that nick from the rabbeting process (it will go away in future projects). 

Part of my vision was to cut out a couple of openings that could be used as handles to move the hassock. A very common and ancient design found in Japanese furniture is the kouzama (格狭間). This design has varied widely over the centuries, but the good thing about it is that you can make your own. I have not seen any that look identical. I just looked at some and sketched my own. With a drill and a coping saw I roughed out the opening, then cut to the line with gouges and chisels. A slight chamfer around the opening removes the sharp edges. 

Using a 6mm ginnan-mentori-ganna (quarter round with adjustable fences), I rounded over the the top edges so that someone sitting on the hassock does not come in contact with sharp corners. The bottom was a raised panel of elm while the top cushion base was just a 3/8" thick square. I found some Japanese silk fabric on Etsy, trimmed it larger than the square top, layed in 2 pieces of 7mm neoprene sheet, then stapled the corners  and worked my way around the perimeter of the seat to ensure an aligned pattern that will not move during use.


Finish was 4 coats of Watco Danish Oil, rubbed with 600 and 1200 wet/dry sand paper between coats. So the elm shaped up ok, but it is not what I would call a cabinet wood. Maybe a cabin wood. 


sajo said…
how to make this kind of a plane if someone doesn't have blade at hand? Should I make the blade myself (grinding steel bar)
Peter Mac said…
If you are a good blacksmith, sure you can make your own blade. But if you are like me, it is best to re-purpose a narrow, heavy blade - maybe from a used chisel. The blade does not have to be wide. 15mm should work for smaller projects.