Monday, April 7, 2014

The Kitchen Island Begins

We have wanted an island for our kitchen since we moved in our house. It's one of the many projects that was put off due to us being so weary of building by the time we completed the house and could move in. I really didn't need another item on a final punch list of items that needed to be completed prior to move in day.

 We could use some more work space in our kitchen and the island is the solution for that problem.

I looked at a couple of different ideas for the top of the island and I even went to Ikea to look at their solid wood countertop materials. They were okay but frankly I was underwhelmed and I really wanted something thicker than 1.5" for the top of the island.

I don't live close to a hardwood supplier that would have 10/4 stock to choose from. I did the next best thing and called my friend Jon Fiant. He doesn't live far from Peach State Lumber in Atlanta and he frequents their warehouse on a pretty regular basis. I asked Jon to check out their 10/4 red maple inventory on his next visit and told him the rough dimensions I was hoping to achieve on the top. Jon is a custom woodworker and also works at a large millwork shop. He certainly has the experience to act as my personal lumber shopper.

A couple of days later I got a call from Jon. He was in the warehouse at Peach State and had already scoped out 2 boards of 10/4 red maple. One was 6 3/4" wide and 11 feet long and the other was 7 1/2" wide and 12 feet long. I was hoping for an island top at least 20" wide and about 5 1/2 feet long so I knew these boards should yield the top with some left over.

2 days later I sent my youngest son Marc on a trip up to Jon's to fetch the boards home. I knew handling the 10/4 boards was going to be physically taxing and my eldest son and family were due in for a week long visit. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have my son Daniel help me with the heavy lifting of these boards. Don't get me wrong I wasn't taking advantage of Daniel's presence, he was a willing participant and actually quite excited by the prospect of helping me with this task.

With the boards cut into pieces approximately 6 feet long we jointed one face and the edges. The edges needed to be refined with a jointer plane in order to get an exact fit and flat glue up. There were two joints in the glue up. We made them one at a time wiping away the excess glue.

The next day we were faced with the dilemma of how to process the top surface of the glued up blank. I explained to Daniel that we really had 3 choices. We could do it by hand, but I don't really have a jack plane set up for heavy material removal, we could travel to Bo' Child's shop in Barnesville and see if he would run it thru his Martin planer, or we could build a router sled and do the rough removal with that tool. We were both intrigued with the idea of building the router sled so we found what we needed in my wood storage area to cobble together two accurate rails and enough birch plywood for the sled. Couple hours later we were ready to surface the top of the glue up.

The router sled worked quite well and after two passes we were ready to work the surface with hand planes.

Daniel cut the top to length with a hand saw. A couple of years ago I was in the NWA showcase in Saratoga Springs, NY. Adam Cherubini was there by himself setting up his bench in his booth space and I sent Daniel over to lend him a hand. He also helped Adam with a computer issue related to the camera he uses to display a closer look at his hand work. After that issue was resolved I looked over to see Adam giving Daniel a sawing lesson. He spent a while with Daniel showing him the in's and out's of using a hand saw. That lesson cam in handy for Daniel while he was cross cutting a 20" wide piece of 2 5/8" thick maple.

Daniel is a quite capable young man. He worked in an internship program with the SCA (Student Conservation Association). Daniel would travel with a group into the wilderness building hiking trails and if they encountered a water way they built bridges out of what was there in the forest to be used for materials. A person becomes adept at building something out of nothing with simple hand tools under those conditions.  It's hard to put a value on those type experiences in a young man's life. Working in a well equipped shop was a piece of cake for Daniel.

Daniel and I took turns traversing across the blank at a diagonal. I would plane one diagonal and then would pass the jointer plane over to Daniel and he would plane the opposite diagonal across the board. We continued this process until we were taking shavings all the way across the board and then we made several passes down the length.

We used a similar system with the smoothing plane. I would plane half way across down the length and then hand the plane over to Daniel on the other side of the bench and he would continue from the middle to his edge. We basically divided the work in half and soon we had a very nicely hand planed maple panel.

This was the perfect situation for a young man to learn about hand planing. We certainly had a great deal of it to do. He didn't have to achieve the learning curve of sharpening and fettling a plane, all he had to do was to use a plane in well fettled condition. He also had an experienced person to help him during the process. It was an ideal situation for learning about using these tools.

The next day I stood the blank on end in my leg vise and cleaned up the ends of the blank.

Later that day I broke all the sharp edges and applied a generous coat of tung oil finish. The next day I applied another coat. The weather was nice both days so I positioned a window fan in front of the open front door to keep the shop well ventilated for this process.

Daniel lives in Vermont so we don't get to spend a lot time together and in this case it was the difference in tacking a labor intensive job by myself or having the opportunity to spend some quality shop time with Daniel. It was a win, win for everyone, plus the fact that we will end up with a kitchen island.

Now, what to do about a base for this hefty chunk of maple?



  1. Make a roubo style base. My kitchen roubo for my wife:

  2. John it's probably a good thing I didn't see your Roubo kitchen bench before Julie and I decided on our base design. Otherwise I'm afraid I would have been headed down the Roubo Kitchen workbench road. (grin) Nice looking kitchen bench.