What is flat? (More boards!)

What is flat? Seriously.

Since I’ve been making a lot of boards recently with the hope of one day making something out of them, that question has stuck in the back of my head.

I have an answer, but my going about it to get to what I consider flat took me 80 minutes the other day. For a 2 foot board, 6 inches thick, taking about 5/16″ off of it. I have no idea where that time puts me on the track, but my guess is towards the back of the pack.

So I went  and did some reading. Ever notice how many woodworkers-cum-instructors say things like “flatten a board, then check it with a straight edge.” Check for what? That one edge of the straight edge isn’t floating a 1/4 inch off above one end and flat on the other? Or that you’ve created a flat surface so perfect no light can get through. A flatness so complete that it pulls light in like a black hole. I fell into that black hole.

Finally I watched an hour-long video on Paul Seller’s Woodworking Masterclasses. God. Bless. Him. It’s an excellent overview, and it made me realise how completely anal retentive I’ve been and how entirely unnecessary that is. Yes, I’m aware that watching someone with his level of craft can be deceiving – the difficult looks so simple! But with only winding sticks and a square he prepped wood for a project from rough lumber.

I’d been looking at everything too closely. Checking too often, trying to get rid of every single mm of imperfection.

Today I had to prep some more pieces. With the Paul Seller’s attitude in mind I spent a lot less time getting a board to very flat and very square. I think I saved 20 minutes alone in not incessantly checking it with a straight edge and square. Seriously.

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One thought on “What is flat? (More boards!)

  1. Wesley Beal March 6, 2015 / 6:05 pm

    Absolutely! I’m trying to get better about squaring and flattening things. That said I try to ask myself: what will this board be used for? Most of the time, the use does not require a board be absolutely dead flat. Depending on the joinery used to bring two boards together, something that isn’t very flat may present some challenges, of course.

    I think there’s a whole lot to be said for the notion that “if it looks right, it’s right.”

    Won’t stop me from working at the exercise of seeing how good of a job I can do: that’s about me trying to get better at woodworking. What it isn’t about – much of the time anyway – is what’s necessary to complete a project.

    Liked by 1 person

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