Jefferson Bookcases – Smoothing and Prep for Shellac
Originally written Aug 10, 2020
I had planned to blog about applying shellac next, but realized that getting ready for finishing is more important than applying the finish. So let's get a case ready for finishing.
I have two primary tools for this prep work. A wooden smoothing plane I made (as a prototype for the Swooshy Smoothing Plane and a block plane. The first is for planing long grain, and the latter for end grain, though if I just have a tiny bit of end grain to do and it's well supported so I don't have to worry about blowing out the edges, I'll use the smoothing plane. When I'm cleaning up the (long grain) rabbets on the back of a regular case, I'll use the block plane because it gives me better control at the mitered corners.
I start with the front of the case, using a block plane to even up the miters. I generally lay out the case with the front aligned, so this is just a swipe or two on each mitered corner so it feels level.
Next are the longer sides of the box. I can work on them on the bench and it's more comfortable work. I first lower the end-grain if needed, then use the smoother to plane from the end of the case to slightly beyond the middle, lifting off to end the stroke.
If I encounter one of the cathedral grain bits that wants to lift off, I will lift it with a knife, put a little glue under it, and then come back and carefully plane or sand it smooth. Best to pick the lumber to avoid these if you can, though.
This is also when I take care of the seam between the two back boards, leveling it if needed.
While I have the case laying on its front, I will also clean up the rabbets or chamfer the edges of the back boards, whichever is appropriate. The block plane gets used for this.
While I've got the block plane in my hand, I'll move the case to the floor, gripping it between my feet and knees, and clean up any end grain on the smaller ends of the box.
Then plane from the ends to the middle, smoothing out everything else. If there's anything that needs patching or a quick shot with some sandpaper, I do that now. Usually I use either 150 or 180 grit, and I'm just cleaning up things like a lumberyard chalk mark that didn't quite get planed out when I was cleaning up the sides. I'll also use sandpaper on any rough spots on the inside of the case, since getting in there with a plane is tough.
For a 30×17×11.5 box, like this oversized case, I'll end up with a couple gallons of shavings in a five gallon bucket. If I were a little better at dovetailing, I wouldn't have to plane off so much material, but I'm not really too worried about it.