Workbench Wednesday – #8 (2012) The Planing Beam

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a beefy planing beam ever since I learned of the concept by Toshio Odate in his book Japanese Woodworking Tools.  With the advent of the barn becoming a reality I knew early on I wanted one here too, albeit slightly modified to fit my work.  In 2007 with the barn en route I went to a sawmill and bought a number of large SYP timbers to use if necessary during the assembly and erection of the barn, but the barn broker included several surplus timbers from his inventory so I wound up with a pile of mondo timbers that were partly seasoned by the time I was able to make the planing beam in 2012.

My starting point was one of the 8-foot southern yellow pine 8x10s from the pile.  Since I had none of the industrial scale machinery needed to handle the work piece I just put it up on my bench and started to make it square, flat, and straight by using hand planes.  It was heavy enough to stay in place all by itself, and hand planing was a real workout.

Coincident with that was making some half-trestles to place it on when it got finished.  The tail ends of the fixtures were fastened to the wall and the dovetailed legs simply sat on the floor.


The beam itself just sits in place on top of a pair of anti-skid pads, needing not much else to stay in place.

I soon added some planing stops, first in the form of counter-sunk screws then with a rising dog at the end, made for scraps of tongue-and-groove flooring, and put the tool to work.  Visitors from near and far came to see it in action.

It was/is a crazy simple but high-performance work accessory, and if push came to shove I could probably get by with just this (I have also added some holes of holdfasts).  It turns out I rarely need to use it to its fullest, but it would be perfect for its function at whatever length I might need.

The only downside is that a timber this massive needs occasional care as it continues to equilibrate to the environment as it seasons.  A local tradition here in the mountains is that lumber needs one year of seasoning for the first inch, an additional two years for the second inch, and so forth.  By that rubric this beam should be pretty well settled in another three decades.  In the mean time I need to touch it up every couple of years with a fore plane and a toother..