Hand Tools Archive

Re: Poplar- a differing lumber

david weaver
Cherry sap is something you'll feel a difference in. It's the easiest to feel with a jack plane and a cambered iron in a bigger cut. It has a feel similar to soft maple or poplar in a jacking cut, and you can turn the board over and plane the other edge to feel the difference.

Beech sap only feels a little different - both heart and sap are smooth, but heart provides more planing resistance, especially if it's dark.

I read that article about heart and sap again this morning and noticed that the writer chose their words carefully "in beech with white heartwood". I'm guessing that trees differ from one to another just based on the fact that (to my eye), some have a nice pleasing very reddish/dark brown heart. But that part of the tree was forgone by planemakers until recently (not sure what larry and steve do, but I will build a half sap, half heart plane or an all heart plane without thinking too much about it. As the wood ages, the color difference disappears pretty quickly.

The heart was, as described in an old text, thrown away. It may have had something to do with plane weight, as i've had exactly one plane that I could identify as all heart (that I didn't make myself - there's about a pound or pound and a half difference in an all sap beech try plane vs. one that's all heart) - it was an old jointer from new england, 10 1/2 pounds (28 inches long). I ended up selling it to someone who might like a plane that heavy.

I also got a larger plane at the same time (same dimensions, except 1/4" wider iron). It was all sap like most, but especially light (I get the sense that sap beech can lose weight over time - is it volatiles leaving? I don't know. It was 7 1/2 pounds. Similar growth ring size between the two, but I no longer have them to compare. I got them from MJD tool auction before I learned my lesson.

The one other thing that i notice with beech (and I could be wrong, but I think this is correct) is that side checking of the wood when making planes happens more easily with heart. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the heart was discarded by makers due to both being more difficult to work and being more susceptible to checking during making or before sale (after sale would create a problem, too, I guess). Best way to slow down problems with that is to get a billet sized and get the plane made quickly, but I learned that while making planes in the winter, if the forecast called for near zero temperatures, I'd better wax the flat face of a billet in process or there was a fair chance I'd find a side check in it, even when the ends are sealed.

All that aside, the working properties of the different sticks so far have been, well, different. The dustiness of the shavings was greater on the darker heart, and the wood offered greater planing resistance. I don't know that these things could be noticed easily without hand planing, but when you're hand resawing and hand jacking plane billets, the differences lead to effort, and someone exceptionally lazy like me (or maybe just oversensitive, maybe that's what it is) will notice them fairly quickly.

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