Split Top Roubo - Part 2 - What Wood You Do?

Part of the material selection process for me was based on availability. I have a relative that owns a saw mill and drying kiln, which results in good deals for me IF he has what I need. I decided fairly quickly that I wanted to use Maple for the top and Cherry for the base. There is a surprise in there, but you'll have to wait for that. I checked with my relative and he had both available in the quantities I needed. 'Great' I thought! I few weeks later I watched Marc's video on material selection which presented a nasty reminder... there is Hard Maple and Soft Maple. Soft Maple has the advantage on this project, so I quickly sent a text message to confirm the type available to me. The message back was simply 'Hard Maple'. I quickly replied 'Do you have any soft maple?' and impatiently waited for the answer. 'Yes... but it's not dry'. My choice was limited.

I gave it some thought and convinced myself I could make the Hard Maple work for this project. I sorted through the pile, picked out the boards that would work the best, and brought them home. There they sat for a week as I finished off some other projects. Then the time came to make shavings. My machining process is similar to what Marc suggests in the video, with some variations. Everything was skipped planed to get a baseline of what wood I had been dealt. Wide boards were ripped closer to the final width (about 5") and really wide boards were ripped in half. The bandsaw was the safe and efficient tool of choice.

I then sorted the material into three basic categories. Type (A) boards: Good, straight clean boards; Type (B) boards: slightly imperfect boards that could be pulled into alignment during gluing/clamping; and Type (C) boards: really bad boards that needed discipline/attention.

Only worrying about the faces of the board, the (A) boards went over the jointer to make them perfect with the exposed sides of the bench top in mind as their final destination. (C) boards also went to the jointer to make them more like (B) boards while (B) boards were left alone. Back to the planer to get all the boards parallel and clean on both faces. I was watching the amount of tear out as I went and I was continually concerned. The grain on this maple was particularly random and it was nearly impossible to plane or joint the board without tear out. I convinced myself this wasn't an issue and I could make things better with lighter passes.

Next I jointed one side straight and perpendicular to the faces. It all started out fairly well, but tear out continued to be an issue. I just replaced the jointer knives and they were sharpened and honed to perfection. The jointer has never been so well tuned, so I pressed on assuming I could make things right on the final passes. I got to a board that fought me every step of the way. I pressed on. I jointed that same board until it was too narrow to use. I pressed on. I fought another board. I pressed on. I fought some more. I went back to the house and watched TV - Discovery Channel I thing. Sometimes to just have to realize when it's time to stop and regroup.

All night I kept thinking 'should I just cut my losses now?' Pushing forward only because of the time and money I've invested thus far is called escalation of commitment. It was time to step back and decide if saving money on the material was worth it being the wrong material. I knew the morning I would make a call to another small saw mill and get my answer. The next day I made that call in the hopes of finding Soft Maple at a reasonable price. After some discussion it was determined he had some Wormy Soft Maple (slightly defective Soft Maple that has some worm holes in it) that could be the answer to my problem. I made the trek to the yard that afternoon to examine the wood.

Long story short, the truck wasn't empty on the drive home. The wood was in great shape, knot free and very few worm holes. It's now stacked in my shop while I mentally prepare to start this process over again. In all of this there is a great lesson. I had to admit to myself that I had made a poor decision and pressing forward because of my ego or wallet didn't make sense on this project. I feel better.

See all the posts about the Split Top Roubo here.