I’ve noticed that in North Carolina (at least down East) people treat wide black cherry boards with a sense of awe and reverence repeating the mantra: “You just don’t get cherry like that anymore.”
Well, yes and no.
There are some places where cherry of this size is hard to come by, but as a son of the keystone commonwealth, those wide swaths of reddish hue always remind me of home. Black cherry is abundant in Pennsylvania, and it still has a pretty healthy presence in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. To find it close to me now, however, you either have to know someone or be lucky. I was just lucky.
It didn’t feel like luck at the time. Last year I went out to a local business that reclaims barn lumber on the promise that they had a stack of black walnut for a project I was working on. What I found was a stack of black cherry boards ranging from 11″ to 15″ wide and 10′ long. I didn’t have the money for it at the time, but I couldn’t pass it up, so I bought as much as I could. I ended with about 60-70 BF stacked and stickered in my garage and part of that stack is ready to become something to put our plates on.
The boards had come from someone’s barn where they had been stacked for who knows how long. They’re mostly very flat and straight, but some of the edges were a little ragged so in order to maximize the width of the boards I ended up cutting three of them into 80″ lengths. I worked them with a jack and jointer plane until they were relatively flat and free of saw marks and spent some time lining them up for the best grain match.
Here’s a word of advice on that: don’t rush. When I’m working on a project I’m going to look at everyday ( or someone else is) I generally line the boards up as a panel and then I come back the next day and see if I’m happy with it. Often, what you don’t see at first will surprise you and I’ve come back to realize one of the boards is completely wrong or to see a grain mismatch that I didn’t catch the first time. It takes time, but I advise spending at least as much time swapping, flipping and turning boards as you will flattening, jointing and gluing them.
It may seem like a waste of time. It may seem that I’m indulging in the luxury of being an amateur here, but think about this; how much time will you (and your family) spend looking at this table over the years? Even if you spend four hours matching grain, it is a fraction of the time you will spend regretting a mismatched board.
I learned a few things over the past year and one of those things is to make a panel like this in phases. After I felt like the grain was matched I cut the rough edges off and jointed the boards to make sure I was happy with everything.
After that I took each individual board back to the bench to make sure the show face was as flat and level as possible at this point. I want to do as little as possible to this face after gluing, so again, time spent now will prove thrifty in the long run.
I decided to take the advice of Robert Wearing and glue the panel up in phases which is new for me. Usually I just go for it all at once, but I think this will give me better control of clamping pressure and help keep everything more flat overall.
I hope to pick up the SYP for the base this weekend and get started on that. I really want to see this finished by Christmas if possible. It gets cold in my workshop in January and February and I’ve got chairs to make.