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Veritas Scraper Holder - Taming Curly Wood

posted Feb 3, 2012, 10:56 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:10 AM ]
Raw curly makore - face view
Curly wood is truly a beautiful sight to behold. The chatoyance is amazing and the curlier the wood the more pronounced the effect will be. The property of the wood that gives it such an amazing appearance is that the grain of the wood is not straight and smooth but is instead highly convoluted. When a board composed of curly grain is cut into a board, the flat side of the board reveals a cross-section of all those waves.

What Is Figured Wood?

End grain of raw curly makore
Instead of looking at the face of a figured wood, look instead at the side grain or end grain, which reveals a great deal about how the wood grew to give the effect you are seeing. The picture at the left reveals the side-grain of a piece of curly makore (from my 5th wedding anniversary project). If you look carefully at the grain, you can see waves moving away from you and back towards you. The face of the board has cut across all these waves, and shows a profile of wood grain in smooth transitions from one angle to another, then back again.

The problem with curly or other highly figured woods is that the constantly changing grain angles causes havoc with tools that rely on a straight grain, or on your ability to cut with the grain. If you were to pass the above piece of curly makore through a surface planer, you would get alternating smooth and rough patches. In the worst case, you would get gouges where the blades of the planer will have lifted up the grain and pulled a chunk of wood out of your beautiful board. Even thoughts of sending this board through a router should make you think twice or thrice about safety and extra precautions that you can take to protect yourself and your wood from hazardous kickbacks.

Scraper To The Rescue!

Of course, this is precisely where hand tools can have an advantage. A hand plane might still have trouble with the grain on figured woods, but a scraper is exactly the tool that you need to dress the surface of figured woods! First, a bit of a clarification: A scraper does not "quite" scrape. It is instead a very high-angle hand-plane over which you have control of the blade height and the force that is used on the wood.

At its core, a scraper is simply a thin piece of metal that is pushed across a surface to remove small amounts of wood. The edge of the metal is dressed with an edging tool that adds a small curved profile, giving the scraper the required "bite". Proper technique on burnishing the edge and using the scraper can be covered in another posting, if someone asks...

Scraper Holder

Veritas scraper holder 05K33.01
Holding the scraper card can be a challenging experience, especially on hard woods or when alot of material must be removed. The thumbs are used to curve the card and to apply pressure, and after a while the hands get tired and the workmanship can get sloppy.

Veritas Scraper Holder to the rescue! I wanted to show you the Veritas Scraper Holder (part number 05K33.01) (Unfortunately, Rockler does not carry Veritas equipment) They have put alot of time and effort to get this tool to work the way it does and feel as comfortable as it does, and it shows! The holder has a nice ergonomic place for your thumbs, and it is dead simple to set the card's curve (see the big dial at the front?).

Scraper in action
So, how well does it work? Scrapers have limited usability on soft woods, however on hard woods it does a great job. The shavings at left were produced with NO force being applied to the tool. The scraper was simply dragged along the curly makore to show how cleanly it can remove surface imperfections. With moderate effort more wood can be removed, and in no time the surface will be mirror smooth.

Why Not Sandpaper?

Sandpaper is essentially paper to which various size and sharpness particles are affixed. In general, the smaller the particles, the higher the grade of sandpaper, and the finer the finish obtained. As you drag the sandpaper over the surface of any wood, the grains cut into and through the wood's grain. Sanding with the grain is desirable for a smooth finish since the sandpaper's particles ride along and between the ridges of the wood's grain, and won't tear apart the wood's grain unless the wood's surface isn't smooth, and therefore it will produce a smooth surface. If you sand across the grain, you are essentially cutting through the wood's grain and creating a fuzzy mess on the surface. True, this is on a microscopic level, however it does effect the finish of your project.

On figured woods, using sandpaper is a risky proposition because at some locations it is like sanding with the grain, and at others it is like sanding against the grain: the finish will definitely be affected. On the curly makore I was working on, sanding would effectively made nice smooth sections with alternating fuzzy sections as it raised the "end grain" of the waves.

The scraper is a perfect tool for figured wood since it does not create any fuzz on the surface of the wood. It creates nice clean cuts along all angles of the wood's grain, and produces a mi