Gateway (XVII)

Things are moving along with the kabukimon project for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I’ve pulled all the wood out of the dehumidification now, and it has emerged in excellent condition after 6 months. Very minimal degrade (no losses at all) and moisture content in the 10~14% range, which is ideal for a structure to be installed out of doors in this climate. Very relieved that the drying stage went well.

The four largest beams comprise the two posts and a crossbeam, along with a spare crossbeam. These are quite heavy, despite their recent weight loss in the kiln. One of the posts and one of the crossbeams has bowed slightly after losing moisture. These things happen – I wasn’t making the decisions to cut the tree and mill the logs, so I would be guessing as to actually what happened. But, this is the nature of the game, and you try to anticipate such eventualities as best you can in the process.

The largest beams needed to be dressed straight and to dimension. They are, however, too heavy to maneuver onto my jointer and through the planer, and besides, the planer can only open 11.8″ so i would not be able to plane two of the beams in one dimension. I could have invested in a portable beam planer by Makita or Mafell, but the cost was hard to justify in light of only working the four sticks. Also, even with a portable beam planer, the work would have taken a week at least and I know from experience that the result was unlikely to be perfectly square, straight, and free from wind. It would be close, but not ‘dead nuts’, and I wanted ‘dead nuts’

A commenter on my blog post from a while back put me on to a place where they have a Japanese running planer. It’s out on Long Island, New York. When I learned that there was such a machine accessible to me, I knew I had worked out a solution to the issue of processing these larger timbers. All the rest of the material I can handle with my planer and jointer, but the main sticks were important to get as perfect as possible.

I rented a Penske 16′ cargo van, and loaded up the beams at the drying facility near my shop. The trip to Long Island could have involved passing through New York city, but what am I, crazy? Traffic there is not something one normally would want to volunteer for unless there was no other option. in this case, there was a good option, and that was the ferry from New London Connecticut to Orient Point, Long Island:

The passage took about an hour and a half, and I arrived after dark to Long Island, an unfamiliar place. I took the truck route from the terminal and about half an hour later got myself lost. The road had minimal lighting, no stores were open, and the signage was on the scant side, as was my map. Anyhow, after a bit of aimless meandering and some teeth gnashing, I found my way to a Holiday Inn in the town of Riverhead.

The next morning I set off for the shop where the running planer was located. I will respect their privacy and not reveal any more about the shop and the staff. They had a forklift and it didn’t take too long to get the first long beam in place on the planer deck. The first side was decked and the beam flipped over to the opposite face. It was then clear that the planer was not cutting a straight line as the beam had a hollow zone in the mid-section. So, the next hour was spent re-aligning the support table with string and blocks. Apparently the shop sits on what was once a potato storage building, and the concrete floor in place is a bit marginal for thickness and tends to move. I guess a lot of the far end of Long Island was once potato farms, however now the dominant agricultural business are wineries, of which there are more than a dozen, to my surprise. A lot of the farms are gone and now what are planted are upscale homes.

After a few runs of the running planer, I could see how it operated so I asked if they’d let me run it for the rest of the day so they could carry on with their normal business. So, that’s what I did, and they’d come and help flip the beams over to other faces from time to time and then return to their work. The planer is situated under a steel I-beam with a block and tackle lift, so it was fairly simple to rig the middle of the beam with a lifting strap and flip it over.

Here we are at the final pass on the last post – I filmed as I operated the controls of the Marusan (warning: you might want to turn the volume down a tad):

I imagine most readers have never seen such a machine before. It’s a very cool piece of equipment, and if I got a project to build a larger building I would be thinking strongly of obtaining such a machine. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m drooling a bit, feeling a little tool envy. The results obtained with the planer were perfect, and taking trouble of this step has saved me a huge amount of labor and improved outcomes, so it was well worth it. The sticks are dead straight and square.

Here’s a picture from the company website:

Not what you would call an especially sophisticated website – the above picture is the summation of their marketing effort with that machine.

There are even larger running planers made in Japan, like this one:

A running planer is not an inexpensive tool however – when purchased, the one I had access to was a slightly used machine, and still cost around $30,000. There is a lathe attachment for it as well, so large timbers can be planed into cylindrical or polygonal columns with ease. Here’s an example of such an attachment on another running planer:

There have been a few issues with the electronics on the machine I was using which have added something like $8000 since original purchase, and the problem is unfortunately not fully resolved. Normally the machine can be run fully automatically – set your dimension and it planes the material down in a series of passes until that dimension is reached, allowing you to work on other stuff in the meantime. The machine does not operate currently on full auto, so you have to press ‘forward’ after setting desired dimension, walk along as it planes, press ‘stop’ raise the cutter, and then press ‘reverse’. It means you have to be attending to it as it works, which is like most other machines we use. Still, it’s a drag to put all that money into a machine and it still not be working exactly as it should.

A neat feature is that the planer can also climb cut  – that is, plane while it is traveling backwards. I didn’t use that feature in the above video as it was the final pass but had done so earlier in processing. Cutting forwards, you can take around 1/8″ (3mm) per pass, and cutting backwards take another 1/16″ (1mm) or so, though the chip collection is a little inferior when climb cutting. Still it was a very cool experience with that machine, and again, I was so glad to have made the trip to access it and have things turn out so well. The people running the shop were extremely kind and helpful, and made the process a smooth one.

I just made the 5:00pm ferry and got back to Western MA later in the evening. This morning I returned with the truck to the shop for the, er, grand unloading. Where’s that forklift and that team of rugby players looking for a workout when you need them?:

The extra chunks you see on the right were the mis-cut pieces from the mill that I had received on the initial shipment. They had milled a 16′ beam and then chopped it into three pieces by mistake. I got these planed as well and do have use for them on this gate project.

My main goals for the unloading process were to avid inflicting any damage on the freshly-planed sticks, and to not trash my body, in that order.

The short chunks were barely lift-able, but it didn’t take too long to get them out.  After they were removed from the scene, I started in on one of the 16′ (4.9m) beams. I was able to get it sliding forward through a combination of lever bars, and a ‘Nautilus leg press’ sort of stunt work, and here we are most of the way out of the box:

A few day’s prior I had purchased a couple of wheels and a steel bar for an axle at a local Tractor Supply company and had fabricated this two-wheel cart:

It worked like a charm.

A few hours later I had the POC beams out of the box truck and stacked in my shop:

A view from the other end:

Here’s another pile, mostly parts for doors, and the roofed kiosk standing up to the right side, which will have some post repair done in the near future:

I managed not to do any damage to the material, my body, or the truck, so the mission was a success! Yay!

Thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way. On to post 18.

6 Replies to “Gateway (XVII)”

  1. That is a pretty hefty piece of equipment, but I have to confess that I was hoping you would pull out some sort of giant Japanese hand plane that was purpose built for exactly this with a cool sounding name. Or maybe a giant spear plane or something (like a bigger version of

    Looking forward to seeing the finished product, I think the museum is definitely going to get an improvement over the last version of this gate.

  2. Hi Chris, really enjoying your blog.

    Are those lengthwise grooves in the larger pieces? If so what are they for and how are they dealt with in the final structure ?

    Cheers, Andrew

  3. Shaun,

    well, I'm quite excited by seeing 1-shaku wide hand planes being masterfully wielded, however I also like well-made and useful powered equipment! Those super wide hand planes are not used much outside of demonstrations at kezurō-kai.

    I think what I am building is a significant improvement over the old gate – glad you think so too. thanks for your comment.


  4. Andrew,

    what, did you miss the first part of this party? Check out post V in this series, from April 2nd of this year, to learn more about the process of making those grooves, or sewari.

    Those opened kerfs will be filled with long slim tapered wood strips soon enough, and then planed smooth, so they will be much less obvious.

    Appreciate your question.


  5. Hi Chris,
    So these machines actually exist. I have imagined them in my mind, going so far as to look at pictures of portable bandsaw mills to think about attaching a planer head. Looking at one in action I can see that would not be stable enough. Just curious, can you say what type of work the L.I. shop does with their running planer?
    Harlan Barnhart

  6. Harlan,

    nice to hear from you.

    They don't use the machine much of late. They obtained it when they had a big construction project and used it to mill many timbers for the framing.

    Logosol makes a molder/planer head for their mill decks, and Wood Mizer does as well. They are not nearly as slick as the Marusan and other Japanese running planers, but definitely cheaper to acquire.


Anything to add?

error: Content is protected !!
%d bloggers like this: