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I think I can- I think I can…

Curly maple table top- when I designed this piece I originally thought about using three large maple planks, flat sawn and about a days work to finish. Quick n’ easy with a pleasant enough look it would only be three boards to work after all. One of the main elements of this table is the opening that will come to  mate with a small side table and it was this very element that started me thinking about wood movement issues if I had of used large flat sawn planks. Also, from a purely aesthetic point the curly maple is nice when flat sawn but the real flair is along its edge grain; that’s where the real beauty comes through.

50 degree iron installed in a low angle block plane...

Well it didn’t take long to decide to make a laminated top with 30 or so strips of curly maple all on edge creating this incredible surface figure and resulting in a table top that is much more stable. Walnut accents were added to ‘frame’ the cut out area which also added at least an extra days work and here I am a week later finishing up the hand planing. I must be a sucker for punishment…

If you’ve ever worked with curly maple like this on edge grain  you know that even the sharpest plane iron will rip and tear this incredible wood so I needed to use high-angle, 50 degree irons in my planes to tame the wooden beast-these high angle irons leave a beautiful finish but believe me when I say this work is not for everyone…planing a table top with a 50 degree plane iron is extremely hard work but the extra effort is worth every minute. I worked my way from jointer to jack, smoother down to the small block plane pictured…it too has a fifty degree iron and the front knob is borrowed from a larger plane just to make it a little easier to push through the wood.

Another point I should mention which I didn’t consider when I first thought about how long the table top would take is that both sides needed to be finished! Now we always ‘finish’ the bottoms of our table tops but when you never actually see them there’s a bit of a grace there…we can always put those small tear outs or blemishes on the bottom right? Well not in this case…this table top will hang off the front of the cabinet, bottom side out- proud as a peacock or some curly maple, walnut ice cream art form during the day and then folds down at dinner time when the user will sit around it and enjoy their meals off of it. So both sides are always on display and will be seen. Two surfaces, completely smooth and absolutely finished.

50 degrees of separation

Just another one of those small details I didn’t really think about until I was into the piece…I’m happy my clients don’t mind the extra time spent on it and as far as the cost of the job? I  price my work on the project and don’t punch any time clocks here so these extra hours turning to days and then onto weeks are my own time and I’m determined to make the best possible piece I can.

So now that the table top is finished I can work on installing it onto the front of the main cherry bed cabinet and finally get onto the side table. Still lots to do but the two hardest and largest parts of the project are done- this edge grain table top added at least a week to the project time line but I think the results are worth it. With that, I’d better get back at it… stay tuned.


  1. Posted by Eric on Mar 11th, 2010


    That top looks absolutely amazing. As always, I am in awe of your quality of work and design creativity.

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful shots.


  2. Posted by John Verreault on Mar 11th, 2010


    I agree with Eric. Your work is fantastic. I am just reading your book and getting inspired….It is so nice to see more Canadian content in the online woodworking realm.

    Thanks from a woodworker on the “Wet Coast” of Canada.

    (in Victoria, BC)

  3. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Mar 11th, 2010

    Hey thanks guys- I appreciate the feedback.
    John, nice to hear from other Canadians- Speaking of Canada I just found out my book will finally be available at Lee Valley Tools as of March 12th…good news for Canadian readers interested.

  4. Posted by dave brown on Mar 11th, 2010

    Beautiful Tom. I like the edge of maple too. Had never thought of laminating to get to see that fabulous grain.

    Are you plane irons at 50deg or is the included angle of the blade bevel and plane bed 50deg?


  5. Posted by David Gendron on Mar 11th, 2010

    Wow, an amazing top indeed! Did you rip all these by hand? What finish are you puting on the table? Like the idea of the nob on the bloc plane!!
    keep up the great work!

  6. Posted by Brian on Mar 11th, 2010

    Tom, i too am interested in your prep work prior to laminating the boards?

    looks amazing!


  7. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Mar 11th, 2010

    David- thanks for the comment. I’d have to be far more insane than I sometimes feel to rip these all by hand! The maple was ripped last month while I had the portable table saw in the back yard for the plywood. I’m going to finish the maple with blond shellac and then see about a top coat for durability. Thinking about a water based varnish…as for the block plane knob it was essential- I just couldn’t keep a tight enough grip on the small plane while muscling through with the 50 degree bevel.
    keep well..

    the maple was glued up in sections…instead of trying to glue up 30 boards at once I did them in sections of 6…then some plane work and again glue up into three pieces and again planed them until finally one top. This seemed to work better with keeping the sticks together through out the glue up. I took some shots as I went but haven’t had the time to post them…I’ll try to get some up tomorrow for you to see.

  8. Posted by Bob Passaro on Mar 11th, 2010

    Yeah, nice work planing that wood. I need to regrind an old block plane iron to a higher angle and give that a try. 50 degrees certainly looks like it worked well. Have you ever tried and even steeper angle, say 55? Probably gets increasingly harder to push the steeper you get? Anyway, nice work. (On another note entirely, I really like your new site, but I do find the type a little small and the lines of type rather long. Maybe it’s just my eyes getting old, but I just thought I’d pass it on.) Keep up the good work.

  9. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Mar 11th, 2010

    thanks for the comment Bob,

    As you said, seems like the higher the angle the more difficult the push…the iron is ground at 50 degrees and then a secondary bevel is honed so my cutting angle is actually closer to 55. This combined with the 12 degree bed of the block plane (as well as my bevel up planes) is creating an effective pitch somewhere in the 65 to 70 degree range…any higher than that and it would be a scraper! ;)
    as for the new site and the font, I too have found it a little more difficult to read and will look into increasing the size. cheers!

  10. Posted by Brandon Skidmore on Mar 12th, 2010

    I am very inspired by your work. I am a beginning furniture maker in the Salt Lake City area and am dreaming of doing this on my own to make a living but am having trouble figuring out how to price pieces. Anyway I just bought your book after the 5th time sitting in the barnes and nobles cafe and reading pieces of it. I enjoy your work and am glad that I stumbled upon your book. Thanks

  11. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Mar 12th, 2010

    good to hear from you and happy to know the book is available at Barnes and Nobles-

  12. Posted by rick barnes on Mar 14th, 2010

    I am working some hard maple with a bit of curl in it right now. I was just thinking that nothing makes you appreciate a really nice piece of pin or cherry like a chunk of maple. Anyway, I have had some good luck using my Lie Nielsen No. 62 with the toothed blade, and then going straight to a Stanley No. 80 cabinet scraper. It’s still a bunch of work, but it’s good work and it beats a trip to the gym.


  13. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Mar 14th, 2010

    Well said Rick…
    I’m going to pick up a toothed blade one of these days…its on my list!
    For now the high angle is working for me.
    thanks again.

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