Planing My Curved Rafters


Evan shows off the first planed rafter Waaay back in March, I began Building My Arched Rafters for my gypsy wagon, The Lucky Penny. I was able to borrow a jig from the uber talented Katy Anderson. Katy is a woodcrafter extraordinaire (who is currently building a vardo for Dee Williams which she’ll be taking on her book tour for The Big Tiny!) Laminating the ¼” strips of mixed grain fir on the jig was a neat process. (If you’d like to learn how you can do it yourself, check out the Vardo Plan Set from Portland Alternative Dwellings!)

even when I was good about pressing the strips into the jig, they were pretty rough

I’d never done any lamination before so I learned a lot through trial-and-error. I found there were two particularly important things to remember:

First, it’s important to prep your workspace because once you start gluing up the rafters you have to keep moving. Even the Titebond III glue has a fairly short open time. (That means it starts sticking quickly so you have to get things positioned just how you want them before it’s too late!)

Second, if you aren’t really good about pressing the fir strips down (in addition to clamping them against the jig), you end up with quite a bit of variation along the edges of the rafters. I didn't consider this at all on the first rafter I built and it was all kinds of cattywampus! On the second one I remembered to press down at the middle but didn't realize it was important to do this all the way to the edges. With two trial rafters under my belt I caught on and made the rest of them much better. However, even on the best ones, when my rafters were all glued up there was probably about a ¼” worth of variation from the low point to the high point on each side.

Gabriel, Mike, and Evan helping me plane my curved rafters - thanks, fellas!

Fortunately, the Breathe Building, the Living Building Challenge project I'm working on, had just purchased a planer. We’ve salvaged the wood that was removed from the North Building and we’ll be milling it down to use as interior finishes throughout the new facility. When I told Mike about my project he suggested we use my rafters to test out the new planer.

So yesterday afternoon my coworkers Mike, Gabriel, and Evan spent a couple hours helping me plane my rafters down so that they’re smooth on both sides. We all oohed and ahhed when the first one came through the planer. They are bee-a-you-tee-full! It was fun getting into a rhythm with the team and making the magic happen thanks to a really great tool. Both the machine and its operators get two thumbs up from yours truly! I can’t wait to see what all the wood in the Breathe Building looks like when it’s done...