Timber in the Machine Age

It’s safe to say that we all rely one way or another on woodworking machines in our field of work. Some may use them more than others, but the vast majority of professionals will own around two or three machines, and these will probably take the form of a table saw, a planer and thicknesser – essentially machines to take the rough sawn boards, then square edge and dimension them to final sizes.


The planer makes short work of flattening wide boards of hardwood.

Machines such as these have been around for decades if not centuries and save craftsmen the labourious task of hand-sawing and hand-planing their boards during the initial stages of a job. Before these were invented, it was the bench plane and the panel saw that workers would have reached for. Working material with these tools was time-consuming and required a lot of effort. Because of this, it was common practice to avoid using sections of timber that had knots or irregular grain in them – features that would snag and tear out under a plane and would require more time and attention to work through. This was by no means an impossible task, but it was certainly more of a guiding factor when it came to selecting timber for a job.


If you were working this board of English oak with hand tools alone, you would give serious thought to working around those big knots!

These days, however, things are different. The machines in our workshops can make light work of initial dimensioning and given that everything is nice and sharp, churn through knots and tricky grain with ease. This then raises a point. The rise of machine woodworking has meant that we can be far more liberal in our use of timber than our forebears. We can include these once perceived defects in our work and showcase the wealth of wood on offer. Perhaps then, when certain folk decry the dominance of machine woodworking, they should take a look at the wonderful depth and range of characterful timber within our reach and think again!


This is a lovely example of Tiger oak – oak infected with a fungus, halfway on the way to becoming Brown oak. The knots and figuring give a wonderful character to the timber.


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