Hello and welcome to my blog, in today’s post I will discuss the preparations I have been making to compete in Mokuchi’s 3rd annual Kez. I have not previously attended so I’m very excited to be a part of the action this year. Kezurou-kai, a Japanese planing competition, is mostly about enjoying the day having fun with family and friends while sharing traditional craft with onlookers and other Japanese tool nuts. However the main event, of course, is an incredibly serious competition of well trained and professional competitors of which only one will emerge victorious. All others will wear the shame of failure for at least one year, much of which I’m sure will be spent in doors with the windows drawn in fear of recognition.
A planing competition is a competition in which the winner is determined by the thinnest full length, full width and unbroken shaving as measured in microns. On the surface that sounds fairly simple, but once you dive a little deeper the difficulties begin to present themselves. The world record, to my knowledge, is now two micron. Two micron in the abstract is a bit hard to grasp, to provide some context a sheet of paper is about 100 micron, a hair is about 40-50 microns and a red blood cell….5 micron! So the world record shaving, at around 2″ wide and several feet long is measuring at a thickness of less than half of a red blood cell.
Safe to say that every aspect of the process and technique must be considered. I’ve detailed plane setup in my previous two posts, and so this post will detail my efforts in preparing a planing beam to practice for the competition.
It takes very high quality lumber to be able to produce a considerably thin shaving, not simply the species of lumber but also the orientation of the grain. Wood, in it’s strongest format would need to be oriented with the grain running vertical on all faces, this is otherwise known as VG (Vertical Grain), in order to provide a VG format the first step is for the lumber to be sawn in a manner which produces a rift cut. A rift cut is one in which the grain runs corner to corner at approximately 45 degrees. The rift cut can run off course, so the pith (center) of the tree must be aligned so that the board produces grain running parallel to the edges. The final step is to cut the lumber to follow the grain running along the faces of the board.
The strongest lumber is that without grain runout. Grain runout is an occurrence in which the grain terminates on a vertical face. If you have ever caught a splinter in a board it was likely at a point in which the grain rose to the surface of the board. A common place to find such an effect is in an area surrounding a knot. Vertical grain, in it’s best form is one in which there is no runout. In addition to the sawing program this also requires the tree to have grown in a straight run for the at least the length of the board. This happens most often in dense forrest where the tree gives up on low branches very quickly as it grows higher to compete for sunlight.
The species of lumber is next considered. Alaskan Yellow Cedar, commonly referred to as AYC is the species of choice. Alaska has very short growing seasons and so the lumber yields very tight growth rings. Tight growth rings are preferred on high quality lumber. I’ve heard stories of people acquiring lumber which required a magnifying glass to count the rings. Growth rings that tight are coming from trees which are centuries if not thousands of years old. Cutting down thousand year old trees is not something I carry much interest in doing, instead I’ve acquired wood more common to the trade and still very high quality AYC.
I live in NJ, far from the source, but luckily I stumbled upon Boro Sawmill & Timber in Wayne, NJ. Boro specializes in high quality softwoods and while geared to serve commercial clients upon hearing my intended use of their AYC they were kind enough to help me out. I had searched high and low for AYC and finally came upon their website which provided that they carry large quantities of AYC. I set out to see this lumber in person and found that this representation was exactly true. I was greeted by a wonderful staff of people who quite literally put everything aside to help me with what was likely their smallest order of the day.
The first step in preparing this lumber for planing was to prep three sides. First I prepared the largest face, which would be utilized as a reference to square up the perpendicular sides. Next I trued and paralleled those sides. I opted not to optimize the grain direction as I may well use this wood in a shorter length in upcoming projects and so the opportunity to align the grain over shorter distances may present itself.
I used my try plane to true the faces, then followed up with the jointer set with a straight edge (without camber).
The remaining side, once trued, must be checked independently to ensure that the face is without wind. If the face has wind it will not be able to support the plane with consistent pressure. I use winding sticks as a reference.
Finally I recheck the surface to ensure that it is flat. This level is true to about .003″ over it’s length.
Now I can begin with the first test pass.
It’s looking pretty heavy and somewhat uneven side to side, checking it’s thickness I find it is 24 micron. Not likely to be a winner.
Adjusting my settings a bit more I take a second pass.
Still not likely to win (broken on one side) but an improvement in thickness. Finally I readjust my blade and take another pass.
17 Micron, otherwise about 7-8 times thicker than the world record shaving and yet less than half the thickness of a hair, still it seems I have my work cut out for me if I would like to get next to nothing done.
After a bit more practice I’ve gotten down to about 12 micron, at which point the style of micrometer I’m using has trouble accurately measuring the thickness of the shaving. The shaving begins to bunch up as the mic closes down making for strange readings.
At this point another issue begins to rear its head, the blade requires sharpening about every five or six passes to maintain its ability to take such thin shavings.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and look forward to your comments.
2 microns is unheard of I’m amazed that someone can plane such a thin amount, another species you might like to try is Huon Pine. It’s very soft timber that’s used for carving and chip carving here in Australia. It’s also famous amongst tool makers when demonstrating their planes, it cut through like butter leaving the savvy newcomers to be amazed. Good luck in the competition. What are the prizes?
It’s just truly incredible, just boggles my mind that the blade can actually hold up for the length of the pass (and my understanding is that they’re using carbon steel) without even the smallest micro sized chip which would break up the shaving.
The competition wood will actually be supplied on site, so it will all be similar. Huon pine sounds nice!
The prize is a Japanese Natural stone;
I’ve never worked with Huon though only planed it a couple of times, I actually have a small amount in my shop that I found in the bins as off cuts. It’s too soft to use for furniture but may be clocks on walls would be ok I suppose. It’s a creamy white timber very attractive looking and glistens when planed, kind of reminds of a milky bar chocolate.
Absolutely, it may serve well in a situation which does not receive much contact.
AYC is fairly hard for a softwood, I may use it for furniture and definitely have plans to use it for shoji.
You may find it interesting to hear that winners of the Kezuroukai over here in Japan often don’t sharpen their blades beyond 6,000 grit. I was told that, while it makes for a rougher cut, it produces a better shaving than a blade polished to a greater degree. I have not tested this idea, but it makes sense.
That is very interesting. I had read on another blog of someone polishing the back to very high degree but only working the bevel to 1k and pulling an 8 micron shaving. Not really knowing the source I was suspect of it, but now that you also mention it I think I will try it.
If nothing else it would make eliminating the wear easier, hah. I’ll give it a try.
Impressive! For perspective, bacteria are ~ 1 micron in diameter!
Best of luck and looking forward to watching from the sidelines.
Wow! That is incredible. Excellent, I’ll be the guy who looks like a lost I-banker, stop by.
I’d like to lean more on what the competitors are using for sharpening stones and what angles they have on their blades.
Hi Laurence, I can’t speak for everyone but mine are at 25 degrees and I’m finishing with either a Nakayama asagi or a 13000 Sigma.
I”m wondering if there is any comparison between the Nakayama or Sigma and the Shapton 16,000?
I’ve just ordered a new micrometer but I know I’m getting something in the 7 to 10 micron range using the Trend 1,000 as a secondary bevel followed by a Shapton 16,000 for a tertiary. I’m thinking of seeing what the 30,000 Shapton will do.
Hi Laurence, I find the Nakayama to be slightly better than the sigma 13,000. There is very much a variety in stones from Nakayama so it’s important to get one that is task specific. I can’t say about the Shapton, I haven’t used it. Where are you finishing at WRT final bevel angle?
I free hand sharpen so the angels use plus or minus. Primary is 25 degrees. I then raise up the blade about 3 or 4 degrees and sharpen on the Trend 1,000 for about 10 seconds.This gives me a burr. That means I’m about 29 degree or so.
Next I move to the Shapton 16,000 and raise up another 3 or 4 more and spend another ten seconds. Lastly I use the ruler trick and remove the burr while I polish the back of the blade. This take about 4 seconds.
I’ve made a number of very short clips on this for Trend but so far they aren’t up.
Interesting, you’re getting good results from this if you’re getting 7 micron shavings but it sounds a bit steep to me with a finished angle around 30-32 degrees. I want more clearance than that offers so I maintain 25 degrees all the way through the finished bevel. In my normal work I lift the blade on the finish stone and take an additional 2-3 strokes which puts me at about 28 degrees, but for Kez I prefer not to. The ruler trick is OK, but I prefer to setup the back to an ‘ito-ura’ which is doing all of that for you without the added variable. I have trouble feeling for a burr with the ruler trick and no trouble with a normal flat back setup with ito-ura.