Planning is the term used for shaving thin layers off a wood to create smoothness and reduce thickness. Usually done these days by machines employing many blades that make a totally flat surface, it was once backbreaking labor for a man with a broad bladed axe or a hand held single blade tool. If the aim was to square up a log for a roof beam or part of a cabin wall the tool was the axe. Biting deep and leaving a distinctive pattern of marks, these axes played as big a part in taming the wilderness as the plow or the musket. If the craftsman was building a humble table for the family kitchen or a fine jewelry chest he would have used any one of many sizes and shapes of hand planers with razor sharp steel blades that were often passed down through many generations of carpenters.
But back to the present! If the wood top in question is to be primarily a serving area such as a bar or table top the surface can be done in a pronounced way. This is popular and appropriate for rustic or otherwise historic designs. These rougher surfaces are often seen when using reclaimed wood. There’s definitely a feeling of, “The stories it could tell,” when you’re dining off a wood top that shows the marks an axe left two hundred years ago.
In a more traditional or even contemporary design a less obvious treatment can still add the texture and tactility that makes a good looking counter or island top just that much more appealing.
Our clients who want the look of hand hewn surfaces but still require an essentially smooth top can have both. At J. Aaron we fabricate the top exactly as we would any other and add the hand planning just before the final finish and sealer. If the client chooses a reclaimed wood for the project there will be other elements such as nail or peg holes that will show up in the finished top. To add another layer of interest one can opt to have the hand hewn top lightly distressed as a final step just before the sealer.
The warm glow of a wood countertop is a great contrast and complement to stainless steel, stone or other materials in a kitchen. A gentle hand planed surface shows interesting plays of light and invites you to run your hand across it. Wood, though it may have been hundreds of years since it was harvested, continues to have a “life” about it that just speaks to us of hearth and home. Adding a hand hewn element may like gilding the lily but in this case excess really does succeed.