Natural Art

Sometimes a piece of timber catches my eye, and although at the time I have no idea what it will be used for, I grab it and store it until it has a chance to tell me what it wants to be.

It has been like this long before I had any decent tools (or skillset) to actually do with the piece what it wanted to be.  Many would argue that the skillset is still lacking, and I’m not going to argue with you on that score!

One such piece was at a woodshow a few years back.  I probably blogged about it at the time.  It was a slab of camphor laurel, and it has been sitting in my wood store for a few years now.  It was always intended to be a coffee table or some such.

I have just received the surfacing/spoilboard bit from, and it was a great opportunity to put the bit through its paces, and to make something from the slab itself.

To the bit for a sec (and I also shot a video of it all, so that will be up soon).  It was called a spoilboard bit, which is not a term I was familiar with.  Turns out (from a Google search), that it is basically what it sounds like, and comes from the CNC world (but machines in the serious spectrum).

These CNC machines utilise MDF as a base material, not (just) because they are flat, but instead because of their porosity.  If you have ever tried to use a VacClamp on MDF, you find it is very difficult to maintain a vacuum, until you seal the surface.  These CNC machines work the other way around – they pull a vacuum right through the MDF, to clamp the material to the MDF surface.  The rolled outer surface of MDF is therefore a barrier to this working effectively, so it needs to be machined off, and that is where the spoilboard bit comes into its own.  Spoilboard – which is as it sounds, another term for a sacrificial board, or base.  Not unlike how we use MDF on the Torque Workcentre.  Doesn’t matter if it gets cut into – it is designed to be used, and eventually replaced.

The same cutter is also perfect for slabbing, and that is how I primarily intend to use it.

Photo 19-06-2008 0 56 42It is a different design to other surfacing cutters I have come across.  They all have the vertical carbide cutters (either replaceable or not), which have a scraping action, but this cutter also has two cutters positioned on the base, creating a shearing action across the surface as well.  It is also a monster of a bit, at 63.5mm diameter! (2.5″).  This is not a bit for handheld work!

With either a CNC machine, a Torque Workcentre (or other slabbing setup), this bit will work to flatten a large area quickly.

I’ll have more detail of the setup in the video.  The slab was secured down, and with a number of passes, the surface flattened.  The bit handled some substantial cuts – at one stage it was cutting over 5mm deep across the majority of the width of the bit, and didn’t notice or complain in the slightest.  I’m sure it could handle even more, but I wouldn’t deliberately push a router bit to its limit.

Once the slab was flattened, a quick burst with the Festool belt sander, then onto the ROS with 80 grit paper.  Both these steps took next-to-no time – as you’d expect.  I didn’t have time to finish sanding (up through the grades), but wanted to at least see how it would look, so rubbed some Danish oil over part of the surface.

Talk about “POP”!

Photo 17-05-2014 17 03 24

When whomever it was cut the slab, they were particularly frugal, and it was very thin to start with.  With the amount of resulting twist/warp, the slab was very thin in some sections (down to about 10-15mm).  Too thin to make a generous table.  However, the timber was already telling me it didn’t want to be a table anyway, and instead wanted to become a piece of natural wall art.  Who am I to argue?!

So I will finish off the sanding, then oil it right up, before mounting on the shed wall.  The only decision now, is which wall of the shed to use!



These days, if you want vegetables to cook, they are laid out in the supermarket. Lettuce is sold pre-shredded in bags, meat in plastic-wrapped packages, cheese in tubes, even water in bottles. It may be convenient, but we have lost that ability, even the drive to be hunter-gatherers. Even many woodworkers are guilty of being tempted by the convenience of modern pre-prepared timbers, ripped and dressed all round, some coming plastic wrapped, even pre-cut ready for joining together.

But behind the temptations, there must also be a sadness that when they do come across a felled tree, sitting on the side of the road, they know not only how much timber is just sitting there waiting for someone, but also that this is free timber in a world of overpriced rubbish. When they have no ability to harvest the timber, they have to drive on, leaving the find for someone luckier.

Having access to a slabbing machine would open the floodgates to cheap and free timber, but these are typically thousands of dollars, and for a smaller scale woodworker, that is likely to be a lifetime of timber, so impossible to justify. However, if you are an owner of a Torque Workcentre, and have a chainsaw, then for only $200 for the slabbing jig, you will have a slabbing machine of your own, able to handle lengths up to approximately 0.5m shorter than the length of your workcentre (eg 3 metre slab if you have a 3.5 metre workcentre).

The slabbing attachment is very simple, and it can be because of the inherent properties of the Torque Workcentre itself. The workcentre has a very solid base, able to support significant loads. The tool support arm that slides the length of the table is very heavy duty, and travels smoothly on 10 bearings creating a solid platform for the slabbing jig to attach to.

The slabbing jig holds the chainsaw securely by gripping onto either end of the chainsaw bar. You use the adjustments designed into the slabbing jig to get the bar level, then the main vertical adjustment on the Torque Workcentre to set the blade height, and therefore the slab thickness.

With very little effort, you are ready to slab to your heart’s content, and for some extra money on the side, there are many other woodworkers out there jealous of your workcentre and willing to pay for you to slab their logs for them as well.

The Torque Workcentre – not only a crosscut and rip saw table, or an overhead router with pattern-copying ability, a thicknessing machine, and slab planer, but now also capable of producing the slabs for you from materials you can find.

Let the age of Hunter-Gathering woodworker return! At least for proud owners of the Torque Workcentre.

%d bloggers like this: