Three-quarter Inch Paradigm

The other day I was surfacing some lumber for a project, and I reached for the depth stop on my planer. In a few clicks I was once again locked into the usual 3/4-in. thickness setting. I bet it’s the one that gets used the most on your planer, too. I wonder if that’s a good thing?

It’s interesting and kind of a pleasant shock to the senses when a project calls for something other than this typical dimension. Now and again, I have to surface boards down to something less than 3/4 in. in order to flatten them, and it’s curious to see how that change in stock thickness can affect the look of a cabinet door frame, table top or drawer part. When I have the opportunity to buy really thick boards, it’s exciting to see the extra heft— and for a while at least, to lug them around the shop. Same goes for turning the wall of a bowl. I usually don’t measure this but just keep peeling off the wood until the proportion seems right. Sure, there’s a number to express whatever the thickness is, but even if I measured it, it wouldn’t mean much.

Still, there’s something safe and reassuring about sticking with what we know when it comes to choosing lumber thickness for a project. Maybe it’s fear of making a design mistake or the thought of wasting money on our investment that keeps us on the straight-and-narrow “3/4 inch.” So typically — and maybe too often — we use the standard planer settings and go from there.

This all reminds me of something James Krenov once said in his book, “The Impractical Cabinetmaker,” regarding lumber thickness:

By in large, many of us are not aware enough of what various dimensions mean, except as numbers. And they are rather vague and uninteresting numbers at that—one inch, three-quarters, five-eighths, one-half inch, and so forth … I believe that in the course of time dimensions as numbers decrease in importance. It is the way a piece of wood feels in our hands, how we measure and experience it by eye and touch, that really matters.

Don’t be afraid to step outside of the “Three-quarter Inch Paradigm” from time to time. It just might be a breath of fresh air.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

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