Column or Cucumber? A Woodworking and Furniture Conservation Induction Exercise

By Cathy Gorton

Our first assignment in the West Dean furniture conservation program: hand-plane a square piece of wood into a tapered column, break it, and put it back together.

What appears at first to be an exercise uncertain of purpose is one well worth the time spent. In brief, this exercise involves three key steps:

1) Hand-plane a length of pine, initially measuring 500mm x 45mm x 45mm, into a conical column and run down a sloped board;

2) Break the column in half with a sledgehammer!

3) Re-unite the two halves as best as possible and run the column down the same sloped board as before, easy.

Other helpful notes:

  • Use of abrasives is not allowed.
  • Check straightness often with a straight edge or a 2' steel ruler.
  • The lack of noise from running your conically shaped piece of pine or the need to push it down a sloped board will indicate the precision of your hand-planing.
  • Wrap the column in cling film prior to breaking. This helps to keep splinters in one place.


My first time using a hand plane required thought about how to hold the wood, how to use the plane to create not only the roundness of the column, but also the taper. Constantly, using the straight edge was important. Smashing it in half was the easiest part.

Re-connecting the broken halves required considerable thought for an appropriate course of action. Figuring out the sequence of reconstruction involved which little bits went where and determining whether to straighten or remove bent fibres.

Determining suitable clamping and holding devices was not easy. As you can see, I didn't distribute the pressure from the clamp on the wood bracket and it cracked.

The initial clamping design didn't account very well for keeping the column straight. To remedy this, I warmed the joint with a hot air gun and re-clamped the column using a sash clamp as the straight edge. It worked.

I made decisions about which glues and adhesives to use, and, if necessary, diluted and injected. Finally, I steamed out and flattened the dents, in order to restore the object to its original shape and dimension.

Figuring out when to stop was the most difficult part of this exercise. Will additional hot steam raise the dent slightly more? Can I glue additional fibres into place? How much more effort is needed to make it that much better?