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Building A Kitchen Island Part 1: Working With Homemade Lumber

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: kitchen, woodworking, tools, woodlot,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.(1)Last weekend I finally got around to building a kitchen island using some of the lumber I milled early last spring. Building with homemade lumber takes a little more time, but the payoff is huge in satisfaction, price and the fact that you get to control the dimensions of the boards. Next time you are in the mood to build a kitchen island, I encourage you to begin by heading out to the woodlot and try your hand at working with homemade lumber

You might recall our kitchen project from early this year. There are a couple of finishing touches that need to be completed to call the project done. One is the kitchen island and the other is building a new light fixture. After a long hot summer of more pressing farm chores, when I awoke last Saturday, I knew the time was right for setting to on the kitchen island.

Granbergs Alaskan Sawmill: making the money cuts. 

The project began with the felling and milling of a long-dead pine in our slowly dying pine grove. I used to mourn the passing of each tree, now I look at it with an eye for opportunity.

 Resawing home-milled lumber 

Once I had the timbers in hand, I needed to resaw them into dimensions that made sense for an old-school, farmhouse-style kitchen island. This I accomplished with my table saw.

 Thiskness planer in action.  

Once I had all of the framing pieces and legs cut from the timbers, I sized them using a small thickness planer that I picked up for very little money at a yard sale. The nice thing about a thickness planer is that you can get all four edges smooth and you can make boards with precisely uniform cross sectional dimensions. Hand planes work well for this also, but the thickness planer took hours off the truing and smoothing time.

 Using the tablesaw to cut tenons 

I used the table saw to cut tenons for the rails. In this case, I used through tenons let into 3.25-inch thick legs. I cut the mortises using a 3/4-inch bit chucked in the drill press and cleaned them out with an old set of Marples mortising chisels I found at a flea market back in my boat-building days.

Legs and rails almost ready to assemble into a frameworks.  

After a bit of machining, I wound up with a stack of home-harvested structural parts for the kitchen island. Legs on the left and rails on the right - note how uniform the tenons are. Yes, with care and by exercising extreme and focussed caution you can use your table saw to cut long tenons this way. Do not try it if you are not fairly experienced and comfortable with  the table saw - practice on shorter tenons until you understand the saw.

 Squaring up the frameworks, gluing and clamping. 

A little Gorilla Glue, tapping, clamping, squaring and voila, you have one side of the kitchen island framed out. This operation took me a couple of hours one afternoon. Hours well spent listening to favorite old tunes creating something that's going to make my Partner In Culinary Crime smile. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Photos courtesy Karen Keb.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

hank will_2
10/24/2011 4:25:47 PM

Hey Susy -- Needless to say I didn't make any progress last weekend. I got diverted by a cabinet tearout to expose the house's original chimney, which can take a liner for a wood-burning stove. Pretty exciting possibility to cut the propane bill by 3/4 and be more comfortable in winter. We have so many windfall hardwoods and hedgerows that need thinning. I should make some progress on the island next weekend. The Gorilla glue worked great and when I released the clamps, the frame stayed flat and square. Stay tuned. Hank

chiot's run
10/19/2011 11:02:27 AM

This is so great. As you know, we're considering purchasing one of these home mill set ups like you used. I've been watching & waiting for this post. I can't wait to see the finished product!

hank will_2
10/19/2011 8:44:11 AM

Hey Dave Larson -- I've been totally fascinated with and inspired by your adventures and projects. Thanks for the kind words. Karen told me on Sunday that she was OK to wait a bit longer if I would mill the sides out of pine and the 2-inch thick top out of black walnut and hackberry for a butcher-block kind of look. I'm excited to get to those pieces after I get the framing done. I was going to work on it this weekend, but the chimney repair guy is coming and I need to do a bit of demolition in the living room to make access. Nebraska Dave- I thouroughly enjoy reading about and am also inspired by your adventures with wood, blocks, old stock tanks and you name it. I thought about you when I was pulling 1/0 copper wire through conduit while on vacation a couple of weeks ago. I know you would have known an easier way to do it. Thanks to you both. Hank

nebraska dave
10/18/2011 9:14:39 PM

Hank, you and Carl from Red Pine Mountain are my heroes. Anyone to can cut down the tree saw the lumber and build the project deserves to be set a cut above us other folks that use home improvement store lumber. I certainly used a bunch of that store lumber this summer. I used a bunch of those concrete blocks as well. It seems I'm always digging and setting foundation or retaining wall blocks. I'll be interested in seeing the end product of the wood grown on the Hank Will farm. Have a great workshop day.

dave larson
10/18/2011 3:49:56 PM

A great blog, Hank. We also built our island as well as the rest of the cabinets in our straw bale house. Unfortunately, here in the SE Arizona desert, we are a long ways from accessible trees. So we used locally purchased dimension lumber and plywood. What a great job of combining the enjoyment of working with hand tools to create something practical and, as your say, making your partner in culinary crime happy. I look forward to the next installment.