Beware the Cat’s Face

cats_face_IMG_4348

When a flat-sawn board has reversing grain it will usually exhibit a swirling grain pattern on its faces or edges, warning you that it could be difficult to plane.

I have always heard this swirl as being called a “cat’s face,” though I cannot remember where I first heard it. In 1993 in a hand tool class? Who knows.

Whenever I teach handplaning I warn students to look for a cat’s face nested amongst the cathedrals of the plainsawn boards. Mostly they think my explanation is nuts. So I point it out to them.

“Look. That’s a cat. See it?”

I swear that they don’t even humor me. And you wonder why I stopped teaching.

Today I was sanding down the first coat of paint on 1.2 miles of moulding for our new storefront and the sun reflected this perfect cat’s face. Our Cincinnati Zoo is famous for its white tigers, and that’s exactly what I saw.

Lucky I don’t have to plane that cat.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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26 Responses to Beware the Cat’s Face

  1. drhuntsman says:

    I still don’t see a cat’s face. But I see an old lady in a bonnet.

  2. Alex A. says:

    well that explains the tear out I ran into a few weeks ago….

  3. fitz says:

    oh…in profile — now I see it! (2 minutes I’ll never get back.)

  4. steverennells says:

    I see it. It’s a cats face. I see the Damn cat and my plane barks like a dog… Teach again please.

  5. hharaldsen says:

    A very sharp blade and a steady hand should give the cat a shave

  6. Perhaps you’ve never seen a cat?

  7. Willard Anderson says:

    Cay’s eye! Interesting. I refer to this in my classes as a “bull’s eye” and the reverse situation as “hour glass”–both reversing grain but in opposite directions.

  8. Totally a cat’s face. I get it!

  9. “See the cat? See the cradle?” – Kurt Vonnegut

  10. Niels Cosman says:

    I see naked clowns crying….everywhere!

    • raney says:

      I was sure I was the only one! You, me, and David Lynch brother!

      are yours playing strip go-fish and muttering about “the tip”? Cuz mine definitely aren’t. I mean, unless yours are.

  11. waltamb says:

    Bartender, I’ll have what he’s having.
    I see a Topo map of hilly terrain.

  12. q4hours says:

    Not sure if everyone is enjoying the same joke as me but where I come from, when you want to express an expletive, just mouth the words “Cat’s Face” and it looks like you are swearing at someone or something. Hint: The first word looks like “Get” and the second isn’t so palatable but it starts with the same letter as “Face”. Mouth the words to a friend and ask them what they think you said. Make sure they are a good friend though so they don’t take offence.
    I can definitely see myself whispering the real words to myself when I see this in a board I need to plane – so I understand where this expression may have come from.

  13. Nope. Sorry, I’m with the cartographers (catographers?). Wouldn’t want plane into a hill (insert tasteless air-crash joke here).
    Cheerio,
    Virg.

  14. southernwill says:

    I see Jesus. I see him in my toast, too. I think he’s trying to tell me something.

  15. Bob Jones says:

    These boards also move in strange ways. I hate them. I pass up any board with circles on the face grain.

  16. Looks like a dog’s face to me. The smallest circle is the tip of its nose, and the larger concentric circles around it are the contours of its muzzle. Its small eyes are up next to the edge of the board. It’s a cartoon dog, of course!

  17. Or . . . It looks like the eye of the crocodile in Walt Disney’s original animated version of Peter Pan.

  18. I see a fried egg. Damn, now I’m hungry.

  19. jfreitasmn says:

    It’s fine to pet the cat, but planing it would be no fun for anyone. Especially the cat.

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