Archive for the ‘handplanes’ category

The Circular Plane – Flexibility when you need it

October 25, 2013

Circular plane, compass plane, radius plane, ship’s plane, this is a plane with a lot of names.  But when all is said and done, it is an iron plane with a flexible sole that can be adjusted to allow the user to smooth convex and concave surfaces.  Stanley, Record and Kunz (and others) have made flexible sole planes.  Kunz’s113 plane is still in production.  All three makers chose to use the same numeric designation for these types of planes (with Record opting to put a zero in front of the numbers).

Years ago, I owned a Kunz 113.  It was a very nice tool, but I rarely used it.  In a “fit of angst” (and wanting money for some other purchase), I opted to sell it.  For many years following the sale, I used other methods to smooth curved surfaces.  Then not so long ago, a friend “forced” me to take a box full of old Stanley planes out of his shop.  He was just “tired of tripping over them” and wanted them gone.  Along with several very nice Type 11’s, I found an old 113.  Pitted and lacking much of its old Japanned lustre, the tool seemed sound enough, the adjustments true and smooth.  So, I parked it on the shelf designated for “seldom used planes” (the largest shelf in the shop).

Last week I needed to smooth a chair crest.  So I retrieved the old 113 and put it to work.  Despite having spent quite some time in “plane limbo”, it performed admirably (on elm, no less).



While not an everyday user, (unless you build rocking chairs for a living), a circular plane might prove to be a very valuable addition to your kit.

If you’d like to know about Stanley Planes, Patrick Leach’s “Blood and Gore” is loaded with information.  And, by the way, Mr. Leach appears to prefer the performance of the No. 20.  (Once you’ve pinched a finger in the adjusting “teeth” or lose your curve after absent-mindedly grasping the adjustment knob, thinking it a hand-hold,  you may agree with him.)  For Record plane fans, is the place to go.

The Kunz 113 can still be purchased at Woodcraft, Highland Hardware, Traditional Woodworker, and many other fine vendors around the globe.

A Proper Travisher

October 20, 2013

A short while ago, I posted about my experience in modifying a convex spokeshave to make it more usable in seat plank hollowing.  In other words, making it a travisher “on the cheap”.  After reading my post, Jim Crammond volunteered to help me in the making of a proper travisher.  Many of you may know Jim.  He is a “known entity” in the Windsor world, and has taught Windsor chair making at Tillers International for a number of years.  Tillers, like the John C. Campbell School teaches traditional crafts, as well as sustainable agriculture practices and appropriate technology application.  It’s a pretty cool place.

So we met at Jim’s shop where we did the “blacksmithing part of the project.  Jim is a student of John Wilson’s (Charlotte MI) method of making travishers.  The method is very traditional.  That said, traditional shaves are “friction fit”.  Mr. Wilson uses set screws to hold irons in position and that method works quite well.  I had envisioned a day spent at a big Peter Wright, “beating” the iron into just the right radius.  Turns out the the 3/16″ O1 steel could be easily cold formed around a set of “dollies” (bending forms).  The dollies, with the iron, are positioned in a substantial vise (not a pattern makers vise, as shown) then pressed into the appropriate radius.  The irons were curved only after they were ground to about 25 degrees.  The tangs were heated just enough to allow them to be positioned at the appropriate angle.  The irons were heated to “cherry”, then quenched in peanut oil.  We then heated them to a “straw” color and quenched them in water for tempering.  Really it was a very simple process, well within the capabilities of even a novice woodworker.  We returned to my shop to make the body of the travisher.  Jim was kind enough to share several pieces of Apple wood with me (from the firewood pile, he said).  The results are above.  Apple is wonderful for tool work or turning, by the way.

The results are fantastic.  Due to the traditional design, the travisher is capable of taking very agressive cuts or doing fine “clean-up” work, without re-positioning the iron.  It is simply put, a marvelous tool.

I want to thank Jim for taking time to share this method.  I’ve never met a woodworker (worth his salt) that was unwilling to share his experience (given that the learner showed real interest).  Guys like Jim Crammond keep renewing my interest in woodworking, even after all these years.

A Travisher “on the cheap”

September 18, 2013

I’ve always wanted a travisher.  Maybe it’s just the name.  Travisher.  That je ne se quoi.  It’s just cool.  You know, like Paris in the 30’s.  Django Reinhardt playing in the backround with a little Gypsy Orchestra.  Or maybe some “tucked away” place in Cornwall or Wales.  But every time I’ve gone out to procure one, there was always something else I needed more.  So it never happened.

So yesterday, I’m “hoggin’ out” this seat blank and I began thinking about travishers again.  Pete Galbert makes a beautiful one.  But hey, I’m retired, on a fixed income…  Maybe next month at WIA.  But not right now.  For some reason, I look around the shop and my eyes fall on a Kunz convex spokeshave (hollowing).  I mean I’ve had this thing for years.  I’ve never used it.  It’d probably be great for cleaning up wooden eaves troughs.  But really, it has just sat there on the shelf for years.  (BTW, it’s the only tool that I have like that.  I USE ever other tool.  There are no “lookers”, only working tools, REALLY!  Really Mary, I’m serious).

I got to thinking…  The are only two (major) differences between this spokeshave and the most magnificent of the travisher class.  It’s on a fairly tight radius and it’s got a 45 degree cutting angle.  So after a few mental gymnastics, I get out my single cut bastard file and commence to drawfile a radius (running perpendicular to the cutting direction) on the sole of the shave.  (You’ve got to remember to PUSH the tool and “roll out” of the cut, just like using an old, curved wooden spokeshave.  Galbert has a good video on using a travisher on his site or Youtube.)


After giving the iron a good honing, I re-assembled the “bastard travisher” and was very pleasantly surprised.  Anyone who has worked in elm knows the it is a contentious specie. If a wood can be ornery, elm’s the one.  The tool cut very well in both directions, against and with the grain.


The Kunz spokeshave is inexpensive, good quality, but will need a little finagling, as I’ve mentioned above. The tight radius is great “around the edges”, but a broader radius tool would be a nice addition.  There are other convex shaves out there, but they’re just as expensive as the finest of the handmade travishers.  There are, however, tools to be had on the used market.

Look out all of you “travisher peddlars”, I’m comin’ to Cinci next month, with money in my pocket, but till then I’ll just keep “hoggin’ away with my “little bastard””.

Some thoughts on drawknives

August 14, 2013

Like all other hand tools, the drawknife is a simple machine designed to provide the user with an advantage that will; give him (or her) more control, increase his (or her) productivity or shorten the workday.  (Or all three, if you’re lucky.)  Of course, there is the added benefit of being every bit as therapeutic to use as a spokeshave.

Most folks new to working with hand tools may have developed some faulty notions about the drawknife and its use.  Let’s explore this simple, but extraordinarily useful tool and how to get the most out of it.  First, let me throw out a caveat here.  As always, let me state, that is no absolutely right way to use any particular tool.  The way that works best for you, is the “right way”.  That said, there are a few things that you should understand about the drawknife that are, pretty much, accepted as true.

Drawknives are, usually, designed to be used bevel up or bevel down:

To determine if how a drawknife is “handed”, look at how the handles are set in relationship to the work.  The most comfortable working position is with the handles “below” the work.


The knife above is “handed” to be used “bevel up”.  Note that the handles are well below the working surface.  Bevel up knives are usually used for roughing and dimensional stock preparation.  This knife is sporting a set of chamfer guides (Lee Valley Tools).  They’re a great help when roughing things like spindle blanks or running long chamfers on beams (or posts).

Roughing Knives (bevel up) are usually curved in at least one plane, but more often than not they’re curved in two (planes).


Finish Knives (bevel down) usually have flat backs, but are “crowned” on the cutting edge:


Start close to your body and “nibble away” at your work:

The common notion is that the drawknife is used to take long, heavy shavings that pile up around the craftsman and embrace him (or her) in some magical union between man and material.  Well that might be your experience if you’re working with green, riven wood that is absolutely straight grained.  Truth of the matter is that most of us are going to be working with material that is well seasoned (perhaps even kiln dried) and presents grain direction that may “run all over the place”.

When working with seasoned and/or figured material, start close and work away from you, taking short cuts.  This limits the length of the chip to be removed and minimizes “tear out”.  (This process is very similar to slabbing off when hewing a beam.)  When you’re nearly at the desired depth, take a few very light finishes cuts.  This will produce a surface that is true and very highly polished (a huge benefit of the drawknife).


How hard do I have to hold on to this thing?

Think of it this way.  Pretend the handles of the knife are two little birds.  You should hold them in your hands tightly enough that they cannot escape your grasp, but not so tightly that they die of asphyxiation.  Enough said, but remember you may be working with this thing for hours, forearm cramps will ruin your “woodworking adventure” in a heartbeat.  By the way, the handles are designed to give you leverage!


“Flick” the shavings away:

If you’re hitting yourself in the solar plexus with stock that slipped free of the horse, you’re not doing it right.  If you’re “hammering” away with the knife and are fearful that the handles are going to slip off the tangs, you’re not doing it right.

Grasp the handles lightly and low down.  With a high attack angle, position the blade to cut a shaving of the desired length.


With just enough pressure to keep the blade engaged in the cut, LIFT the handles and pull the knife towards you.  Your exit angle should be noticeably lower than your attack.


Skew the knife, whenever possible,

especially when doing finish work.  This creates a lengthened support surface and lowers the effective cutting angle (usually a good thing, but you might need a little different strategy when working with highly figured wood.  Teeny, tiny nibbles?  Maybe).


How should this thing be sharpened?

Everyone has their preferred method.  But mine is to draw file the bevel edge and back, keeping the bevel “flat ground” and the back slightly convex.  Even when used properly, the drawknife’s cutting edge takes a fair amount of punishment.  The convex back allows the user to “flick” shavings, while the flat ground bevel is significantly more durable than one that is hollow ground.  After filing, the bevel and back are honed and stropped.  As with all woodworking tools, the drawknife must be razor sharp, to be effective and produce optimum results.

Oldies are goodies:

Before 1960, every farm in this country had at least one, and in most cases more than one, drawknife.  Every self respecting carpenter had one.  Auto and truck repair shops (when frames had wooden components) had one.  Patternmakers, boatwrights, you name it, anyone working with wood in any way was likely to own a drawknife.  My point is that there are a lot of good drawknives out there.  New drawknifes can be very expensive and I have yet to see one that performs any better than the old American/British pattern knives.  In fact the forging quality of most new knives is not up to the standard of the older ones.  And, the material in the older drawknives seems much more suited for taking and holding an edge than that used in their modern counterparts.  And, remember, the tangs in drawknives are (usually) not hardened, so with a little judicious manipulation, any knife (if its shape if appropriate) can be “handed”.  I do know some folks who keep their handles in a “neutral” position, allowing them to use their knives “up” or “down”.  However, I do not enjoy using their knives.  I’ll leave it at that.

Life is short – enjoy yourself

A few thoughts on spokeshaves

July 10, 2013

If there ever was a “therapeutic” tool contest, the lowly spokeshave might win, without even the slightest challenge.  Anyone who has ever sat down for a session on the shavehorse with a shave knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Even a “something less than super-sharp” shave will bring a smile to the face as shavings mount up around your feet.


There are three basic types of shaves.  Low-angle, standard pitch and scraping shaves.  This discussion will deal with the first two types.

The low angle shaves include tools like the Miller’s Falls Tubular Shave, the Stanley No. 85 Razor shave and numerous wood bodied shaves with “tanged” irons that were “friction” fitted or threaded to allow for adjustment.


These low angle shaves share a common design feature in that they have a supporting surface ahead of the iron and none behind it.  In the case of the Stanley 85 (and the current replicas being made), this “shoe” extends forward for a considerable distance, making them more suited for flat work.  The “woodies” above and below a very useful for curved work.  All of this type shave utilize iron projection as a means of establishing the appropriate clearance angle.  This means that if the iron is honed at 30°, a true cutting angle of perhaps 35° can be achieved.


This type of shave requires a bit of a learning curve due to the single supporting surface.  And, the user will note that the iron must be honed razor sharp in order to keep the tool “in the cut”, due to the extremely low cutting angle and minimal clearance.  In my experience, this type of shave works well in straight grained stock and softer species.  The low cutting angle tends to increase tear-out in figured stock.

Standard angle shaves, both iron bodied and wooden, have supporting surfaces both in front of and behind the cutting edge.  Irons are usually bedded at between 40 and 45 degrees, with the bevel down.



The shave above (Stanley 51) is, in my opinion, one of the best.  They are readily available from used tool dealers, garage sales and antique marts.  Easily adjusted, they can be filed to create a radiused surface parallel to the cutting edge.  Stanley did make radiused versions, but they were made in small numbers and are priced much higher.  The Stanley 151 is also a very good choice.

I’ve found that many standard angle shaves offer one other distinct advantage.  The iron can be reversed, thus creating a 70° scraping shave.  This method cannot be used on some newer “replica” shaves, as manufacturers have opted for depth adjustment methods that allow the iron to be seated in only the bevel down position.

Kunz "round" shave with bevel up, scraping curly maple with ease.

Kunz “round” shave with bevel up, scraping curly maple with ease.

When using any spokeshave, there are a few things to keep in mind.  In nearly every situation, problems are related to the sharpness of the iron and/or the amount of iron projection.  Skew the shave, whenever possible.  This has the effect of lengthening the supporting surface(s) and lowering the effective cutting angle, unless you’re working with figured material.  Don’t push or pull the shave too quickly.  Make sure that the tool is “in the cut” and keep it there.  It’s easy to get into a rhythm that lessens your control of the process.

Happy Shaving

ELM – Squirrely grain – different tactics

June 29, 2013

A fair amount of 8/4 elm stock found its way into the shop not so long ago.  So I decided it was time to build a few stick chairs.  Having been inspired in past years by the work of John Brown and, more recently, Jack Plane, I knew that the traditional seat plank material for these chairs is elm.  So, the decision being made, I began the process of planing the seat plank true.  The seat plank is the heart of any style “Windsor” chair.


The grain of elm can run in every direction and it is interlocking.  These qualities make elm one of the toughest woods around. Traditionally, elm has been used for things like wheel hubs and livestock barn flooring.  However these same qualities can make elm a challenge to work.

I started with a twenty-inch foreplane, well cambered, planing diagonally to bring the datum into plane.  Once the winding sticks showed that I was in plane, I used a 4 1/2 with the iron cambered at about 5 thousandths of arc height.  And if you look closely at the iron, you’ll see that there is a “+10” inked above the lever cap.  In my shop this mark indicates that the the iron has a 10° back bevel, so this set up acts like a York pitch plane.  It allows me to remove a maximum shaving thickness of about 3 thousandths.  That’s enough for “rough” cleaning the scalloped surface left by the foreplane.  This “quasi finish” planing is done on the diagonal.

The plank is flipped and marked for thickness.  First passes are made with a scrub plane, on the diagonal.  This is followed by the foreplane, to “ease” the very deep scallops left by the scrub plane.  Then the 4 1/2 was used to finish the “show” surface.  This final planing is done “crossgrain”.  (The actual finish planing was done before the seat shape was cut, so the above photo is a little misleading.  Cross grain planing will cause some edge damage, so calculate your rough width accordingly.)  Many folks who are new to handtool use are unaware that much, if not the bulk of hand planing is done in this fashion, across the grain.  Simply put, that’s why finish planes, used by the professionals of old, always have a little camber.  You don’t leave tracks and you don’t tear and lift the fibers.  Needless to say, the iron must be razor sharp for optimum performance.

Now for the real tricky part.


I’m going to saddle the seat, lightly.  In pine, I’d probably start this job with a small adze then finish it with an inshave.  But, due to the nature of the elm’s structure, I’m going to do it with all with very light passes of the inshave.  If you look closely at the photo, you’ll note that the grain seems to follow the profile of the saddling.  Well it does and that will add to the beauty of the finished product.  However that adds a new little twist.  I’m shaving crossgrain.  But in certain areas I’ll be cutting “downhill”, only to encounter a change in grain direction, which will throw me into an “uphill” situation.  There’s no “across the board” solution for this dilemma.  The answer is that you have to look at the surface and change your cutting direction accordingly.  You have to be “one with the wood” as Yoda would say.  BTW, when using any type of shave, start on the bevel and find the minimum clearance angle required to give you the shaving thickness and level of control you need.  And again, a shave must be razor sharp, or you might as well do this job with a power grinder.  Stay tuned.  This might turn into a pretty interesting project.

Big Walnut slab + Emmert’s style pattern makers vise = just one more distraction

July 22, 2012

The poor little lowboy is sitting there, dry-fit, in-the-white, just waiting to be finished.  It should be my priority.  Then again, I should be turning out some bowls or anything else for the marketplace.  But what am I doing?  I’m screwing around with yet another workbench!  But, this one is really going to be special.

Remember that big slab of walnut that Charlie dropped off a couple of weeks ago?  Well, I planed it up in a previous post and I believe  I mentioned that I had something very special in mind for it. 

It just so happens that I was lucky enough to buy one of the last of the Emmert’s style pattern makers vises that Woodcraft discontinued a few years ago.  I can only guess that the vise was just too expensive for most pocketbooks.  Lee Valley manufactured one called the “Tucker” vise, which was discontinued about the same time.  It’s a real shame that these vises didn’t get the attention they deserved.  Anyone who has used either of these vises, or one of the originals, knows what wonderful tools they are.  And, if you’re a woodworker who does any carving or shave work, these vises are really without peers.  Authentic Emmert’s can sell for $1500 +, so the several hundred dollar price tag on the Woodcraft or Lee Valley version was a real bargain. 

The WC version weighs in at 55 pounds.  So a heavy-duty bench is in order.  Also, I’m contemplating another antique, cast-iron vise for use as a tail vise.  So the combined weight of the vises and bench could (easily) be in the range of 250-300 lbs.  Ought to be good and steady.

Trestles are made from 3 1/2″ square Ash.  Stretchers are of 1 5’8″ x 5 3/4″ Ash and cut with a half dove-tail tenon.  The stretchers will be held in place with a wedge that will complete the dovetailed connection.

Lay-out is critical.  You’ll note any number of matchmarks and “surface messages” to myself.  (It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve cut a mortise on the wrong surface.)  So tomorrow I’ll finish up the stretcher mortises in the legs and with any luck at all, the base should be ready for glue up and assembly by mid-day.

Planing big slabs

July 15, 2012

My friend Charlie just dropped off a couple nice big slabs of walnut.  The original intention was to cut them into heavy veneer and squares for legs.  But one of them was was just dead straight and I immediately knew that I had something else in mind for this particular piece.

Big slabs seem to pose problems for many woodworkers.  They’re hard to move around.  They’re usually too heavy or too large to run through planers and sanders.  But for the folks that understand how to “walk” a board and use handplanes, big slabs can be handled with relative ease.

The first thing is to get one side in plane.  This becomes the datum, the surface from which all other dimensions are taken.  Using a set of winding sticks, the rough surface is checked for wind, cup or bow and imperfections in sawing.  Those areas are marked.


Rough planing is done with a long plane with substantial camber in the iron.  My favorite plane for this part of the process is a 20″ wooden foreplane.  Planing is usually done at about 45 degrees to the grain direction of the workpiece, although many times I find that I’m planing cross grain.  The heavy camber of the iron allows for large shavings to be taken without an irordinate amount of edge tearout.

After the datum surface is in plane, a smooth plane is used to remove the wide, shallow “scallops” left by the foreplane and render the datum dead flat.  Then the slab is flipped and the required thickness is measured and marked with a cutting or panel gauge.  Again the foreplane if used to produce a plane second surface, parallel to the datum.  If a large amount of material must be removed from certain areas, a scrub plane can be used.  The scrub plane has a narrower iron with greater camber than the foreplane.  This enables the plane to take very thick, narrow shavings and speeds the work of stock removal.  The foreplane can then be used to remove the deep grooves created by the scrub plane.

Trueness in length can be checked by a straightedge or the winding sticks can be laid flat at both ends of the slab and a line can be stretched across them. Any variance will be quickly determined by simply measuring at points along the line to the surface of the slab. And remember that the human eye is a very precise instrument.

Only time will tell what this slab will become.

Hurrah! for the Liberty Bell!

May 29, 2012

The Stanley Works was a behemoth, a force to be reckoned with, a standard-bearer for progress in the development of all sorts of tools for the professional craftsman, as well as the home owner.

That said, Stanley also made some junk.  I mean some real junk!  Then too, they made other stuff that just kinda is, ah, I mean, well…  I mean you wonder if they fell asleep in the marketing department, or what.  Many people think that Stanley’s line of transitional  bench planes falls into a category which might best be described as “what were they thinking?”

Personally, I like ’em.  Hey, they’re light, plus they offer the same type of lateral and depth adjustment that was available on Stanley iron planes.  You could drop them from a scaffold and there was a pretty good chance that they would survive.  Try that with a Bailey type!  I have no doubt that they were great for carpenters in the field.  But I’ve gotta believe they were never taken very seriously by cabinetmakers and joiners.  My guess is that those two groups uttered the mantra “wood or iron, nothing in between”.

But there is one little subdivision of the transitional species that I find particularly appealing, the Liberty Bells.  They are unmistakable with their raised Liberty Bell boss on the lever cap.  There is no lateral adjustment and only a simple depth adjuster.  And, it is their simplicity that makes them something special, especially in the hands of someone with an imagination.

LB’s have a movable pawl that fits into the depth adjuster (stirrup).  This allows the iron to be projected well past the chipbreaker.  This is very difficult, if not impossible to do with Bailey design plane irons.  What this means is that the LB can be turned into one of the nicest little scrub planes you can imagine.  It has a 1 3/4″ wide iron and the depth can be controlled with the adjuster, a distinct advantage.

The moveable pawl also allows for the iron to be easily reversed, thereby allowing the plane to be used as a scraping plane in a pinch.  You might dig up an old iron, crown it ever so slightly and use it exclusively for scraping (try that with one you “bevel-up” planes).  One might also consider making a very heavy single iron for really fine polishing work.  The LB’s lever cap would allow for an iron of that nature to be used.  And, while we’re at it, how ’bout making a reversed toothing iron?  Easy enough.

The small LB smoother is an incredibly comfortable plane to use, even for a mugg with big hands.  The iron frame is made with a “tongue” that fits into the web of the push hand.  It has that “extension of the craftsman’s spirit” kinda of feel.  Okay, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but it feels good when you’re using it.

The other great thing is that these things are cheap (usually).  I’ve seen them with replacement bodies that make them look like little “objet d’ arts”.  Hey, these kind of tools connect us with our past and they are great little “multi-use” platforms.  Imagine.  Enjoy.  And remember, like so many other aspects of a woodworking vocation or avocation, you can heat your shop with the stuff you don’t like or screw up.  Life is good.

Wooden Planes – Tapered Irons (and how a back bevel can save the day)

May 21, 2012

I use old wooden bench planes daily.  I’ve got a full set of iron bench planes as well, but find that the wooden bench planes are much more pleasurable to work with.  They’re lighter, which is a plus when doing a lot of planing and wooden jointers are, usually, significantly longer than their iron counterparts.  And, the soles of wooden planes tend to burnish the surface being planed.

Recently I was asked if I found that antique American bench planes were designed only to be used in softwood.  “Well, of course not!” I responded.  I mean, look around you at the myriad of things built from hardwoods, from building frames to washbowl stands, during the period in which only wooden planes were being used.  But then I started thinking about it a little more.  Some of my wooden planes do seem to work better while planing softwood.  So, I started looking at their geometries.  I found that both iron and wooden American bench planes are, more often than not, bedded at 45 degrees.  (Most wooden molding and specialty planes are bedded with 50 or 55 degrees.  Wooden bench planes that were designed exclusively for use in hardwoods are generally bedded at 50 degrees, but angles as high as 60 degrees are not unheard of.)   

After finding that the bedding angles were the same, I began looking at the irons.  I have several wooden bench planes that use irons that are the same thickness throughout their entire length.  But most of my wooden bench planes have tapered irons.  That is to say that the iron is much thicker at the cutting edge than at the top.  The reason is that the portion of the iron below the chipbreaker screw slot has been forge welded into the upper portion of the iron, which is generally very soft steel.  It is not uncommon for the cutting edge to be two to three times as thick as the upper part of the iron.  But how does this affect performance, assuming that all of the irons are sharpened to their optimum?

A moderately tapered iron – about 2 degrees of taper

Well, the answer in reality is pretty simple.  It’s well known that a lower cutting angle produces better results (with less effort) in softwoods.  When the degree of taper is subtracted from the bedding angle, the total included angle or effective cutting angle is lowered.  In the case of the Japanese plane which uses an iron that tapers in the opposite direction (because the iron itself is wedged into the plane body), the taper angle would be added to the bedding angle, thereby raising the effective cutting angle.  So, once again, geometry provides the answer.

The actual cutting angle is 43 degrees, due to the 2 degree taper of the iron

Then it dawned on me.  Over the years, I had back put a back bevel on some of the planes that I used mostly in hardwoods.  Most folks who do a lot of hand planing, hone irons instinctively, depending more on feel than the protractor.  As most of my readers know, I’m very cautious about back bevelling irons as it increases the amount of energy required to push the plane, exponentially.  As I get older, I want to work less, not more!

The long and short of it this:  If you want to improve the performance of your old wooden bench plane with the tapered iron in hardwood, put a back bevel on it.  There, I’ve said it…back bevelBejasus, bite my tongue!

And just one short note of caution:  bevel length looks suspiciously long on tapered irons.  Don’t allow yourself to be deceived.  Make sure that your primary and secondary bevel angles are correct and that you’ve got adequate clearance.

Go find yourself a nice old wooden bench plane.  Tune it up and have a ball.

Why can’t I get Dad’s bench plane to work?

May 19, 2012

I can’t count the number of times I have been asked by friends, acquaintances and customers to examine a bench plane that “just won’t work”.  Typically, one of two statements follows the request:  “I remember my Dad using this plane for years.  I just got it out of the box in the basement, sharpened up the blade on the grinder, polished it, but it just won’t cut right.” or; “Dad never could get this thing to work, even after he’d sharpened it on the grinder.  He said it was cheap and that he had just bought it to trim a door that was sticking.  He put it in a box in the basement and wound up buying a belt sander to do the job.” 

More often than not, I find that “someone” has ground the primary bevel at an angle greater than the bedding angle of the plane.  While you can get away with this on a block plane (bevel up), it just won’t work on a bench plane (bevel down).  When the primary bevel angle is equal to or higher than the bedding angle, the iron can never be engaged in the cut.  So, the plane “skitters” along the surface.  The user will often set the iron “deeper”, only to find the plane binds completely.

There have been occasions when folks have presented me with a bench plane whose iron appears to have been ground with an acceptable primary bevel. But upon closer inspection, it appears that “someone” honed a secondary bevel that was so high as to eliminate an adequate amount of clearance.  Adequate clearance is generally thought to be a minimum of 12 degrees.

The next time someone tells you that his (or her) Dad’s bench plane just won’t work, check the angles, all of the angles.

Ode to a Filletster and a Roubo bench update

February 26, 2012

Whether you call it a filletster,  fillester, rebate or rabbet, using a moving fillester plane is just “plane” fun.  Long pigtails of stock come shooting through the side escapement.  The wooden version of the plane absolutely “sings” as it works (some folks might call it more of a howl).  For me, the process of working with handtools is every bit as important as the end product.  So the tactility matters a lot.  But top that off with the auditory pleasure of heaing a well tuned handplane working and you’ve got a real winning combination.  Folks come into the shop and are surprised that I don’t have a radio or disc player (and I’ve been a musician all of my adult life).  I simply tell them that the tools make the music in this place.

L - Sargent 79 Duplex Rabbet, R - Sandusky Tool Moving Fillester

I broke the fillester out to rabbet (rebate for our readers in other parts of the English speaking world) the bottom of the tool tray on the Roubo bench.

Using a rabbert plane is pretty much foolproof, given, of course, that it is well honed and the depth stop and fence are correctly adjusted.  The one challenge is to insure that you keep the plane at right angles to the surface being planed.  There’s no real secret method here.  Just keep your fingers out of the way of the escapement so shaving don’t clog up the throat and concentrate on what you’re doing.  And, remember to move and use your body weight to your advantage.  This is when that extra ten pounds you put on during the holidays will really pay off.

So here’s where I’m at with the small Roubo (little splayed French) bench top.  The work surface is only 13″ wide, but the 8″ wide tool tray should more than make up for the top’s narrow width.  Hopefully, tools will find their way to the tray, not to the working surface (as they have for the last thirty-eight years on the current bench).

The way Gramps sharpened his plane irons

February 15, 2012

Seventy-five years ago most handtool woodworkers were professional carpenters, joiners, millwrights and millmen.  They depended on their tools to make a living.  They were paid on the basis of their productivity.  They knew how to sharpen their tools to maximize their productivity and they knew how to do it fast.

Now, most handtool afficinados are very dedicated amateurs (or recognized artisans with clienteles that are willing to pay for “toolmarks”).  This group of handtool users has the luxury of time, time to fettle their tools “in absurdia”.

Matt Sullenbrand, frequent visitor to this site and provider of wise observation, sent this recent comment;

“I have purchased lots of old planes over the years, and started out flattening the backs on all of them. Then I realized, if none of the craftsman who owned these planes worried about flat backs, why should I? I am not convinced that flat backs on plane irons were ever necessary. It seems more likely and more expedient that it was the norm to use a back bevel on almost all irons, save maybe profiled plane irons which would have been very difficult to back bevel. Just a thought.”

After reading Matt’s comments, I began to think about how my Grandfather taught me to sharpen a plane iron.  First, you have to remember that not all planes are used for “polishing”.  Most, are used for sizing and truing.  So, fifty-four years ago, Gramps taught me to sharpen plane irons like this.

First, make sure that the iron is ground to the purpose it was intended.  Here’s a number 6 iron that’s ground with a substantial crown.  Remember that a 6 is a foreplane.  It’s the plane that “strikes” the first datum or register, from which all other dimensions are taken.  So we get the “grind” right:

Then we “run” the iron in a “figure eight” motion on a hard arkansas stone.  Just as soon as we raise a “wire”, we strike it off by moving the iron laterally, while just raising the heel of the iron “ever so slightly” off the hone.

Then we move to a hard black arkansas stone.  We repeat the same “figure eight” motion, raise the wire, and, again, strike it away.  We don’t go to the strop.  The iron is razor sharp at this point.  The honed, secondary bevel in very small, which means we’re not wasting valuable tool steel.

We reassemble the iron and the chipbreaker and begin to work.  I mean, how many angels can sit on the head of a pin?

Back beveling plane irons – a few more thoughts

February 12, 2012

For some reason, I started thinking about back bevels, again, about a week ago.  Maybe it was because Les brought up David Charlesworth’s book, “Furniture-Making Techniques”.  So I spent a little time with Charlesworth and Garrett Hack (The Handplane Book).  Okay.  We know that higher cutting angles work better on certain species.  Chris Schwarz has weighed in, stating that a 62 1/2 degree is perfect for curly maple.  And I agree, as earlier posts on this blog will attest.  But I decided that we should be looking at simple ways the produce repeatable results.  So I went out and cut several wedges that should help in setting the back bevel, when (if ever) it’s called for.

Using a 3/8″ carriage bolt, a nut, couple of washers and a wing nut, we can make a rudimentary jig that will allow us to maintain the back bevel angle.

Instead of pushing the iron back and forth on the hone, I prefer a lateral “sweeping” motion.  I find that this allows me to apply pressure on either side and maintain the crown that I’ve already introduced to the iron.

There’s still a few “twists” that you’ll have to contend with.  Adding 5 degrees will put you up to York pitch, the old English standard for hardwood.  Adding 10 degrees will put you up to Middle pitch, which is great for lightly figured stock.   But, keep in mind if you’re working with an old Norris or Speers Plane, you’ll be struck by the fact that the iron looks to be about 3/16″ thick.  It probably is pretty close to that dimension.  You don’t get much chatter from one of those beauties.  But when you start cranking up the back bevel on your basic Stanley iron, prepare yourself.  After you cross the “York Pitch Boundary Line”, chatter will be a constant companion.  But with some fettling, you’ll probably able to eliminate the bulk of it.

The other thing that you’ll immediately notice is the greatly increased amount of effort that is required to push a plane with a substantial back bevel.  You’ll be shocked as you feel your heart rate increase as you remove a shaving that is .0002″ (or thinner).

I’ll keep this discussion alive.  There’s gotta be a couple of trade secrets out there about how to shear cut highly figured stock that have been lost to modernity.  I’d welcome any thoughts.

Bill Carter – Planemaker Extraordinaire – Part Two

January 6, 2012

I ran out of time and space yesterday.  But there’s a few more things that I wanted to mention about Bill Carter’s planes.

Obviously, Bill is a master with metals.  But he seems to be awfully comfortable with wood as the medium, as well.  Proof of this proposition can be seen below in this beautiful mitre plane – QED.

We don’t see many of these on this “side of the pond”.  But the aspiring planemaker who ventures to Bill’s site will probably be able to glean enough information from the techniques area to put one of these beauties together.  I can only imagine how wonderful this plane must be to use.  I’m sure I’ll be diggin’ my floats and scrapers out before too long.

I’m not gonna waste any more space with words.  I’m just going to show you more of Mr. Carter’s plane.  Call it an homage (OO-maage, as the French would say) to Bill’s work.  Enjoy.

Bill Carter – Planemaker Extraordinaire

January 5, 2012

I first saw photos of Bill Carter’s work more than a decade ago.  I was amazed then and I’m even more amazed now.  If you’ve never seen a Carter plane, you’re in for a treat.  Carter is a craftsman who can stand toe to toe with the likes of Konrad Sauer and Karl Holtey and hold his own.  But most importantly, Bill Carter is an artist.

Here’s one of Bill’s jointers, which, in his own judgement, might the most decorative infill plane he has ever built.

Detail of one of the many "Cupid's Bows" hand filed into the plane's sole

There are some really fine planemakers in the world today.  And the example above clearly proves that Bill is one of them.  But, to me, it’s the smaller planes which Bill Carter produces that are simply incredible.  Much of Bill’s material is salvaged from things like backsaw spines and old irons appear to be as useful as ever.  Simply look at a few of these planes. You’ll be amazed by the balance, beauty, purpose and sheer whimsy of these tools.

Check out those dovetails

Do yourself a big favor and go to Bill’s website.  There’s a lot of history and technique.  You’ll be glad you made the visit.

Sharpness – Let the light shine

October 30, 2011

Sharpness can be defined simply as two surfaces coming together to form a perfect angle.  An arris with no interruption.

So the next time you want to know if something is reasonably sharp, take a good hard look at it.  Take a good look at it with a light source on the opposite side of the edge in question.  When the edge is “sharp”, there is no facet that will reflect light.  In other words, the edge will appear as a straight black line.

Now, take a look at an edge that I “rolled” over with a burnisher.  It’s a bit exaggerated, but it will give you a very idea of what I’m talking about.

You might see a chisel or plane iron that has been polished to the enth degree, that just won’t cut worth squat.  Hold it up to the light.  You’ll very likely find that there isn’t a true arris.  Consequently, the blade is not sharp.

If I could have just one bench plane…….

August 27, 2011

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked by fledgling hand plane afficionados, what type of bench plane  would I choose, if I could  have only one?  The answer is really very simple, a Bedrock style 605 1/2.  The 605 1/2 is not an easy plane to find, if you’re looking for a good original Stanley.  But they’re well worth the high dollar that you’ll likely have to pay to take it home.  If a 605 1/2 isn’t available, a 605 (or one of the new planes that emulate the Bedrock) is a decent alternative.

An orignal Stanley Bedrock 605 1/2

So what is it about this plane that makes it so useful?  First is the frog design.  It allows the user to adjust the mouth opening while the iron is in place on the frog.  The Bailey pattern requires the removal of the iron before the frog can be loosened to allow for adjustment.  This makes for a lot of fettling to get the mouth opening “just right”.  The second is it’s length and width.  It is 1″ longer and 1/4″ wider than the standard 605 (60 indicates the Bedrock type frog, 5 indicates jack plane).  It could correctly be classed as a panel plane by English standards.  But how does this extra size translate into performance?  The extra length allows the user to do smaller joining tasks and surface truing (i.e. panel leveling, hence the term panel plane).  The extra width clearly puts it in the class of a large smoother.

The Lie-Nielsen 605 1/2

Different irons for different tasks.  To fully exploit the potential of any jackplane, several different irons are required.  For dimensioning/thicknessing, an iron with a 1/16″ to 3/32″ crown is appropriate.  This is the crown that would be commonly used on a “foreplane”.

For general smoothing, an iron that is “gently” crowned (think .003″ to .005″) is the order of the day.  When this iron is properly sharpened and honed, it will produce a glass-like surface.  For highly figured work, an iron that is “gently” crowned and back beveled to create a cutting angle of 60 to 65 degrees will produce a surface that is free of tearout, i.e. curly maple.  (Lie-Nielsen offers several different frogs with bedding angles ranging from 50 degrees, “York” pitch, to 55 degrees “Middle” pitch)

Lee Valley jack plane - tote and frog move fore and aft as a unit - lateral and depth adjustment are made via a "Norris" type adjuster

For really gnarly wood such as burl or crotch, the handplane user might consider a toothing iron.  While not commonly available for bench planes, one could be made by simply filing or chiseling teeth (grooves) on the bevel side of the iron.  The iron is then reversed.  This reversal creates a cutting angle of 70-75 degrees, which is the traditional standard for toothing planes.  Just a caveat – not all bench plane designs will allow for running the iron reversed.  The relationship of the chip breaker to the depth control pawl will be the dictating factor.  So try it before you go to the bother of making a toothing iron.

The Woodriver #5 from Woodcraft

So, one plane, three or four irons and you’ve covered 95 percent of your benchplane chores.  Plus, you’ll save space and, very likely, a fair amount of money. 

Just a parting thought about replacement irons.  Woodcraft, Lie-Nielsen, Lee Valley and others sell high quality replacement irons for original Stanley planes.  IBC irons from Woodcraft are my personal favorites.  Be sure that the irons you order are designed to allow for the use of the original chip breaker, or you may find that you’ll have to purchase a new breaker as well.

Simply a Plane diversion

March 11, 2011

Half finished projects fill my little shed.  The place needs a good clean-up and some paint.  The sidewinder lathe and the “raked leg” workbench are awaiting completion.  So what do I do?  Of course, I allow myself to be diverted and completely distracted from all the stuff that I’ve got to do.  For what reason?  To build a toothing plane.  A what?  Yes, you heard right, a toothing plane.  I don’t need any more planes!  I’ve built a lot of them over the years.  I’ve bought a lot of them over the years.  So why a toothing plane and why now?

While reading about toothing planes on the Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker blog, I remembered that I’ve had several historic designs rolling around in my head for a number of years.  I knew that, at some point, I’d incorporate them into some little plane for use around the shop.  The toothing plane is an uncommon but very useful tool for anyone working on highly figured stock or around knots.  But I wanted to do something a little bit different from just the standard, everyday, purpose-built wooden plane.  So I delved back into history…

The famous Renaissance artist Durer included a fanciful plane (along with the famous number puzzle) in his work Melancholia I.  It’s got some pretty wide marginal lands, but it is a real sweetheart design.

Melancholia I

Here’s a little closer look at the actual design of the plane.

Durer plane - from the book, "Planecraft"

A.J. Roubo shows a number of beautiful plane designs in his book, “l’art du Menuisier”.

So I decided to incorporate features from both designs and add a “mechanically affixed” sole, similar to the soles found on Ulmia and ECE planes today.  So here’s the design that I came up with.

The body is Swiss Pearwood.  The horn, wedge and sole are made from Bloodwood (Satine).  I opted for a brass pin as opposed to “cheeks” to hold the wedge in order to maximize the throat opening, which is substantially reduced due to very high bedding angle of the iron (80 degrees).

The sole is joined with angled box joints (and some good old Titebond III).  Hand cut dovetails could be used as well.  But I must admit that I made a little box joint sled and cut the slots with a dado on my table saw (yes, I still own a table saw – kinda like a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat).

example of sole joint

The iron is made from O1 (oil hardening) tool steel.  In its annealed state, O1 can be easily cut with a hacksaw and filed into shape.  I used a 6″ slim taper file to cut the grooves.  If I had it to do over again, I’d use a cold chisel as suggested in the piece by Anthony Hay’s shop.  I know that all of my knife making friends will find this disgusting, but I actually quenched the iron in hot water, as opposed to oil.  I know, I know, this is not recommended.  But I chose not to fill the shop up with oily smoke (if and when the quench bath caught fire).  I was lucky.  The iron did not fracture and warping was minimal.  It was easily honed flat.  The heavy section of the iron probably prevented catastrophe.  It’s 3/16 x 2.

iron after shaping and hardening

 After the quench, I tempered the iron by placing it in our kitchen stove for 30 minutes or so at about 500 degrees F.  Having no technical means of checking the surface hardness, my guess is that it’s 60-62 Rockwell C, based on how it honed.  To “prettify” the iron, I used a little Birchwood-Casey cold gun bluing to darken it down a bit.  Maybe on the next plane I build, I’ll heat blue or chemically blacken the iron.

The horn was carved and the faceted surfaces were left un-sanded.

The "horn"

Rough parts ready for finishing

I used Weldwood Plastic Resin glue to glue the horn in place.  It’s an excellent product that’s been around for years.  Have to give a nod to my friend Les for educating me in it’s uses.  After finishing individual parts and assembly, I gave the plane a couple of coats of Birchwood-Casey Tru Oil.  It’s a gunstock varnish made with tung oil and some “secret” ingredients.  Two coats was all that was required.  Slap it on, wipe it off.  Just doesn’t get any easier.  It’s a fantastic finish.

The string like shavings made by the toothing plane

Alright, enough already with the distractions.  Now it’s time to get back to work.

How to tune up Grandpa’s old iron plane

September 27, 2010

At least once a week, someone tells me that he (or she) has an old iron hand plane that belonged to a grandfather, father, uncle, some other relative or friend.  After repeated attempts to “shave” wood with the instrument in question, the owner concluded that there certainly must be something wrong with the darned thing.

The truth of the matter is that in 99.9% of these cases, the “un-usability” of the device is a matter of operator error.  (Or as the golf great, Ben Hogan said, “it’s the indian, not the arrow”.)  A plane is a deceptively simple device.  It is after all, nothing more than a blade, supported by a rigid body.  The basic design hasn’t changed in several thousand years. 

So, we’re going to rehabilitate your old plane, step by step.  We’ll concentrate on the Bailey patent design.  This is the type of plane that most woodworkers are familiar with.  Stanley, Sargent, Record, Kunz, Sandusky, Defiance, etc. all made planes based on Leonard Bailey’s design.  There are some other types, namely Sargent’s Accu-Set planes and Stanley’s Gage planes that are departures from Bailey’s adjustable frog design.  But, most of what we’ll discuss here will apply to these planes, as well.

We’re not going to consider the arcane minutia here, just simple, straight-forward, how to get the job done.  Here we go.

1.  Most bench planes have suffered some damage around the perimeter of the sole and the mouth.  These dings will leave “tracks” when you’re planing, so we need to get rid of them.  File a small chamfer around the perimeter and “draw file” the back of the mouth.  Be very careful around the mouth as we don’t want to increase its size, unless it’s absolutely necessary.  (Remember when drawfiling that the teeth only cut in one direction, so make sure you’re going the right way.)

removing "dings" around the perimeter

small chamfer filed around the perimeter

Drawfile the rear edge of the mouth - if necessary

 2.  With the iron in place, flatten the sole of the plane by “lapping” it on a flat surface such as a heavy piece of float glass, granite gauge block, cast iron jointer or table saw.  Leaving the iron in place will put “normal stress” on the plane body.  Remember to back off the iron.  400 grit wet/dry paper is a good place to start.  Don’t go too fine.  Remember a polished sole looks good but as it increases surface contact, it also increases heating and energy required to do the planing (that’s why corrugated soles were developed).  Contact areas will “brighten” during the lapping process.  The goal is to insure contact at three points; the toe (front), the mouth and the heel (rear) of the plane.

"lapping" the sole

"bright" areas at heel, toe and around the mouth

3.  Insure that the frog is properly seated by running a bastard file across the bed.  Ideally, the upper and lower edges of the bed will “brighten”.  This indicates that the iron will seat firmly on those two points when the lever cap is tightened.  If the center and one edge brighten first, the iron will not seat firmly and it will be prone to “chatter”.  In this case the frog should be filed flat.  THIS TASK MUST BE COMPLETED WITH GREAT CARE AND PATIENCE to avoid creating a surface that is distorted.

"brightening" the frog to check for flatness

bright top and bottom indicate that the iron will seat firmly

4.  Clean and lubricate the plane.

5.  Determine the type of planing you’ll be doing and establish the amount of crown you want on the iron.  Shape, hone and strop the iron.  See earlier articles on sharpening and crowning in the blog.

6.  Insure that the chip-breaker is making correct contact with the iron.  Set the chip-breaker back from the cutting edge around 1/32″.  Remember the mouth opening is the determining factor in shaving thickness, not chip-breaker position.

7.  Re-assemble the plane and adjust the mouth opening (by positioning the frog) to allow the passage of the maximum shaving thickness that you intend to remove with this particular plane.

After a little testing on some scrap, you should be getting results that rival those from any $300.00 plane on the market today.

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