Sunday, April 3, 2011

More toolmaking: unfinished business

I started to make a side escapement plane several years ago, and it sat on the shelf, unfinished.  I need a round bottomed plane for hogging out barrel channels.  I have a 3/4" plane made by Tod Herrli that I really love, but some of the smaller swamped (tapered and flared) barrels I use are narrower than 3/4" at the waist, or the smallest diameter of the barrel.  (For those that don't know, proper 18th century form longrifle barrels are not "straight", or parallel sided - they are waisted - thickest at the breech, they taper down to a smaller diameter about 8" or so behind the muzzle, then they flare back out again.  It's imperceptible when you look at it, but it saves tremendous weight and adds great balance and lightness to the rifle.)





So, I decided to make a 5/8" round bottom plane.  Now, this is not the same as a "round" moulding plane, but a true 1/2 circle round bottom shape. 



I cut out a block of quarter sawn maple, and laid the design out pretty much identical to my other stocking planes, and you'll see a photo of one of them later on.

Now, instead of just doing the smart thing, which would have been to directly copy the plane's layout - which puts the iron of to the right edge of the plane body.  I wanted to put the iron in the center of the plane body.  Yeah, it's amateur hour - watch the clown at work.  So, needless to say, this caused problems.

I had to remove a good bit of the mortice interior on the left side, to try to fix this problem.  The iron is made so as to put the edge on the right side, where the escapement is placed.  It all worked out, but I learned a lot, let's put it that way.



I further cut back and refined the escapement.  I also opened up the throat, as you can see.  The throat as originally cut was just large enough to accept the iron, with no room for shavings.









I used a Lie Nielsen blank plane iron, 5/8" wide.  One edge of it is literally glass hard - I don't know how they make these, but most of the iron was soft and could be hacksawed and filed, but one edge literally could not be scratched by any tool I had in the shop.  It didn't effect the work in the end, and didn't require annealing.






I heated the iron to a cherry red, quenched it in the motor oil I quench everything in, which left it black.  I polished it back, and tempered it to a straw.  You can see some of the straw color on the iron.  It was difficult to photograph.





I probably won't be using maple again for a plane.  Even hard maple isn't as finely grained as beech, and all those fuzzy edges get on your nerves after a while.  I have one other block of really hard straight grained maple that I'll probably use, but after that if I do any plane making I'll buy some beech planks and glue up a body.  I don't use maple in my projects because I'm so enamored of it - I use it because I have acres of it laying around, cut up in all different sizes.  Curly maple, especially, is a hassle, and although it's attractive, it has a lot of drawbacks. 

There are books and videos on plane making, but honestly, if you want to make a plane, the best first step is to just buy a hollow or a round and copy it line for line.  By simply reproducing what you see in front of you, you'll learn a tremendous amount.  Then take the next step and learn how to lay out hollows and rounds, if you want to make your own mouldings.  Tod Herrli's DVD is really, really good, and I highly recommend it.

At the ridiculous prices most custom plane makers charge for wooden planes, there is no excuse for not making your own.  I mean, if you are intending to plane out your own built up mouldings, and you're doing work at that level and have that kind of skill set, what are you doing spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on planes that you can knock out yourself in 3-4 hours?  It really isn't hard and once you can make a plane, you've taken a big step forward in tool making independence. 

Some Tool Making

I needed to make some tools.  I don't have a try square at all, and the regular square I've been using is a big steel framing square that came out of my grandfather's tool chest.  It's overkill for 99% of what I do, and I wanted something smaller and lighter.  About this time I discovered Christopher Schwartz's very nice wooden square that is illustrated in Popular Woodworking.  It's beautiful, and I have tons ot strips of maple laying around from gun stocking - no problem at all to plane up some strips and knock this guy out.



I sawed the cheeks on the the tenon of the main junction, then put the mortice down on the bench with a hold fast and chopped out the mortice.


I dressed the mortise out with a pillar file and after several trial fits it folded together nicely.







The cross brace is laid out, the shoulders and half lap mortice cut, and then it's glued in place.  The decorative details on this square are just great - ornate and restrained.  Really nice.





I switched gears and started work on the try square.  I had a block of ebony, and if you have any ebony in your shop, you're definitely going to find uses   for it, it's such a wonderful material.

Ebony body, maple "blade" - is that what you call it?  Not rocket science. 







Pegged and glued.  Tradition calls for three, but two is plenty.  It was pretty much a perfect fit.




I nearly cut my hand on this crisply planed ebony - especially the two bottom corners.  I quickly filed on a decorative treatment that is very comfortable in the hand and looks distinctive.  Working ebony is like working brass - you want to file it and work it more like metal than wood.


Once the layout square was finised, the glue dried, and the surfaces planed and sqared, I slapped on some linseed oil mixed with varnish, colored with a few drops of alcohol stock stain, just to give it some color.  The try square I left unstained, I just used oil and varnish.

Beauty shot.  Not a bad day, and two great,versatile tools that should last a century with care, and can be remade in a few hours at no cost in the shop.  You can't beat that.






Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chest lid continued

I was able to make the central panel work by instead slightly reducing the two short end pieces of the frame, by about 1/4".  This entailed a good bit of work on the ends, which recieve the male aspects of the tongue and groove frame joinery, but less work than cutting out and planing and grooving a whole new central panel.  The lid still fits the chest just fine.



I pegged the joints but left everything un-glued for maximum mobility with humidity changes.  That is, after all, the whole purpose of going to the trouble of making this top anyway.


Planed smooth the oak pegs are nearly invisible - good looking joint.  I'm really pleased with the lid - and it's heavy.  Drop this on your hand and you're going to feel it.


I like the rough planed texture and much prefer it to a furniture quality planing job.  The 1/16" crack at the joint bugs me, but not enough to spend any more time tightening it up.  There are a lot of moving pieces at work there, and ground you gain on one end, it seems you lose on the other.



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Underhil Tool Chest

Roy Underhill is the father of so much that is good in our hobby/lifestyle, but one of the nicest things he's cranked out recently is a design for a really fine, traditional "joiner's tool chest" designed to be built with commercially available stock.  Popular Woodworking published an article on it.  He built it on his show and those videos are available free online.  In addition, if you're a user of Google Sketchup (and if you aren't, you're really missing out on this amazing free program), then detailed plans for it are available online.  It is also illustrated and described in one of his books, I believe the most recent one, but I haven't bought it yet so can't say for sure.

Had I thought about it, I would have liked to resize it slightly longer so that it'll hold my 30" long jointer plane, but this gives me an excuse to look for another slightly shorter jointer, something I think it's obvious I badly need...  (rolls eyes) but I like the sobriety imposed on you by a not-limitless capacity.  Do you really need all those planes?  How many saws do you really need?  It goes along with my self imposed ban on tool collecting - I buy what I need, and I use what I buy.  People that have 6 different awls and a dozen back saws, or a thick roll of bench chisels graduated in 1/8" widths make me...well jealous, of course, but also slightly nervous.



The lid is a true floating panel lid which means a long groove must be cut in the end grain of the panel to ride in the grooves on the sides.  This is my tired, wonky old plough plane, but it gets the job done, mostly.  This dry oak was not easy to plough.  The end grain groove I actually rip cut - the plane just couldn't cut end grain oak. 



I started making mine out of some of the large stockpile of oak lumber I had sawn up.  I had several 12" wide boards and picked out a good one that would make all four sides, but remember this chest is designed to use commercially available lumber.  You can go to Home Depot and get oak or poplar 11 1/4" boards that are 3/4" thick, and that's what this chest is designed to be made from.  The bottom of the chest involves a really ingenious skirt board arrangement that adds functional height to the chest, making it more than 11 1/2" deep, adds significant strength, and looks uber traditional and beautiful.  It' a great design.



This is a hard project, don't let Roy's cheerful manner fool you.  The lid is a real challenge, requiring a lot of care with ripping and mortising the corners.  The dovetaling around that skirt is a real logic puzzle.  Hint: plough out the grooves first, then dovetail it together.  And do this after the sides are completely finished.  Measure from your chest, not from drawings or plans, for a proper fit.



Another hint: when making the lid, make the frame first, and assemble (temporarily) and square it up, then measure for the internal floating panel.  I did it the other way around, and now my panel is a little too small to use, even though I tried very hard to cut things precisely.  Things happen - cut yourself some slack, literally.



The small Clifton iron plane is really handy for dressing up these thin tenons.


Other than cutting out all the pieces and routing all the grooves on the skirt, this is as far as I've gotten now.  I need to recut the top panel and square up and finish assemble the top.  Next I'll dovetail the sides and skirt and will post photos of that process as I get into it.

I encourage you to try this project.  Unlike some of Roy's wonderful projects, this one has been exhaustively documented and published.  (Try finding good building plans for his treadle lathe...)  You can get good clear poplar from HD or Lowe's and you'll be rewarded with a super tool chest in a good useable size.

Peter Ross will make hinges for you.

Saw Benches

Nothing fancy, but I needed to get around to doing this.  I wanted a pair of rough, stable saw benches, but not benches so nice that I couldn't use them as a base for occasional hewing and axe shaping, which I do a bit of.  A good broad hatchet or shaping axe is a very handy tool for some of the stock shaping I do in gun work, and it's hard to find a place to do it.



I started with two large pieces off of our firewood pile.  The spring rains and winds have blown down several large oaks, and we have an embarrassment of riches in the wood pile.



I simply drilled the billets and cut legs from some 2" oak plank that warped and couldn't be used in making the bench top. 

Sawed, wedged and glued.  Good solid knee-high benches for crosscutting and ripping boards, as well as broad hatchet hewing.



I really love my Swedish hewing hatchett - toughest edge I've ever worked with.


Simple stuff, but it has to be done.  Put it off for too long.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Back after a hiatus...

I apologize to the two or three people who read this blog for my absence during the winter.  I'm back at it, and will be putting up new posts this week.  Lots going on, new camera (I told you so) for Christmas, and the winter blues are behind us.  It's time to sweat and make shavings!

Oh, and I fixed the wax-in-the-dog-hole problem: rosin.  I had a big tub of finely ground rosin I was using to try to mix up a batch of varnish.  The rosin and varnish were failures, but it makes the best holdfast griptionizer you ever saw. 

Thanks for reading.  Drop me a comment.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Peter Ross Hold Fasts

Great day in the morning but these are nice.


Brand new hand forged hold fasts (and is that one word or two?) from master blacksmith Peter Ross, late of Colonial Williamsburg and acknowledged as one of America's great artisans.  If you want to see iron work that will make your jaw drop, drop by his website:

There are several more or less successful attempts at a factory made holdfast on the market.  There is even a typically over-engineered one that uses a threaded screw to provide downward pressure, so it's really more of a benchtop downward acting vise than anything.  Some of the true friction-action holdfasts have a bad reputation for fracturing under repeated use - that will never happen with these beauties.  You hold them in your hand and you just know that 150 years from now they'll be on somebody's bench - maybe a great great grandson or daughter if you're lucky and raise 'em right.




Of course you know how they work.  There is a 3/4" hole drilled in the bench top, or in the skirt boards, and into it you drop the holdfast.  Whack it down with a couple of mallet blows, and friction works its magic.  To release, just whack the back, behind the bend, and it's free.  Simplicity itself.  Needs no lubrication.  Y2K compliant. 


In the skirt board, they provide amazing holding power.  One end of the board in the vise or under the planing hook and the other under a holdfast and you're good for all the planing you'd ever need to do.  When finished, whack it and you're outa there.

They cost a good bit more than the rinky dink factory jobs, but there comes a time in a person's life when they've had enough of rinky dink and want to have something solid and beautiful and basically perfect in their kit, something that will last 200 years of daily use, for the price of a couple of dinners out.

Peter's standard model is made for a 7/8" hole - I got the 3/4" by request because I already had the holes drilled for the small Jorgensen bench stops discussed earlier.  Even scaled down slightly, they are massive and I can't imagine any need for a larger model unless you're holding down really massive work pieces.  

To my chagrin, I waxed some of the holes to make the bench stops easier to turn and to insert and remove, and now they are completely useless for holdfast use and will not grip, no matter what.  So let that be a lesson to you - don't wax your bench holes if you want to use these puppies or you'll be sad.  

And to all those of you facing an onslaught of post modernist, over engineered frippery in the workshop, I have two words of advice for you, courtesy of Patrick O'Brian: