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.