It is my hope that if you are reading this woodworking blog you will already know that I do not advocate any one particular form of woodworking over another. I don’t really care one way or another who builds what and how; it’s quite frankly none of my business. But the real truth is that I, myself, don’t have any one particular form of woodworking which I follow. That being said, if you were to ask me how to make a hand plane, I would firstly tell you to seek out somebody much better than I; somebody such as Scott Meek, who offers online plane making courses. Secondly, I would tell you that if you are making a hand plane, then you should do as much as possible using only hand tools. Why? Because using hand tools will go a long way in teaching you how a hand plane really works, and you will know exactly what I am referring to as soon as you try it.
Yesterday morning I finished making the wedge for the smooth plane I’ve been building. Making a plane wedge seems like it should be fairly straightforward; it’s not; it’s hard work. Now I’m not going to say that it is overly difficult, but it takes time and patience, and time and patience aren’t always easy to find. To prove my point, it took me a shade under 3 hours to shape the entire plane, which was a task done solely with hand tools, which included flattening the sole and sanding the plane for finish. Conversely, it took me 2 hours just to make and fit the wedge, and it did not turn out as nicely as the plane shaping. Making the wedge was not simple, because shaping a 2 inch by 4 inch block of wood into a semi-precision piece is not a simple task, and there really isn’t a magical tool that makes it easier.
I started off by drawing the shape of the wedge on a block of ash that I had left over from the plane build. I chose to make the wedge on the flat sawn side only because it seemed to me that the flat sawn side would hold up better under the pressure that it would be subjected to. I then sawed two kerfs, one at the end of the wedge, and the other where the wedge began its taper. With that done, I stood up the block and split off the waste using my widest chisel and my biggest mallet. This was actually easy to do because the grain was straight. I then started tapering the wedge, which I did using several chisels, and which was the most exacting process of the day. Once the wedge was tapered, at least roughly tapered, I shaped as much of the rest of the wedge as I could without removing it from the block, and that was accomplished once again with chisels, a rasp, and a block plane. I then hand sanded the top of the wedge, going up to 600 grit. Once I had done as much as I could, I removed the wedge from the block by ripping it down with the table saw, nearly to the edge, and finishing the cut with a hand saw.
After that, it was all a trial and error process. I cleaned up the edges of the wedge with my Stanley smooth plane, and then flattened the bottom with sheets of sandpaper, going from 60 grit up to 600 grit, the same as the plane sole, which left a glass smooth surface. When I attempted to put the wedge in place I immediately discovered that it was too long, and the shavings just bunched up at the mouth. I shortened it several times, and finally I found myself getting full length edge shavings on pine, which was fairly impressive considering the iron probably needs to be sharpened. I then added a coat of linseed oil to the plane and called it a day. One more coat will be added, as well as a coat of wax. I may yet have to shorten the wedge, but that will remain to be seen. To put all of this in perspective, every tool I used to make the plane itself was used to make the wedge.
I had a lot of fun making this plane, and more importantly I learned a great deal. Already, I’ve discovered several steps that could be revised during the building process that will make the next plane easier and more efficient to construct, as well as increasing the accuracy greatly. In as much as I consider myself a non-traditionalist, I love wooden planes, and I love making them even more. I can certainly see myself building at least a few more of these, and more hopefully, I can see myself improving with each one I build.
Yesterday afternoon I managed to get in a little more work on my plane while the cat was away. Before I started, something had been bothering me that I decided to look at, and that was the holes I drilled into the cheeks of the plane for the cross-pin dowel. On the previous planes I had made, I started by squaring up the cheek stock to the body stock used for the back half of the plane. I would then mark the spot for the dowel hole, and drill out both pieces simultaneously using a drill press. That plan was the very same plan I had in mind for this plane, but then I did something foolish. I drilled out the first hole, and during the middle of the process noticed that the second cheek had some tear out at the back. Rather than finishing the drill out and then cleaning up the board, I sawed off a bit of the end, and without compensating for the sawed off difference, drilled out the second dowel hole. The result left me dowel holes that were out of line by nearly 1/16 of an inch, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot until you attempt to push a half-inch oak dowel through it. Nevertheless, I managed to get the dowel through, which leaves me a slightly crooked cross-pin. How this will affect the adjusting/wedge, or the overall usefulness of the tool I’m not exactly sure yet, but, live and learn.
Rather than despair, I continued working on the plane. First thing I did was clamp the body down and plane down the sole to get it flat; ironically I used a smooth plane for this. It really only needed a few passes before it was finished. I then used sheets of sandpaper and my tablesaw bed, starting at 60 grit and working up to 150. The plane sole is now nice and flat, though I will still do some more sanding before I call it completely finished. I want to hold off on the final sanding until the wedge is fit; I will then finish it using 220 and 400 grits.
After I was happy with the flatness of the sole, I decided to try and attempt some initial shaping of the plane. I don’t own a band saw, so I traced out a shape using some French curves and attempted to use a jigsaw to shape the plane. I quickly found that the jigsaw was not an option, so I turned to spokeshave, rasp, block plane, and chisels. I had only a basic outline in mind at first, so the shaping was really just a trial and error process. After roughly 30 minutes I managed to achieve a fairly decent shape/curve. I don’t want the plane to look overly machined, so I got the front shaped to a look that seems pleasing and left it at that. At that I called it a night.
Saturday, after work, and running some errands, I decided on a little late evening woodworking. For the back section of the plane I was going for a more pronounced curve, so I got out my 1 1/4″ chisel and started pounding out the shape. I progressed from the large chisel to smaller chisels as I needed. I also used the block plane for some of the initial shaping, and then finally the spokeshave to clean it all up. I was attempting to achieve a graceful front to back curve, as well as a more subtle side-to-side arc. In around 45 minutes I had the carving portion finished; I then spent around 15 minutes hand sanding. I like how the plane looks: graceful, yet still made by hand. More impressively, my lovely wife actually spent a few minutes with me while all of this was going on. She was quite impressed that I knew how to carve, and she liked the contrast of the light and dark woods on the plane itself. Today, I hope to finish the wedge and make the first test shavings.
I don’t necessarily know the reasons, but I like making planes. I need to make more, many more, before I can call myself good at it, but I am improving. I have a construction technique down, now I just have to perfect it. But planes are fun to build. The material is generally reasonably priced, and you only need basic hand and power tools to get it done. With a handful of sharp chisels, a spokeshave, a table saw, and a block plane most woodworkers can make a handplane. And, more importantly, if you are a handplane user, I can’t think of a better way of learning how to use a plane than to make one of your own.
I just received notification from Popular Woodworking Magazine that my subscription will be ending in January and I can renew the subscription for one or two years if I am so inclined. The renewal fee for either time period is inexpensive, but the truth is that I am not sure whether or not I will do it.
A few years ago I very nearly did not renew my subscription, mostly because I really didn’t enjoy the magazine as much as I had in the past. That isn’t the case as of today. The addition of Chuck Bender, the re-addition of Glen Huey, and the ever steady Robert Lang have all done a nice job. More importantly, Megan Fitzpatrick, as far as I can tell, has done a great job as the content editor. To be honest, I’m not really sure exactly what goes into publishing a magazine, but I do know that since she has taken the helm the magazine has been very good and very consistent, and I have to think she deserves quite a bit of credit. for it. PW is currently the only woodworking magazine I read.
So why am I having an inner debate over $25? It’s not the money, not even a little. But if you’ve been reading my blog lately you know that my wife has declared a holy war over my woodworking hobby. So is there any point in my subscribing to a woodworking magazine when I may not be woodworking any more? I don’t subscribe to any music magazines anymore because I stopped being a musician. I don’t subscribe to my former union’s magazine because I am no longer in the union, and that magazine was free, and I actually wrote a few articles for it. So is there any point?
I like the idea of supporting a good magazine. If there weren’t people willing to subscribe then we wouldn’t have anybody willing to write, and good people such as yourselves would only have half-assed attempts at writing such as my own to keep you entertained in the woodworking sense. At the same time, a magazine like Popular Woodworking surely isn’t going to fold up and die because one half-assed blogger like myself decided to end his subscription because his wife is slowly trying to suck the life out of him.
The thought of reading a woodworking magazine even though I no longer woodwork is really depressing to me. For some reason it’s even more depressing than the thought of an unused box of woodworking tools sitting in my garage. I have the idea that not renewing the subscription is basically admitting defeat. Yet, I also have the idea that I’ve already been defeated, and a woodworking magazine that I no longer have any need for will just be a sad reminder of when my life meant something.
Over the past weekend I was talking to a friend of mine who was interested in putting a workbench in his garage. He’s a handy guy, but he isn’t necessarily looking to be a furniture maker. He is, however, interested in a bench that would be useful for general carpentry, and possibly some future woodworking projects. My advice was to pick up some 2×6’s and a sheet of plywood, which he probably is advice he will likely follow. He then asked if I had any plans that I could email to him. I don’t have any plans for a basic bench, so I told him to check out Amazon for Christopher Schwarz’s first workbench book, or if he could wait I would loan him my copy next time I saw him. After I got off the phone, I went onto the Lost Art Press web page for first time in quite a while and found a few things that surprised me.
Firstly, I was a little surprised that the site did not offer Schwarz’s first workbench book for sale, though I am guessing that the book is likely property of FW Media and not necessarily LAP. But I did read a few of the blog postings, one which was a video of a knock-down workbench that I thought was well done, and quite like the bench that I’ve been wanting to build for myself for the past several months, though I wouldn’t necessarily make a workbench in the knock-down style. Most surprising to me, in a pleasant way, were the comments on the blog posts that I read. There wasn’t one stupid or nasty comment, at least not that I saw.
I stopped reading professional woodworking blogs for several reasons. One good reason is that there are very few professional woodworkers whose thoughts I really want to hear. Case in point would be Paul Sellers. I respect Paul Sellers and I think he is great woodworker, but I’ve read his blog and I really don’t care for it all that much, and I say that with all due respect. But the main reason I stopped reading professional woodworking blogs was because of the comments. A wise man on Twitter once told me to not read the comments on blogs in general. But I think that the comment section of a blog, if done thoughtfully, can really add to the discussion. I personally enjoy most of the comments on this blog, and I do my best to answer every one in a timely fashion.
I’ve found that some woodworking blogs for whatever reason attract a disproportionately large amount of nasty, stupid, rude, and childish comments. Now, I have no issue with a disagreement with the author, but I do believe that if you want to voice your disagreement in what may be a “controversial” fashion it should be done on your own forum and not the author’s. I’m not claiming to be the blog police, I’m not sticking up for a blog author, nor am I telling anybody what to think or say. I am just saying that I don’t care for nasty, stupid comments; they make me want to say even nastier, stupid things.
Some may feel that I am being hypocritical. After all, I’ve let fly with my opinion once or twice here. But, I can say with all honesty that I’ve never gone on another person’s blog and left a rude or nasty comment. I’ve had disagreements, but I never let them get nasty, not even close. In fact, I don’t often comment on most blogs in general, and if I do it is usually positive. If I read something I disagree with I will usually keep it to myself, and if I really have an issue I will write my own blog post about it.
So for the first time in quite a while I found myself happy to have read a professional woodworking blog. I’m not going to go so far as to say that I will be a regular subscriber again, but I can see myself checking it out from time to time. And maybe that will lead me to check out some others that I’ve neglected for quite a while. Stranger things have happened.
I have to admit, I managed to get in almost two hours of woodworking on Sunday without my wife going cray cray and getting all up in my grill about it. We spent a nice afternoon at Valley Forge National Park, which we visit frequently, and maybe that had something to do with the new recognition that her husband is a sovereign person who has been endowed by his Creator with certain Inalienable Rights. I just so happened to be inspired by the beautiful furniture in General Washington’s headquarters, so I felt the need to declare my independence from tyranny, oppression, and absolute despotism. Don’t misunderstand me; I only woodworked for about 90 minutes. If I had planned on starting a large project that would require 8 hours every weekend for the next 3 months I’m sure my proverbial King George III would have declared woodworking an act of treason and stationed his (her) proverbial troops at every corner of my garage.
Among all of this, I managed to get a decent amount of work finished on the wood smooth plane I am attempting to make. I started by laying out and routing the recess for the cap iron nut. I used a chisel to define the cut, an electric router to remove the bulk of the waste, and then a chisel again to finish it off. It didn’t turn out perfectly, but it is certainly good enough. With that finished I drilled out the holes for the dowel pin to hold the wedge using a ½ forstner bit, and then marked the cheeks of the plane for glue up, applying wax to all the areas of the plane I did not want to glue. To keep the cheeks in place and aligned during glue-up I drilled four ¼ inch holes for dowels.
I let the glue dry over-night, and when I got home from work I removed the clamps and sawed off the ends to remove the alignment dowels. Currently the plane is just about 11 inches in length. I’m looking for a finished length of roughly 9 ½ inches. I’ve noticed that wood smoothing planes often have a longer distance from the mouth to the front of the sole than a metal plane, at least in the examples I’ve seen. My plane will have 3 inches from front to mouth, which is very similar to the Stanley smooth plane. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure why wooden smooth planes tend to have a different set-up. I would think that a shorter distance from front to mouth would allow the plane to catch and remove more of the high spots on the board. I could be wrong; I’m learning as I go.
The next step will be cleaning off the wax with mineral spirits and the initial flattening of the sole. I will then make a wedge, give the plane a test run, and shape the plane to something that I hope looks nice. After I will give the plane a final true-up, and coat it with a few coats of linseed oil and wax. I’m thinking I have 2-3 hours more work left to finish it up, which should happen this coming weekend with a little luck.
So at least for the time being I managed to get in a little woodworking as well as write a few blog posts about it. While I would like to be doing much more, it’s better than the alternative. Hopefully, this means that my situation on the woodworking front is looking a little better.
I’ve said it a hundred times before, but I don’t watch much TV, in particular if you take football and baseball out of the equation. Up until very recently, one of the few indulgences I had was watching television woodworking shows. Unfortunately, I’ve just found out that The Woodwright’s Shop is no longer being shown in my area. While there are a few other woodworking television shows still being shown, it just so happens that I’m usually not home when they are on. For all intents and purposes, woodworking television no longer exists in my house, and it’s disappointing.
I’m not sold on internet woodworking. I write a woodworking blog, I read many woodworking blogs, I watch woodworking videos, and I even watch The New Yankee Workshop and The Woodwright’s Shop, all on a computer. It just isn’t the same thing. There is a disconnect that occurs when using a computer. I can’t necessarily describe what that disconnect is, but it does exist. Sitting at a computer desk and watching a screen is not the same as watching a television program with my family, or even the same as reading a book in the same room. My daughter, and even my wife would watch Norm Abram with me; she would ask questions, or tell me what she liked and didn’t like. If I happen to be reading a woodworking magazine or book, my wife will usually check out what I am reading. My daughter always enjoyed looking at the project books I have, and she particularly likes the Eric Sloane books. I can only speak for myself, but you don’t see too many families gathered around a computer screen enjoying each others company.
I know that the internet has done a lot of amazing things for woodworking like allowing people to take woodworking classes who otherwise may never have that opportunity. But something about sitting at a desk watching a computer screen just bugs the hell out of me. It feels lazy, it feels wrong. In this paperless world, I print out articles I want to read because I don’t like having to sit at a computer to read them, in fact I have several ring binders filled with them. I find it funny and ironic that many woodworkers took up the hobby to work with their hands, get away from the grind, get away from the computer screen, and maybe slow down an ever quickening technological and fast paced world. Yet the world of woodworking media is now dominated by the internet, and I don’t know if that’s for the better.
Internet woodworking is here to stay; I know that. And internet woodworking certainly has its place. I’ve been able to share my thoughts and radical ideas with people around the world because of the internet. I’ve been able to learn woodworking techniques by watching skilled woodworkers, both amateur and professional, who were thoughtful enough to post their videos. In fact, you might argue that the hobby of woodworking would not be flourishing without the internet. I would probably agree. But I like woodworking television, and I like woodworking books, and there are those out there that would say that those forms of woodworking media are dead or dying. I don’t agree. For all the internet has to offer, it can’t replace a book, or a few minutes watching Roy Underhill while sitting on a couch with your kid. So if the day ever comes when you no longer can buy a woodworking book, or watch a woodworking television program, I believe that woodworking will die along with it.
There are certain things in life that are exciting just because they are taboo, from tobacco, to alcohol, to women. I never thought that woodworking would make that list, but for me it has. A few months back I had picked up a few Ash and Bubinga boards with the intention of turning them into a smoothing plane over the summer. Of course, my woodworking plans were hijacked by an angry wife waging her own jihad against me and my hobby. But, over the course of an hour or so this past Sunday morning I managed to sneak in a little clandestine woodworking while my wife was out.
Like a member of the French Resistance, I kept up the front of being a fully capitulated citizen of my house, completely accepting the loss of my freedom, and fully okay with the enemy occupation of my dreams. Secretly I raged inside, ready to woodwork at the first given opportunity, and to remind myself that even though I was a prisoner, my heart could not be swayed. So when the opportunity arose I seized it!
Unfortunately there isn’t much else to tell as I did not get much accomplished. The Ash board I am working with is remarkably straight-grained, flat, and square, and there was very little I needed to do in order to prepare the wood. I sawed the “frog” board at 45 degrees, and the ramp board at around 60 degrees using my table saw. Because the wood is in such good condition, the saw cuts came out perfectly, and I needed to do nothing else but lightly sand both ramps using a sheet of 150 grit sand paper on my table saw bed. I then took the Bubinga board which I am using for the cheeks and cut it in half with a backsaw. I decided to end it at that, as I want the newly sawn wood to sit for at least a few more days before I mess with it again.
It’s surprisingly easy to make a functioning hand plane out of wood. Of course there are levels to how highly functioning that plane will be, and that part lies in the skill of the maker. But just about anybody can make a jack or scrub plane. The most difficult part for me will be making the recess for the cap iron nut. On the last plane I made I did it with a chisel and a router plane, and though it turned out just fine it took quite a while to fine tune the recess to where I wanted it to be. This time I think I will define the rebate with a chisel, remove the bulk of the waste with an electric router, and clean it up once again using a chisel.
I also plan on attempting some fancy curves. The last two planes I made work just fine, but they have a utilitarian look to them. I think this time I would like to try something new. As of now the plane sits at just over a foot long. After all is said and done I’m hoping for a plane 9 inches in length. If all goes well I should have the recess cut out and the plane glued up this coming Sunday. The fancy curves will have to wait until the following week. That is unless
the gestapo my wife finds out.