Today during my break at work I was wondering about my next project; I have a couple of really good ideas including an Arts & Crafts side table and an Arts & Crafts music cabinet. I had priced out quartersawn oak for both projects and the deciding factor was going to be which would be less expensive to build. It turns out they were both expensive, so while I was planning out the robbery of a local convenience store and the getaway route I received an email from my sister asking me to build a Dutch Tool chest for my dad’s tools as a Christmas gift; she had seen it on Facebook. That suddenly sounded like a pretty good idea as it would keep me building, and wouldn’t cost me a lot in materials. So, my next projects may be not one, but two Dutch Tool Chests, the large version and it’s little brother, and possibly another hand plane.
For the tool chests I’m going to stick closer to the plans that were in the latest issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. The chest I recently completed is large, or at least large in comparison to the magazine’s versions. My dad doesn’t have a lot of woodworking tools; his tools are mainly for carpentry and mechanical. I sized the width of my chest so my jointer plane and smoothing plane could lay end-to-end with a bit of room to spare, my dad doesn’t have that consideration to worry about. I’ll make the larger version for him, and the smaller one for myself, or possibly for use as another gift, I’m not too sure yet. I do know that I won’t attempt to make both at the same time; I learned my lesson on the end tables project and I’m not planning on repeating history.
I do think that I will use Pine or Poplar, rather than plywood. Edge-glued boards are inexpensive and stable and easy to come by. Also, I will dovetail the carcases and rather than use a dado joint for the back panels, I will just nail them flush using traditional tongue and groove joinery. I’m still planning on using cut nails, as I think they look great, hold great, and are as easy to install as screws; plus I still have a sizeable amount left over. I may even pick up some smith made hardware. I’ve found two blacksmiths within a 10 minute drive from my house that offer reasonably priced hardware made right in (or near) my hometown. One in particular had hinges and pulls already premade, or of course I could have him make me a few custom pieces, though that would certainly up the price somewhat.
I’m finding that I like this tool chest if for any other reason that it is a design that a woodworker can make as easy or as difficult as he wants. It’s good practice on case joinery and accurate measuring, cost effective, and useful. I’ve always said that I don’t necessarily enjoy shop projects and I will still hold to that statement. But if there is any one project that could change my line of thinking I believe it is the Dutch Tool chest. So thank you, Christopher Schwarz, for reintroducing it to me and many others.
After reading several posts on the Fameless Woodworker’s blog detailing his recently started Dutch tool chest build, I decided that today would be a good day to add a few more details to my own tool chest. I still haven’t painted the chest as of yet, or added any finish of any kind. At that I was waiting for the weather to cool a little bit, though we’ve hardly been having bad weather and in fact, it’s been just about the nicest August we’ve had in a long, long time. So today I had some work being done on my driveway, which was basically the excuse I needed to stay home after work and putz around the garage.
First thing I did was add a small hangar for my little combination square. It should have been easy. I set aside a few small pieces of Oak to make the hangar, and all I needed to do was rip a kerf down the middle of it, countersink a few holes, and screw it in place. However, the oak was fairly straight grained and dry, and every piece I ripped a kerf into split at the grain. Luckily, I had a flatsawn piece of pine, so that is what I used for the job. Next thing I did was rip another piece of pine to make a small tool rack. I sawed a piece 1 1/4″ wide, cleaned the face and edges with the smoothing plane, and drilled some 1/2″ holes, 1″ on center, free hand using a small cordless drill. There was tear-out, of course, so I cleaned it as best as I could with the smooth plane and chamfered the front face with a block plane. The holes aren’t perfectly aligned but it doesn’t bother me at all. I attached both racks with some wood screws.
Last thing I did was add a few battens to the lid of the chest. I had noticed that the lid had begun to warp a bit, not much, but enough. The warp is probably occurring because I haven’t painted or applied any finish as of yet. So to hopefully counteract the warp I made two small battens, 2 1/4″ wide by 11″ long. I chamfered them with the little block plane and cleaned up the face with the smoothing plane, which shockingly caused a little bit of tear out, no matter, I left it the way it was. I attached the battens with countersunk wood screws, starting from the center hole first, and it did straighten on the lid.
I think the last thing I do to the chest will be add a small pull out till on one of the bottom shelves to keep hardware in. I have a few leftover pieces of birch plywood from the carcase of the chest so that is what I’ll probably used. Once that’s finished I will call the chest officially complete. I will still probably wait a few more weeks to paint it, but other than that it is ready to go to work.
My opinion in the world of woodworking means next to nothing; I’ll be the first to admit that, but I do like to give credit where credit is due. I just received the current issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine and I have to say that it is pretty damn good. It includes a very nice Shaker blanket chest that any decent woodworker with an average tool set could build; plans for a Dutch tool box, which is another practical and straightforward project; an interesting side article about a Shaker meeting house restoration; a very nice article about saws, and an article by one of my favorites, Toshio Odate. I actually haven’t read that article yet but if you go by Odate’s track record chances are it’s a winner. There is even a photo of the ageless Odate woodworking in a tanktop, which has inspired me to post a few photos of myself working in a tank top and showing off the guns a little (don’t worry, my wife will not let that happen if she can help it).
So I have to give a lot of credit to Megan Fitzpatrick for doing a fine job as editor of the magazine. About six months ago I was worried that Popular Woodworking was going downhill; not anymore. The last two issues were excellent. Megan has hired Glen Huey and Chuck ‘the Woodfather’ ‘No bullshit’ ‘I can dovetail an entire carcase in five minutes’ Bender as editors, and those guys are two of my favorites. The magazine seems more streamlined, and it seems to be fun again without overdoing it. Heck, Ms. Fitzpatrick even told me I was cute (I just made that up).
All kidding aside, the magazine has been great lately, so I felt like adding my two cents and letting my feelings about it be known. I’m happy that I renewed my subscription last year, because I very nearly didn’t. So, for what it’s worth, I would like to say that the staff of Popular Woodworking is doing a great job and the magazine is as good as ever.
What wood is this I think I know
I cannot afford it, though
Perhaps I should just use the clear
Pine that’s sold at Home Depot
Fellow woodworkers must think it queer
To use naught but Oak and Pine that’s clear
On every project that I make
To fill my hearth and home so dear
I give my head a tiny shake
And ask if there is some mistake
For wood to have a price so steep
And cost much more than I do make
It’s tone is lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And I still must purchase wood that’s cheap
So my family has a place to sleep
So my family has a place to sleep
Fans of science fiction are probably well aware of the Grandfather Paradox, which states that if a time traveler went back to the past and killed his grandfather, he would never have been born, therefore making it impossible to time travel and kill his grandfather in the first place. Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and not worry about why somebody would want to kill his own grandfather, I enjoy science fiction as much as the average person I suppose. But the sort-of real world application of this sci-fi fantasy kind of hit me this morning as I was finishing up my hand plane project. Last night I did some final cleaning up of the plane and gave it a light sanding. I took a few more light passes of the sole with my jointer plane and then ran it over some 220 grit sandpaper affixed to my table saw wing. I’ll be the first to admit that the sole is not perfectly flat; there are some very slight hollows, but I really couldn’t care in the least. Sole flatness, while important, isn’t the end all be all of hand plane happiness, especially a wooden plane. But what did occur to me is the fact that I could not have made this hand plane without my Stanley jointer plane. Well, I could have, but it wouldn’t have been very flat. This really got me to wondering why in the world would I make a tool in which the building process required me to own a manufactured version (which is a very well made tool by the way) of the very same tool I was making? Is this a paradox or am I reaching?
Of course the real reasons I made the plane aren’t all that complicated: it was an experiment; I like wooden planes; it was fun to make etc…But I’m not talking about me as a hobbyist; I’m talking about the guy who made planes because he needed them for his job. What did he do? I probably should have read up on this whole process more but I frankly don’t have the time at the moment; I’m currently in the middle of reading two books to begin with, but I really would like to know how the old time plane makers got the soles of their wooden planes flat, if they did at all. For my part, I had a surface planer, a jointer plane, and a reference surface that was machined flat, and the operation still wasn’t all that easy. Still, even with my inquisitive mind still left wondering, I managed to finish the plane last night and I can report that it actually works quite well.
The only thing I really want to touch on here is the iron. I purchased a Hock iron and chip breaker set specifically designed for using in a wood hand plane. I own several Hock Tool products and they are all of high quality. This set is no exception but there was one issue I did have, and that was honing the iron. Just getting the grinding marks off of the bevel took me a good 45 minutes. I’ll say this, I sharpen by hand with Norton water stones. It is possible that my 1000 grit stone, which I use for initial grinding, isn’t up to par. At that, I used it the other day to sharpen a chisel and I had no issue. But you can imagine that after 45 minutes, my arms and shoulders were a bit sore. To put that in perspective, the Hock block plane iron and the shoulder plane irons I had flattened and sharp in less than 5 minutes. Obviously this iron, at 1 3/4″ wide, is larger than those, but I still felt that it took longer than it should have to sharpen. Still, the iron is very well made, looks great, and is now razor sharp. I was able to take full width shavings on pine and poplar.
For the finish on the plane I used two coats of boiled linseed oil, one applied on Friday night, and the other applied today around eleven AM. The finish turned out nicely and the plane looks pretty good. The “frog” is dirty from the iron, and not as refined as I would like, but it is flat and sawn true, and the iron sits nicely in it. For the wedge I used a piece of flatsawn oak, which I cut out with a back saw, and then a coping saw. I didn’t do anything fancy to it, just rounding the front and back edges. I sanded it by hand from 60 to 220 grit and applied several coats of linseed oil to it as well.
There is one final thing I would like to add. This plane is not as easy to adjust as I would like. I have no trouble getting it to take a consistent shaving, but I can’t seem to get it to take a very fine shaving. I don’t own a micrometer, so I can’t actually measure the thickness of the shavings, but they are just a hair thicker than I would like them to be. I may be trying to do something with the tool that it really isn’t meant to do, and that is turn a nineteen inch long fore plane into a smoother. I also may be rushing things a bit. This plane is technically just a few hours old. I haven’t had the time to use it and get used to its little nuances as of yet. Without a handle, it isn’t as easy to push through a board as my jointer. The weight on it is just fine, I’m guessing around 4 lbs. If this plane were my only jointer/fore plane I think it would work for me just fine and my woodworking wouldn’t skip a beat, so I can definitely call this experiment a success. But I guess the real question is will I, and would I, ever make another hand plane?
I don’t know to be honest. I have a perfectly flat piece of laminated oak that I would love to make a little smoothing plane with, and from what I gather, laminated wood works well in hand planes. The actual project didn’t really take all that long; 25% of the time was probably spent honing the plane iron. Knowing what I know now, I could probably assemble a smoothing plane from scratch in about three hours, if I use the same iron. That alone makes another plane project a real possibility. The other day I priced out quartersawn oak for an Arts and Crafts sideboard plan I downloaded and the material cost almost made me quit woodworking and take up model making. If I were to make a smoothing plane, my cash layout would probably only be around $10. I already have the iron, the wood for the body, and the finish. So possibly for the next month or so I may be referring to myself as a hobbyist plane maker. Maybe, with a little practice, I might even be good at it.
I very nearly didn’t write this post. More to the point, I very nearly took no photos, or mental notes, either. Why? I’m currently making a hand plane, and that is a subject I know very little about. I have no fear of messing up, or showing my mistakes, but I do have a fear of writing about something I know that I can’t speak/write about it with at least a little intelligence. So at first it seemed like a mistake to take a few photos of this project and show them on the internet. God forbid somebody looking to make a hand plane for the first time stumbles upon my blog and decides that I’m some sort of expert plane maker. But, I’m throwing caution to the wind and going for it anyway.
I’ve always liked hand planes, ever since I was a little kid. I can remember my dad having an old jack plane that he used to bevel the doors he installed in our house. At the time, I didn’t know it was called a jack plane, but I did know its basic function. My dad probably never sharpened the thing, or if he did probably not correctly, but I can remember that it did make shavings. Ever since then I equated planes with woodworking. Later, as an adult, I can remember checking out Lie Nielsen’s web page and looking at the planes and workbenches. I was looking for a workbench for my house, not for woodworking, but just to have one, and the planes just seemed awesome. Once again, I knew that I didn’t want the typical bench you might find at a home center. I’ve always felt that a workbench should resemble a traditional woodworkers bench, even if you weren’t necessarily using it to make furniture. Now that I think about it, those moments on the LN web page probably were one of the many factors that got me into woodworking in the first place. I used a block plane as an electrician, and that also made me take interest in how a plane works. But the real truth is, I know very little about how planes are actually made.
I know that the hand plane is thousands of years old. The Romans, clever people that they were, even used something similar to an infill plane. I always wondered how the ancient plane makers managed to get a flat and true sole. I suppose there were many methods, from the trial and error method to using concrete to make molds. Whatever they used I’m sure it didn’t happen overnight. To me, flat and square are relative terms. How do you know something is square unless you have a square surface to reference it against? Same with flat? Mathematics can solve the problem, sure, but I am trying to eliminate math in my garage. I know that is wishful thinking but I’m trying. So rather than mathematics and a highly trained eye, I am using the (hopefully) flat cast iron surface of my table saw as my reference point, and my #7 Stanley jointer plane is seeing action as well. I would love to tell you all that I am achieving a tried and true plane sole with only my wits as a guide, but I don’t want to lie.
Before I jumped into this project head first with my eyes closed, I probably should have read a book or watched a video or taken a class on plane making. My only experience has been two kits purchased from Ron Hock tools. The kits turned out well, so I figured with that vast amount of experience I could make an attempt to make my own plane, nearly, but not quite forgetting that the plane kits from Ron Hock are provided with pre milled stock that is nearly perfect. I was using a 3×3 block of Ash that’s been sitting in my garage for 5 months. When I ran it through my surface planer I found that the stock wasn’t perfectly square, it was instead a very subtle rhombus. So I used the Stanley #7 jointer to flatten and true it as best as possible. I then used the table saw wing and four grits of sand paper to achieve a reasonably flat surface for the bottom of the plane. That part wasn’t easy; it took forever and I cut seven of my eight knuckles. Once that part was over I used the table saw to rip the block to 1 7/8″ wide, and to cut the frog angle, which I copied from my Stanley plane. That is when things began to get interesting.
The first test was cutting the groove for the cap iron’s screw. For about ten seconds I considered using a router, but decided that using one would be completely foolish, so instead I chiseled it out by hand. I marked the center-line with a combination square and used the nut itself to define the sides. My chisel was sharp and I carefully chiseled away, getting the depth I wanted in around twenty minutes. I then used my not so sharp router plane to clean up the bottom of the groove. When that was finished I ripped to cheeks to rough width on the table saw. For the cheeks I am using 1/2″ oak. I have absolutely no idea if oak and ash are the two worst woods in the world to make a hand plane with; they very well could be. With that being said, I set the mouth of the plane around 1/4″ wide, just enough so the plane iron barely peeks through. After about an hour of fiddling with the fit I decided that it was now or never, so at each end of the plane I drilled some 3/16 pilot holes and inserted dowels in each to hold the plane steady. I checked the fit again and it seemed okay, so I marked waxed the parts of the plane I didn’t want glued, applied the glue to the cheeks of the plane, and finally clamped it up, again using the little dowels as a guide. I let the plane dry for a full twenty four hours before I did anything else.
When I removed the clamps everything seemed okay. The bottom was reasonably flat still so I used the table saw to first cross cut off the sections of the plane with the alignment dowels attached, and then to saw some rudimentary angles and the front and back of the plane. The cheeks protruded above the plane around 1/4″, so I again used the table saw to remove most of the protrusion, and then the jack plane to clean up anything left over. Once that was finished I decided to drill the holes in the cheeks to insert the cross pin. For the pin I am using a 1/2″ oak dowel. I set the pin at 1 1/4″ centered above the mouth of the plane. Why 1 1/4? I have no idea; I’m winging this operation, but it seemed about right. At first I was going to drill it by hand, either with a bit and brace or a cordless drill, but I didn’t trust myself to get the hole square. So I decided to use my drill press. Those of you who want me to clean up my language may not want to read this part, but my drill press is a piece of…..garbage. Okay, I kept it clean. It’s a Ryobi that was given to me as a gift many years ago. It’s not very accurate or powerful, but it is more accurate than my arm holding a cordless drill. So I installed the 1/2″ forstner bit, which is nearly as bad as the drill press, and got to drilling. Of course, there was a little bit of blow out, but my measurements were accurate on each side and the holes aligned perfectly, which I can now tell you had worried me a little bit. Once that was finished I inserted the cross pin and surprise, it started to look like a hand plane!
There is still a lot left to do. I need to make a wedge, chamfer the edges, round over the hard corners in front and back, hone the iron, flatten the bottom, and basically clean up the whole thing before I can finish it; I’m thinking three coats of linseed oil and two coats of wax. In any event, I’m on my way. I won’t know if this plane works like a plane should until I get the sole where I think it should be, but it’s coming along, better than I thought to be honest. I passed the first hurdle, that being the plane looking like I imagined it would. The big hurdle will be the sole, and it’s times like these I actually do wish I had a jointer table. But I like to think that back in the old days, the plane makers didn’t have perfectly flat soles that you could measure in thousandths of an inch. I’m probably wrong, though. But if those guys let little things like perfect flatness get in the way we probably wouldn’t have any hand planes today. So I’m actually pretty excited. This little project that I hadn’t even planned on really writing about, that was supposed to just be a project I could accomplish during the dog days of summer when it was too hot to do a full-sized furniture build, is turning out to be pretty fun and interesting. I can’t wait to get it refined and sharpened and I’m looking forward to seeing it cleaned up, with a nice finish gleaming in the morning sunlight. I’ll be damned! I might be pretty good at this!
The Arts and Crafts furniture style has been my go-to furniture form since I made the decision to start woodworking. A&C furniture has a lot going for it if you’re a woodworker like me: It is modern enough to work well in most homes, including my own; it is traditional enough to where it doesn’t resemble art rather than furniture, which some modern furniture tends to do in my opinion; and it is fun and (mostly) straightforward to build. You don’t need to be a master craftsman to make Arts and Crafts furniture, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that a beginner could jump right in immediately and start churning out spot-on Stickley reproductions. Like most good furniture, A&C pieces need careful layout and solid, accurate joinery if you want it to look good and hold up over the long haul. That, more than anything, is probably the reason I like A&C furniture as much as I do: the heavy duty, exposed joinery.
I’m always on the lookout for books and videos that highlight Arts and Crafts pieces. As far as the history of the furniture is concerned, I only know the basics, but I am learning. So, when Popular Woodworking published Classic Arts and Crafts Furniture: 14 Timeless Designs, I ordered it from their website in the hopes of gaining a little more knowledge and finding a few projects that I could possibly work on over the fall and winter. Robert Lang is the author of the book, which is really a collection of articles he wrote for Popular Woodworking Magazine highlighting A&C builds. Upon opening and scanning through the book, I was immediately impressed with the selection of projects. Several stood out immediately, among them the Stickley music cabinet and the Greene and Greene medicine cabinet. In fact, of all the projects in the book, there was only one I wouldn’t consider making, a carved table, and that is no knock on the table, it is just not my taste. Another highlight is some of Robert Lang’s finishing tips and techniques for achieving an authentic look, which really goes a long way if you are going for building reproduction style furniture. He does a great job of highlighting the quartersawn oak, which to me is no mean feat because even though I love A&C furniture, I’m not all that crazy about oak. As somebody once told me, the best use of oak is for keeping the shop stove burning. Still, oak works well in A&C, Gustav Stickley was no dummy.
If I had one complaint with the book it would be the photos. Keep in mind, there are some very nice photos of the furniture that are tastefully done, the same way you would see it in Popular Woodworking magazine. I have no problem with that approach, but I also would have preferred to see a full sized, basic photo of each project, sort of like the photos you may see in an auction catalog. Logistically that may not have been feasible, but I prefer using photos in conjunction with project plans. The project plans and cut lists are as clear as any other project books that I’ve encountered, but I generally only use the plans as a guideline rather than a map. In my experience too many factors can lead to altering the project, including space constraints and wood availability. I’ve found that a nice photo is the best guideline, and also helps with the little details that no cut list can provide.
All in all, if you are interested in the Arts & Crafts form of furniture I can’t think of a better place to start than this book. The project selection is well rounded and Robert Lang’s taste in A&C is impeccable. This book isn’t for beginners, but it might serve as a good introduction to A&C for intermediate level and above woodworkers. With a price tag of around $20 this book is easy to recommend.