The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Jeffersonian Purity

I received a rather odd request from my wife the other day. No, not that (get your heads out of the gutter); instead, she asked me to build a bookcase. In fact, she asked me to build a “Jefferson Bookcase”. I know what a Jefferson stacked bookcase is because I can recall one being featured in Popular Woodworking magazine, though I can’t ever recall seeing any other real references to a bookcase as “Monticello” or “Jefferson” anywhere but PW magazine. In any event, this is odd to me because my wife rarely asks me to make furniture, and here I have not one, but two requests: a blanket chest and a bookcase, both of which were featured in a woodworking magazine.

A "Jefferson Bookcase" example. This photo was taken from Bing

A “Jefferson Bookcase” example. This photo was taken from Bing

There are two problems with the bookcase request. One is that I am building the blanket chest before I do anything else. We really need it, the materials for the project are less expensive, and it is frankly easier to construct and will take up less space in my garage as I’m building it. The second problem is the simple fact that I don’t like the Jefferson bookcase, at least not the incarnation from the magazine. To my eye it is an odd mix of utilitarian joinery and a frilly base that doesn’t compliment the design. I do like the idea of a tiered bookcase. Bookcases can obviously look boxy and sometimes need ornamentation to liven them up. The tiers can help break up the monotony and visually lighten the appearance of a large box without compromising the storage capacity or stability of the case. More importantly, they don’t need to be overly frilly to make them appealing. However, the only examples I’m finding of this design are more on the modern side of furniture design, and I generally don’t care for modern furniture.

So, if I want to make a tiered bookcase to make my wife happy, and I want the design to appeal to my own sensibilities (which are quite sensible) then I will have to build a bookcase of my own design. Because it is for my living room, it will probably lean towards the Arts and Crafts style. However, if I look through my books and see something in the Shaker style that I can modify then that is the route I will take.

When I build furniture of my own design it usually goes in three stages. The first stage is the rough measurements and drawings, the second stage is the finished drawing/plan, and the third stage is when I change a part of the design after I’ve already started construction. The rough drawings will take longest, usually around a week or so, because I will have to come up with something that will fit in the allocated space without overwhelming it, as well as being based around material that is easy to obtain, I don’t like gluing up boards to width if I can’t help it, so that may mean birch plywood for the outer case.

The good news here is I now have two projects to look forward to in the spring, and because one of them is already measured and planned, I only need to pick up the material to build it. I will also have the opportunity to do some sketching, which is prep work that I enjoy doing. Now I have a little work cut out for myself, and being that it is Winter, and it’s been below freezing for the past few weeks, this is the perfect time for me to get designing.

Project Rebirth Update

Though I had a busy day planned today, in particular with a blizzard impending, I managed to get in just a few more minutes with my beading plane, and it was well worth it.

To sharpen the actual bead on the plane iron I decided to give the sandpaper a try. I wrapped a piece of 220 grit around a 3/8 dowel and proceeded to hone. In roughly 5 minutes, I managed to get a nice looking iron. I proceeded to give another practice bead a go, and the results were impressive. The shavings were a lot more even and the bead more crisp. When I get more time, I will hone to a higher grit as well as use the slip stone. All in all, this rehab seems to be going very well.



Project Rebirth day 1

Yesterday afternoon I began the refurbishing of my old beading plane that I “rediscovered” in my garage a few weeks back. Going into this, I don’t have high hopes to turn this tool into a precision piece of equipment that I purchased for peanuts. But I am hoping to learn more about moulding planes, as in how they work, how they are made, and what their potential happens to be.

I started by clamping the plane to the workbench and lightly sanding down any breakouts in the wood. There was some minor splintering that I managed to remove, and the boxwood does have a small chunk missing, but at the moment there is little I can do about it. I then turned my attention to the wedge, which I sanded by placing the sheets on my table saw, and going from 40 grit up to 220. I did a test fit with the sanded wedge and it was perfect, so I moved on to the iron.

Cleaning up the splintering

Cleaning up the splintering

Because I’ve never sharpened a profiled plane iron before, this was obviously going to be the most difficult part. I started by working on the back. I spent around 5 minutes on the diasharp with both grits, and then used the 8000 grit water stone to finish it. It definitely polished up nicely, and considering this plane is probably close to 150 years old I can live with that.

To sharpen the bevel, I once again used the diasharp and 8000 grit water stone, and just like all of my sharpening lately, I did it freehand. I’ve come to a conclusion that will contradict my earlier beliefs, but I truly think that freehand sharpening is just as easy as using a honing guide, and in some cases it is actually easier. Anyway, once I got the bevel sharp and square I used a slipstone to sharpen the actual bead. I have only one slipstone, which is a 4000 grit. That should be fine for most steel as long as it doesn’t need to be reground. In this case, I will probably have to go to a lower grit, or perhaps some sandpaper and a dowel, because I did manage to improve the bead, but it took tool long a time, and it still needs work.

Iron sharpened. The poor picture quality doesn't do it justice.

Iron sharpened. The poor picture quality doesn’t do it justice.

I did a test bead on a piece of scrap pine and I am encouraged by the results. The shoulder of the bead is very crisp and smooth, which hopefully means that I managed to get it sharpened the way it was meant to be sharpened. The bead, on the other hand, isn’t too bad, but still needs work. The purpose of these planes was to produce profiles that would not need additional work for finish. As of now the bead would probably need a light sanding before I could apply a stain, but I’m definitely not unhappy with the effort. As I said, I believe that some 220 sandpaper wrapped around a dowel would do wonders. Now I need only to keep using the tool and learn its peculiarities, such as how tightly I should set the wedge and how thick the shavings should be. But I like the profile, it has much more character than a bead made on a router table, and its less messy and a hell of a lot quieter. If all goes well, I may just have to attempt to build one of these for myself.

Test profile, I added some oil so it would stand out a little in the photo.

Test profile, I added some oil so it would stand out a little in the photo.

Plane after a cleaning with linseed oil.

Plane after a cleaning with linseed oil.

Project Rebirth

If you happen to own a garage, or barn, or perhaps a workshop, eventually you will find something in there that surprises you. Before I go on, let me say that there is not one item in my garage that wasn’t put there by me or my wife. When we purchased our house the only things left in the garage were an old door, an old workbench, an old vice, an old shovel, and an old cabinet. If combined the value of all of the items (including their usefulness) they may have been worth roughly one dollar. It wasn’t long before I ridded myself of that small pile of junk and went to filling the garage with my own junk.

To be clear, I have a lot of tools. I spent more than 10 years operating a printing press and almost 7 years as a field electrician. Not to mention, I also have many of the tools of your average homeowner: carpentry, plumbing, masonry, and gardening. While I hardly have a large set of woodworking tools, I don’t work with just a saw, hammer, and chisel. Most of the people who happen to read this blog have seen my woodworking tool set and the tools I use on each project, and it is average in just about every way.

Recently on many blogs and forums I’ve been noticing some tool purges going on. They don’t necessarily affect me all that much, as I don’t have enough tools to warrant a purge of my own, and at the same time, since I already have most of the tools I need, I’m not heavily in the market for purchasing a lot of new stuff (or at least new to me stuff). But, there does happen to be a few tools I’ve been looking around for, among those are a 3/8 and ¼ beading plane. It seems that these planes are becoming more and more scarce on the used market, so you can imagine my surprise when I found that I had a 3/8 already in my garage.

The truth is that I immediately recognized the tool, and this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen it in years, but it was the first time I’ve taken notice of it in quite a while. I can’t necessarily remember when it was purchased, though I do know that it was purchased on EBay, and it was inexpensive. I honestly didn’t know what size it was until I looked at it last night. I’m guessing that it was purchased somewhere around 4 years ago. Why did I purchase it if I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was getting? There are a few reasons; I like beaded profiles, I don’t care for electric routers, and sometimes you have to bring the tool to the work.

I’m no expert on woodworking tools, not even close, but I like to think I have a good overall knowledge. Moulding planes, however, are not one of my strong suits. I took the plane apart last night and it seems to be in decent shape. The iron looks pretty good; I flattened the back and the front bevel, probably when I originally purchased the tool. The wedge is in decent shape but could use a little work, and the interior of the plane is a little rough. The boxing seems okay, but there is a little ding in it, which may or may not affect how the plane functions. If I happen to get a free hour or two this coming weekend, I think I will give the plane a good going over and see what I end up with. I’m not worried about saving the patina, or the character, or the Soul of the tool. I am only concerned with making it a functioning plane again.

With these tools becoming more and more scarce, and with the cost of a new one hovering at $300+, this is one of those instances where spending the time on rehabbing an old tool is by far the better option. The lead time on a new, side-beading plane is a minimum of a one year wait, and maybe much longer. Rather than sitting around waiting a year or two for a new plane that may or may not show up, I can just as easily fool around with this one. I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. I’ll have to put my money where my mouth is and see if I can get this thing up and running.

So the Slightly Confused Woodworker would like to give his full endorsement for refurbishing an old tool rather than purchasing a new one. My endorsement, along with a dollar, will perhaps get you a bag of potato chips. But let it never be said that I always go against the grain.

Here are some before photos. Let’s hope the after photos are better…

A few dings on the boxing

A few dings on the boxing

Side few of the damage. I think I can improve it.

Side few of the damage. I think I can improve it.

The iron and wedge are decent, but both need work.

The iron and wedge are decent, but both need work.

So…What’s next?

The past eight weeks has been a trying time for my family, and of that I will say no more for the time being. It is times like these that many people question what they believe in, and that includes what we do in our leisure. So for the past months woodworking was rightly put on the back burner, though I did complete a project during that time, there were still many more important matters that had to be dealt with.

Now that we are in the heart of winter, the weather has turned against me. We’ve had little good weather to enjoy here, and it has mostly been rainy or snowy, and always very cold. The temperature rarely stays above freezing this time of year. I’ve vowed to never again make furniture during the winter as long as I am doing it in an unheated work area, and at this time I see no cause to break that vow. Still, there are a few things that can be, and need to be done.

Yesterday afternoon was the first time I had been home in a few days. My Enfield cupboard for all intents and purposes is completed, except for the paint, which will unfortunately have to wait until the weather improves. The only thing I had left to do on the cupboard was to even the gap between the top of the door and the face frame, which thankfully was nearly even to begin with. I simply marked the gap with a set of scribes, wet the endgrain with mineral spirits, and trimmed it off with a block plane. I then lightly sanded it and it was finished. All in all the task took less than 5 minutes.

Gap improved...

Gap improved…


A future block plane?

 Speaking of block planes. Back during the summer I purchased some maple and bubinga that I hoped to turn into a block plane or two. Now that winter is in full swing, and all furniture projects are on hold, I think I may just do that. I have all of the material I need here already in which I should be able to make two planes, and I could always pick up some more bubinga to build others. I’ve thought about the dimensions and I would like to build a plane a bit larger than other wood blocks I’ve seen. I’m thinking of one 7 inches long X 2 1/2 inches wide, so it will be a bit larger than a regular block but still smaller than a smoother. My idea is a plane that is a bit heavier than normal, but still small enough to grip with one hand. I think it would be a perfect tool for raising panels among other things. It will be a bevel down plane, but I don’t think I will use a chipbreaker. However it turns out, it should be an interesting experiment.

My next furniture project will with out a doubt be a traditional 6-board blanket chest. I am going to start drawing up the plans soon, and I hope to pick up the material some time after Valentine’s Day. I’m not going to plan too far ahead after that, though I do have a few ideas. For now, my furniture building will be restricted to volunteering at Valley Forge Park. I’m thinking that the blacksmith’s cabin needs a new workbench, and if everything goes as planned I may be just the guy to build it.

Where to begin

As I’ve re-entered the world of hand-tool forums, I’ve noticed lots of questions from beginning woodworkers about which tools to purchase, when to purchase new or used, etc. In general, I would stay away from offering advice on a woodworking forum, firstly because I do it all day in the electrical sense, but mostly because I can hardly consider myself a woodworking expert. What I have noticed about my knowledge is at the least it usually falls within the “agreed upon opinions” of most of the so-called experts out there. More importantly, I’m not full of shit, which I like to think adds a little bit more weight to my opinion. So I would like to present my take of a few of the most frequently asked questions.

Which hand plane(s) should I purchase first?

This question is probably the most asked, and conversely has the broadest range of answers. First off, I think the most important part of this question isn’t which plane to purchase, but should you buy old or new. Most experts lean towards purchasing old planes, the general consensus being that you can get a good quality plane without breaking the bank. I think old tools are certainly well worth a look, but if this is a new woodworker’s first plane, then they might not necessarily be the way to go.

For the most part, old tools need to be tuned up, possibly even repaired. For a person who has never owned or used a hand plane, this can be a tough lesson. If you’ve never owned a new plane that is highly tuned and sharp, how would you know what to look for in a used plane that needs work? Owning a new, top-of-the-line plane is a great lesson in and of itself, because it immediately shows you how a hand plane should work and feel. You can’t tune up an old plane until you know what to tune it to, and for that reason I highly recommend purchasing at least one new, high-quality bench plane first. Which leads me into the heart of the question:

Which plane would you pick?

This one is a touchy subject. Most of the experts will tell you to purchase a #4 smoothing plane as your first bench plane, though I could never quite figure out what the logic of this is, however. Maybe it could be the cost; new or used a smoothing plane is generally the least expensive of the bench planes. To me, it is also the most useless. Even if you do plan on prepping stock completely by hand, etc. The smoothing plane is usually the last plane to touch a project. There are some people that will tell you that a #4 can do everything. I disagree, the #5 Jack plane is by far the most versatile bench plane. It can be used for jointing, flattening, and smoothing to an extent. It can also be used to prepare rough lumber. It’s size, which falls between a smoother and a trying plane, is the key to its versatility. Many times, a tool which is made to do several different jobs rather than one task ends up being a compromise, with the tool being just “okay” at a bunch of different jobs, but not great at any; this isn’t true with the Jack Plane.

A new, high-end Jack Plane isn’t inexpensive, but it is, in my opinion, well worth the money. But I don’t think a bench plane should be the first plane that is purchased.

If not a bench plane, what should be the first hand plane purchased?

Think about what a bench plane does. The main functions of bench planes are: flattening boards, jointing boards, and preparing boards for finish. Think about how furniture is made. Furniture is made by assembling boards with joinery. Not all boards need to be flattened or jointed, and there are many ways to prepare a board for finish. But to assemble boards into furniture you need joinery planes. For me, the most important joinery plane is the moving fillister, with which you can make accurate rabbets on the ends and sides of any length board, which is a basic but very important component of case construction. The router plane, while seemingly more of a luxury than a necessity, is invaluable for making accurate and consistent tenons, half laps, and rabbets, once again key joints in case construction. Purchasing pre-surfaced lumber is pretty easy, but I’ve yet to see lumber sold that includes the joinery needed to build furniture.

What should be the first woodworking tool purchased?

I’ve also seen this question asked many times, and there is no correct answer, because you cannot build furniture with just one tool. However, I can answer the question: What should be the first woodworking tools purchased? My answer to that is saws.

If you want to work by hand you will need to saw wood. You will make joinery with saws. You will cut wood to length and width with saws. I would start out with the big three: Dovetail, Carcass, Tenon. From Lee Valley you can purchase all three saws for approximately $250, and you will be getting quality tools. You can do a lot of woodworking with those saws, and learning to saw should be one of the first skills a hand tool woodworker develops.
While you are purchasing your saws your should also be purchasing a set of chisels and a mallet. I like the basic set: ¼, ½, ¾, and 1 inch. With those chisels, as well as your saws, you can actually begin to build furniture. In fact, many rustic pieces of furniture were built with those very tools. Add a moving fillister plane, a router plane, and a jack plane-as well as a sharpening medium, and suddenly you can begin to make more refined furniture.

In which order should I purchase hand planes?

For me this one is easy: Moving Fillister, Router, #5 (Jack), Block, #7 (Jointer), #3 or #4 (smoother). I could make a case for a plough plane, but I’ve worked without one for years, though it would come in handy at times. Somebody will make a case for a shoulder plane, but I find them over-priced and fussy.

I have a budget of $500, which tools should I buy?

I hate to disappoint anybody, but $500 just isn’t enough money to get started in woodworking. In my experience, if you want to work with hand tools only, you will need at least $1500 to get started. Of course there are swap meets, and ebay, as well as some very good used tool web sites, but in general you will need to purchase at least a few new tools, as well as buy or build a workbench. Though I don’t care for lists all that much, here is my list of must haves with averaged (and rounded) costs based on personal observations and experiences:

                                      USED                     NEW

Moving Fillister               $110.00                   $220.00
Router Plane                  $120.00                   $140.00
Jack Plane                        $90.00                   $240.00
Joinery Saws                  $135.00                   $250.00
Set of 4 Chisels                 $50.00                    $95.00
Mallet                                                                $25.00
Block Plane                        $45.00                     $90.00
Sharpening set-up                                           $150.00
Marking Gauge                                                  $45.00
Combination Square            40.00                     $75.00
¼ inch Mortise Chisel        $20.00                      $40.00
Marking Knife                     $15.00                     $45.00
Rasp(s)                                                               $50.00 ea
Workbench w/vise            $350.00(made)      $1100.00 (purchased)

Totals:                                $1245.00                $2565.00

You can see that for a few of the tools on the list I only included new pricing, because it is my feeling that those items are only worth purchasing new. Of course for both lists you could find tools that cost more, or less, than the prices I gave. I’m only averaging out the numbers I’ve come across since I’ve been woodworking.   You could also make a case to remove or add certain tools, once again I’m using my own hand tools as a reference, as I use most of these tools when I woodwork.
Averaged out between used and new, you’re still looking at a $1900.00 investment. I’ve spent years trying to balance out the equation, and I still can’t figure out a way to do it for less than I’ve shown here. I’m open to the fact that there may be a practical way to do it, but I’ve yet to see it. What I have seen is many claims that you can purchase certain tools for a song, but once again I have yet to actually see it. You may get lucky, but you aren’t going to build a whole tool set on luck alone.

I also didn’t include items like clamps, fasteners, and screwdrivers. I’m not saying those items aren’t important, I’m just trying to give a basic idea of what a real woodworking tool set costs. Before I finish, I’m also not trying to say that $2000 is a lot of money, nor am I trying to say that it is just a pittance. Woodworking requires a certain amount of dedication, both in practice and in cost. Don’t let anybody fool you. I’ve read too many articles in blogs, forums, and magazines that have tried to minimalize what the costs of woodworking are, both monetarily, and in the time dedicated to becoming a good woodworker. Most of those posts and articles are so far off base that they border on lies.

I’m not sure why people feel the need to lie or make outrageous boasts when it comes to woodworking. At first it would do little more than piss me off, now I find it laughable. That all being said, this post is not anything more than the opinion of one man. I’m basing that opinion not on the attempt to sell a magazine or a tool, but just my experiences. This I do know for sure, I have as small a hand tool kit as you will find, and it still cost me near $3000. That is a fact. The kit contains new tools, used tools, and tools I’ve made. If there were a better way to go about it I would likely have found it, because I research just about everything, and I say in all humbleness that I’m a pretty smart dude. So once again, I’m not trying to sway anybody one way or the other. I’m just trying to present a helpful and honest opinion. Do with it what you will.

Handtools to the rescue, or Enfield cupboard finished.

Whenever I purchase a tool, I try to research its usefulness before I take the plunge. Woodworking tools in general can be a sizable investment, and it really pays to make sure your hard earned money is going towards something that will not only see a lot of use, but last for a long time. On the other hand, nearly every woodworker, both professional and hobbyist, probably has at least one tool that he regrets buying. For me, that tool was the Lie Nielsen #48 tongue and groove plane. Before I continue, let me say that it is an extremely well made tool. I have only one problem with it, and that is the fact that I don’t use it nearly as much as I thought I would. But…

This past weekend I had set aside for two things, finishing my wife’s infamous pantry closet, and finishing and installing the door for my Shaker Enfield cupboard. Thankfully, I managed to get both jobs completed, much in part to the weather, which was cold, rainy, and miserable, which also gave me the excuse I needed to work in and around the house. Saturday morning I finished up the pantry closet, which was a mopping up effort more than anything. I then went straight into the garage to get to work on the door.

The first thing I did was raise the panels for the door. I don’t have a panel raising bit for a router, nor do I have a panel raising plane, and I was frankly too afraid to attempt it on my table saw for fear of ruining the boards, so I improvised.

My improvisation was fairly simple; I just used the dado stack for the table saw. First part was a test cut just to set the depth, then the real deal. I set the fence for a one inch reveal and got to work. The dado stack did a fine job, but left the board a bit rougher than I would like. Then it occurred to me to give my moving fillister plane a try, just to clean up the surface. I had finally got it up and running on Friday night by regrinding the iron on my new DMT diamond stone, which performed beautifully, which also resulted in the fillister plane performing beautifully. Once I had the panels cleaned up I added a slight chamfer to the raised portion of the panel to give it a faux profile. The result turned out pretty nicely, and I was more than satisfied, but then I ran into a bit of a problem.

When I built the door frame, I added the groove to the rails and stiles using the table saw and dado stack, but I made one minor error; I made them too shallow. I didn’t recall making them too shallow, it was only after I was about to do the finally dry assembly that I noticed it. I very nearly got out the dado stack to make the possibly perilous attempt at deepening the groove, but then I had an epiphany: the LN #48!

I pulled the #48 out of the tool chest and inspected it; the iron was still sharp, which was a relief considering I hadn’t used the plane in months. Still, I gave it a quick honing, said a quick prayer, and went to work. Thankfully, the groove was perfectly centered and perfectly ¼ inch wide, which allowed the plane iron to fit right in. Fairly quickly, I had the grooves at the proper depth, and my dry fit went perfectly. The #48 made a hell of a mess of shavings, but I’m really glad that I had it.

To be sure that I the glue up went smoothly, I called in Mrs. Slightly Confused to lend a hand and we got the door glued up in short order. I set it on the side to dry, cleaned up, and called it a night. The whole process took just under two hours, which actually fell right into my original estimate.

Cleaning up the edges of the door

Cleaning up the edges of the door

A heck of a mess

A heck of a mess

This morning I finished the installation. Before I go on, let me say that I’m amazed at how many tools are needed to install both the door and the hinges for it. I started by planing down the door sides, then giving the whole door an overall sanding, 60/150/220 grit, as well as a light hand sanding. I then marked the hinges with a knife, sawed the kerfs, chiseled out the waste, and finished it up with a router plane. Once again I called in Mrs. Confused to help me screw the door to the case. The door was just a hair tight, which I figured it would be, so I removed it, planed it down (as well as back beveling the closing side) and reinstalled. The door closed nicely, and the reveal is pretty much right on the money, with only some minor adjustments needed for the top and bottom, which I will be able to do without removing the door again. I now only need to make a latch, and add a knob, and the cabinet will be ready for paint. Overall I’m happy with the finished result.

Door won't stay shut without a latch

Door won’t stay shut without a latch

Door open

Door open

I don’t often give advice on this blog, as I’ve mentioned several times before, but I will offer two bits of wisdom here. Firstly, if you are an intermediate woodworker looking to improve your skills (and you like Shaker furniture) I can’t think of a better project to try than the Enfield Cupboard. In this average sized piece of furniture you have: case construction, dados, tongue and groove joinery, mortise and tenon joinery. There is door construction with raised panels and mortise and tenons, shop made mouldings, miters, and curved pieces. In other words, this cupboard really puts your skills to the test.

Tools used just to build and install a door.

Tools used just to build and install a door.

Secondly, I’ll say once again if you are thinking about getting into hand tools, don’t get overly mesmerized by bench planes; joinery planes are far more valuable in my opinion. A jack plane can do most small to midsized planing tasks and take the place of a smoother and jointer if need be, but there really isn’t a great substitute for planes such as the router and moving fillister, which really earn their money every time you need them. So if you want my advice, start off with a jack plane and a few joinery planes, you will be happy that you did. If you don’t want my advice, don’t listen. What do I know?

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