Yesterday we finally had a bit of decent weather; not that it was warm, it snowed the night before, but at the least it wasn’t freezing. I took the nicer weather as a sign that spring is finally springing, so I decided to not only clean out my garage, but the yard as well. It was an all day job, starting at 9 am and not ending until nearly 5 pm. But I managed to get a lot done, most importantly I managed to make my workbench area a lot less cluttered. Much scrap wood, old cans, broken items, and stuff I generally had forgotten existed was either thrown away or donated to goodwill. I’m not finished yet, but I came a long, long way, and my garage should be much more suitable to woodworking when I begin my next project.
As far as woodworking is concerned, my cleanup and reorganization accomplished two things that I had been wanting to finish for more than a year: I was able to move my stain cabinet to the workbench area, and I was able to get my woodworking hardware (nails, screws, handles, knobs, brackets, etc.) organized and into one location that is easily accessible right from my workbench. I even managed to squeeze in a little woodworking during my clean-up. Firstly, I finished the small screw driver rack that I started, and secondly, I got the material for my next hand plane cut roughly to size..
I started making a screw-driver rack a few weeks back from some scrap Walnut I had laying around. It was a good excuse to mess around with my hand-tools, and when my new ECE rabbet plane arrived it was a good excuse to put it to use. Before I go on let me say that my little screw driver rack is barely worth noting but for two reasons. The first reason is that I used my drill press to drill out the holes. Yes, I have a drill press. The tool was given to me twelve years ago and I barely use it. I have nothing against using a drill press, but this one is just not accurate enough to use in making furniture. It’s okay for drilling out a line of holes, or some light sanding, but the table is too wobbly and the depth stop not reliable enough for intricate work. The other reason is my smoothing plane.
I have one of the new Stanley Sweetheart #4 smooth planes. I picked it up on Amazon roughly three years ago for the ridiculously low price of $91. It is a good tool that is well made and attractive. My only problem with it is the same problem I have with other smooth planes, and that is the fact that I think smooth planes are overrated. I’ve written about this topic before so I won’t get into it again at the moment. At the same time, just because I felt that way it didn’t necessarily mean that I dislike the tool. Whenever I sharpen, I always give the #4 iron a few passes over the stone just to keep it razor sharp, and I usually take it apart once a month or so, as I do with my other bench planes, just to oil and clean it. Yesterday I used the #4 to clean up the screw driver rack boards both before and after assembly, and I also used it to prep the maple and bubinga I am using to make my next handplane. It was the first time since I’ve owned the tool that I used it for more than a few minutes and I have to admit that it was a joy to use. I was able to take fine and full-width shavings with little effort. Of course the sharp iron helped big time. Nevertheless, it was a joy to use a well-made tool exactly the way it was meant to be used. While I still don’t worship at the altar of the smooth plane, I’m at least at the door of the church. So I have to be forthright and admit that my bashing of the #4 was off-base, and I apologize to those who may have disagreed with my original assessment.
If you’re interested in picking up some good woodworking tools…
So I don’t post here as often as I would like, but I spend a lot of time over on Instagram (@tmb1752 if you’re interested). If you follow me there, you know I’ve kinda been changing my lifestyle in minor increments. i.e. eating healthier, exercising regularly, yoga, etc. Well one of the other things I have been working on is the ability to let go. A majority of that is letting go of stuff, both material stuff and otherwise. If I’ve never mentioned it before, I have a minor obsession with collecting tools. Nothing wrong with it, but I’ve finally decided that with a lifestyle change, this was one area I needed to work on as it is the most painful to think about. Since I am a rip off the band-aid guy, here we go.
I am listing approximately 25 items over the next few days. I like Chris…
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Whenever I purchase used (pre-owned) tools, I go into the whole affair with a little reservation. Overall, I’ve been very lucky with my vintage tool purchasing, and I really only came across one clunker that was unworkable. Last week I ordered and received a E.C. Emmerich shoulder plane from Highland Woodworking. Though I had managed to pick up several tools over the past few months, this is the first new (as in not pre-owned) tool I’ve purchased in quite a while. I went with the Emmerich for several reasons, one being the company’s reputation, another being the cost was within my budget, and most importantly they offered the exact style of rabbet plane I was looking for. This was little bit of a gamble in the sense that there are several respected makers from whom I could have purchased a rabbet plane without reservation. E.C. Emmerich has a good reputation, but they are a bit of an enigma here in America. I had never seen one of their tools in person aside from a jointer plane which was in a case, and not touchable. Still, I took the chance, and I am extremely happy that I did.
When the plane arrived I inspected it and to the best of my judgment everything appeared great at first inspection. The sole was flat and smooth, there were no dings or nicks on the plane body, and the iron looked good. I planned on using the plane right out of the box, but at the last second I decided to give the iron the whole treatment. I flattened the back, starting with the “fine” grit on the diamond plate, then using the 1000/8000 waterstones. The back of the iron polished up nicely and very quickly, there is a very minor hollow which I left just as it was. I then honed the bevel using just the water stones. All in all it took less than 10 minutes, and it was an easy going 10 at that. I was impressed with the first honing, a good sign.
To give the plane a test run I started with a piece of scrap pine. I scored across the grain and proceeded to make a 1 inch wide rabbet. In what seemed like a matter of seconds I had a smooth and even rabbet, easily the nicest I ever produced with a hand tool. The shavings were neat and full width even though I set the depth of the iron just by feel. I then used the plane on the long grain of some walnut. The walnut dado was already started, as it is a piece of scrap I want to make into a screwdriver rack, so I didn’t need to score it. Once again the plane produced a nice, smooth bottom. At this point I am very impressed. Here are some initial findings: The wedge is much larger/wider than a traditional wedge, which I find to be a very pleasant surprise. I don’t have hands the size of the incredible hulk, but they aren’t small either (nor are they as nimble as they used to be). I’ve always had a bit of trouble with the wedges on vintage wood planes and could never seem to get a good grip on them. The shape and size of the wedge on the Emmerich plane make it very easy to handle for those of us whose hands aren’t as dainty as the average person. The iron is also heavier than a vintage iron, which is pretty much common place on most new planes, but the tang is rounded at the top, which to me is smart, as it should help limit mushrooming/deforming of the tang from setting it with a hammer. And one of the more impressive features is the round metal strike plate at the back of the plane. I have never, ever, been a fan of striking the back of a wood plane with a hammer or mallet to retract the iron/ loosen the wedge, nor will I ever be. No matter what, when you strike a wood plane with a mallet you are damaging it and there is no way to get around it. I understand that it has been done that way for hundreds of years, but I would be willing to bet that many planes were damaged or broken in the process. The metal strike plate appears to be a simple solution to an age old problem. I’m not sure if it has ever been done before, but this is the first I’ve seen of it. Lastly, the plane is made of hornbeam, the same wood used in many chisel handles. I love the feel, and though I don’t necessarily like to use the term “warm” to describe it, that is exactly what it is, warm and comfortable in the hand. Though I am less experienced with rabbet planes than I am with other woodworking tools, I like to think that I know a good tool when I use one. This plane is easily the best rabbet, or shoulder style plane I’ve ever used. After using it for just a few hours I am hooked, and during that time I could not find one single complaint. The plane is well made, comfortable, easy to adjust, and it works very well; I couldn’t be happier that I purchased it. This is among the best money I’ve ever spent on a woodworking tool, and only $100 at that, including shipping. E.C. Emmerich may not be as well known in America as other tool makers, but they have a new fan in me.
For the past few months I’ve been in the market for a rabbet plane, partially because I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket, but mostly because I need one to do some of the things I am planning for the future. The problem was I couldn’t seem to find a decent one on the used market, and when I did somebody always beat me to the punch. While I’ve always wanted to purchase the Veritas Skew Rabbet Plane (essentially a metal moving fillister), I also wanted a “traditional” wood version just because I like how they look and feel. There still are some makers of these planes: TIme Warp Tool Works, Matt Bickford, and Philly Planes to name a few, but my funds were limited to around $100, and this led me to the E.C. Emmerich web page.
I’ve known about E.C. Emmerich for some time. For those of you who do not, they are a German company that still makes many traditional woodworking tools. They have a good reputation, but the problem was I couldn’t find a distributor here in America that carried their full line; most seemed to carry their Primus Planes, but I was look for something more traditional. Eventually, I found that Highland Woodworking offered the Rabbet Plane I was looking for, so I used up the last of my gift card and purchased it this week. The plane arrived in just two days (way to go USPS!) And though I haven’t used it as of yet, I can say that it is a beautifully made plane. The sole is Lignum Vitae and the body hornbeam. The iron is flat and razor sharp, and appears to be ready to use out of the box though I will hone it. The plane has a solid feel to it that I like. The only thing that has bothered me thus far is the lack of instructions for the care of the plane. Their is an oil finish on the body, but I have no idea what that finish is. Generally, I would use linseed oil to clean and maintain a wood plane, and I’m under the assumption that this plane would be no different, but I would like to be sure. I will check out the ECE web page later to see what they recommend.
This past Winter, which finally ended on Friday (with 6 inches of snow falling for one last sucker-punch) has been a strange one for me in the woodworking sense. I didn’t build much furniture, but I managed to pick up some new tools, which I hadn’t planned on doing, as well as breathe some new life into tools I already had. I can say in all honesty that my plane collection is nearing completion. I would say that a plough plane and a set of #6 hollow/rounds will finish it off and leave me with every tool I need to do anything I need. Now, I just need a little bit of nice weather so I can get those tools working.
Another long, cruel winter is mercifully and slowly crawling to an end. My region had the coldest February on record from what I’ve been told, with an average high temperature of only 24 degrees F. And though spring is just around the corner, it still hasn’t sprung yet. I’ve vowed to never again start any woodworking projects in the dead of Winter, and this year I stuck to it. The problem with that vow is that it left a minimum 3 month time frame where I didn’t make any furniture. So what have I been up to, then? Well, besides insulting people who read this blog, I’ve been taking care of my tools.
Last week I picked up my first set of hollow and round planes. The planes are matching, meaning that they are from the same maker, and they arrived in pretty good condition. The irons were a little rough, in particular the round iron. But before I got to work on the irons I started on the plane bodies. Because the plane soles are obviously profiled, I needed a way to flatten them other than the bed of my table saw. So yesterday afternoon I stopped at Lowe’s, which apparently is the IKEA of home centers, and picked out the straightest 5/8 inch oak dowel I could find. I sawed off a foot long piece from the dowel, wrapped a piece of 220 grit sandpaper around it, and used it to clean up the hollow plane. Once that was done, I used the hollow plane and sand paper to clean up the round sole, which was luckily in pretty good shape to begin with. Once that was finished I turned to the irons.
As I said before, the irons on both planes were in pretty rough shape, especially the round. My sharpening method was the same as nearly every other ancient plane iron I’ve ever sharpened: coarse diasharp, fine diasharp, 1000 grit water stone, 8000 grit water stone. Flattening the bottom on the round took 15 minutes, and my arms were actually sore afterwards. The hollow was thankfully much easier to flatten. I then used the dowel/sandpaper once again to sharpen the hollow plane, using 220/400/600 grits, then the 4000 grit slipstone. I also plan on stropping it, I just didn’t have the time today to do it. As far as the round, I plan on dedicating next Saturday to taking care of the bevel. now that the back is flat I will be able to concentrate fully on it. On a side note, I’m not sure who the previous owner of this set of planes happened to be, but whoever that person was he didn’t know how to sharpen. I’m not an expert sharpener, I’m not even all that great, I’m good enough to get a sharp edge. I don’t know any magic tricks, but I do believe that the woodworkers of yesteryear sharpened a lot less than we believe they did, and I don’t think there was much science to it. I think they brought their irons to a grinding wheel and sharpened willy nilly just so they could get back to work. I can understand why they did it, but I’m not so happy about it.
As far as the bodies of the planes were concerned, I lightly sanded down any rough spots, then saturated them in linseed oil. As with my other moulding planes, I poured the oil down into the throat of the plane, let it soak for a few minutes, and then cleaned up the excess. Whether or not this is considered proper plane maintenance I cannot say, but it so far hasn’t caused any issues, and the planes all look much better after the fact.
There were two other maintenance tasks I wanted to complete before the end of the weekend. The first was to oil the tote and knob on my jointer plane. That actually started earlier in the week. Each night after work I coated the knob and tote with Tru-Oil, lightly buffing between coats with steel wool. Last night I added the 5th and last coat. I also took the plane apart, gave it a cleaning, and sharpened the iron. With the plane looking new I used it to clean up the top of my workbench, which was starting to look pretty ratty. It worked brilliantly, and as always the #7 is a pleasure to use.
Lastly, a while back I made a shoulder plane from a kit purchased from Hock Tools. Admittedly I don’t used the plane often, but I was never satisfied with the shape, so I decided to do something about it. I drew an outline on the plane side and roughed it out with a coping saw. I then used a spokeshave to clean it up, followed by sandpaper to smooth it out. I flattened the sole (making sure to keep the iron and wedge set), and then gave the plane a few coats of linseed oil. As it was drying I honed the iron, afterwards taking it for a test drive. The plane performed well, and while it is hardly spectacular looking it no longer looks awful. After I cleaned up, and before I called it a day, I gave all three planes another light coat of linseed oil and set them on the side to dry. I’m happy that I got the hollow plane in working order, now I just have to get the round up and running. Most importantly, I have to start making furniture again.
For the past six months or so I’ve been exploring the use of traditional wood moulding and joinery planes. I hate to use the word “traditional” because I’m not really a traditionalist, but being that these tools are often described with the word, I will do the same. In any event, I use these tools not necessarily for traditions sake, but because I have very little room for larger equipment. I would love to have a giant SawStop cabinet saw sitting smack-dab in the center of a dedicated workshop; I don’t. When I needed to accurately make a couple of dados or ‘fillisters’, my best choice was to back my wife’s car out of the garage, roll the table saw out, attach the dado stack (or what have you) and make the cuts. If I were making twelve grooves or dados for a cabinet or bookcase I would have no issue in going through the set-up, but if I need to make just one or two joints it makes much more sense to do it with a hand plane. To put it another way: I just got tired of going through a bunch of nonsense to accomplish something that could be done much more simply. Now, I use a moving fillister plane whenever applicable.
Once I purchased a moving fillister and began to incorporate into my furniture making, I began to explore the use of other “traditional” planes, beading planes to be precise. Because I don’t really enjoy using electric routers and never have, moulding planes were the logical next step. Yesterday, I received my first set of hollow and round planes, #10’s actually. I’ve even started to take the first steps of constructing my own small set, which is a real possibility. I like the idea that with hollow and round planes, and some practice, I can theoretically make many different mouldings. And because I have very little practical knowledge of these planes, I ordered ‘Mouldings in Practice’ by Matt Bickford. The book arrived on Tuesday, and last night I finished reading it.
Just as the title suggests, the book is a practical guide for using moulding planes, in particular hollows and rounds, to make many different profiles. The book is surprisingly fast to read; I finished it basically in one sitting. The step by step drawings are clear and color-coded to illustrate Bickford’s step by step process of creating different profiles, consisting of a series of rabbets and corresponding hollows and rounds. Using the drawings as lay-out tools, you could probably use machinery to create a fair portion of the mouldings as well, though to my mind it would actually be more difficult than using hand planes, but it should be possible. Of course, the book has a chapter on sharpening and maintenance which is well done. However, as far as sharpening is concerned, I stopped worrying about it and conversely improved immensely. In fact, I don’t want to read another article or book about sharpening ever again.
One thing that Bickford points out, and one thing that I had suspected from the get-go is that most woodworkers do not need a full-set, or even a half-set of hollows and rounds. In general, the majority of woodworkers can make a vast amount of profiles with just a set of #6 and #10 planes(as well as a rabbet plane). That is a good thing, because a new half-set of hollows and rounds costs a small fortune, and a decent vintage set isn’t cheap, either. Surprisingly, Bickford is not too keen on the purchasing and refurbishing of vintage planes; his theory being that the time spent rehabbing these planes, which often need a lot of work, could be spent making new ones, and that someone new to moulding planes can spend a lot of time and money trying to repair old tools that maybe are irreparable. I can agree with that to an extent, but it does lead back to my argument concerning the need for mass produced tools, but that is (was) another blog.
One place where we differ, and maybe where I differ with a lot of woodworkers, is the “level of tuning” that wood planes need. Bickford states that vintage planes need to be tuned to an extremely high level in order to perform properly, to the point that it led him to stop even trying and build his own. Though I can understand his want to make his own tools, I disagree that wood planes need massive tune-ups to work. I’m not saying that a plane shouldn’t be tuned to a high level, but I am saying that you shouldn’t purchase a 200 year old plane and expect it to work “like new”. These planes are going to have dings, minor variances, etc. I feel that as long as you get the iron sharp and the soles reasonably clean and shaped then that is enough for woodworking. I have a strong feeling that old-time woodworkers didn’t keep their tools insanely tuned, rather, I think they were very familiar with their tools and used them accordingly, understanding that some of their planes were not perfectly profiled; a sharp iron fixes a lot of minor problems, and it’s my guess that these guys simply kept their tools very sharp.
While I don’t necessarily use hand tools in order to “be unplugged” or to keep machines from taking the “soul” out of my work, I have heard, meaning read, many woodworkers say that they do. I do like hand tools because they offer a different, not necessarily better, level of control that power tools do. “A plane is just a jig for a chisel.” That is a favorite phrase of some hand tool woodworkers. If that is the case, and you are tuning that “jig” to a machine-like level of tolerance often times using machines to do it, aren’t you really just using a power tool in a different capacity? If you are, that is fine with me, but I think you lose the right to preach if you do it. That being said, I don’t believe that Bickford is preaching; I’m just making a general statement.
If I have just one minor quibble with the book it would be with the black and white photos. While this book isn’t photocentric, it does include some pictures of moulding planes in use, as well as furniture to illustrate some of the complex mouldings made with planes. I have nothing against black and white photographs, but I think that color photographs would have shown more detail. To take it a step further, I believe that sketches of the planes, furniture, and completed mouldings, a la Eric Sloane, may have worked even better. Even so, my complaint is very minor, and does not detract from the book in any way.
While I can’t say that every woodworker will enjoy this book, I highly recommend it to those interested in using moulding planes. It is hard for me to say if woodworkers everywhere would be interested in this topic as esoteric as moulding planes; this book is about as niche as it gets, then again, woodworking in general seems to be a niche topic. I do believe that this book could be beneficial to woodworkers looking to expand their knowledge of furniture construction, even if they never plan to pick up a moulding plane. But that is strictly an opinion. I can honestly say that even if I never decided to pick up a moulding plane I would still have been happy to have purchased and read this book. Why? Because I believe that reading it made me a better and more knowledgeable woodworker, and that’s about all I can ask a woodworking book to do.
I finally broke down and purchased a new pair of boxing gloves. My old gloves were old for a lack of a better word, and every time I used them my hands felt like I had spent twenty minutes punching a brick wall rather than a heavy bag. With spring finally springing, and prime woodworking months fast approaching, I’ve decided to start a new workout routine: Sunday afternoons heavy lifting followed by light boxing, Tuesday evening light lifting/light boxing, Wednesday afternoon heavy boxing, Thursday evening moderate lifting. This should leave me at least two Fridays and Saturdays per month to woodwork, as well as keep me in good enough shape to look half decent at the pool. Plus, when it comes down to it I’m a lot nicer guy when I pound on the heavy bag three days per week.