The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Success?

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Much of the time I’ve had lately to dedicate to woodworking has been dedicated to maintenance/repair work. Friday evening was no exception to the trend.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on the iron of my moving fillister plane. When I originally received the plane the iron was in fairly rough shape, and appeared to have been poorly ground (likely on a powered grinder). Though I was able to tune up the rest of the plane fairly well, the iron continued to give me problems. No matter what I did, and no matter how sharp I seemingly got the iron,  it would not hold the edge and continued to roll after minimal use. I then attempted something I rarely like to attempt, and I power grinded the iron. Admittedly I did this very carefully, too carefully it seems because while it improved the situation, it did not completely fix it. I came to the conclusion that the iron may have lost its temper, likely due to the previous owner’s poor grinding ability. My solution was to attempt a new tempering of the iron, and then Adam Maxwell stepped in.

For those of you who don’t know Adam Maxwell, I was introduced to him through this blog as well as Twitter. My first impressions of him through his profile photo were that he was either a mad scientist, or one of Gru’s real life minions. It turns out that he is a very knowledgeable woodworker, and though I don’t believe all of his fantastical claims concerning the fantastical prices he somehow pays for all of his vintage woodworking tools, I generally trust his judgment when it comes to woodworking. He suggested grinding down/back the iron 1/8 of an inch to expose new steel. Though I’m no metallurgist, that solution seemed sound to me, so last night I decided to give it a try.

I did not want to use a powered grinder again so as not to create an even bigger problem, so I turned to my usual sharpening method: coarse to fine diamond plate, 1000g and 8000g waterstones, and then leather stropping. I won’t describe the grinding/sharpening because it is boring, just know that it took me nearly 40 minutes to get the iron to where I wanted it to be, with much of that time spent on the diamond plates. My back was sore as well as my knees, but the iron looks much better, though not exactly perfect. I did get the iron ground back to where I felt it would work, I then made a test fillister.

The iron was sharp, but sharpness wasn’t really the problem; keeping the iron sharp was. I used a 1×6 piece of scrap pine, and the iron burned right through it beautifully. I immediately removed the iron from the plane body and thankfully found that it did not roll over. I know that one fillister on one piece of pine is not definitive proof, but I am happy with the result. The real test will be when I start my next project. Which I hope will be very soon. For the time being I just have to live with these small victories.

Success??

Success??

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7 Comments

  1. theindigowoodworker says:

    There’s nothing wrong with using a power grinder. You just have to be careful. Don’t force it, don’t let it get hot. Take your time. The advice you got to grind it back was spot on. The previous owner let it get hot and tempered the steel. The cure is indeed to grind it back to where it’s still hardened. There’s no reason to be afraid of using a power grinder. Simply let the grinder do the job and don’t force it and you’ll be fine. If you’re holding the steel in your hand and it gets warm back off, let it cool down or quench it. Dipping it in water will not ruin the blade. I promise.

    • billlattpa says:

      From what I understand, powered grinding (or at least hand cranked grinders) was how sharpening was basically done for hundreds of years because of the expensive and a lack of availability of sharpening stones. I’ve used powered grinders for years, but generally for less precise work than sharpening a woodworking plane (usually for grinding down bolts, making notches in metal plates, etc.)

      Woodworking irons have always seemed temperamental to me. To me, for a plane or chisel iron that is in reasonably good shape I can tune it up using just stones and the diamond plate without any need for a grinding wheel. I actually did use the grinding wheel on this iron last week. I should have taken a before picture to show what it looked like before hand. I think I did a pretty respectable job considering, because the last person who ground it had no idea what they were doing in my opinion. But I admit, I was afraid to do any more on the grinder. Hopefully what I did worked.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  2. Kees says:

    What Indigo sais. Grinding isn’t bad for an edge tool. A few things to avoid overheating. Use a coarse wheel, like 46 grit. Keep the wheel clean with a dresser. A light touch when grinding, and feel for warmth with your fingers just behind the edge, cool in water when neccesary.

    • billlattpa says:

      I did one powered grind, which went fairly well, but I was afraid to do anymore on this particular iron. But, if this edge doesn’t hold up (and I hope it does) I will attempt another regrind on the wheel. I have a “white” wheel, which supposedly keeps cooler.
      Part of me doesn’t like powered grinding in general, but I also don’t like hollow grinds for joinery planes. I prefer a flat grind, which I believe to be stronger and better suited to removing thicker/cross grain shavings. I could be wrong there, it’s just a guess. But if worse comes to worse I will attempt another regrind with the powered grinder.
      Thanks for the tips.
      Bill

  3. Kinderhook88 says:

    I’ve read about this in other places. The suggestion to grind it back has been made by others. I can’t speak from personal experience, but it certainly seems a more sensible approach than attempting to re-temper.

    • billlattpa says:

      It seemed to work; the edge held up much better. When I get a chance, I’m going to make a few more test fillisters and see how the iron looks. If it looks okay then I will re-hone it and call it a job well done. If not, I attempt another grind with the wheel and see what I end up with. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  4. Hope it keeps working, Bill! I’ve mainly run into this problem with edges that have been overheated by previous grinding, or with new old stock irons as I said on twitter. I made an infill mitre plane with a never-used Sheffield iron (Herring, I think), and it folded like cheap tinfoil until I ground it back (which was extremely discouraging). Same with a couple of NOS chisels.

    My understanding of the problem with NOS irons is that the old heat treating process burned out the carbon at the thin edge, so you need to grind it back to get into the good steel. That seems different to me from the case where you’ve blue-tempered it at the grinder accidentally, but I’m no metallurgist.

    As others have said, power grinding itself is fine _if_ you keep it cool enough through quenching or using a heat sink. Because I’m a cheap bastard, I use a gray 36-grit wheel on a 6″ hardware-store-quality grinder, dressed with an abrasive stick. This is all you need, although I’ve heard the white wheels are better. I strongly recommend Larry Williams’ video on sharpening, which taught me how not to screw up my tools on the grinder.

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