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A Plane Review

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.

E.C. Emmerich Rabbet plane. Note the large wedge.

E.C. Emmerich Rabbet plane. Note the large wedge.

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.

A crisp, clean rabbet. Note the strike point on the back of the plane.

A crisp, clean rabbet. Note the strike point on the back of the plane.

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.

Coney Plane

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.

E.C. Emmerich Rabbet plane

E.C. Emmerich Rabbet plane

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View of the sole

View of the sole

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.

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.

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Got to get you into my life

Last week a coworker asked if he could borrow one of my handplanes to add a back-bevel to a new door he had installed. I figured that my #7 would be the best tool for the job, so I inspected it to make sure the iron was sharp before I lent it out. I noticed that the plane had a bit of a neglected look to it. It was a little dusty, there was some grime on it along with a few spotty patches, and I also noticed that I hadn’t ever cleaned up the handle of the plane like I had planned on doing. The truth was that I hadn’t used it in a while, and it was about time to reintroduce myself to old #7.

My friend returned the plane letting me know that it had worked perfectly, and I gladly took it back, like finding an old friend again. I decided that I would give the plane a good cleaning and work on the handle a little over the weekend, so that’s what I did. On Friday night after work I took the plane apart, removing the tote and knob, the frog, and every screw and washer. I soaked the frog and all of the hardware in WD40. There was quite a bit of grime on the plane, a combination of oil, dirt, and wood dust. So on Saturday morning I filled a bucket with soap and water and gave the plane body a good bath, scrubbing every inch of it with the brush I normally use to clean my car’s tires. Once I was satisfied with the outcome I wiped the plane dry, used some q-tips to clean out any of the threads, and then wiped the entire body with oil.

I used sand blocks on the iron, cap, and chip breaker, removing any build-up and polishing them up. When finished I oiled those parts as well. I let the hardware soak for one more night, and early this morning I cleaned the parts with an old tooth brush, as well as filed away any burrs that I could feel. With those parts clean I turned to the plane handle.

Handle before the cleaning/sanding

Handle before the cleaning/sanding

The handle didn’t necessarily look all that bad, but I had always planned on getting it back into shape. Firstly, I wiped the handle with lacquer thinner, and found it much dirtier than I had thought it was. Then I hand sanded it with 100/150/220/320 grit paper. I added one heavy coat of boiled linseed oil, wiped off the excess after a few minutes, and then let it dry for about six hours. After it was dry I added a coat of paste wax, letting it set, then buffing it off.

Putting some muscle into the cleaning

Putting some muscle into the cleaning

Looking cleaner, and better.

Looking cleaner, and better.

Closer view of the handle and adjuster

Closer view of the handle and adjuster

Overall view of the #7. It looks cleaner and more inviting.

Overall view of the #7. It looks cleaner and more inviting.

I have to say that I’m very satisfied with the outcome, and I’m glad I took the time to do the clean-up. The only disappointing part is the front knob. When I first purchased the plane the knob was in rough shape, so I removed it and sanded it down, and wiped it with three coats of polyurethane. While it didn’t look awful, it did darken the knob. Next weekend if I get a chance I will see if I can get the same results as I did with the handle.

In other news, Lee Valley was running a limited time offer for a small set of carving chisels, so I bit, spent the $60, and ordered them in. I don’t do much carving, almost none really, but the set seemed to be a good value, and considering that I had only one carving chisel, it would be pretty difficult to become any better at it without the correct tools. The set was advertised as already “sharp”, but in reality are simply “not dull”. I don’t own slipstones, so I will have to make do and learn to sharpen them on the fly with what I have. The handles are overly lacquered, and if somebody lit a match near them I wouldn’t be surprised if they went all Gaylord Fokker and burst into flames. But, they seem to be very well made, and the steel appears to be of good quality. Furthermore, the chisels arrived just three days after I placed the order. I wouldn’t have cared if they had taken two weeks to come in, but, that quick ship time does show me that Lee Valley has top-notch customer service. I’ve spent many years dealing with tool vendors as part of my job, and Lee Valley has been among the very best of the lot time and time again.

Lee Valley carving chisel set

Lee Valley carving chisel set

I also picked up some maple and bubinga which I hope to turn into a block plane or two, one for myself and one for a Christmas gift. At that, I believe that I have decided on my next project, though I won’t get into any details for fear of jinxing it. I’ll just say that it’s a small, but nice piece of furniture.

Future block planes

Future block planes

A Hard Day’s Night

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.

Wedge layout

Wedge layout

Splitting the wedge to the first saw kerf

Splitting the wedge to the first saw kerf

The splitting finished

The splitting finished

Wedge front roughly shaped

Wedge front roughly shaped

Starting to shape the back of the wedge

Starting to shape the back of the wedge

Wedge removed still in the rough

Wedge removed still in the rough

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.

First shavings

First shavings

Finished wedge, needs some sanding

Finished wedge, needs some sanding

A working plane

A working plane

Sanded down with two coats of linseed oil. A coat of wax will finish it off

Sanded down with two coats of linseed oil. A coat of wax will finish it off

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.

 

 

I’m the Rabbet!

A few days ago I purchased a ½” wood rabbeting plane from Ebay. The item looked to be in good condition from the photos, the seller had an excellent reputation as far as Ebay is concerned, and the offer of $45.00 and free shipping I felt was very reasonable, so I took a chance and ordered it. The plane arrived last night-FYI in just 2 days-and has thus far exceeded my expectations. The plane is clean with no rust, the depth stop works smoothly, and most importantly, the iron is in fantastic shape at first glance. Though the iron looks like it hasn’t been sharpened in some time, it is clean and the edge is very straight. I am just guessing, but I think that whomever originally owned the plane only sharpened using a stone and not a grinding wheel of any kind. I’m not a fan of grinding wheels for sharpening, so to me that is a big plus.

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I don’t know much about wood plane rehab, but I plan on giving the iron a good honing, removing the depth stop and cleaning it with Brasso, and giving the body a light cleaning with mineral spirits, followed by a coat of linseed oil and a few coats of wax. I checked the sole and found it very flat, so I will not touch it unless I notice a problem during use.

I purchased the plane because I like wooden planes, and because I would like to start making rabbets by hand when possible, in particular when it is only a small section. So this is basically just an experiment, and one I don’t feel badly in attempting because at worst it will only have cost me $45.00. I saw some nice deals on other planes as well and if all goes well I’ll order another. Funny, though I am hardly a traditionalist I seem to like wood planes better. I have no explanation, other than the fact that I like them. Who knew?

A plane makers paradox.

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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.

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