The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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N.O.S

Like many woodworkers, I do most of my straight ripping on a table saw, but a rip-filed hand saw is invaluable for making cuts that aren’t straight, for instance when making a large wedge. I have an old rip filed saw that needs nothing short of surgery to get it working again, so a few weeks back I purchased a Sandvik rip-filed hand saw from Ebay. The item was listed as “New old stock”, meaning that it was an old item that had never been sold (just in case you couldn’t figure that one out for yourselves). The saw arrived in brand new condition; in actuality I was quite surprised at its condition, because sometimes NOS items show up looking a little neglected. In any case, the saw looked great, and somehow vaguely familiar.
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I know next to nothing about Sandvik tools, and I have no idea how old this saw really is. It could be 5 years or it could be 25, I’m just not sure. I checked out Sandvik on the internet and it turns out they make construction equipment in Sweden. There is no indication that they make woodworking tools, nor is there any indicator on the tool itself that I can see which shows any manufacturing date. Either way, I’m not complaining, because so far it seems like I got a very high quality tool for under $80. Yet I still couldn’t figure out where I saw this tool before.

Serendipity is a strange thing, but just the other day a coworker had asked me if I had heard of Disston Saw Works. Being a woodworker, and being a native of Philadelphia, I told him that I knew the company well. Disston still exists, actually, though they make industrial saws now rather than saws for woodworking. But out of curiosity I went on the Disston web page and discovered something I did not know: Disston sold its hand saw division in 1978 to, you guessed it, Sandvik. Apparently Sandvik did not keep the division and at some point in the 1980s it was disbanded. But, one plus one clicked, and it dawned on me at that very moment that I had seen my rip saw before, it looked remarkably similar to a 1950s model Disston that I saw at flea market tool sale. So once again I did a little research and the 1953 D-12 model, while hardly identical, is close enough to indicate at the very least a common background. If they ain’t brothers they’re sure as heck cousins.

Long lost brothers?

Long lost brothers?

So l learned something new, which is something I try to do each and every day. It’s a shame that makers like Disston, or Sandvik, no longer offer hand saws for woodworkers, because we all know that Disston made some of the best hand saws you will ever see, and if my Sandvik is any indication, they weren’t too shabby either. Luckily, some other makers have taken up the slack and still offer high quality tools.

My sense of nostalgia comes and goes. I’ve always wanted to have the experience of flying in a B-17 bomber, or ride a horse to work, or build a bridge by hand. I’m not saying I want to relive those eras, just experience them for myself. But it’s funny, because even though I can order a high quality panel saw from Lie Nielsen or E. Garlick and Sons, one of my nostalgic wish list items was to use a new Disston hand saw. And though this Sandvik may not be the same thing, I think it’s about as close as I’m ever going to get.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good…

I found myself in somewhat of a strange circumstance this evening; I was in my garage and it was woodworking related. Normally, I go to the gym on Wednesday nights. This night, however, I went into my garage for a little tool maintenance, and for good reason. I’ve finally decided to start my next furniture project, which will be a painted blanket chest. I’m hoping to pick up the material in a few weeks, likely poplar but possibly birch plywood, and start the construction the week before the 4th of July. I have a few days off from work with nothing major planned, so I should be able to get the project up and running. So I decided to get a head start and get some more tools sharpened, including a little more work on the iron of the moving fillister plane.

To get the ball rolling, I honed the iron of my block plane, jointer plane, rabbet plane, and a few chisels. All of those tools were in pretty good shape to begin with, but I wanted to be certain that they would be ready to go without delays. I gave them a few passes on the 8000 grit stone, and then stropped them. As far as stropping is concerned, I’m fairly new to it. A few months back I ordered a few carving chisels from Lee Valley as well as a sharpening kit which included a slip stone, leather, and some honing compound. Stropping has been a revelation. With just a few extra passes chisels and plane irons go from sharp to razor sharp. I strop free-hand; I’m not sure it can be done with a guide (at least not my set-up), but it is dead easy and a guide should not be needed. Nevertheless, stropping has become part of my sharpening routine and I’m sorry I didn’t start doing it sooner.

Charged leather ready for stropping

Charged leather ready for stropping

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A stropped chisel razor sharp. The orange color is the reflection of a poster on my wall


The Bad…

There was a reason I was in my garage tonight and not at the gym like I usually would be. It started approximately six years ago, when I found out I had a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder. One day I had my little girl at a creek skipping stones across, the same evening it felt like somebody had stabbed me in the shoulder with an awl. After a few days of excruciating pain and a few sleepless nights I finally went to a doctor to get looked at. He told me the bad news, many years of playing baseball and repetitive lifting had worn down my shoulder. I was told to rest it for a few weeks, slowly build back the strength with some light exercise, and go from there. I did just that and haven’t had any major problems since, that is until last Friday night at the gym when I heard a loud “pop”. My shoulder began to tingle, then ache, and I knew right away that I had aggravated the old injury. There is nothing I can do but take it easy for a few days, so that is what I am doing. It feels better already, so I am not overly concerned. The next test will be a return to the gym.

The Ugly…

When I mentioned honing some of my tools, I left off the moving fillister iron. In truth, it was the first iron I honed. For the last several weeks I’ve been working with my moving fillister plane because I would like to use it on my next project. I’ve been having trouble getting the iron to hold and edge, so tonight I gave it a light honing (though it shouldn’t have really needed it) and stropped it. I put it to work on the same piece of scrap walnut I tested on the last time I was in the garage. It produced a nice fillister, so I took the iron out to examine it and found that the edge had rolled (again). I gave it another honing, did another test, and had the same results. I’m not sure if the iron needs to be tempered, but I am willing to give it a try even though I know very little about the process. In any event, if I cannot get the current iron back into shape I will either need to attempt to find a replacement, or purchase a new (as in brand new) moving fillister plane. I’m not looking forward to either solution, but I like the fillister plane so I will do what I must. Nobody said woodworking was always pretty.

My last clean fillister?

My last clean fillister?

Are hand tools holding me back?

Like many new woodworkers who started within the past ten years, I began woodworking using hand tools. My choice of implements had a lot less to do with tradition and a lot more to do with practicality. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy the tradition of hand tools and what it stands for, but as many of you heard me say many times before, my garage is just far too small to house a power tool woodworking shop.

Of course I have a table saw and a router, and with a few jigs you can make a lot of things out of wood with just those two tools. But because I don’t really care for routers all that much, the table saw is the only power tool that I use on a regular basis while woodworking. To me, a power-tool-centric woodworking shop needs to have the aforementioned router and table saw, as well as a jointer table, and oscillating sanding station of some type, and most importantly: a band saw. Of course there are other tools I could mention, but those to me are among the most important.

As I said before, I barely have enough room in my garage for what I have now, let alone two or three more stand alone machines; so hand tools are what I work with. Of course I like working with hand tools, and I have my favorites, one of those being the moving fillister plane. Of all the hand planes out there, and there are a plethora of them, the moving fillister for some reason to me looks the most like a woodworking tool (the coffin smoother is a close second). However, my favorite plane also caused me to rethink a few things, and it prompted me to write this post.

My favorite plane

My favorite plane

Today was a rare day for me, as I actually had a few hours to myself this morning to use at my leisure, so I decided to get in a little woodworking. Because I am not starting a new furniture project, I planned on finally finishing my infamous little chisel rack, as well as doing what most hand tool users do during downtime and perform a little PM on a my fillister plane.

Since I’ve had this plane I spent a lot of time with it. The plane has been disassembled, cleaned, flattened, and tuned many times. For its age it is in fantastic shape except in the most important place, the iron. When I received the plane the iron was looking pretty rough, as in whomever owned the plane before me didn’t know a thing about sharpening. And though I managed to get an edge on the iron, I couldn’t get it to hold one. So I did something that I do not like doing and used a power grinder to reshape the bevel.

A clean flllister

A clean fillister

I took my time, reground the bevel, and then went to the sharpening stones to finish the job. Once I got an edge that looked satisfactory, I did a few test fillisters, cleaned and waxed the plane, and called it finished. The iron held up okay, though I will need to hone it again before I put it to use. All in all it took me around an hour, which does not include flattening my water stones after I used them. After that was over I turned my attention to the chisel rack I had made a few weeks ago. The only thing needed to be done on that front was attaching the cleats, coating the rack with linseed oil, and installing it over the bench. I can’t say that rack represents my best work, but it puts my chisels and other hand tools right at eye-level and arms reach where I want them to be.

tool rack installed.

tool rack installed.

Once the rack was installed I got the garage cleaned up, reality set in, and I had places to go and things to do. I spent a shade over two hours woodworking, if what I did today can be considered woodworking. It occurred to me that more than half of the time I spent woodworking was tool maintenance. By its very nature hand tool work requires maintenance of tools, and that can be a real problem for someone like me considering that my current situation will allow me only a few hours per week to spend on woodworking. In other words, days like today will be the norm around here for the foreseeable future. Had I my theoretical small power tool shop in place I could have easily started a new project and made a decent amount of progress in just a few hours. Hand tools are unforgiving in that aspect, because they take time to properly maintain. So I’m wondering if a woodworker like myself, with a very limited timeframe to woodwork, would be better served by switching to power tools? I know that is easier said than done, as I’ve mentioned many times, my garage layout is not power tool friendly.

On the other hand, what else am I doing? At this pace I won’t be building any real furniture any time soon. Maybe a good idea would be to figure out a way to incorporate some power tools into my garage. The bottom line is that I want to make furniture, I miss making furniture, and what I’m doing now isn’t working. And if what I’m doing isn’t working, it’s getting near past the time to try something else.

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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Freebird

I freely admit that I use a honing guide when sharpening.

That wasn’t always the case, however. When I first became an electrician I picked up a block plane and a set of Stanley butt chisels which I used mainly for notching out framing lumber to run wire etc. Chisels don’t necessarily need to be razor sharp for notching 2×4’s, but I did purchase a basic oil stone for the chisels, as well as my block plane(which I still have), and usually if I got bored I would sharpen the chisels, freehand. I can’t tell you how well I did because I’m not all that sure. I remember getting the chisels sharp enough to work, and that’s all I was really concerned with at the time. Sadly, I don’t have those chisels anymore(I haven’t seen them in at least ten years), so I have no frame of reference to how well the edges look to my more refined eye.

When I started woodworking and finally purchased a decent set of chisels, I read dozens, if not hundreds of articles on how to sharpen both chisels and plane irons. They went in depth concerning consistency and bevel angles. Many of the articles made mention of the ease at which a chisel or plane iron could be ruined, or at least badly damaged, by inconsistent methods of sharpening, and most recommended using a honing guide to produce the needed consistent results to obtain a tool sharp enough for woodworking. That all seemed to make sense, and as most honing guides are relatively inexpensive, I purchased one and haven’t looked back.

For the past few months, I’ve been volunteering at Valley Forge National Park with a group that builds and maintains the replica log huts that the Continental Army used as living and working quarters during the winter of 1777-1778. It’s been fun and rewarding work. Generally, the Park Service provides us with all of the tools and equipment needed for the job, but being familiar with my own tools, I often bring a small set of my own carpentry tools, including chisels(not my woodworking chisels), block plane, my own homemade jointer plane, and saws. Because the sessions start early on Saturday morning, and because I usually work late on Fridays, I would often throw my tools in the tool box on Friday night after work and leave them at the front door so I can grab them and go on Saturday.

After my first session of volunteering, I noticed that my carpentry chisels and old Stanley block plane needed to be sharpened. The chisels are new in the sense that though they are roughly 8 years old, they’ve been used very little and I do not remember ever having sharpened them. The block plane, my first block plane, actually held up well. It is at least 12 years old, any my original hand honed edge didn’t look so bad. Usually my problem is time, as in I just don’t have all day to spend honing  and sharpening tools, so for the past three volunteer sessions I would grab the tools I was planning to use, give them a quick honing free-hand, and use them at the park. I didn’t think anything of this until last weekend when I free-hand honed the Hock plane iron
that I use in my homemade jointer. I spent roughly 3 minutes on it, and it honestly produced the best, most consistent shavings I’ve ever seen.

When I sharpened the jointer iron, I placed the bevel flat on a 1000 grit stone, honed it for roughly a minute, switched to the 8000 grit stone and did the same. I then added a micro-bevel and honed off the burr. At first glance, the edge did not appear as crisp as an edge produced with the honing guide, but that hardly mattered; the iron was razor sharp. I took a few practice swipes and it confirmed what I could feel. I then honed the irons for my jack plane and little wood bodied block plane using the same technique. Both performed beautifully, they just didn’t look as nice as the edge that a honing guide produces, and I think that the nice edge was part of the problem; I was more concerned with the look of the edge than the actual feel of it.

When I sharpen with a honing guide, I check for an even appearance at the edge, as well as feel with my fingers for “sharp”. By hand, I go by the feel of the iron alone. At that, I do look at the iron to make sure it is wearing evenly, but I don’t overly concern myself with it. I also slightly camber each side. I’ve found it very easy, and my conclusion is that free hand honing plane irons is for the most part easier and quicker than using a guide. It’s my opinion that bench plane irons work better with a slightly uneven edge (when I say ‘slightly uneven’ I do mean slight). Chisels, are a bit of a different matter.

I’ve been able to get a pretty good edge on my chisels sharpening free hand, but they seem to sharpen better with a guide. That could just be the result of my sharpening technique, as well as the fact that the longer, thinner iron of a chisel is not as easy to balance on a sharpening stone as a bench plane iron. Whatever the case, I will likely continue to sharpen most of my chisels using a honing guide, as it’s always done a nice job and there is really not much of a need to change.

On the other hand, I think I will sharpen my bench plane irons free hand (for the most part) from now on. I think the results are better, and it is somewhat easier than using a guide. It seems to me that having an edge that isn’t perfectly square across works better for a bench plane. There could be a scientific explanation for why this is the case; I don’t really need to know why, though, I’ll let the woodworking geniuses worry about it. The results are all I care about.

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.

 

 

Happiness is a sharp chisel.

Yesterday afternoon I managed to get in a little more work on my plane while the cat was away. Before I started, something had been bothering me that I decided to look at, and that was the holes I drilled into the cheeks of the plane for the cross-pin dowel. On the previous planes I had made, I started by squaring up the cheek stock to the body stock used for the back half of the plane. I would then mark the spot for the dowel hole, and drill out both pieces simultaneously using a drill press. That plan was the very same plan I had in mind for this plane, but then I did something foolish. I drilled out the first hole, and during the middle of the process noticed that the second cheek had some tear out at the back. Rather than finishing the drill out and then cleaning up the board, I sawed off a bit of the end, and without compensating for the sawed off difference, drilled out the second dowel hole. The result left me dowel holes that were out of line by nearly 1/16 of an inch, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot until you attempt to push a half-inch oak dowel through it. Nevertheless, I managed to get the dowel through, which leaves me a slightly crooked cross-pin. How this will affect the adjusting/wedge, or the overall usefulness of the tool I’m not exactly sure yet, but, live and learn.

Rather than despair, I continued working on the plane. First thing I did was clamp the body down and plane down the sole to get it flat; ironically I used a smooth plane for this. It really only needed a few passes before it was finished. I then used sheets of sandpaper and my tablesaw bed, starting at 60 grit and working up to 150. The plane sole is now nice and flat, though I will still do some more sanding before I call it completely finished. I want to hold off on the final sanding until the wedge is fit; I will then finish it using 220 and 400 grits.

Trueing the sole

Trueing the sole

The marks tell you when it's flat

The marks tell you when it’s flat


After I was happy with the flatness of the sole, I decided to try and attempt some initial shaping of the plane. I don’t own a band saw, so I traced out a shape using some French curves and attempted to use a jigsaw to shape the plane. I quickly found that the jigsaw was not an option, so I turned to spokeshave, rasp, block plane, and chisels. I had only a basic outline in mind at first, so the shaping was really just a trial and error process. After roughly 30 minutes I managed to achieve a fairly decent shape/curve. I don’t want the plane to look overly machined, so I got the front shaped to a look that seems pleasing and left it at that. At that I called it a night.

Saturday, after work, and running some errands, I decided on a little late evening woodworking. For the back section of the plane I was going for a more pronounced curve, so I got out my 1 1/4″ chisel and started pounding out the shape. I progressed from the large chisel to smaller chisels as I needed. I also used the block plane for some of the initial shaping, and then finally the spokeshave to clean it all up. I was attempting to achieve a graceful front to back curve, as well as a more subtle side-to-side arc. In around 45 minutes I had the carving portion finished; I then spent around 15 minutes hand sanding. I like how the plane looks: graceful, yet still made by hand. More impressively, my lovely wife actually spent a few minutes with me while all of this was going on. She was quite impressed that I knew how to carve, and she liked the contrast of the light and dark woods on the plane itself. Today, I hope to finish the wedge and make the first test shavings.

Right side angle

Right side angle

Other side

Other side

Full length

Full length

Carving and shaping tools

Carving and shaping tools

I don’t necessarily know the reasons, but I like making planes. I need to make more, many more, before I can call myself good at it, but I am improving. I have a construction technique down, now I just have to perfect it. But planes are fun to build. The material is generally reasonably priced, and you only need basic hand and power tools to get it done. With a handful of sharp chisels, a spokeshave, a table saw, and a block plane most woodworkers can make a handplane. And, more importantly, if you are a handplane user, I can’t think of a better way of learning how to use a plane than to make one of your own.

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