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Block plane notes.

My woodworking plans for the upcoming Spring include a 6-board blanket chest and a new bookcase. Last night, in a fit of boredom, I drew up the first rough sketch for the bookcase. Though it’s only a very rough outline, it at least gives me an idea on the basic outline of the case, and that can possibly be the most important aspect of a new design. The blanket chest is a simple matter, as I already know exactly the look and dimensions that I would like. It is now just a matter of building the thing. In the meanwhile, I planned on making a block plane from some maple blocks I picked up over the summer. The only thing holding me back was the iron. I love the irons offered by Hock tools; they are inexpensive and high quality. The only problem I have with them is the fact that a credit card is needed to place the order. I am at the point in my life where I want to eliminate credit debt, not add to it, and though the cost is very reasonable, I am trying to keep costs down in any way possible, and more importantly, not use a credit card unless there is no other choice. Just as I was about to put the block plane project on hold, my garage once again held all the answers.

I’ve had a Stanley block plane for years. It’s actually not a bad tool at all, but I never cared for the adjusting mechanism. I can’t recall using it much for making furniture, but at one time I used it quite a bit for electrical and carpentry work. Several years ago, I’m going to say 4 or 5, the plane iron was badly damaged on a nail. I probably could have reground the iron, but I instead purchased a replacement iron from Veritas. The Veritas iron is thicker, and though it is A2 steel (I don’t like A2 steel at all), it was fairly easy to sharpen, and it held a nice edge. The problem was that it never seemed to fit exactly as it should in the block plane. I wasn’t overly worried about it at the time, and it turned out that I found little need for that plane shortly after I purchased the replacement iron, so it went back into its case and sat on a shelf in a cabinet for several years without me paying much attention to it.

Yesterday after work I found myself in the garage puttering around, as my wife and daughter were at a Girl Scouts event of some kind, so I actually had a few hours to myself. I was getting some things organized when lo and behold I found my Stanley block plane sitting in its case in the cabinet where I left it however many years ago. I took the iron out and inspected it and found that it definitely needed to be sharpened. I decided to start on the back, as I can’t recall ever having flattening it. I once again used the diamond plate for the initial grinding, after which I used both the 1000 and 8000 grit water stones. I then did the same thing to the bevel. All in all it took roughly 10 minutes, but when it was finished the iron was razor sharp. At 1 1/2 inches wide it is perfectly sized for the block plane I would like to make. And though the iron isn’t specifically made for a wood plane, I can’t imagine that it would matter much, in particular since I didn’t plan on using a cap iron anyway. I will, however, likely need to make the plane bevel-up, so I may lower the angle from 45 to somewhere around 30 degrees. I will have to do some research there.

The good news is that even though we are in the middle of Winter and it’s freezing and I can’t make furniture, I think I can actually start making my block plane. I have something to do , in the woodworking sense, that will not only keep me occupied during the coldest month of the year; it won’t cost me a red nickel. For just this once I have nothing to complain about.

Could I turn this into a wood block plane?

Could I turn this into a wood block plane?

The iron is now razor sharp!

The iron is now razor sharp!

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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.

Getting Better

I have to admit, I managed to get in almost two hours of woodworking on Sunday without my wife going cray cray and getting all up in my grill about it. We spent a nice afternoon at Valley Forge National Park, which we visit frequently, and maybe that had something to do with the new recognition that her husband is a sovereign person who has been endowed by his Creator with certain Inalienable Rights. I just so happened to be inspired by the beautiful furniture in General Washington’s headquarters, so I felt the need to declare my independence from tyranny, oppression, and absolute despotism. Don’t misunderstand me; I only woodworked for about 90 minutes. If I had planned on starting a large project that would require 8 hours every weekend for the next 3 months I’m sure my proverbial King George III would have declared woodworking an act of treason and stationed his (her) proverbial troops at every corner of my garage.

Among all of this, I managed to get a decent amount of work finished on the wood smooth plane I am attempting to make. I started by laying out and routing the recess for the cap iron nut. I used a chisel to define the cut, an electric router to remove the bulk of the waste, and then a chisel again to finish it off. It didn’t turn out perfectly, but it is certainly good enough. With that finished I drilled out the holes for the dowel pin to hold the wedge using a ½ forstner bit, and then marked the cheeks of the plane for glue up, applying wax to all the areas of the plane I did not want to glue. To keep the cheeks in place and aligned during glue-up I drilled four ¼ inch holes for dowels.

I let the glue dry over-night, and when I got home from work I removed the clamps and sawed off the ends to remove the alignment dowels. Currently the plane is just about 11 inches in length. I’m looking for a finished length of roughly 9 ½ inches. I’ve noticed that wood smoothing planes often have a longer distance from the mouth to the front of the sole than a metal plane, at least in the examples I’ve seen. My plane will have 3 inches from front to mouth, which is very similar to the Stanley smooth plane. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure why wooden smooth planes tend to have a different set-up. I would think that a shorter distance from front to mouth would allow the plane to catch and remove more of the high spots on the board. I could be wrong; I’m learning as I go.

The next step will be cleaning off the wax with mineral spirits and the initial flattening of the sole. I will then make a wedge, give the plane a test run, and shape the plane to something that I hope looks nice. After I will give the plane a final true-up, and coat it with a few coats of linseed oil and wax. I’m thinking I have 2-3 hours more work left to finish it up, which should happen this coming weekend with a little luck.
So at least for the time being I managed to get in a little woodworking as well as write a few blog posts about it. While I would like to be doing much more, it’s better than the alternative. Hopefully, this means that my situation on the woodworking front is looking a little better.

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Do you want to know a secret?

There are certain things in life that are exciting just because they are taboo, from tobacco, to alcohol, to women. I never thought that woodworking would make that list, but for me it has. A few months back I had picked up a few Ash and Bubinga boards with the intention of turning them into a smoothing plane over the summer. Of course, my woodworking plans were hijacked by an angry wife waging her own jihad against me and my hobby. But, over the course of an hour or so this past Sunday morning I managed to sneak in a little clandestine woodworking while my wife was out.

Like a member of the French Resistance, I kept up the front of being a fully capitulated citizen of my house, completely accepting the loss of my freedom, and fully okay with the enemy occupation of my dreams. Secretly I raged inside, ready to woodwork at the first given opportunity, and to remind myself that even though I was a prisoner, my heart could not be swayed. So when the opportunity arose I seized it!

Unfortunately there isn’t much else to tell as I did not get much accomplished. The Ash board I am working with is remarkably straight-grained, flat, and square, and there was very little I needed to do in order to prepare the wood. I sawed the “frog” board at 45 degrees, and the ramp board at around 60 degrees using my table saw. Because the wood is in such good condition, the saw cuts came out perfectly, and I needed to do nothing else but lightly sand both ramps using a sheet of 150 grit sand paper on my table saw bed. I then took the Bubinga board which I am using for the cheeks and cut it in half with a backsaw. I decided to end it at that, as I want the newly sawn wood to sit for at least a few more days before I mess with it again.

a future plane

a future plane

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It’s surprisingly easy to make a functioning hand plane out of wood. Of course there are levels to how highly functioning that plane will be, and that part lies in the skill of the maker. But just about anybody can make a jack or scrub plane. The most difficult part for me will be making the recess for the cap iron nut. On the last plane I made I did it with a chisel and a router plane, and though it turned out just fine it took quite a while to fine tune the recess to where I wanted it to be. This time I think I will define the rebate with a chisel, remove the bulk of the waste with an electric router, and clean it up once again using a chisel.

I also plan on attempting some fancy curves. The last two planes I made work just fine, but they have a utilitarian look to them. I think this time I would like to try something new. As of now the plane sits at just over a foot long. After all is said and done I’m hoping for a plane 9 inches in length. If all goes well I should have the recess cut out and the plane glued up this coming Sunday. The fancy curves will have to wait until the following week. That is unless the gestapo my wife finds out.

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.

The Hock Block is Finished!

My Sam Elliot mustache is coming along nicely

My Sam Elliot mustache is coming along nicely

Today, I decided to finish my Hock Block Plane and also clean up the shop/garage. Today was a perfect day for both because it is sunny and warmer than usual for this time of year, which is all about to change in just a few hours. I started on the block plane by trimming the front and back using the compound miter saw, the second time I’ve used it fairly recently. It’s a tool that may make it’s way into my woodworking one day. Next I planed the top flat and sanded it with a flat sheet on my table saw wing, the same way I flattened the bottom when I originally made the plane. I then cleaned the plane with some mineral spirits that I finally picked up over the weekend. With that accomplished I cut the wedge the length using a backsaw, and then rounded the edges with some sandpaper, and finally used the table saw wing yet again to give it an overall light sanding. With the plane sanded, cleaned, and dried I added a coating of boiled linseed oil. I had planned on using wax, at the recommendation of another woodworker, but because I already had the linseed oil in my shop I went with that. The Bubinga turned out beautifully.

I fiddled with the plane after the linseed oil dried, messing with it to take lighter and heavier shavings. Good news is that even though I’m the world’s foremost amateur when it comes to wooden planes, it didn’t take me long to make minor adjustments to change the setting. A light tap on the back with a small tack hammer I have made the shavings finer, a light tap on the iron made them heavier. I have it set now to take whisper thin shavings, which is amazing in itself because not only is this my first wooden plane, but I also made it and trued it myself. I would have measured them with a micrometer if I had one, but since I’m not an anal nutbag I don’t. Anyway, It is the perfect tool to add a chamfer or roundover, which is all I usually ask a block plane to do. And it looks pretty great too. I think I will add one more light coat of linseed oil and call it finished.

This was a truly satisfying project. In a relatively short time I made a working tool that looks great and I didn’t spend a fortune to do it. I cannot recommend this kit more to somebody who is looking to attempt a plane build. Believe me when I say that I am no hand plane expert and even I got this little guy working like a champ. I enjoyed making it so much that I am saving my pennies to purchase another Hock plane kit. And I may even order another block plane kit and make one for my daughter so she can make her own “curlies.” Again, I can’t say enough about this kit. Give it a try and I bet that you will be happy that you did.

Granpa and junior

Granpa and junior

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Just a little guy, but he works..

Just a little guy, but he works..

You too! Can make a (Hock) block plane…

Finally got my bookcase in the living room!

Finally got my bookcase in the living room!

A working block plane

A working block plane

Making shavings

Making shavings

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Plane dry fit

Plane dry fit

Sharpened plane iron

Sharpened plane iron

Computer workbench

Computer workbench

Hock Block Plane Kit

Hock Block Plane Kit

After running some errands today, I decided to give my Ron Hock Block Plane Kit a try. So I brought a piece of plywood, some clamps, a mallet, a back saw, and some bees wax and set up a mini workstation right at the computer desk. The reason I did all of this is because I wanted to watch the video on the Hock Tools website while I constructed the plane. The plane did come with instructions and they are pretty clear, but I’m not necessarily an instructions kind of guy, at least when it comes woodworking. This is one of the reasons I rarely follow woodworking plans. In woodworking everybody does their thing just a little bit different, and if I follow plans to the letter and come to a point where I do something a little bit different than the plan says to do it I usually end up a little upset. I try not to get a little upset when I woodwork; I don’t always succeed, but I try.

The kit itself comes the front, back, and side pieces pre-milled from a piece of Bubinga. It also includes the cross dowel, a small dowel pin for initial lining up of the plane, and a Hock plane iron. The iron itself is about an inch wide and twice as long. I would call it cute, if cute was a word that you used in woodworking. I watched the video and followed the instructor closely, using the piece of plywood as my flat reference surface and ersatz workbench. I lined up the back, front, and sides of the plane and after checking to make sure the bottom was flush and the mouth distance was correct, I drilled 1/8″ holes and inserted small cuts of the tiny dowel in the holes to keep the plane alligned, and dry assembled the plane. After I was satisfied I waxed all of the areas that wouldn’t be glued, disassembled the plane, and glued it up. While the plane was drying I headed into the garage the sharpen the iron.

The Hock plane iron sharpened beautifully. I first flattened the back on a 1000 grit water stone, and then the iron. I use the Veritas sharpening system (the original one) After less than ten minutes I had the bevel ground to where I wanted it. I then used the 8000 grit stone to add a secondary bevel. I got the iron razor sharp in less than 15 minutes. Had I used a powered grinder, or if I was a better sharpener, maybe it would have went even more quickly.

After the glue was dry I brought the plane down into the garage to flatten the sole. At this point I was supposed to remove the wax with mineral spirits, but sadly I didn’t have any. Rather, I placed a sheet of 60 grit sand paper on my table saw wing and started the flattening process. I progressed up to 220 grit and after a few minutes the sole was looking good. The last major operation was opening the mouth of the plane and trimming the wedge to fit. To trim the wedge I used my Jack plane and the open the mouth I used a file. I probably opened the mouth a hair too wide but after a little fiddling with the wedge I had the plane taking full length shavings from the side of a scrap piece of pine. The video recommends shaping the plane to final fit using a band saw and sanding station, two tools I don’t own. I will figure something out to get it shaped up. After I get the rest of the wax off I will probably apply a few coats of linseed oil.

This was truly a fun project. After about two hours I have working block plane with a really nice blade. If I can use it simply to make chamfers and do some trimming I will be happy. I said it before, I’m not a tool maker, but this kit makes me want to try another of Ron Hock’s plane builds. I am pretty impressed and would recommend it to anybody who wants to attempt making their first hand plane. It was really satisfying and inexpensive. I think I know what I want for my birthday.

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