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It had been two weeks since I’ve woodworked, and truthfully I hadn’t planned on woodworking this past weekend, either. My little hiatus was once again due to the weather, and somewhat less due to the fact that I needed a little break. Still, I had some things planned, and the weather changed for the better, so I decided to get to them.
First thing was making a new tool rack for the left side of my workbench wall. That was easy, just a little time consuming, but the mission was accomplished, and now nearly all of my woodworking tools are hung up, visible, and out of the way. An added bonus was the removal of the chisel rack I had made to hang in my window. I hated that rack; not that it didn’t work; but making it was brutally tedious and the process honestly made me want to quit woodworking permanently. I didn’t throw away that rack, though. I kept it perhaps as a reminder of a lesson that it taught me: There are certain things you should build yourself and there are certain things you should purchase, and that rack was something I should have purchased.
Tool rack is finished…
Today brought with it the nicest weather we’ve had in almost 6 months. I wanted to make a piece of doll furniture with my daughter, but it turns out that she had an event scheduled with her Girl Scout troop (that is a solemn oath they swear). Instead, I prepped all of the material and sawed most of it to length. However, I want her to assemble it herself, so that part will have to wait for another time.
In other news, I came into a little woodworking fun money a few weeks back when I had a tip published in Popular Woodworking Magazine. I made a New Year’s “Resolution” to not purchase any new tools for at least 6 months, and I plan on sticking to that promise. But my resolution did not include used or vintage tools. I came across a Record 043 plow plane, the price was just $4.00 more than the money I received for the tip, so I purchased it. The plane arrived in surprisingly good condition, and for that I was thankful. There was a little rust, some grime, and a few paint marks, but otherwise all of the hardware was flawless and the irons were in terrific shape. I soaked everything in a citric acid solution this morning, ran some errands, and returned home to finish the scrubbing, which took just a few minutes to complete. I then turned my attention to the irons.
Plane as it arrived…
The plane included 3 irons, which I’ll call 1/8th, 3/16th, 1/4 inch (they’re actually in metric but you all know how I loathe the metric system). I started with the largest first, because it seemed easiest. Generally, I sharpen free hand, but in this case I used the Veritas guide because it seemed it would be awkward otherwise, not to mention the fact that the iron had a very minor skew to it that I wanted to fix. Happily, the iron worked brilliantly. I stared with the bevel side using a coarse then fine diamond stone, 1000/8000 grit water stones, and finishing it with the leather strop. I then worked the back, which again was mercifully easy. It was a pleasure to sharpen the iron, and I was so excited that I decided to reassemble the plane immediately and give it a test run. The tool did not disappoint. Being that this was the first ever time that I’ve used an actual plow plane I was very happy with the results; in seconds I made a straight groove and the ribbons were flying. Adjusting the tool was easy on all counts. If I have one gripe it is the size. This is a “small plow” so I’m not overly surprised that it is, in fact, small. But it is a bit small for my hands, though nothing I cannot get used to in time.
Cleaned, assembled, and ready for action…
View of the cleaned up depth stop…
First test groove…
So the last task of the day was clean up, and that was easy. My new wall rack proved its worth in less than 24 hours. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve nearly maxed out the space in my garage for woodworking, and there is little more I can do. I have one other spot that I would like to toy around with, but otherwise I’m at the end. I’m actually pretty happy with the set-up for the most part. There are at least a dozen things that I would love to do, but that will have to be for the next house. I can live with what I have right now and that is all I can ask.
So this weekend back to woodworking turned out to be a decent one. I got my workspace better organized without getting frustrated, and I brought an old tool back to life. Maybe I didn’t make an heirloom piece of furniture, but at this point I’ll take what I can get.
Now that 2015 is finally over, I will say that it was a bit of a tough year for my family. That being said, I will no longer dwell on it.
As far as woodworking was concerned last year, I built less, I blogged less and perhaps grew less as a woodworker than I had in prior years. It was not for lack of desire, but more the culmination of a crumby year. But it’s over.
Thankfully we had a nice holiday season, and hopefully that will serve as a springboard to better times. Being that I’m no longer a kid, I don’t receive many or expect to receive many Christmas gifts (nor should I), but to my surprise my Father-in-Law gave me in a wrapped box some of his grandfather’s woodworking tools: A PS&W 10 inch brace, a set of Irwin augers #4-16, a Tryon’s block plane, and a Sargent no 3415 transitional jack plane. It was quite honestly one of the most thoughtful presents I’ve ever received. Because I had the week off from work, I got to the restoration process.
The tools, having sat in a basement probably for fifty years, were not in great shape, but they weren’t in horrible shape either. The first thing I did was take apart the planes and brace and clean off any grime. The next step was soaking all of the metal parts in a mixture of warm water and citric acid. After approximately two hours the tools took on a clean, even shiny appearance, and the vast majority of rust was easily removed with just some steel wool and a rag. To give full credit, until I had seen Christopher Schwarz do this on a plane restoration video, I would have never tried it. Up until then, I used citric acid to clean the coffee maker.
The brace and bits were particularly impressive after the soaking. Most were still sharp, and the chuck on the brace works as smoothly as the day it was made. I sharpened the #4, 5, and 6, lightly oiled the chuck and ratchet, cleaned up the handle and knob with some steel wool and linseed oil, and with that I was finished. The only unfortunate part is the original box for the augers is beyond salvaging, as it is cracked across the grain. Instead of reusing it I placed the augers in a tool roll.
The Tryon’s block plane looked a mess, but it really wasn’t so bad. The soaking took care of most of the old paint and rust. I flattened it using 100 grit and 220 grit sandpaper, I then did the same to the iron. At first I was a bit worried about the iron, but it actually worked quite easily. It took me maybe 20 minutes from front to back, but it is now razor sharp and works just fine. The only thing left to do is clean up the front knob.
I saved the transitional jack for last, as I knew it needed the most work. The sole was in rough shape, with both warp and twist. It took quite a bit of work to get it at least in the neighborhood of square. I removed all of the parts and gave them a good cleaning and polishing, using brasso on the adjustment knob and the tote cap nut. I sanded and smoothed the tote and knob and used two coats of tru-oil for finish, though they need at least two more. I then turned my attention to the iron.
The iron was in rough condition, not because the bevel was misshapen, but because from the looks of it the back had never been flattened. It took a lot of work, a lot of elbow grease, and to be quite honest I’m still not all that happy with the result. I started off with 80 grit sand paper, went to 120, then 220, then 320. I then used 800 grit diasharp, 1000/8000 grit water stones, and finally the leather strop and I’m still a bit disappointed with the results. Thankfully, the bevel was a bit easier and took far less time. Still, my hand is hurting even as I type this sentence.
With all of that work, I’m not sure if the Sargent will ever be a worker again. It at least looks nicer, and I did get it to take shavings, but the sole is still in need of some major maintenance. and I already had to remove quite a bit of material to get it where it is now, so much so that the iron will not retract into the body anymore, at least not the way it should. Still, the hardware is in pretty good shape, and I could use the body as a template to make a new one.
Whatever the case may be, I will cherish these tools. Just attempting the restoration taught me some valuable lessons, and the brace and bits will last several more lifetimes if they are reasonably taken care of. For me, the greatest gift was not the tools, but the fact that my Father-in-Law thinks enough of me to put them in my hands. As I said, it was not an easy year for my family, in particular for my wife and her dad, and when the holidays roll around difficult times can be even more trying. So for him to be thinking of me when he easily could have and should have been thinking of himself was one of the nicest, most thoughtful things that anybody has ever done for me.
Sunday morning I was in my garage working on my coffin smoother plane when a neighborhood kid happened to be walking by the driveway. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he cautiously approached the opening. I turned to face him and he called out “I really like your tools!” And with that he was gone. I had thought about inviting him in, but in this day and age inviting a kid you don’t know into your garage is asking for trouble on many levels. In any event, the kid thought my tools were cool, and that’s all that really matters, doesn’t it?
The coffin smoother I recently refurbished was not a tool I needed, it was a tool I wanted only because I thought it was cool. The truth is I have two smoothers already, a Stanley #4 and one I made myself. Both of those tools work fine. This coffin smoother is as redundant as it gets when it comes to what I will use it for, but it’s freaking cool, and that’s all that matters.
Two things worried me going into this purchase; one was the condition of the wedge and the other was the condition of the cap iron. That is why I am glad for Patrick Leach, as I believe he is a guy who would not sell a plane with a bad wedge, at least not without telling you first. The wedge scared me because on planes like these they can be the fussiest part of the plane, and to make a new one is not easy, at least not for me. The cap iron scared me only because of my inexperience in dealing with vintage models. Happily, both the wedge and the cap iron were in remarkably good condition. I was particularly impressed with the wedge, which was as crisp as I’ve seen on an old plane.
I began the first part of the rehab on Friday night by flattening the sole of the plane. I decided to use my LN jack plane because it is by far my best and most accurate plane. I know that statement may upset some purists but it’s the truth. My jack plane is a near perfect design; it never gives me any trouble, and the only thing I ever had to do to it was sharpen the iron. If I have one complaint about it I would have to say it was the cap iron, which is an extremely well made part, but every so often I get shavings caught in it. But that is something that can be fixed. Anyway, I honed and stropped the iron, fastened the coffin plane in the leg vice, and started planing.
I set the jack plane to take very fine shavings. There was a high point just in front of and just behind the mouth, and hollows between the middle of the plane and the sides. Also, the front of the plane had some shallow nicks which needed removing. I proceeded cautiously, and after a few minutes it became clear that the leg vice was not the place for this job, so I clamped the plane between a Veritas wonder dog and a bench dog. The task did not take long, and I checked my work carefully. Once I was satisfied with the sole I used sheets of 220 and 320 grit sandpaper on the bed of my table saw to clean it all up. All in all the whole process lasted less than ten minutes.
The next step I copied straight from the Paul Sellers playbook. I used boiled linseed oil and 0000 steel wool to give the plane a thorough cleaning. When I took the plane out of the shipping box it seemed clean to begin with, but the steel wool did wonders, and the photos I took do not do it justice. The cleaning clearly revealed the plane to be a “ Varvill & Sons, Ebor Works, York” and above that “J. Strafford Bolton The Tool Depot”. Either of those marks I’m not familiar with, but I’m sure that somebody out there is. Once the plane was clean I wiped it down, took the cap iron/nut, soaked it in WD40, and called it a night.
Part two of the rehab I started on Sunday. I began by working on the bevel of the plane iron. I always thought that it was a hard and fast rule to always flatten the back of a plane or chisel before working on the bevel. But both Graham Haydon and Paul Sellers worked on the bevel first on their plane rehab videos. Maybe it’s a wacky English method, but I decided to go that route as well. The bevel was in nice shape, with a slight camber and a few small nicks. It was clear to me even before I began the grinding that this plane iron had been hollow ground. I am not a fan of hollow grinding in the least(which I will not get into on this post), but there was little I could do about it. So I progressed from 320 grit wet/dry sand paper, to the diamond plates, to the water stones, to the leather strop. It probably took near an hour, and I was dripping with sweat (woodworking still isn’t exercise, which I will also not get into on this post). I never did manage to completely grind out the hollow, but I did get the iron sharp. It’s not pretty, but it works. I then turned my attention to the back.
During the initial inspection of the plane out of the box I noticed that the back was nice and flat across the face with no hollows, but from front to back had a slight hump. That concerned me at first, but when I reattached the cap iron that hump “straightened”. I’m not sure if this is a characteristic of this style iron/chipbreaker or not, but my concern was alleviated at that point. After the marathon with the bevel, the flattening of the back was mercifully fast and easy. I used the same sharpening mediums as for the bevel, and after 15 minutes I had an iron that was nice and sharp.
The last task of the rehab was cleaning up the grime on the iron and chipbreaker. The chip breaker had already been soaking in WD40, so I wiped that with steel wool, for the iron I used steel wool and linseed oil, same as with the plane. The cleaning revealed the iron to be manufactured by “Ward”, which is a maker I had heard of before.
Later, on Sunday evening, I added a coat of wax, buffed it off, and put the plane to work. The good news: The wedge and iron adjusted easily. I could seat it tightly and unseat it with just a firm tap of the hammer. I decided to use the plane to clean up the workbench top. Immediately I heard the throaty whisk that a wood-bodied plane resonates when it is working. The shavings were thick, so I backed off the iron and the shavings became better. In fact, I was able to take a shaving across the entire length of the bench top. Better news was the fact that the chip breaker did not trap any shavings, which is always a concern. The only not-so-good news was the sharpness of the iron. I think I can get it sharper; I know I can. But overall I am very pleased.
As of this moment the coffin smoother is perched along with most of my other planes on the new shelf above my workbench. I’m not sure how often I will actually use this plane, but that doesn’t concern me so much. There is something about these wood-bodied planes that has a timeless appeal. Quite obviously they were the only woodworking planes in existence for more than 1000 years, and at that they must have worked just fine. I don’t know the whole reason why the Bailey Style plane usurped the wood-bodied but I would guess that it had something to do with production methods. Some people may lament that fact, but I don’t, because the Bailey plane is a good plane, too.
Yet I can’t deny that the wood-bodied tools are special. I’ve heard dozens of different descriptions praising them: They have a warmth. They are more comfortable. They are aesthetically more appealing. Etc. The truth is, I agree. This smoother is extremely comfortable in the hand, and it does have a certain elegance that would make Obi Wan Kenobi proud. I love the way the sole of the plane feels silky smooth after it’s flattened; I love the way it sounds when it’s being used. I love the makers mark on the iron. It really is a beautiful tool.
The funny thing is that I don’t feel like I own this plane; I feel like I am borrowing it. I’m not trying to be all sappy because I’m not a sappy guy. But it feels like this plane will find another owner when I shuffle off this mortal coil. Maybe some of my other tools will as well. Who knows? But the next person who obtains this plane will be borrowing it, too. Borrowing it from me just as I borrowed it from its previous owner. I hope it isn’t a collector; I hope it is somebody just like me. Maybe they’ll see the tool and think the same things I thought. Maybe they’ll just think it’s cool, and worth saving, and worth using, because it will be. And in the end, that is all that really matters.
Because I am a low-grade narcissist (of course I’m a narcissist, I write a woodworking blog) I like to think that every idea I have was formulated without any outside influence. Like most narcissists, I like to believe that I am too clever to be influenced by anything but my own dazzling intellect. So when a few months back Graham Legend, I mean Haydon, posted on Popular Woodworking’s web page an article and video regarding the restoration of a coffin-style smooth plane, I grudgingly admit that I was fascinated. (If I can find the original article I will post a link to it). After watching that video and drooling like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I spent a good deal of time over the course of this year searching tool sales, EBay, and tool dealers to find a coffin-style smoother that was reasonably priced, yet in decent enough condition to restore. It took me from then until last week, but I finally found one on Patrick Leach’s web page, Supertool.com, that hadn’t already been sold, so I immediately jumped on the chance and purchased it.
The truth is I do not need a smoothing plane; I have a Stanley #4 that works perfectly. There really are only two explanations for why I purchased this tool. Firstly, I love the look of the coffin style plane, secondly, Graham Haydon is likely a Svengali. Maybe it’s his English accent, maybe it’s his writing, which somehow reads with an English accent, but everything he says or writes eerily resonates with me in a way that I can’t explain. Is it a man crush? Maybe. Want to hear something really scary? I did one of those silly quizzes on Facebook to determine who my most attractive friend was. Guess who the answer was? It wasn’t my lovely wife; it wasn’t the neighborhood hotty from 1988, If you guessed “Graham Haydon” you would be correct. In fact, I did the quiz twice just to be sure, and both times the answer was “Graham Haydon”. As a woodworker, Graham has such a strong strangle hold on me that I am certain that he is the only person who could convince me to sell my table saw and go full hand-tool commando.
As far as the tool, it arrived yesterday and like every tool I’ve ever purchased from Patrick Leach, it arrived completely as advertised. The body and wedge are in great condition. The iron assembly looks very good; there are a few minor nicks but nothing that shouldn’t be easily handled. The sole needs to be flattened. There is a high spot just behind the mouth, which I’ve found is the case with most wood-bodied planes. I truly look forward to restoring it, and while I’m going to try to keep the original “character” of the plane as much as possible, I have no problem in sanding or planing away patina if need be. I purchased the tool to use and in a lesser sense, learn from as well as “collect”, but I have no concern or worry in keeping its value for resale.
I’ll try to post some photos of the process as it moves along as well as write about the progress of the restoration. Hopefully I will do a good job and the plane will become a valuable addition to my tool set. The worst case scenario is that it looks cool sitting on the shelf in my garage. It should be fun, and that’s all I’m asking. And before I forget, if anybody out there knows of a good witch doctor, or possibly an exorcist please let me know. I have a strange feeling that somebody out there is controlling my mind.
I have a handful of moulding planes: a pair of hollow/round, a few beading planes, as well as a few joinery planes such as a dado, rabbet, and shoulder plane. The joinery planes are no problem to sharpen, and the beading planes and hollow plane gave me little problems, but the round plane was more difficult than I thought it would or should be. I was able to flatten the back easily enough (which any woodworker on Earth should be able to do), but I could not get a consistent edge on the bevel.
Just the other day I watched a video posted by Paul Sellers on sharpening moulding plane irons that opened my eyes and shed a lot more light on working with these sometimes tricky planes. I’ll post a link to the video, as watching the video is far more clear and concise than my explanation would be. But I do want to add that during the course of the video Sellers mentions that moulding plane irons were far less polished and refined than a bench plane or chisel would have been. Sellers states that the higher angle of the plane coupled with the profiled nature allowed the irons to have less than perfectly flattened backs and relatively unpolished bevels. My previous conclusion was less scientific, because I always felt that moulding plane irons weren’t as highly sharpened and polished because they are more difficult maintain, and the woodworkers who used them just didn’t have enough time to spend on sharpening to such a high level. A chisel or bench plane iron can be maintained and honed in a matter of just 30 seconds, a mouldiing plane iron takes longer no matter what anybody says.
I’ve only personally worked with/handled a few dozen or so traditional moulding planes, and I can say that every one of them had an iron that at best needed a good deal of work, at worst needed a medic. I can also say that at the very least a few of those planes were only owned by one person, so it’s not as if they were all just passed down to half a dozen people who were progressively worse at sharpening. So while my conclusion may be off base, the proof is in the iron, and some of these irons were not well-sharpened. If you don’t believe me, believe Paul Sellers, who probably handles more vintage moulding planes in a week than I will in my lifetime.
Nonetheless, I tried Sellers suggestions, and I did get the round plane to work. I did not sharpen past 600 grit sandpaper or 1000 grit water stone, so I don’t have a truly refined edge yet. I will go to 8000 grit and then the leather strop, but I am going to do that when I sharpen my carving chisels so I can sharpen/hone everything all at once. So if you are having issues with sharpening moulding plane irons, I highly recommend watching this video.
A co-worker (friend?) of mine was clearing out his tool shed and came across some old chisels. He brought them into work today and asked me if I wouldn’t mind bringing them home for sharpening. I gave them a glance, decided that they didn’t look quite like dying yet, so I brought them home with me.
I figure on doing a few per week, as it will be a good chance for some practice. I’ve discussed my sharpening system (though I hate to describe it that way) before. It’s simple: a coarse/fine diamond plate, 1000 and 8000 grit water stones, a leather strop, and every so often sandpaper. I’ve heard more than a few times this type of system called “fancy” on woodworking forums and such. If my method is fancy then I would love to know what “simple” would entail. Either way, it seems to work, and since I’ve gone to this set-up I’ve gotten consistently sharp tools. I know that I’m an amateur, but I do know what “sharp means”, though some professionals and amateur kiss-asses will say differently.
I sharpened both the Buck Brothers chisel and my Stanley 1 inch, which for some strange reason is the only chisel I own that has never really been sharpened. The back on the Buck Bros. chisel was brutal, and took me about 15 minutes just to get the area just behind the edge flat. Luckily, my Stanley took just a few minutes. I then progressed through my system. I now sharpen free-hand for the most part, as it seems to me that a guide and water stones don’t mix. I’ve come to the conclusion that the eclipse style guide makes a trench in water stones, though I can’t ever claim that I’ve seen a noticeable one, but I know it’s there. The Veritas guide, with its wider roller, doesn’t cause that problem, but I really only like to use it for skewed irons. I don’t advocate any particular method. Do it free-hand or with a guide; it’s up to you. I just like the feel of free-hand sharpening (and I want to be just like Paul Sellers). All kidding aside, it took me another 15 minutes after the backs were flattened, but I ended up with two razor sharp chisels, sharp enough to cleanly slice end grain on oak, shave the hair off my arm, and easily cut through paper.
Before I flattened my stones, cleaned up, and called it a night, I decided to give my newly sharpened moving fillister another test run. I used the same piece of scrap pine that I did for the last test. I was a little anxious, because if the edge rolled again I knew I was in for at the least another grinding, at worst the search for a replacement iron. At the last moment I almost put everything away and ended the night on a high note, but whatever I may be, I’m not a wuss, so I went for it. Thankfully and happily, the sharp iron easily sliced the fillister, and there was no rolling on the edge. I carefully removed the iron from the plane, stropped it a few times, and then lovingly dusted the plane body and wiped it with a cloth. I will likely have to hone this tool a little more than I normally would other planes, but that is a small price to pay to once again have a working tool ready to go.