Tuesday, January 23, 2018

New year, new planes, new shows

For the first two and a half years of business, I've concentrated on the core of of the three essential bench planes--the jack plane, the try plane, and the coffin smoother. This year, I'm starting to expand my offerings. The first of these is the rabbet plane, pictured above.

My rabbet planes are bedded at 50° and can be ordered either square or skewed. A nominal 1" iron is standard, but if you are looking for a different width, just ask. These planes have custom irons that are 5/32" thick--a bit thicker than what most other makers offer. They have a very solid feel in the cut.

I'm also adding a new bench plane, which I call the Mini-Smoother.

I jokingly refer to this plane as the cure for the common block plane, because I built the first version of this plane about four years ago, and I haven't used my block plane since. The design has been honed a couple times, and I think it's just about perfect now. The plane is comfortable to use with one hand or two. It has a 1-1/4" double iron and is 5-1/4" long.

This is just the beginning. In the near future, I plan to roll out a number of new planes. Moving fillisters will be next, followed by dado planes, and then we'll see what's next. Toothing planes? Miter planes? Stay tuned.

I'll be doing a couple Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events this spring. This weekend, January 26-27, I'll be at the Chicago School of Woodworking. In March, I'll be at Urban Specialty Woods in Huntington, NY. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by, say hi, and try some wooden planes!

Finally, a reminder: If you'd like to see more regular photos from my planemaking biz, check out my Instagram feed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

New Article in Popular Woodworking

In this month's issue of Popular Woodworking, I have an article (my first!) on making a double iron coffin smoothing plane. Here's a link to a description of the article, and here's a link to purchase, should you be so inclined.

I didn't choose the title--Popular Woodworking likes puns more than the NY Post does!--but I'm very happy with how it all turned out. Megan Fitzpatrick originally asked me to write a seven-page article. A few months later, I emailed her to say "I have a problem. I've written 15 pages and I'm not done yet." But somehow, she managed to condense it down to 10 pages, without omitting any essential content.

I tried to put everything I could think of into this article, but after it was done, I realized there was one thing I didn't mention: no matter how complete an article is, it can never substitute for learning at the School of Hard Knocks. I tried to include everything I've learned over the past five years about avoiding all the pitfalls in planemaking, but you know what? The only way to really learn about those pitfalls is to experience them. You'll probably make some mistakes on your first plane. You might even have to start over. But if you want to make a plane, persevere, and you'll get there. I won't pretend it's easy, but it's not rocket science, either.

If anyone out there has comments or questions, feel free to post below.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five Random Observations from Handworks 2017

A packed crowd watching Roy Underhill speaking in the Festhalle barn.

After 2300 miles and a couple herniated discs, I am back from my first Handworks. It is still kind of a blur, and I will need a few more days to process the enormity of the event, but here are a few observations.

1. Wow, there are a lot of hand tool aficionados out there. For two solid days, I had a constant stream of visitors stopping by my bench to say hi, try my planes, and chat about planing, sharpening, hand tools, whatever. I bet a couple hundred people took at least one of my planes for a drive. It was an invigorating experience. Anyone who says hand tools are dying out would have their mind changed by this event.

2. The Abraham clan is amazing. In most walks of life, an event with a couple thousand attendees and a couple hundred participants would need a small army of full-time, paid workers. The Abrahams--Jameel, his brother and father, along with some extended family and friends--somehow put on this whole massive event, and pulled it off without a hitch. I'm in awe. Jameel and family, thank you so much!

3. Social media sucks. Platforms like Instagram are great places to post work and connect with other craftspeople, but it doesn't take much for them to seem like a cross between The Stepford Wives and Lord of the Flies. For the last week, I've been bombarded by posts about the "community" at Handworks and how awesome it was, and if I see another I might lobotomize myself with an auger bit and a Yankee brace. The funny thing is, this "community" doesn't seem to include most of the talented toolmakers at Handworks--it's a club for the people with the most "followers," or those who have the most photogenic smiles. In that respect, it's more like high school than a community. Remind me to seriously curtail my use of social media this year--I think we've all got better things to do.

4. Wow, there are a lot of amazing toolmakers out there. The toolmakers at Handworks were an amazing group. I had some wonderful, in-depth conversations with  Larry Williams and Don McConnell of Old Street, Matt Bickford, Ron Brese, Nick Dombrowski (Lake Erie), Aaron and Alan from Walke-Moore, Don Williams, Jeremiah Wilding, Tico Vogt, and many others. And I got to catch up with a lot of great folks like Chris Schwarz, Megan Fitzpatrick, Dan Schwank (Red Rose Reproductions), Chris Kuehn (Sterling toolworks), and Konrad Sauer (apologies to anyone I'm forgetting). My only frustration is that I was so busy that it was hard to get away from the bench, so there were a lot of folks I didn't get to meet (particularly all the folks in the Greenwood barn), and I really regret that. Hopefully I will get to meet them the next time around.

5. Roy Underhill has mad skillz. OK, no surprise. But Roy came by my bench and put the jack, try, and smoother through their paces, and it was an incredible thing to watch. I have done a bunch of shows before Handworks, and have probably seen at least a thousand people try my planes. No joke, I have never seen someone as fluid with a plane as Roy. At shows, I keep the jack set for a pretty aggressive cut, and a lot of people really struggle with it. Roy just ripped off huge shavings, effortlessly, not because he's got incredible hulk strength, but because he's got terrific form. In fact, I need to write a whole blog post on that, but in the mean time, enjoy this clip of Roy with one of my smoothers, and (hopefully) see you at Handworks next time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Handworks Here We Come

This weekend, I'll be exhibiting at Handworks in Amana, Iowa. If you are attending, please stop by to see me in the Millwright's shop, where I'll be holed up with Bad Axe, Mortise and Tenon Magazine, Walke-Moore Tools, J. Wilding, and Fine Tool Journal. It should be a lot of fun!

Also, just a quick programming note. Yes, it has been forever since I blogged last. Remember that you can see what Voigt Planes is up to on a regular basis by clicking on the the Instagram badge on the right. Follow me, if that's your thing, or just have a look once in a while--I post work in progress and various musings on a pretty regular basis.

Hope to see many of you in Iowa this weekend!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Guest post on Brian Holcombe's Blog

A nice shot of two of my smoothers, that didn't make it into Brian's blog because of my Stone Age understanding of technology.

Brian Holcombe is one of the most interesting hand tool-based woodworkers I know. He makes fantastic furniture influenced by Japanese furniture, mid-century modernism, and various strands of contemporary studio furniture. What really stands out, apart from his excellent design sensibility, is his meticulous joinery and super-clean hand planed surfaces.

Brian asked me to write a guest post for his blog, and I was very happy to do so. The post is here, and Brian's homepage is here. I highly recommend taking some time to read through the blog--there's a wealth of great information and wonderful photographs. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

At Hearne Hardwoods This Weekend

This Friday, 9/30, and Saturday, 10/1, I'll be demonstrating at the Hearne Hardwoods open house in Oxford, PA. There will be a a number of great demonstrators in attendance; In particular, I'm looking forward to seeing Isaac Smith of Blackburn tools. If you are in the area, please come by, say hi, and try some planes. I'll have my usual assortment of smoothers, jacks, and try planes. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Double Iron, Part III

Clockwise from top: Butcher cap iron, early 19th century; Mathieson cap iron, late 19th century; Stanley cap iron, early 20th century, Hock cap iron, late 20th century; Voigt cap iron, 2016.

In parts I and II of this series, I focused on how woodworkers and writers viewed the double iron from the mid-18th century to the mid-20th. Here in Return of the Jedi part III,  I'll look at how this understanding evolved--twice--in more recent times. Let's start with an interesting passage from The Joiner and Cabinetmaker, a fantastic book originally published in 1839, then republished in 2009 by Lost Art Press, with commentary by Joel Moskowitz and considerable new material by Christopher Schwarz. Here is the original text:

In Mahogany…the workman often finds the grain running one way in one part of the board, and the other way in another part, so that he cannot plane both smooth. To remedy this inconvenience, the cabinet-maker's planes are furnished with a double iron; that is, an iron with a flat dull edge is screwed on the face of the cutting iron, so as to prevent the shavings chipping up against the grain. And the more cross-grained the wood is, the closer does the cabinet-maker bring down the dull iron towards the edge of the sharp one, and the finer are his shavings in consequence. The joiner's trying-plane and smoothing-plane, if not his jack also, are likewise furnished with these double irons, to be ready to use with hard and cross-grained woods. But when he is planing straight-grained deal [pine], he keeps the dull iron at a good distance, perhaps an eighth of an inch from the cutting edge…

If you've read parts I and II of this series, you will find the above passage completely unremarkable. Like virtually every other 19th century writer on the subject, our author describes the double iron as the normal remedy against tearout in difficult or reversing grain. The only unusual part of the text is the use of the term "dull iron"; however, recall from part II that Holtzapffel described the cap iron as "moderately sharp," so perhaps it was common to refer to the cap iron as less sharp than the cutting iron.

No, the interesting part is not the original text, but rather the commentary that Joel Moskowitz adds:

 Clark and Williams, the planemakers, have pretty much conclusively shown that the best of the smoothing planes from the late 18th century, a golden age of hand cabinetry, were single irons with a high pitch. Their point is that a fine mouth and a high angle are more important for planing difficult wood than is a double iron. Larry Williams also said that during the 19th century, plane quality deteriorated, and that the double iron at a lower bed angle was adequate for most of the market (joiners), and this squeezed out the dedicated cabinetmaker's tools. Here we see a contemporary reference that suggests otherwise, but the reference cannot be taken at face value (emphases mine). 

The comment that the reference "cannot be taken at face value" is extraordinary, considering that virtually every other period reference makes the exact same claims. But Joel is one of the most knowledgeable experts in hand tool woodworking, and I quote him not to poke fun, but rather to illustrate what had become the common wisdom about the double iron in the late 20th/ early 21st century. At that time, a narrative had emerged, and that narrative was spread and reinforced by teachers, writers, boutique planemakers, and large planemaking companies. In a nutshell, it went like this: Cap irons don't control tearout. They serve only to stiffen the blade, and they were more a convenience to manufacturers than an aid to woodworkers. If you want to plane tearout-free surfaces, you need either a high (above 45°) cutting angle, a tight mouth, or both.

This narrative was extremely influential. In addition to Clark and Williams (now Old Street tool), nearly every other boutique planemaker produced high-angle, tight-mouthed single iron planes. The big planemaking companies began to emphasize bevel-up planes (which can use high cutting angles and don't have cap irons) and high-angle frogs (which allowed users of bevel-down planes to have 50° or 55° degree cutting angles). Woodworking writers extolled the virtues of these newer options, and so common-pitch bevel-down planes like the venerable Stanley/Bailey pattern, or the common double-iron woodie, came to be seen as inferior: suitable for rough work and carpentry, but not fine woodworking. Which is quite ironic: you may remember that back in part II of this series, I quoted David Denning, who wrote in 1891 that while planes "are made with both double and single irons, it should be said that the latter, though cheaper, are not suitable for cabinet working."

At this point, I need to issue a couple of disclaimers. First, I believed this narrative as much as anyone else. I was completely convinced. Hindsight is 20-20 and Monday morning quarterbacks always win, so I can't criticize folks who doubted the double iron without criticizing myself. Second, the proponents of high angles and tight mouths weren't wrong about the effectiveness of those methods: they definitely work. The only error was the claim that double irons don't work.

Today, the narrative I've been describing still has plenty of proponents. But starting around 2012, a counter-narrative began to emerge and gather critical mass. And the counter-narrative was simple: The old guys were right. All those writers from the 18th and 19th centuries were telling the truth: cap irons really do control tearout more effectively than any other method. Cap irons fell out of favor because it's hard to explain in words, or even in photographs, how to set the cap iron close enough to control tearout. It's hard to teach yourself how to use the cap iron. And so there was a collective forgetting of how to use the cap iron.

What changed? The catalyst was in 2012, when Bill Tindall obtained permission to use an English-subtitled version of the Kato/Kawai video, with Mia Iwasaki providing the translation and Wilbur Pan hosted the video on his blog. The video shows, in crystal clear, slow motion, magnified images, the tremendous effect a cap iron can have. The video had actually been available for some time, but having the subtitles made it accessible to a wider audience. Bill publicized the video on the Wood Central hand tool forum, where an older gentleman, Warren Mickley, had insisted for years that double irons were the best remedy against tearout. Two younger woodworkers, David Weaver and Kees van der Heiden, took up Warren's challenge and taught themselves to use the double iron, much as it had been described in all the old references. Kees published two videos, and David published an article, describing the technique in a way that was accessible to modern readers. You can find the videos and article in the links of interest page on my website; they remain some of the best, clearest demonstrations of how to use the cap iron. Later, Kees and Wilbur would publish an article in Popular Woodworking magazine, and better-known woodworkers like Chris Schwarz and Richard Maguire would help knowledge of the cap iron reach a wider audience. Today many woodworkers, probably thousands, have discovered how the double iron can be an incredibly effective remedy against tearout.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story (so far) of the double iron. I'll close by referring back to Holtzapffel, whom I quoted in part II. In 1843, Holtzapffel described the use of the double iron in great detail, but he also discussed how high angles, tight mouths, and even bevel-up mitre planes can all help to mitigate tearout. All these approaches work. I happen to believe that the double iron is, as Peter Nicholson wrote, the "most complete remedy" for dealing with difficult grain, but that, dear reader, is for you to decide.