Monday, December 16, 2013

Japanese marking gauge

For quite a while, my only marking gauge has been a Stanley 97, refurbished with some parts from Lee Valley. It's ok, but I need something better…even more than that, I need more marking gauges. It definitely makes marking out easier if you can set a couple different gauges at certain distances, then leave them at those settings until you're done marking the piece out. Saves a lot of back and forth.
Anyway, here is my first attempt, in the japanese style. White oak (scrap left over from the log I bought in the spring) with cocobolo wedges. The knife is made from a piece of old jointer blade, .095" thick.

In the pictures, the gauge is set up for right-handed use, but I've since reversed the beam so it can be used left-handed. This has the added benefit thatpushing on the fence tightens the wedge.
The gauge works very well, especially for a first try. It's definitely an improvement over the Stanley; it marks a much deeper line (when desired) and the big fences is easier to keep registered against the work. Some things that I'll improve on next time:
- Attach the blade to the end of the beam, perhaps using one of the snazzy replacement blades from Hamilton. It would be nice to be able to see the blade while I'm marking, not have it obscured by the beam.
- Scale the parts down. The gauge is a bit clunky; it could be more delicate and graceful, which would make it easier to use.
- I may opt for a knob adjuster, rather than the wedge. The wedge works fine, but it would be nice to compare the two approaches.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Making a rabbet plane

Well, the planemaking madness continues. Until now, all the planes I've made are bench planes. But joinery planes are really essential, too. Various writings by Larry Williams and Matt Bickford have convinced me that a square rabbet is the most desirable rabbet plane, but these are hard to find--most of the rabbets you find in the wild are skew rabbets. A skew rabbet tends to pull toward the board, so it's nice to use with some sort of fence or batten, but very hard to control freehand. Fillister planes are also skewed.
To get a sense of how useful a square rabbet can be, check out this video of Bickford.
Matt also did a nice tutorial that I followed pretty closely.
I decided to make the plane out of a piece of quartersawn jatoba I had. The sole of a rabbet takes a beating, so you either need to make the plane out of something hard, or box the sole.
Before starting the plane, I made a simple saw/chisel guide. These are extremely handy. This one is cut to 55° on one end and 65° on the other, with a groove down the middle that fits over the plane's body.

I started by making two cuts with a backsaw to define the throat, using the guide.

Then I drilled a 1" hole with a forstner bit, and knocked out the waste.

After that, I drilled a hole down from the top, then used chisels and vixen files to refine the wedge mortise. I carved the escapement with an incannel gouge, then refined it with a file and sandpaper.

Here's the finished plane:

I almost forgot: The plane is left-handed! When you live in a righty world, making something specifically for lefty use is always great.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A mini coffin smoother in cocobolo

Having finished my fore plane, I decided to build a small smoother, one that would be comfortable in one hand (but could still be used two-handed). A couple years ago, I built a laminated plane like this, but it came unglued. That was the decisive event that drove me to give up laminated planes and start mortising solid bodies.
Anyway, here is what I came up with:

I'm quite pleased with the look of this plane, but even more pleased with the performance! For one-handed work, I've always used a Stanley 60 1/2. It's very handy, but for any sort of long grain application, this plane has it beat hands down.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Making a single iron fore plane, part 3

Well, the fore plane is finished! I'm really happy with how it turned out.

The plane is capable of very aggressive work, more so than my Stanley jack plane. And the chip clearance is fantastic, better than any plane I have ever owned. Here are a couple of action shots. First some pine:

And some elm:

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I got some air dried elm! Had to drive 2 1/2 hours up to PA to get it. It will make some really nice seats for those chairs.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Making a single iron fore plane, part 2

I made some more progress on the fore plane this week. I had a nice piece of quartersawn jatoba that I thought would make a nice handle. Jatoba is hard and heavy, quite coarse, but should hold up well. I cut a tenon on the blank, then traced out the pattern and drilled a couple large holes, with a forstner bit, to define the top and bottom of the cutout.

Then I cut to the lines with a coping saw, and refined the shape with a chisel, vixen files, rasps, and sandpaper.

Then I turned to the wedge and iron. The iron is a turn of the century "A.C. Bartlett" that I bought on Ebay. I have never seen another quite like it. Double irons are fairly common on the bay, but single irons are quite rare.  This one needed quite a lot of work, flattening the back, but it turned out nicely.
The  wedge is a piece of tropical mystery wood that looks a lot like jatoba, but is more fine grained.

All that's left for next week is to glue in the handle and apply some finish!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Making a single iron fore plane, part 1

Well, the woodworking has been on hiatus for a little while, but I've just started a new project.
For a long time, I've wanted to make a traditional, single iron fore plane. The fore plane was so named, according to Joseph Moxon (in his Mechanik Exercises of 1678), because it was used before other planes. In other words, a roughing plane, usually equipped with a cambered iron for taking heavy cuts.
By the 19th century, the fore plane had been superseded by the jack plane--a shorter, open-toted version of the fore. Today, most hand tool woodworkers use either a Stanley no.5 or no.6 as a jack/fore. These planes work, but have some limitations. The no. 5 is about the right weight, but its shorter length (14") makes it less than ideal for large surfaces. The no.6, at 18" is an improvement, but it's too heavy to use for long planing sessions. Both planes have open totes, which are prone to breaking, and both have chipbreakers. A chipbreaker (or cap iron, if you prefer), is a great thing to have on a finishing plane, but it's not necessary on a roughing plane. A single iron is a lot faster to pull out, sharpen, and get back to work.
So that's my ideal fore plane: as long as a no.6, but weighs as little as a no. 5, with a closed tote and a single iron.
Over the summer, I picked up a nice chunk of padauk, which should work nicely for this plane.
After laying out the lines for the mortise, I started by drilling out a whole bunch of holes to almost finished depth, to get rid of the waste.

The next step was to make a guide for chiseling the bed and throat. This is very simple, just a block of wood with a 50° angle on one end (for the bed) and 60 ° on the other (for the throat), and a thin piece of scrap nailed on for a fence.

After that, it was a pretty straight forward matter of breaking out most of the waste, then using the guide, moving it back gradually until I reached my layout lines. Here shot part way through the final cut on the bed:

The next task was to make the saw cuts for the abutments. In the old days, planemakers used a specialized abutment saw--a thick, narrow saw kind of like a keyhole saw. Today, most people use a flush-cutting saw. I didn't have one, so I improvised. I had an old $5 drywall saw. These things are ugly, with very aggressive set and stamped teeth. I used sandpaper glued to a flat surface plate to grind the set completely off. Then I resharpened the teeth with 15° rake and 20° fleam.

The repurposed saw cuts slowly (because the blade is quite thick--.065"), but leaves a very nice surface. Here's a shot part way through (I've knocked out the waste on the left side with a chisel):

And here's a shot showing both abutments chiseled out. I'm using a piece of scrap wedged in the saw cut to protect the front of the throat while I use a chisel to the lines:

Here's a shot of the finished throat:

That's plenty for now. Next week, I'll take a crack at the handle and wedge.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A grooving/drawer bottom plane

With the chair project on hold for now, I'm going to focus on some other projects. I have a number of furniture items I'd like to build, and I'd really like to increase the amount of hand tool work that goes into each project. So I've decided to build a number of tools that I can use in the shop.
First on the list is a drawer bottom/grooving plane. This is sort of a poor man's plow plane, that cuts a groove of a fixed width. Some people (such as Matt Kenney) make these with now adjustability at all. I think I'd like to at least be able to adjust the distance of the groove from an edge, so I'm going to model my plane on the one in this photo, which uses a fence similar to that on a moving fillister plane.
The first step was to obtain an iron. I contacted Josh Clark of Hyperkitten, who sold me a 1/4" plow plane iron for $5. Next, I ground the sides of the blade so that it was a consistent width (I was originally going to "sneck" the blade at the top, but abandoned that idea).

Making the plane was very straightforward. I used some walnut I had on hand, and laminated it to a center section of true lignum vitae. Here's the finished plane:

To cut a groove, just adjust the fence with two screws in the bottom, then let 'er rip. The plane works beautifully--the chips spiral out in lovely little curls.

A finished test groove, in soft maple:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Legs and stretchers

Well, the legs and stretchers are more or less done, for now. As with the spindles, the legs and stretchers are left slightly oversize, then finished after they've dried. I don't have a kiln, so I'll probably let these dry until next summer. Thus, the chair project will be on hold for many months…but I'll be working on some other fun projects in the meantime. Below are the rough turnings for one chair.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A toolrest for chair legs

To turn the legs and stretchers, I had to haul my old Craftsman lathe out of mothballs. I think I paid $75 for this lathe, about 15 years ago, and I haven't used it in nearly that long. After mounting it on a shopmade stand, and hooking up the ancient motor, I was thrilled to find that it still works! Ah, they don't make 'em like they used to. The next task was to make a proper toolrest. The stock toolrest on this, or really any lathe, is about 12 inches long--not nearly big enough for chair work. I got some good ideas from blog posts by Caleb James and Tim Manney, then designed my own version.
As the pictures below show, I made two riser blocks that straddle the tube. I installed 1/4-20 threaded inserts in each, then screwed on a straight, flat 2 x 4 that is slotted (so it can be adjusted closer/farther from the turning axis). Last, I bolted a piece of 1 1/2 steel angle on top. The tool rest on the edge of the angle. This is a very simple rest, and is not height-adjustable, but it works great for the task at hand. I found that it helped a lot to file the edge of the steel angle flat and smooth, so that the tool does not catch as it moves back and forth.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Shaving spindles

Over the last couple weeks, I've been shaping the spindles for my chairs. It's been slow going, partly because of work etc., but also because the process itself is time consuming.
I began by drawknifing the spindle blanks so they are square in cross section.

You can probably see that the spindle is a bit crooked. This is intentional: The idea is to rigorously follow the grain, even when it curves, so that the strength of the piece is not compromised. If necessary, the spindle can be bent later.

The drawknife is very aggressive, and makes a lot of shavings. My wife suggests that I display this as a piece of installation art:

Next, the spindles are tapered, and the edges chamfered to form octagons.

Now the spindles go up into the attic to dry for a couple months. It's good and hot up there, and I've  installed a duct fan for ventilation, effectively turning the attic into a low temperature kiln. Time to turn (no pun intended) my attention to fixing up my old Craftsman lathe, so I can rough-turn the legs and stretchers.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


This week, I'm splitting and riving the parts to rough dimensions. I don't have a chainsaw, and there's no safe way to crosscut the log quarters with any of the powered saws I have. Fortunately, my turn of the century Disston no. 7 is up to the job.

It takes about three minutes for each crosscut. Hard work, but pleasant on a nice sunny day.

Next, I lay out the spindles on the end, and split the quarters into two or three pieces:

Once the pieces are small enough, I switch from splitting to riving.
First, I needed a froe. They're expensive, so I made my own, with a little help from the local machine shop. They welded a piece of 5/16" by 2" steel bar to a piece of piece of pipe with a 1 1/2" inside diameter. I shaped the bevel with an angle grinder, and made a handle:

I also needed a riving brake. The one I made was as quick and dirty as possible: two pieces of black iron pipe, jammed through holes in a couple of scrounged pine rafters from a demolished shed:

The basic idea of riving is that you use the froe as a lever, always pulling it down. The split will tend to run out towards the bottom, so if you are splitting the piece unequally, you always turn it so the thinner side faces up. If the split starts to run out too much, simply flip the piece around.  Here are a few shots:

One thing I learned the hard way: don't rive on the grass. The hardest part is driving the thick froe blade into the wood, and you need a hard surface or the mallet will just bounce (it would probably help if I had a real wooden maul, but whatever).

There's a lot of waste in this process. After the riving was done, this is all that remains of my log: