Sunday, September 13, 2015

Housekeeping note and some recent work

When I started this blog several years ago, it was mostly just for fun, to keep a log of some projects for friends and family. Along the way, my compulsion for planemaking got the better of me, I started to sell some planes, and then I decided to make it an actual business, as I announced in my last post.

This leaves the blog in an awkward situation. On the one hand, I really don't like reading blogs that are just mouthpieces for someone's business. On the other hand, I can't pretend that it's just a hobbyist blog any more.

I think the solution is to be as transparent as possible about what I write and why I write it. Going forward, the blog will be a mix of things:
  • Informational posts about planemaking techniques and methods. Notwithstanding the recent increase in online resources about planemaking, there's still a lot of ground to cover. I'm planning some posts on design and layout, float-making, and more.
  • Photos of recent planes (as below). These may or may not be for sale, and sometimes they'll be planes used to make other planes. 
  • Blatantly commercial announcements of products, prices, etc. I'll try to keep these to a merciful minimum.
  • Personal projects: furniture, tools not connected with the business, etc.
  • Other random stuff.
Hopefully, I can be clear about what is what, so casual readers won't feel like they're getting a sales pitch.


Anyway, enough of that. Here are some pics of a try plane I completed today. Actually, it still needs some more finish--it's only got one coat of oil at the moment, but I was impatient to give it a test run and take some pictures. I had a feeling this would be a special one, and I wasn't wrong…

I built the plane for my own personal use, and to have a demonstration plane at woodworking shows (I'm going to start showing my planes at some shows, starting with Lie Nielsen hand tool events next month). Its 23" long with a 2 1/2" Butcher iron. American quartersawn beech with a cocobolo strike button.

The quartersawn grain on this piece of beech is really something. It almost looks like little beads of water.

The next shot looks staged, like I'm holding the shaving up with my other hand, but I'm not. The combination of a well-tuned cap iron, set the right distance from the cutting edge, along with an appropriate depth of cut, makes the shavings shoot straight out of the escapement. I remember when it was common wisdom that cap irons cause wooden planes to clog. Used incorrectly, they certainly can, but used right, they eject the shavings with marvelous efficiency.

The surface left by the plane is quite nice; here it is on some quartersawn beech (what else?)

Can't have a plane photo session without the obligatory pile of shavings!

Hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for looking.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Traditional Double-Iron Wooden Plane is Back

In 1926 the last American wooden plane factory, The Sandusky Tool Company, closed its doors. Since that date, traditional double-iron woodies, to the best of my knowledge, have not been commercially made in North America. Today I'm taking a big step toward addressing that unfortunate shortfall with the official formation of Voigt Planes

I started making planes almost 15 years ago. My earliest efforts were laminated planes, but I soon gravitated towards more traditional designs. My planes are loosely based on those in the Seaton tool chest and other late 18th-century/early 19th-century planes. They are bespoke planes, made one at a time in my small workshop. A few basic power tools are used for rough dimensioning, but for the most part these planes are made by hand: Finished surfaces are produced with chisels, planes, gouges, floats, and rasps.

What follows is some information about the design and construction of my planes, what planes are available right now, and timelines for additional orders.

The Cutting Irons

One of the biggest obstacles to making traditional planes is finding appropriate irons. My search ended when Rob Lee of Lee Valley, the eminent Canadian woodworking manufacturer, agreed to make tapered, slotted irons to my exact specifications. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rob, and to his R&D director Rick Blaicklock.

The dimensions of these irons are closely based on those of typical 19th-century irons: They taper from approximately 3/16" at the cutting edge to 3/32" at the top.

The irons are O1 high-carbon tool steel, hardened to 58-60 RC. They take and hold a wonderful edge. They come with a 25° primary bevel, then I flatten the backs add a very small 30° secondary bevel. These irons are ready to work, right out of the box.

The Cap Irons


My cap irons (or chipbreakers, if you prefer) are unlike any other on the market today. Most modern cap irons have a bend in the middle and a single flat bevel. My cap irons, like all 18th- and 19th-century cap irons, hook sharply at the bottom and are gracefully curved to facilitate shaving escapement. These cap irons are made in-house.

The Wooden Stock


Like most traditional planes of the last 300 years, mine are made of quartersawn beech. The bark side is normally oriented down, though I will occasionally make exceptions to this rule as the situation warrants. If the grain slopes, it typically slopes from toe to heel.

 The Mortise and Escapement


The earliest double-iron planes had elegant, efficient mortises and escapements that required a great deal of labor-intensive handwork to produce. Later 19th-century planes were often made more cheaply, in large factories that used unskilled labor. My planes return to the older method of construction.


 Finishing Touches 


My planes feature the traditional finish details of period planes: Bold long chamfers, stopped chamfers, and gouge cuts. When the plane is done, I test it thoroughly, finish it with oil and wax, test it again, and send it out into the world.

What's Available Now

Right now, I have a batch of coffin smoothers available for purchase. Please visit the "planes" page on my website for a description and pricing information.

When this batch is gone, and for all other models (jack planes, try planes, etc.), I'm currently anticipating four to five months to fill new orders. This isn't a cheesy, infomercial attempt to get you to buy right now: it's just the way it is, and has more to do with supply lines than anything else.  As time goes on and work flow becomes more predictable things may change, but right now that's where we are. If you are interested in ordering a plane, use the email link in the upper right corner of this post. Feel free to also visit the "how to order" page on the website for more information.

For a couple of years now, I've made planes for customers on a part-time, informal basis, strictly by word of mouth. The new website is part of an effort to take this business to the next level, and to reestablish the traditional double iron wooden plane as a viable option for hand tool woodworkers. I can't predict where this is going, but I plan to enjoy the journey.

If you have thoughts or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment, and thanks for looking.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sculpting the Heel of a Coffin Smoother

One of the most enjoyable parts of making a coffin smoother is shaping the heel. I favor the design popularized by Old Street Tool (formerly Clark & Williams), a design that is modeled on early 19th century examples. Other traditional planemakers, such as Caleb James, also use this form. The combination of sculptural curves and hard lines is both attractive and functional. A lot of modern, Krenov-style wooden planes have heels that look like the back of race cars, with no hard edges. It's an attractive look, and it's probably quick and easy to shape on a belt sander, but edges serve an important purpose--they orient the hand and prevent slipping.

So here's a little bit about how I shape the heel. I'm not sure if this is how other folks do it, but this way works well for me.

The first step is to make the stopped chamfers and gouge cuts, exactly as I make them on the front of the plane. Even though 90% of the chamfers are obliterated in the next step, I still have to make them in order to lay things out properly.

The next, and probably most important step, is to lay out the four arcs. There is one on the heel, which is set about 3/8" below the top of the plane, so that the top of the arc is level with the long chamfers.

There is one on the top of the plane, also offset about 3/8".

 And there is one on each side, connecting the long and stopped chamfers.

Then I go at it with chisel and mallet. A lot of people might be tempted to reach for a rasp at this point, but a chisel is far faster, and your rasps will last longer if you don't do unnecessary hogging with them. I knock off big slices at about a 45° angle, then pare more carefully to follow the curve. I try stay about 1/8" or a little less from the layout lines. When I'm done, it's ugly but about 90% of the material has been removed.

Next, I use a coarse rasp to remove the facets and get to within a 1/16" of the layout lines. One of these days, I am going to leave a plane in this state. I really like the rough, visceral texture.

After the coarse rasp, I move to my finest rasp, which is sort of a medium-fine rasp, nothing special. This removes the deep scratches and gets me within about 1/64" of the layout lines.

At this point, the ideal tool would be a super fine-grained rasp from Auriou or Liogier, but lacking that, I move to 150-grit sandpaper. I try to do as little sanding on a plane as possible, but this is one place where it's hard to avoid. I'm very careful about sanding right up to, but not over, the lines. I'll then follow the 150-grit with a few passes of 220-grit.

Add a coat of finish, and it's done!

Thanks for looking!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Some Alsatian Tools and Furniture

Recently, my wife and I spent a few days in Alsace. One of the highlights was a trip to the wine village of Mittelbergheim. We were there for the wine and scenery, but there was an unexpected detour when we walked past this sign:

Note the horned plane, symbol of a joiner (or menuiserie in French). We poked our heads in and asked if we could look around. Instead, we got a 40 minute tour of the shop from Henri, the owner (sadly, I did not get a picture of him).

Most of the shop was given over to production power tools (a fact that seemed to sadden Henri--he said it was no fun any more), but there were a few hand tool highlights. Here's an old bench:

This bench is Continental-style, with recessed base and tool tray, but it has a leg vise, more characteristic of French benches. The other benches in the shop had shoulder vises. When I asked Henri about this, he said "well, we were three times part of Germany."

At one point, I noticed an old horned smoother and asked Henri about it. We briefly discussed handplanes, and a few minutes later, he gave me one! What a wonderful gift!

The most interesting thing about this plane is the French-style double iron, which uses a complicated screw mechanism to regulate the distance between chipbreaker and iron. I've seen pictures of these irons, but never expected to own one.

Interestingly, the chipbreaker does not clamp to the iron; it just nestles in the chipbreaker slot. There is a little "nipple" at the top of the slot that fits into a detente in the top of the screw. The mechanism is quite precise: I would guess there is only about .003" worth of play.

The same family also ran a cabinet-making shop (or ebenisterie). They sold very stylish modern furniture. I quite like this chair:

They also had a small museum dedicated to traditional tools. Most interesting were four display boards of various hand tools. First, menuiserie:

Then ebeniste:

Then charpentier (carpenter):

And finally tonnelier (cooper).

There was a great wheel lathe:

And an enormous cooper's plane.

The cutting iron of the cooper's plane was huge, more than 6" wide (my shoe conveniently shows the scale).

Finally, here's a Rouboesque frame saw, with sister-in-law and wife:

While visiting several of the town's wineries, I noticed that they all had the same style of chairs. Apparently, these are traditional Alsatian chairs.

What is really interesting about these is the joinery. Christopher Schwarz has recently written about the use of sliding dovetail battens in medieval furniture. These chairs combine the battens with a wedged tenons to secure the back to the seat.

The tenon on the bottom of the chair back goes through both the seat and the sliding battens, and is wedged in place with a key.

All in all, it was a pretty fascinating day. And the wine was yummy too!

Friday, June 26, 2015

My Fanback Turned into a Birdcage!

Recently one of my favorite bloggers, D.B. Laney, posted a "gallery of unfinished work"--piles of unfinished tables and chairs. When I saw that, I didn't feel quite so bad about my unfinished chair(s), which have been collecting dust for quite a while, due to my obsession with building traditional handplanes. But I recently got off my duff and managed to get one of the chairs glued up.

Originally, I planned to build a sort of Modernist fanback Windsor, along the lines of Nakashima's New Chair or Moser's Eastward chair. But after I mocked up the chair (seen in this post), I was pretty underwhelmed with the result. I hemmed and hawed and thought it over for weeks, and then I finally did something radical: I ripped my crest rail into two halves and made a Modernist birdcage Windsor instead. Haven't put any finish on it yet, but here it is, all glued up:

Darn it, something got in the way in this picture!

I'm viewing this chair as a prototype--I want to make some changes for the next one. The biggest change will be to add an inch between the two crest rails. Also, the stretcher tenons have shoulders, and I hate those, so I'll get rid of them. There are a few other minor changes as well. But overall, I'm pretty satisfied.

Now I need to figure out what to finish the chair with. I'll have to mull that over for a while…