Saturday, January 23, 2021

…what I'm up to so far in 2021


The new Bridgeport


2020 ended on kind of a down note--my octogenarian mom took a spill, and I ended up taking about 8 weeks off to travel back to the midwest to help her recover, and ultimately bring her back to PA to stay with us for a while. The pandemic made all of this much tougher, but I won't complain because so many people are hurting so much worse. I'm in good health and no one close to me is dead or dying of Covid, so I feel very lucky.

In any case, these travails doubled my current lead time for planes, to about 6-7 months, so that's something to keep in mind if you're planning on ordering. So far, all my customers have been incredibly understanding and nice about this--yet another thing to be grateful for.

2021, on the other hand, started with a bang! I've been looking for a mill for a couple years, and I finally got one in the first week of January. Everything just fell into place very quickly.

The mill (pictured above) is a mid 1960s Bridgeport J-head. Most unusually, it has a single phase motor, which makes life a lot easier. It also has DRO and came with a vise, full set of collets, and a bunch of accessories. Quite a deal!

Having a mill will allow me to make more of my irons and hardware in-house, and will speed up production of my planes a little bit. It's not a magic bullet--no machine is, for planemaking requires a ton of handwork no matter how you slice it--but it will help me towards my goal of getting more planes (like plows and fillisters) into production. It's also going to be a lot fun for me: I worked my way through grad school in a machine shop, and a Bridgeport J-head was the first mill I ever used…so this is a bit like having an old friend in the shop.

Moving the mill--which weighs about 1900 pounds--was kind of an adventure. I called up some professional machine riggers, and the only quote I got was for over two grand to move the machine 55 miles down the highway. Forget it. I rented a truck from Enterprise and a drop-deck trailer from Sunbelt, and moved it myself. The key was to use a pry bar and shims to gradually raise the mill up on 2 x 4 blocks, then slide pieces of black iron pipe underneath. On a level surface, it's easy to roll the mill on pipe.

The next time  try this, I'll get a come-along--it would have, ahem, come in handy for non-level surfaces. I was able to use a ratcheting strap for the same purpose, but the real thing would have been nice.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Some work I did in 2020, and…


The new Voigt Planes shop

It's been a while since I've blogged, so I'd like to take a look back at some of the work I've done over the last year. 

2020 was a tough year, like it was for most people, but I did manage to break some new ground in my planemaking adventures. First and foremost, my wife and I bought a house (first time!), which came with the 900 sf garage pictured above. I've got a lot of plans for this space, so stay tuned!

Early in the year, I added dado planes to my lineup. These are loosely based on some early American examples, and use wooden thumbscrews and a wooden depth stop. I'm extremely happy with this design--it works great, and keeps both the weight and the price down. And the wooden screws are useful in several types of planes; more on that below.

The idea for wooden thumbscrews actually came out of some research I've been doing at Colonial Williamsburg. In 2017,  I began studying their newly acquired, enormous collection of the earliest American planes by Cesar Chelor and John & Francis Nicholson. In 2019, I did a presentation at their annual Working Wood in the 18th Century conference, and this year, I wrote an article for Mortise and Tenon Magazine that focused on Cesar Chelor.

As part of my work for Colonial Williamsburg, I've been making reproductions (or near-reproductions) of Chelor's planes. In 2019, I made a panel raiser and a stick and rabbet plane; in 2020, I finally tackled the Yankee plow plane. I started with a lefty prototype, since I'm left-handed.


Once I was satisfied, I built two right-handed models for the Hay Cabinet Shop at Williamsburg. One of the planes is made from traditional beech (like nearly all of my planes), while the other is made from yellow birch, which was the species preferred by the early American makers (Nicholson, Chelor, etc). 


In the next post, I'll preview some plans for the shop in the coming year. Happy 2021 everybody; hope the year is off to a good start for you! It's got to be better than last year!