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I Need a Secretary!

I am back from the long weekend. Nope I haven’t been on holiday (as my Canadian wife would say it). My family took the trek down with me to the Lie-Nielsen hand tool event in Charleston. I had a nice experience. The kids had fun, I think. The weather was rainy at times but we still managed a very large crowd especially on Saturday.

I wanted to share a few photos of those that were there at the event. I don’t do Facebook so I guess this is my Facebook type post for the blog. I will get back to the real stuff soon enough when I get a chance to breath.

On that note as many of you seem to have noticed Chris Schwarz played a trick on me and posted my moulding planes up on his blog. He probably gets a kick out of slamming small fries web pages like mine. No, no, I am just joking but needless to say I am a bit behind on answering emails so I felt the need to let everyone know, that is waiting on me, that I will get to you but it may take a while. Also I started feeling bad for sending such short emails to respond to some. That always seems abrupt or rude to me. Anyways don’t shy away from sending me your inquiries but now you know if my reply is slow.

…on to the poor photos. This first one is the twenty or so that attended the special tour of the Nathaniel Russell house built in 1808 with a view to appreciating its historic furniture. We got to pull out drawers and peek in places that you would never be allowed to otherwise. It was awesome to see drawer bottoms that were probably 24″ deep and from one piece of wood!

There were some pretty unique stairs that were worth a photo. Those stair treads are pine…so dark. πŸ™‚
View from the bottom
From the top

Then on to the venue a the American College of the Building Arts. We where on the second floor of the old jail. I wish I had taken a picture of the outside. I missed all the action going on during the day too. Plenty of iron work, timber framing and the like. I did get to pick up an antique moving fillister thanks to a customer bringing it to my attention. Thanks Lin! Here he is working the end of this board  with a fore plane before putting the raised panel plane to it.

It was nice to see the kids get involved. I had a whole family with, I think it was four of five boys, give the jack plane a go. It was fun. Mom gave it a whirl, too. Stuff like that makes my day. 
I didn’t get a shot of them but I did get a shot of a father and son working the heck out of this board.
Finally the others… It was fun working with a crew like this. I felt a little out of place at first but that didn’t last for long. Everyone welcomed me like I was a part of the gang even though it was only my first or second time to meet most of them. (I don’t get around much)
Mary May, Chris Schwarz

Roger , Tom Lie-Nielsen , Deneb, and other enthusiastic woodworkers 
This had to be my favorite shot of the weekend. My wife took it while I was demonstrating something and showed it to me later. I don’t know why, but I am a bit reluctant to post this but it was just too cute. These are my two girls getting a lesson on the names of hand tools from the inside cover of the book Grandpa’s Workshop.
I will be following up with a post on how to purchase a plane or planes and it will include my current price list. Thanks for the positive response everyone. 

See You In Charleston!

I will be away for a few days down in Charleston, SC. Come down and join the crew at the American College of the Building Arts downtown campus in the Old Charleston Jail on 21 Magazine Street.

I will be a guest demonstrator at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event that will be hosted there before and during The Masters of the Building Arts Festival on March 28th and 29th. 

I will have my well equipped tool chest packed with 18th century style wooden hand planes ready for action. Come give them a try. If you have questions about planemaking or whatever else we can talk shop too.

See you there!

Keep That Mouth Shut

UPDATE: Make sure and read the comments. Kees and I have an interchange on the subject of high bed angles and chip breakers. We discuss there effect on mouth openings. Good stuff. I will let you make up your mind what matters most. Original post follows.

Last year some time I posted plans for a coffin shaped smoothing plane. Of course, to be made out of wood. I asked anyone to point out any errors in the plans. I got some feedback but no one seemed to question the reference to the mouth opening being 1/32″. That is quite large actually. It is about double what I would consider as a size to shoot for.

So what is the size I shoot for. I aim for as tight as possible. That means about 0.006″-0.008 is excellent but I am happy with anything up to around 0.012″. Now, that is for planes I sell. As for planes that I use, I have some with mouths much larger than that.

Here are a couple of photos of examples of mouth opening on my planes. The first is a smoother at about 0.004″ and the second is a miter plane at around 0.010″. Click to zoom in.

Of course we are talking about smoothing planes. For jack planes I don’t get bent out of shape on the mouth size. About a 0.030 is fine with me or around a 1/32″. That is how I think that I ended up with that measurement in the plans. I should be more careful when I copy and paste.

So essentially if you make a smoothing plane with a mouth opening of about 1/64″ (0.015″) then pat yourself on the back. You did an outstanding job. If you can get it to half of that, then you are ready for a new profession. πŸ™‚

Why Use Beech For Traditional Wooden Planes?

First off I would say that traditional planes have been made out of a number of woods. I plan to discuss those at another time. But the vast majority of traditional planes have been made from beech without a doubt and for good reason.

If you haven’t seen my post on “Why Use Quarter Sawn Wood for Wooden Planes?” then you should probably read that before this post.

So, you ask “What is so special about beech”. Well, most people would think nothing much is special about this wood, especially here in the US. It is very hard to get compared to other hard woods and almost impossible to find quarter sawn. It is not like the wood is rare or anything. It is quite abundant. The biggest reason, I think, is obvious why it isn’t used much. It is terrible to dry properly without growing fungus, which mars its light color, or it checks very badly. This keeps saw mills from wanting to bother with the wood. Plus it brings a low price. As you can imagine these businesses are geared to being profitable, as would be expected.

Interestingly the latter problem of it checking has so much to do with its abundant and distinct rays that we discussed in the preceding post. And this is in fact what makes this wood so suited to making planes with it. We will get to that but lets consider something else before that.

A few things that you want to consider in choosing a good plane wood is that it be a wood that is harder than other woods that you plan to be planing. This should make sense without me explaining, right. Beech is harder than most woods that we commonly use. It is the same density as red oak and only a little softer than white oak.

So you might then wonder “Why not just use white oak?”. Good question. It is harder. Well the problem is that oaks are ring-porous woods. That means that the early growth is much less dense than the late growth wood which is what makes us associate oaks with being “hard”. When you look at the growth ring of an oak log you can clearly see the band of early wood that is full of holes while the late growth wood is dense and usually darker.

Here in lies the problem for using it as a wood for planes. The primary weakness in a wooden plane is the mouth. It takes a lot of abuse. When the soft early growth layer of the wood crosses the mouth of the plane it is quickly worn away and it leaves a place for shavings to quickly jam. Not something you want. Of course there are other places in the plane that would suffer from this same weakness but for me that is enough to eliminate this wood as a choice for a tool that a workman would count on day after day.

So what you want to use is a diffuse-porous wood species. Diffuse-porous means that the early and late wood growth is consistent in density. Often climax forest systems contain these types of trees. Beech is one of these woods and is diffuse-porous. But what makes it more preferable than the rest. It again comes down to its abundant rays. Here we are back to my illustration. As we discussed in the previous post, the rays a perpendicular to the long grain fibers. They run from the inside of the tree to the outside. What this means is that the end of the ray fiber emerges on the tangental face of a board. That is to say the plain sawn face of a board will have the end of the ray fibers showing.

End grain of ray on sole of plane makes it highly wear resistant

What does that mean? Well as you know end grain is much much much more wear resistant than the long grain fibers. You see, beech has, according to one reference work, approximately 40% of the plain sawn face of a board covered with the end grain of the rays. That is why beech is so appropriate for wooden planes. When the wood is oriented with the quarter sawn face on the sides and the plain sawn face on the sole of the plane then you get the best of both functions of the abundant rays that beech poses.

End grain of rays look like small dashes on plain sawn face for beech. 

So while there are other hardwoods, as well as some tropical woods, that are harder they don’t beat the wear resistance of the “end grain” function of the rays. Though I wouldn’t argue that they couldn’t be comparable in wear resistance. I frankly haven’t made enough from tropical woods or ebonys to give my opinion on that.

Now, keeping in mind what we just discussed, add on to that beech is so plentiful, readily available in areas where planemakers were at, it wasn’t competing for other uses like cabinetmaking, that it has relatively easy working characteristics and that it grows into large trees, unlike many of the alternative planemaking woods and you can see why it became the wood of choice.

Now this discussion isn’t with the aim to say that using other woods is wrong. But many I know have wondered why this wood was chosen. I hope I helped answer that question to some degree.

As I mentioned there were other woods used to make planes and I plan to post what woods were also used. But in the meantime what ever you choose just make sure that it is at least two things. First it is quarter sawn and second that it is diffuse-pourous. Try to keep its density higher than the woods you plan to work.

If I couldn’t find quarter sawn beech then I would first look for hard maple. It would almost without a doubt not be in a quarter sawn option but you could look for some really thick plain sawn boards and produce your planes with the quarter sawn face on the sides of the plane.

Happy planemaking!

Why Use Quarter Sawn Wood For Wooden Planes?

This is a good question. I have seen this over looked a lot of times when seeing examples of planes made online. Why isn’t obvious really.

I am going to assume that you know little about quarter sawn and plain sawn lumber other than you know how it looks to the eye. I think that is where we all started in woodworking. We understood that a lot of older furniture had quarter sawn lumber in it but the only thing we saw was that it looked different. We didn’t realize until later that it not only looked different but it acted differently as well.

Probably oak is the wood that comes to mind when we think of quarter sawn. It is no surprise because basically all use of oak originally was “quarter sawn”. I put that in quotation marks because it wasn’t sawn at all. It would have been riven not sawn. Anyways I digress. If you want to know more about how oak built the world civilizations I recommend you read the book “Oak The Frame Of Civilization” by William Bryant Logan.

But traditional planes are made of beech almost exclusively. I get a few eye brows raised at me when I tell people that beech is related to oak. In fact oaks are in the family of the beeches (Fagaceae). They share many qualities. One important one is that they both have distinct rays.

I think it is important to understand what ray fibers are in order to really grasp how they affect wood movement, especially in quarter sawn wood. Rays are the fibers in the tree that run perpendicular to the long grain fiber that run the length of the tree. In other words the ray fibers run from the inside to the outside of the tree while the long grain fibers run from top to bottom. Rays actually work to move moisture and nutrients throughout the tree in times of drought, etc. Ray fibers are not common in tropical woods, by the way.

So what do these rays do in wood. Essentially they reduce wood movement during moisture cycling. That is why most hardwoods essentially have a 2:1 ratio of tangential shrinkage to radial shrinkage. So that means that the radial plane of wood moves less compared to the tangential, about half. Just think of it this way. The annual rings are the tangential plane while the rays are the radial plane.

So we can think of rays creating a lattice work when they cross the long grain fibers. In fact the rays are essentially long grain fibers as well. And we know that a piece of wood along its length (long grain) basically doesn’t change in length. That is why rays reduce wood movement in that plane. Therefore a piece of wood that is quarter sawn is more stable across its width. That is why you choose quarter sawn boards for the frame of a door and it is the same reason you choose quarter sawn wood for picture frame mitered corners. I have drawn an illustration to show this latter example. This also illustrates why a wedge in a plane benefits from being in the quarter sawn plane.

As you can see in the upper right corner of the illustration the picture frame miter when plain sawn will open up at the corners when the moisture cycles up and down but the quarter sawn miter will move half as much and appear to stay “closed” in relation to the plain sawn miter.
Now consider how the wedge of a plane is a triangle corner like in a miter, so is the wedge mortise in the plane body. If these are in the quarter sawn orientation then the fit will stay more stable during moisture cycling throughout the seasons.
Next post I will talk about why quarter sawn beech is the wood of choice for wooden planes and why a wood like oak is not, even though they have similar properties like distinct rays and hardness. When I do that I will work from the same illustration and the rest of it will make sense.

How to Cut Complex & Ogee Moulding Plane Blade Profiles

Lately I have been doing a bit more custom/complex profiles for moulding planes. I thought I would show you a bit of how I go about doing it. I don’t know how the artisans of old did this. It would be interesting to see what they did. Did they cut the profile, grind it, or something else I am not thinking of. I don’t guess it matters. I am not constrained by there technology and I am sure if they lived now they wouldn’t constrain themselves either for any nostalgic reason. They would probably be excited to see our tooling and put it to use.

Once you have made your complex profile moulding plane with the profile cut in the sole and everything otherwise complete and fitted take your blade and coat it with machinist fluid on the top front edge of the blade, let it dry (duh!). Insert the blade in the plane. Set the wedge, then scribe the profile of the sole onto the blade. Try to do this in one pass, otherwise the scribe line gets harder to clearly see. A single fine line is much easier to track even if it isn’t perfect.

Here is what I currently do to cut the profile. I know it will change some as I like to refine and tinker with my methods. I think it is what keeps me interested in the craft. Below is my setup. You need a good light for this kind of work…Oh and coffee too. πŸ™‚

This is a basic jewelers saw that has a 3″ capacity. It uses 5″ pin less blades. Runs about $40. I cut the profile out of a blank prior to hardening. This is pretty thick material for these little saws. I first used one when I was bout 13 years old. My uncle ran a little shop that sold coins with parts cut out as jewelry and the like. It hit me one day that this would work wonders for cutting complex profiles and it does.

On a Lie-Nielsen tapered moulding plane blade the sides are “hardened” in the production process and so the jewelers saw blades won’t cut them. Fortunately this is not a problem since a touch of the grinder creates a nice notch to start the blade in anyways and removes the “hardened” metal.

Now just slow and steady wins the race. The trick to getting these to cut well is to keep the blade from overheating. If it overheats then, like any other cutting tool you are used to, it will not hold an edge. Thus I use a little bit of beeswax on the back of the blade. Yes, I said the back of the blade. If you put it on the front it will clog the relief area behind the tooth and it won’t cut. 

Once I do this I move onto the grinder to shape the bevel. I have a grinding wheel dressed to sort of a “V” point that is slightly rounded so I can work the hollow of the profile. Work right up to the edge but not past it. It is better to have a small area you need to remove after you harden then to have to re-profile the edge back once you harden it. 
By the way the picture is of the bevel side of the blade after hardening and tempering. As you can see all that I had to do to get it sharp was to work just the edge with some slip stones. I have seen many people describe leaving a thick edge on the blade while heat treating or otherwise the edge is weak. I have never had this problem. I think they are not heat treating properly. Very likely overheating the edge and creating poor “grain” structure in the metal which makes it weak. Anyways that is for another post. 
Dig deep. Make a complex profile moulding plane. You can do it! 
If you haven’t seen it then check out my plans for an ogee moulding plane here.

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