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Posts tagged hand tools
I'm Surrounded

Working at Veritas is admittedly a pretty cool gig. One of the best things about my job is the people I get to work with. In my office there are many talented designers and engineers that do what they do really well - on top of that, they are good people. Among those folks are some pretty talented woodworkers. I have friends/co-workers that are timber framers, heritage carpenters, boat builders and luthiers just to name a few.

Scott works for Veritas as a buyer. He brings in all the material needed to make all the tools the we produce. Scott is also an incredibly talented woodworker. For months he has been sharing photos of his period work but I wanted to see it in the flesh.

Proud Papa Scott with his chair.

He brought in a Connecticut Chippendale chair that he recently made. This style of chair would have been popular in the mid to late 1700's and was stripped down in regards to carving from it's Philadelphia cousin.

The chair is crafted in mahogany and the workmanship is primarily with hand tools. The thing I like best is the surfaces are off the tool and not sanded to the point of unnecessary smoothness. To my eye, this piece has so much character because of those tool marks. No only is the overall form of the chair pleasing but you can also see and appreciate the human being that was behind its creation. By the way, Scott is a self-trained woodworker who follows my mantra: "In order to understand, you must do". He is proof that if you get into your shop and try things, anything is possible.

A lot of my writings in the past haven't featured much on other's woodworking but I think that is about to change. I enjoy seeing other peoples' work and so I think it's time to share some of that with you. You may be asking yourself: "When are you going to be making some projects Mr. Minimalist-pants". Well I have quite a list that my wife has developed for our new house that I will be getting started on once I get some work travel out of the way. I think she has about five piece in the queue for me so I'll be a busy fella in the next few months. I've got some basic design work done and now I'm ready to prove those designs with some maquettes that I'll be putting together.

Stay tuned for a multi-part blog on the design and making of my dining room table. I'll be trying some unconventional joinery for the legs that I'm hoping will let me ditch the aprons. Or....it could all fail miserably. Either way it should be as fun as watching a train wreck - you may want to look away but you can't. 

In order to understand, you must do. - V

Wooden small smoothers, oh my!

There has been some buzz on a couple of blogs talking about the use of smaller smoothers. It’s been a long time since I’ve used 4’s and 4-1/2’s in my shop and the reasons are many. I like a small smoother because it’s nimble and easy to control. When I’m smoothing surfaces,I find the work goes quicker with a small plane. In the case of larger surfaces like table tops or case sides, I can be spending a bit of time with a smoother in my hands. For this reason I’m not a big fan of heavy smoothers either. I get that heavy smoothers have more momentum in use but I have plenty of weight to put behind a plane so I find they are just extra weight to throw around. 

Small bevel-up smoother, mahogany and rosewood smoother.

Small bevel-up smoother, mahogany and rosewood smoother.

My favorite smoothers are wooden ones if I’m being honest. Ever since I was a student at Rosewood Studio and learned how to make them, I've found them to be pretty darn awesome. Only until recently though, did I get really proficient at setting them. During Woodworks 2014, plane maker Scott Meeks was in my shop and I asked him what the secret was to getting a hammer-set plane working well. His advice was to put my metal planes away for a month and only use the wood ones. So that’s what I did…and funny thing, I got pretty good at it. Go figure. 

I like wooden smoothers because I get way more feedback from the plane. I can feel tiny spots of reversing grain through my hands and make subtle changes to my planing techniques to correct for it. The wooden sole of the plane also burnishes the surface that I’m working on, making it shine like a crazy diamond. 

This little fella is my favorite.

This little fella is my favorite.

In the end, I don’t think it matters if you use metal or wood-bodied planes, or large or small smoothers. I think a sharp blade and proper planing techniques will take you all sorts of places. Experiment with both sizes and body materials and go with what you like. There is no right or wrong here…your personal preference is the right choice for you.  

Do you have a preference already? Let me know what you use in your shop. 

To understand, you must do. - V 

Head To Your Home Centre To Become A Hand Tool Rock Star

I'm not kidding. Head to your local home centre and find the isle that has a bunch of pre-dimensioned wood, then find the 1-by pine. Again with the pine you say? I know...I know, we have been taught that pine is crap-wood that is only suitable for painting or maybe getting a fire hot. The truth is that pine is the perfect wood for learning to woodwork with hand tools, here is why.

Pine forces you to become a great sharpener. Softwoods unlike its deciduous cousins will not easily be cut with anything but the sharpest of blades. The fibres would sooner compress under a blade rather stand tall and be cut. If this is true with face-grain, you can bet it goes double with end-grain. What to test the keenness of a blade’s edge? Take a scrap of pine and pare a bit of it’s end-grain. A sharp blade will take off a shaving leaving behind a pristine surface. Anything less than sharp will yield a white powder and a surface comparable (dare I say) to sanding.

Chisel sharpness will also be put to the test when working across end-grain. Paring the bottom of a pin socket will leave a torn-out surface with a dull blade, possibly leading to a poor fit when the joint gets put together.

If I look back at furniture that was made by the craftsmen of the 18th and early 19th centuries here in what used to be Upper Canada, you’ll see an awful lot of pine furniture that was both painted and oiled. The Quebecois furniture just up the road also has a strong heritage of pine construction. So just when exactly did it get it’s bad name for use in furniture making? Everything from occasional tables to workbenches was made with the stuff - why the upturned noses?

So I say work with pine if you want to become a hand tool rock star. If you can create beautiful surface in this softwood, any other wood will be a breeze. 

In order to understand, you must do - V

The Bucket

Okay...the last thing the woodworking world needs is another article on sharpening. Jig vs no jig, water stone vs oil stone vs abrasive paper, power vs hand....yikes! For the record, I use a wheel grinder and Japanese water stones to sharpen most things in my shop. I use a honing guide except for when I don't and I use a belt grinder for doing knives. Enough about that...I want to talk about my bucket. 

I was watching this video awhile back of a dude sharpening his Japanese irons and was interested in the bucket he had. There is nothing special about the bucket but I was interested in the role it played in his sharpening routine. I don't have a sink in my shop so using water stones was a bit of a pain. I stored them in a small Tupperware-like container and would carefully pull them out so I didn't get water everywhere. Then I would gently spritz them with a spray bottle, again being careful to not get the surrounding area wet. When it came to flattening the stones, I would have to head to the kitchen sink and hope that I didn't get caught befouling the kitchen with my dirty stones.

So off to the hardware store to get a 5 gal bucket. I filled it up and dropped the stones in leaning them against the side. Instead of putting the stones on a separate surface, I made a stone bridge from a red oak cut-off that spans the mouth of the bucket. I didn't bother to put finish on the bridge...it took about 10 minutes to make so I figure I'll make a new one in 10 years when this one had had the biscuit. Once the stone is on the bridge I can simply dip my hand in the water and scoop up a handful of stone lube without worrying about getting water everywhere. Any extra water lands back in the bucket. I keep an old towel clamped to the bucket to I can easily dry the blade to inspect my work and to dry my hands. I keep a separate rag soaked in Moovit oil to coat the blade to prevent rust. I know that link looks like a shameless plug but that's where I get it from. I'm sure if you search it out you will find other sellers.

Nothing fancy here...just a plain old bucket.

Stones are fully submerged on end.

The bridge has a layer of PSA-backed rubber to stop stones from slipping.

I always try to make sharpening as easy as possible. Like a lot of people, I'm lazy and if sharpening is laborious and a pain I will put off doing it. Putting off sharpening is a good way to create tear-out and could lead to a 'design change'. So give the bucket a try. At most you're out a bucket and a bit of time.

Sorry about the photo quality. I was using my phone. (tsk..tsk..tsk)

In order to understand, you must do. V

Pinus strobus Hand Plane

I love wooden planes. I love making them and most of all I love the sound they make as they take shavings from wood. The other day I was experimenting with using softwood for the body of a Krenovian-style plane. At best guess I’ve made about 20 of this style of plane with the majority of them made from a tough wood of some type. Maple, sapele, rosewood and king wood to name a few but the other day I wondered about making a pine plane.

I apologize for the poor photo quality...here you see the bubinga sole.

Now obviously pine would not wear well so I soled the plane with an 1/8” of bubinga. I have also discovered that the hardest part about setting this style of plane for me is setting the wedge. I would constantly go back and forth between too heavy and too light of a cut, so to fix that I’m using a mechanical wedge in the form of an insert and screw. With this set up I can set the wedge and make the adjustments to the plane without having to worry about changing the setting while hammer setting the wedge. The plane adjusts in the same manner as any other adjuster-free plane - A few light hammer taps here and there gets you were you want to go.

Ignore the styling on this model...this was just an experiment.

The results the plane left behind were stellar. It was great performance with a nice lightweight body. I think weight is important for shooting but for smoothing and stock prep I’ve been leaning towards a lighter plane. This pine model is only 25% lighter than an all-bubinga plane so in the end you’re not losing that much weight.

I’m going to continue to experiment with this light weight version and use them more often to see how they last…I will keep you posted.

In order to understand, you must do. V