Play Time – Parquetry Shooting Plane

After last year’s WW18thC soiree at Williamsburg I blogged about being fascinated with a parquetry shooting plane Patrick Edwards had in his arsenal, and I vowed then and there to make one for myself.

Then last summer I scored this little beauty at Martin Donnelly’s annual house cleaning auction in July, and I thought it might assuage my desire to make one myself.  Yeah, right.  It is exquisite but only cranked up the flame.

Last week in between some glue-ups for the Gragg chairs on the fourth floor I ran down to the studio to get going on that.  I wondered if Patrick’s plane was a reconfigured rabbet plane and decided that this was the path for me in my pursuit.  So at a tool flea market I bought three derelict 1-inch rabbet planes with irons for $5 each.  I would feel no remorse for trying and failing with landfill candidates like them.

Many years ago I had acquired some sections of bronze downspout from my local metals recycler, not for any particular reason other than it was neat and it was cheap.  I figured that it was the perfect raw material for some project, some time.  Well the project and time had come.

Stay tuned as I take you on the journey of turning a pile of junk into a sublime tool.


Solving A Black Hole

While I appreciate the spatial efficiency and construction elegance of large tool chests, I know myself well enough to realize they are not suited for my temperament nor work habits.  As the renowned classical philosopher Harry Callahan remarked, “A man has to know his limitations.”

I prefer my tools to generally be in open storage at torso height whenever practicable (not always possible but still the goal), such as my habit of festooning the shop with machinists’ tool chests and hinged cabinets chest-high around the perimeter of the space, and my always handy rack of drawknives.

For the past few years I utilized a vintage tool chest for storing my molding and joinery planes next to my FORP Roubo bench.  Unfortunately for me the reality of my untidy habits comes to the fore and the chest is almost always under a crap-load of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it less so.  Thus I spent more time devising “work arounds” to avoid accessing those tools than using them.  I decided that the tool chest had to go.  Exactly where it would go has yet to be determined but had to go it did.

At the same time with some shop rearranging I had a surplus but crude shelving unit that fit the spot perfectly.  Coincidentally it held all of the planes that were formerly stored in the black hole of the big black tool chest.

Problem solved.

In the weeks since I made the switch I have used the now-easily-accessible planes more than in the years they were languishing in said Black Hole.

Handworks 2020 – Be There Or Be (out of) Square

The Abraham boys at Benchcrafted just went live with the announcement of the next Handworks event in the wilds of central Iowa.  If you did not attend the previous iterations it is difficult to describe it concisely.  Think of Woodstock without the music or dope or other nihilistic hedonism; just multitudes of hand-tool enthusiasts and the hand tools that power them.

Stay tuned as more information with be forthcoming.  Suffice to say if you go, I will see you there.  September 4/5, 2020, Amana, Iowa.

Cleaning A Brazed/Soldered Joint (Making Roubo Squares sidebar)

I use some version of the following techniques for cleaning the interior corners of a soldered/brazed joint such as that created at the shoe-and-beam joint for the Roubo squares.  If my brazing technique is on its game this only takes a couple minutes from start to finish.  If not, more minutes.  Actually, were I a better metalsmith there would be no cleanup at all, but this is the kind of joint I usually have after the torch work.

My first step is to clean the excess solder with a half-round Vixen file, which is the metalworking version of a float.  I lay the flat side of the file down flat on the workpiece and press the edge between the flat and half-round sides into the joint to remove any excess.  Then I repeat it on the other flat face.

Once any excess solder is cleaned off I strike the joint with a diamond shaped burin, or engraver, to establish a nice clean corner.  The spatial circumstance of the task does not allow for me to hold the burin properly, I just hold it sorta like a paring chisel.

Finally I find the halfway angle for a triangle fie and undercut the joint ever so slightly for an elegantly clean look.

After that I’ve got a nice surface ready for polishing with a light abrasive to make it finished.  Once I get the edges finished this one will be ready to go.


Many years ago when Knew Concepts saws burst onto the marketplace I met and was befriended by the gurus behind them, Lee Marshall and Brian Meek.  There are not many tools that can change the way I work, but their saws did.  As an outgrowth of our friendship I began to collaborate with them to refine their products and even begin down the road of developing whole new tools.

One of the tools I encouraged them create was a vertical oriented marquetry chevalet.  Yes, I know that traditionalist and purists might snort at me for that position, but let me explain to you how much I care about that.  (Cue the sound of crickets.)  You can find my tale of encountering their initial engineering design prototype here.

Now for a little more background.

I have been cutting veneers for more than forty years, almost always in the context of repairing or replacing missing marquetry or plain veneers.  I learned to cut it on a horizontal bench pin using a jeweler’s frame saw freehand in the vertical orientation.

Once I got to use a traditional chevalet, a hand powered machine that interestingly enough post-dates what many think was the Golden Age of Marquetry, my experience and muscle memory/work habits left me unimpressed with my own skill with the tool.  I have seen others use it in a manner that could only be described as magnificent, but I have never developed a facility with the device to make it my default tool.  (It might very well be the result of me not having thousands of hours behind the wheel, so to speak, with an intimidating task master peering over my shoulder.  By the time I got to use a full-scale chevalet I was long passed the point of being intimidated about much of anything.  Once you go nose-to-nose with a bind drunk idiot neighbor shooting a revolver in his back yard while my kids were playing in my back yard, everything else takes its proper place in the hierarchy of intimidation.)  Instead, I always reverted to my older method in which I had honed my skills.

Once I saw Steve Latta demonstrate his version of a bench-top horizontal action chevalet I built my own, and I got better results with that than with the full scale, sit down version.  Not yet great, but better.  Still, I could see some great possibilities based on my execution of the concept.

Back to Knew Concepts.  I was attracted not only to their jeweler’s saw frames but practically swooned once I learned of their Mark Series of fixed-orientation saws.  I had to have one!  I got one and again it changed the way I could work in the marquetry techniques I used, mostly Boullework style and double-bevel style.  The Mark Series saw made cutting small pieces of marquetry (about a 6″ size limit) practically idiot-proof, and sometime I can be a pretty high-powered idiot.

Lee and Brian and I continued to correspond and meet at various woodworking tool events, and eventually I convinced them to give it a try.  Our dinners together always seemed to result in a stack of napkins covered in design drawings and spec lists. Brian came to see me in DC, well actually he came to see my bench top chevalet — I was incidental to the trip (not really, I always thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with Lee ad Brian, both creatively and socially) — and he returned to Crazyfornia to begin designing a saw incorporating and fusing all our ideas.  Soon computer generated design drawings were flying back and forth across the continent.

Then came the Woodworking in America 2016 when Lee promised to “show you something special.”  I could practically see the twinkle in his eye just from the email.  As I phrased it at the time,

“I encountered the working concept prototype whose gestation was several years, and as I worked with the tool I felt, more than heard, a thunderclap.  Everything that had been was now no more.”

Shortly thereafter Lee fell gravely ill, and eventually passed away.  Brian took the helm of the enterprise and the process of transition took all of his time and energy, and then some.  We corresponded infrequently for a couple years, then a few months ago it picked up again and I asked him if the bench top vertical-cut chevalet was ever going to become a production reality.  Knowing how swamped he was I sorta expected a note of the “Man I am just too busy to think about it,” variety.  Imagine my delight when instead he wrote back and told me they were in the home stretch of the initial production prototype.

Last week a couple packages arrived arrived, and it is better than Christmas at the Barn on White Run these days.  A whole lotta time, energy, and ideas have come to fruition.

Stay tuned.

Making Roubo Squares – Day 3


Day 3 was almost entirely a continuation of Day 2, bringing the squares closer to completion.  It was pretty insistent that each student had at least one square all the way done to guide them once they got back home.  I’m pretty sure each of them headed hme with at least a couple finished.

There was a little sawing as the shoes were trimmed as necessary following their brazing.

The sounds of filing and sanding permeated the air as squares were trued, followed by the gentler sanding with finer paper in getting the surfaces polished to the point of being “done.”

As we continued our work we were able to reflect on a grand time of fellowship and learning.

Thanks for a great workshop, gentlemen.  Counting my own projects, I think the grand total for the weekend was 30 squares, eight or nine triangles, and several pounds of scraps and filings.

Now it’s time to turn my attentions to this month’s workshop on Historic Finishing.

“Measuring Is The Enemy,” or, Truing A Triangle

One of the tools emerging from the recent Making Roubo Squares workshop was a diminutive 30-60-90 triangle.  This tool is integral to much of my/our shop life for areas ranging from cubic/pinwheel parquetry to laying out the dovetailed tenons of a Roubo bench leg-and-slab double mortise-and-tenon construction.

With the surplus rectangle of brass plate left over from the making of our nested set of cabinetmaker’s squares during the workshop there was plenty of brass plate left over for making other, smaller layout tools.  Included in these were some small triangles that were roughly laid out with a plastic drafting triangle and rough cut on the bandsaw.

I took the opportunity to demonstrate the truing of the triangle to the workshop students, reminding them of the simple truths they learned decades ago in seventh grade Geometry class.  Instead of using a micrometer or something similar to establish the tringle side lengths, a much easier, simpler, faster, and frankly more accurate method is only a compass or divider away.

After establishing the perfect square corner between the two shorter legs of the triangle it was possible to achieve a perfect set of 30-60 degree angles by using just a scrap piece of plywood, a pencil, and a set of dividers.  For work like this I almost always revert to a pair of dividers from an antique navigational drafting set that I bought for practically nothing many years ago.  These German Silver (alloy of brass plus nickel) tools are simply lovely and a pleasure to the eye and the hand.

First I traced the rough triangle onto a piece of scrap plywood, and set my dividers to the exact length of the shorter side adjacent to the right angle.

Then swinging the dividers to the hypotenuse I stepped off two of those lengths.  If you will recall, for a perfect 30-60-90 triangle the hypotenuse is exactly two time longer than the shorter side of the right angle.

Once I determined that two-times-longer distance along the hypotenuse I re-set my dividers to this exact distance then transferred it to the longer side of the right angle, redrew the hypotenuse on the plywood, then transferred it to the brass.

Five minutes later I had cut and filed the new hypotenuse and had a perfect 30-60-90 triangle ready to braze on the foot and put to use in a multitude of applications.

All with zero measuring, although to be honest I did grab my dial caliper afterwards to check.  I wound up being off by almost 0.002″ which probably amounts to a couple seconds or so of angle degree (or, about 1/1800th of a degree).   I can live with that.

To quote my mentor in the pattern shop, John Kuzma (cleaned up considerably for a family-friendly venue), “Measuring is the enemy.  Layout and transfer are your friends.”

I cannot recall my 7th grade Geometry teacher’s name but I do remember Mr. Fiske, who taught me Trigonometry in 11th grade almost fifty years ago.  Together these men impressed on me the importance of triangles in every-day life.  Thank you, gentlemen.

Making Roubo Squares – Day 2

By the start of the second day everyone’s trains were barreling down the tracks and all we had to do was keep on keeping on.   Even as I entered the barn the sounds of sawing, filing, and sanding filled the air.

I had given each of the students one of these DARPA funded, MIT developed tools to work on the ogee tips at either end of the squares.  One side was flat and the other was round, and when wrapped with sandpaper the tool was perfect for the task of finishing the shape.  The uninitiated might think these were simply a 3/8″ dowel split in half on the bandsaw, but they would be properly ignorant of the national security dark technology pedigree of the tool.

Pretty soon the tips were more-or-less derived.

One procedure that was replicated perhaps a hundred times that day was returning to the abrasive covered granite blocks to bring the squares closer to “true,” a process that would be continued until after the torch work and the “square-ness” was perfected versus the Vesper final word square.

Len was the first to get the brilliant idea of creating a 30-60-90 triangle from the remaining scrap of rectangular brass plate left over from the four nested squares.  Using my older version of the Knew Concepts Mark III saw he set to work and soon had the inside design cut out.

Meanwhile Dave, John and Pete got their tips shaped and polished.

Len finished the interior of the piercing of the triangle.

All the while the pile of brass filings and shavings built up at every work station.  This continued until the very end and we compiled an impressive pile of scraps and waste filings, I’d estimate somewhere around five pounds worth.

All of this was prelude for the tasks presented after lunch as the shoes for the beams were brazed in place with silver containing solder.  Once the mating surfaces were perfected it was time to move to the torch work stations.

The set-up was designed for efficient and safe torch work.  I will blog about making a perfect set-up for bench top brazing in the next couple of weeks.

Fortunately I had all the things I needed on hand; fire bricks, kiln shelves to use as brazing platforms, and inexpensive lazy susan bearings so each place could turn.  I placed three work stations on top of cement backer board from a home improvement center.  For this project it was important to isolate the workpieces from the shelf and the bricks as much as possible to reduce the amount of heat loss from direct contact during the brazing.  That is why the work pieces are raised up from the shelf by two small pieces of scrap brass.

After slathering on the flux to the contact edge of the square it was placed on the horizontally situated shoe, in the center.  Then the torch was lit and the heat turned up.  We were using both propane and MAPP torches, the first was fine and the second faster.

Once the assemblage was heated up and the brass began to get a coppery tone it was time to simply flow the coiled solder into the back side of the joint and let the heat draw it underneath the joint toward the flame.

Dave gave the quenched joint a fierce testing, and was impressed at the strength of it.

Then everyone set to brazing on the bases of their respective squares, then began the cleaning up process.

And that’s how we spent the rest of Day 2.

Making Roubo Squares – Day 1

Last week I hosted a workshop that reflected my peculiarities as a craftsman, a woodworker who loves metal work.  Four skilled craftsmen, Dave, John, Len, and Pete joined me for three terrific days of fellowship and making.  In this case making a nested set of Roubo-esque solid brass squares a la Plate 308, Figure 2.

The starting point for the three days was a 9″x12″x1/8″ brass plate.

Using my puny table saw and sled with a waste block to reduce the shrapnel, everyone cut a series of descending size squares.

After the table saw cuts, stopped to avoid over-cutting at the intersection of the inner edges, the cuts were finished with deep-throat fret saws and #6 jeweler’s blades which I provided.   Pete had his wondrous Knew Concepts coping saw that worked like a charm.

And then the filing began.  To protect the inner corner of the squares we ground off one edge of the mill files that everyone brought, starting with the disc sander followed by a diamond stone.  This allowed for pretty aggressive work in the corners.

The filing was done on both inside corners of the cut squares and the outside corners of the remaining rectangles in preparation for cutting out the next smaller square, followed by truing on sandpaper over a granite block.  (You can see the sublime Vesper square that was our “final word” truing reference for the workshop.)

This scene pretty much sums up the whole day.  I was working right alongside the students making another set of the squares.  I find this approach works best for the students to see me working on the same exact project, several times they came to look over my shoulder at some point in the day.

Before long everyone had their four rough squares ready for the next step, which was to trace and cut the offset/stepped ogees on each end.  The small rectangle of brass remaining from the first four squares could be used later for a petite pair of squares and a couple of 30-60-90 triangles.

These were roughed out on the bandsaw, ready for filing the rest of the way.

That’s where we were at the end of the first day.

Stay tuned for Day 2.

Mystery Maker?

During last week’s workshop Make A Set of Roubo Squares (more about that soon) one of the tools I used fairly regularly was this Roubo-esque and very stout exquisite palm-sized square.  I vaguely recall it being in a box lot of stuff I bought at a Donnelly auction several years ago but that could be a false memory.

I have not been able to identify the tool maker but I do not consider myself to be well-versed in that world.  The blade is stamped “Anderson” in script.  It is a fine tool with a lot of heft, sitting in the apron pocket like a brick.

Anyone have an idea?