Tools

Winter Project – Steampunk Weighted Infill Mallet

While watching a Bob Rozaieski video the other day my eye was drawn to the mallet he was using.  So I sez to myself, “Self, you gotta make yourself something like that!”

So I will.  Probably late next week.  Stay tuned.

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Cross Eyed Scope

I enjoy precision shooting, a remarkable integration of vision, posture, physiology, skill, tool, and physics; atmospheric, combustion and gravitational trajectory.  Our dad used to take us out into the swamps to throw some lead.  My brother was a sniper-quality marksman back in the day and like me still loves to make loud noises and ventilate targets.  I never did acquire the skill-set of game hunting, although the way things are going I may need to learn.

But I have been plagued by ever diminishing eyesight all of my adult life, to the point where my dominant (right) eye is little more than a hood ornament.  For 99% of my day-to-day life the affliction is little more than a nuisance running in the background.  Sure, I need to hold my head a peculiar way when executing some tasks at the bench, but it has become so ingrained that I do not even think about it much.  It’s just the thorn in my flesh, and I have come to think of it as another opportunity for God to teach me something.  I just wish I was not so thickheaded about learning lessons, whatever they are.

Sure, during my quarterly eye exams the doctors all say, “The eye looks great,” and do not always appreciate my response, “Not from my side, it doesn’t!”  I am about to be fitted with a new contact lens in that eye which may help, a little.  But without surgery to replace the defective polymer lens implant in that eye, which compounds the defective corneal transplant (twice in a row; another data point about which the doctors have zero interest), it really does not matter how much the contact lens can correct the acuity/sharpness since it will not remove the heavy-fog-like haze resultant from the defective lens implant.  And, the surgeon is not at all anxious to intrude into that eye any more since I can still function.  I guess twenty (!) surgeries-per-eye is their limit.  Plus, the cavalier attitude about my glaucoma two ophthalmologists ago has already cost me roughly 1/2 of the vision in that eye on the perimeter of the vision field.

Like I said, a hood ornament.

All that to say that when it comes to long distance precision rifle shooting, I am up a creek without a paddle since that exercise has relied on my dominant right eye for more than fifty years.

Then along came a paddle.

Over the past few years, I have imagined, devised and designed a modified rifle scope that will allow me to still shoot right-handed with the rifle, but use my much better left eye as the steering mechanism for the tool.  I have way too many hours of muscle memory/practice to try learning to shoot left-handed, especially with a bolt-action tool, although I did play hockey left-handed.  But I was a defenseman, so I also skated backwards most of the time.

Now all I need to do is fabricate the parts in the machine shop, put the pieces together and try it out.

Which means I need to get the machine shop up to speed.  That’s what this post is really all about.  I’ve got the design.  I’ve got the materials.  I’ve got the precision machines, just sitting there.

Just do it, stoopid.

Hey, that’s a catchy phrase.  Maybe I will register it.  If the unit is a success, I will certainly not register the invention, I will simply write it up and release it to the world.  I cannot be the only shooting enthusiast betrayed by a failing dominant eye.

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Toolmaking

Since this list is already getting too long and I still have a large number of items yet to go, I decided to consolidate a half-dozen of my “winter projects (and well beyond)” into one with the identical theme for all the elements — making tools.  I have no doubt there will be other additions as time goes on, but these are the ones already on my “to do” list.

Copying (?) A Robert Towell (?) Infill Miter Plane

I do not own many truly “collectible” vintage tools, but this plane is one of them.  Perhaps made by London planemaker Robert Towell in the early 1800s, I bought this very-little-used plane at Martin Donnelly’s several years ago from one of the tailgate vendors.

Though the characteristics of the plane are consistent with Towell’s work, he was apparently somewhat cavalier about stamping his planes and this one is unmarked.  Had he stamped this one I would have certainly not been able to afford it.  So, thanks to his oversight I was able to become the owner of this superb beauty at a 90% discount (!) off an identical plane with his stamp.

In addition to this full-sized Towell miter plane, I have one of Raney Nelson’s early planes, a miniature scale but similar form.  I use it for trimming parquetry lozenges, one of a half-dozen planes I employ for that task (is that too many?).  Maybe I need to purge that inventory a bit.

Nah, I’ll wait until I finish and fill my new standing tool cabinet.  Check back with me then.

In the meantime, I’m thinking I need to make a third plane to complete this set, one halfway in between the sizes.

You (and I) might ask, “Don, do you really need it?”

And my reply would be, “Butt out of my bidnez.”

The project would give me a chance to invite over my new friend, an Amish blacksmith and newcomer to the county (heck, I’m a newcomer and we bought our cabin twenty years ago!  I expect my soon-grandson will be a “newcomer” also, but his grandkids maybe not), who is very interested in this kind of tool making.  It would also give me the opportunity to approach the local bladesmith/exotic dancer about fashioning a Damascus steel blade.

What, you think Austin TX is the only place with eccentric folks?  We might not be San Fransicko but we do have a lot of competing drummers.

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Triangle Squares for Parquetry

A couple years ago when I was making a set of Roubo-esque brass cabinetmakers’ squares I also wound up with a solid 30-60-90 triangle with a shoe on the short base that I have found exceedingly useful in the intervening period, especially for laying out Roubo bench dovetails and parquetry pinwheels.

As I am about to move even more into the work of parquetry I am thinking that I need a full set of 30-60-90 triangles; one with the shoe on the long base and one with the shoe on the hypotenuse.

In fact, I might need some additional ones as I move past my usual vocabulary of parquetry, including one dedicated to the 45-degree angle and another with a 22.5-degree feature, and perhaps even more.  I guess I could use my EDC pocket Delve square for the 45, but a full dedicated brass set would really be nice.

This is definitely one series of exercises drawing on the use of a micrometer caliper integrated with those 10th grade trigonometry sine-cosine-tangent tables I figured would NEVER come in handy.

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Japanese Joinery Hammer

Two years ago as I was constructing my Japanese tool box I also made a small Japanese-style (sorta) hammer for doing delicate work like driving small nails and pins and adjusting planes.  I recognized at the time the void in the kit of a beefier hammer for doing joinery.  It will be nearly identical to the smaller one except for the scale, being made from 1″ square bar stock rather than the 1/2″ bar stock of the previous one.

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Custom Stamps and Branding Iron Tips

I’ve always wanted a set of stamps/branding irons for marking my new work with my sign, the barn logo, and the date.  I would need three separate items, one to create an embossed presentation of my stylized initials, one for the simpler barn logo, and one would be a set of the letters “M, L, X, V, I” for the year/number stamp.  Hey, if you are going to live in the past, go way back.

I know there are companies out there who do that for a reasonable outlay, but I’d like to give it a try myself.   Actually, I might need two complete sets — small ones, for small objects, and large ones for larger objects such as Gragg chairs.  Since I keep plenty of raw metal bar stock on hand that would suit my needs for that undertaking, I’m going to give it a try.

I hope to start these sometime in the next couple weeks, so there may be some posts about that in a month or so.

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Finishing the Restoration of an Infill Smoother

Years ago, I bought an infill smoother and got part way through its restoration.  This is the year to finish it with fitting a new iron (already in hand from Josh) and a new wedge.  My only question at this point is, “How ‘over the top’ do I make the wedge?

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Expanding My Selection of Tools from Roubo’s Veneering Tool Kit

During the creation of the English translation of Roubo’s L’Art du Menuisier I made a number of tools for completing some of the accompanying photo essays in the books.  This did not satisfy my appetite for his tool kit but merely whetted my appetite.  The tools I make from the oeuvre will not be for curiosity-only purposes, these will be tools I expect to use in the shop regularly.  They worked in 1760, I expect they will work after the Zombie Apocalypse.

In some cases the tools will be even more of the iterations I already possess (bar clamps) and in other cases they will be new to my tool kit (veneerer’s hammer [as opposed to veneer hammer]), and some completely off the grid (oval cutter).

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Foundrywork

 

Now that I have the foundry set up on the first floor, I really have no excuse to not start metal casting.  Well, except for the need to refabricate the large entryway, allowing me to roll out the smelting furnace from the interior space.

It might be just fine having a thousand degrees worth of hot indoors with a wooden floor above, but I would rather not test that hypothesis as a starting point.  Perhaps if there is a streak of ultra-mild days upcoming (it’s been unseasonably warm thus far this winter) I can get that task done.

To be sure the first project on the slate for the foundry is to move forward with replicating the infill mallet from the Studley Tool Collection.  Having that prototype in-hand would be a great excuse to revisit the collection itself, to compare my replica with the original.  Obviously, Mister Stewart gets the first unit off the non-assembly line, should he want it.

Right behind the Studley mallet in the queue is my finger plane project, with its thus-far three models underway.  I started working on these models 15 years ago if the date stamp on the images is correct.  I do not need these tools from a utilitarian perspective, but I do need them from a creative one.

Once I get the foundry humming along as a routine activity there is no telling what I can imagine making.

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Tool Cabinet

My friend Tom standing in front of Walt’s tool cabinet when we were visiting him in Staunton. I very much like this style of standing tool storage.

For a variety of reasons – desire to consolidate my core tools into a compact-ish volume in preparation for the “some day” time when I do not have a 7,000 s.f. barn, organizational order (my friends are laughing out loud right about now); work flow; parquetarian/channeling-Studley indulgence; antipathy for floor level tool chests — I plan to spend a good part of the next two (?) years constructing, decorating and outfitting a large standing tool cabinet in my studio.  It will reside in the space currently dedicated to my saw rack and whatever is on the floor underneath it.  I was really impressed by my acquaintance Walt’s cabinet and plan to use his as an inspiration for mine.

Rather than making it out of solid lumber with dovetailed corners my plan is to construct the box/doors entirely from 3/4″ & 1/2″ Baltic-birch plywood and sheathed in a yet-undetermined parquetry pattern (a la Roentgen?) using veneers sawn from leftover FORP workbench scraps.  This project has been gestating long enough that I scrounged scrap 18th century French oak from the original Roubo bench-building workshop in Georgia.

The cabinet box will be roughly 48″ high x 42″ wide x 16″ deep with an open space between the base structure large enough to fit my Japanese tool chest.

Leave it to me to attempt a masterpiece project that almost nobody will ever see.

Bandsaw(s) Tune-Up

One of the truly exasperating aspects of the Gragg chair workshop was that my 10″ benchtop bandsaw was continuously malfunctioning, requiring us to go up and down two flights of stairs to the main floor with its two larger bandsaws instead of using the little beauty up on the fourth floor.  Chairmaking does not require fancy band sawing but it is an important contributor toward making it an efficient process.

After much sturm-und-drang I discovered ex poste that the new 1/4″ bandsaw blades I’d had in the drawer for the 10″ unit were mismarked; instead of being the 56-1/8″ needed they were 59″.  I could get them on the wheels and run true when turning freely but they would not stay there once battle commenced.  I ordered new blades and they were the right size, so with a complete cleanup and adjustments, combined with new guide blocks cut from a rod of 1/8″ carbon fiber rod from my stash, the new blade installed and ran perfectly and now once agin the saw cuts superbly.

Meanwhile I decided to tune-up my 40+-year-old 14″ Delta bandsaw, a prize from a yard sale almost 20 years ago.  I think it was $100 complete with rolling base.  For a long time I had been contemplating adding a true rip fence to the saw, and finally made the plunge.  Even though the Kreg fence is designed to be installed on the left side of the blade, with a little tweaking I installed it where I wanted it on the right side of the blade.  Sweet.  I also finally added a dust collection port in the lower wheel cover, which combined with a simple bent sheet metal cowl around the lower guide block unit, reduced the sawdust by roughly 95%.

I am contemplating but have not acted on purchasing a carbide tipped blade for the band saw; the ~$200 price tag is a bit stiff.  If you have had any experience with carbide tipped blades for small bandsaws please let me know.

BTW here is an excellent short video on bandsaws that I discovered recently.

 

Getting Ready for Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Pedal (?) Power

So, I’ve got this ancient 1930s era scroll/jigsaw, a Boice Crane Model 900.  It is to my mind the tool form against which all others are measured.  Acquiring it was my introduction to Tall Tom, my woodworking pal of lo these many years.  He was at a community yard sale selling tools and carved walking sticks and had a small vintage Delta scroll saw at his booth.  I checked it out and decided to pick it up on my return trip after browsing the yard.

It was, of course, gone when I did return.  I engaged the seller (Tom) in conversation.  He mentioned that he had another one back at the shop but it was too heavy to haul to a flea market, so we arranged for me to come see it at his shop.  In the end we agreed to a trade; I would give him some turning lessons and he would give me the scroll saw.  Little did I know that for many years I would be found in his shop on Wednesday evenings, and that he would make several trips with me to the barn (the picture is from 2011).

I am determined to get this saw rejuvenated and outfitted for marquetry work.  Since I have a large wooden wheel I made for a treadle lathe, why not combine the two and make the Boice Crane something akin to a Barnes Velocipede Saw on steroids?  If it works out it would be a superb marquetry saw.

So that is what I will try to do.

Clean-up “Christmas”

One of the aspects of having a humungous Fortress of Solitude like the barn, four stories of 40′ x 36′ space, is that there are a multitude of nooks and crannies into which things can be tucked, stuffed, crammed, lost, and re-discovered.  I call these instances my own “Clean Up Christmases,” when I come across treasures I had forgotten, or at least misremembered.

Such has been the case recently when prepping the classroom for this coming weekend workshop Historical Wood Finishing.  As the first class there in over two years, the space had, shall we say, devolved.  That pesky Second Law of Thermodynamics; they tried repealing it but it just didn’t take.  It has taken me over two weeks to get it ready for the group on Saturday.  The level of “rearrangeritis” (full credit to James “Stumpy Nubs” Hamilton for coining the phrase to describe an all-day travail when moving one thing in his crowded shop) has been monumental, and monumentally rewarding on several fronts.  It has also given me time for contemplation about future projects, a topic I will address in numerous upcoming posts.

At the moment I am mostly reveling the rediscovery of two caches that were set aside for some future completion.  The first is the two sets of brass Roubo-esque squares fabricated before and during that workshop more than two years ago; all it will take is a day or two with some files and Chris Vesper’s sublime reference square to get them up and running.

A second trove is the pile of French oak scraps from the multiple iterations of the FORP gatherings in southern Georgia.  I brought them home in order to turn them into veneers, probably oyster shell style, to use on some as-yet-unknown project.  That “unknown” identifier is becoming more “known” as the days go by.  Then, much like my shop being the only one in the county with two c. 1680 parquetry flooring panels from the Palais Royale in Paris, my tool cabinet will be the only one with veneers from some c.1775 oak trees from the forests surrounding Versailles.

Who knows what other “Christmas” presents I might find during the never ending effort to impose order on my space?  Stay tuned.

This One’s A Head Scratcher

During a recent dive into my inventory of block planes needing restoration the lines of this one caught my eye.  It was comely, with a very low angle so I immediately thought it would be a good candidate for me to restore for my son-in-law.  Sure it was void of any adjusting controls but he knows how to adjust a plane manually with an iron-setting hammer.

At second glance there was something hinky going on with the plane.   Was the iron sitting in the pin?

Once I took it apart the confusion set in.  What the heck?  The way I read this tool, with the iron not resting over the pin but impaled on the pin, the iron is utterly and completely un-adjustable!  In one sense the tool is on the “primitive side” given the ostensible lack of mechanized adjustments.  Bur completely un-adjustable?  Given the general quality of the plane design and quality execution, I’m just left scratching my head.

 

At this point I’m noodling soldering on a block over the pin and using the tool as I first figured it was designed.  Or is the pin malleable and designed to be whacked back and forth with the iron?

Any thoughts?

Patternmaker’s Tool Kit Revisited

At first glance the patternmaker’s tool kit might seem nearly identical to that of the furniture maker.  Scribes, squares, dog-leg paring chisels, marking gauges (of which this kit had more than a half-dozen) etc., are identical even though their uses may be a bit different.  But the tools are the same.

Even their differences might be chalked up to meaningless peculiarities, but they are not.  Here is a brief review of some if those items unique to patternmaking, or uses of typical tools for particular applications.

Shrink Rules/Scales

Especially at the industrial scale resides the inescapable fact that molten metals shrink when they cool and solidify, and the degree of shrinkage depends on the metal alloy in question.  For this reason the patternmaker’s kit includes a variety of precision rules that take shrinkage into consideration, and when a new pattern is commissioned the drawings are transferred to a full-scale master made on a new piece of hardwood plywood with the dimensions established by the shrink scale.  In other words if the item being designed is to be 12″ long, in true measurement it would be 12 inches plus some fraction, but all of the scale delineations are created proportionally.  Thus when we were making  pump shell patterns for dredging operations, our main business, sometimes those patterns would measure 6, 8, or 10-feet in diameter (or even bigger).  When cast in grey iron the patterns for a 10-foot shell diameter were actually 10′ + 10/8ths inches in diameter (10′- 1-1/4″) since the shrink rate for iron is 1/8″ per foot of dimension.  This issue is rarely a fundamental consideration for the scale at which I cast these days.  For example when calculating the shrinkage on the Studley mallet bronze shell, with an overall dimension in the neighborhood of two inches given the shrink rate of bronze as 3/16″ per foot, the mallet shell casting would shrink 1/6th of 3/16″ or about 1/32″.  Even though I will use a shrink rule to lay out the pattern, I could probably get by without it.  Once I get done casting the mallet heads I will be moving on to patterns for the Studley piano maker’s vise, and that will be large enough to use the shrink rule for sure.

Dividers and Trammel Points

Dividers are critical for transferring the shrink-layout dimensions to the pattern itself.  This speaks to the importance of the master layout, usually executed on a pristine piece of hardwood plywood, as patternmakers realize and generally live by the ethos that “measuring is the enemy.”  If you get the master layout correct it is a regular routine to use dividers and trammel points to transfer and establish all dimensions for constructing the pattern from the layout.  In fact once the master layout is completed the only thing I can recall using the shrink rule for was when planing the laminar sections for stack laminated construction that was the norm when I worked in the trade.  I think it is pretty much a dead trade, nowadays everything is done with compewders and CNC/3D printing fabrication.

Beveling Gauges

Tapered angles are a huge part of a pattern, particularly in the tapers of edges that are more-or-less perpendicular to the parting line,  This bevel is known and “the draft” and to my knowledge always resided around the neighborhood of 2-degrees.  Thus a machinist’s combination square set with a protractor head was used almost every day, augmented with a bevel gauge for transferring the draft angle to the table saw and sanding machines (see below).  I probably used my protractor head with a 24″ rule more in one week at the pattern shop than in the 40 years since.

Sculpting Tools – Inside (Gouges and Draw Spoons)

Whenever a pattern shape has to be derived by handwork rather than lathe work, the two tool types employed for working the inside curves were gouges, of which there were a dozen or more in the full kit, and draw spoons, usually numbering a half dozen in graduate sizes.  The gouges are peculiar in that they have interchangeable handles, shanks, and heads, and usually made from high-chromium steel with very thin walls, and several are in-camber.  These are pushing tools, not striking tools.

If you have followed my work on Gragg chairs you have seen frequent use of draw spoons for working the swale of the seat deck.  They were used in a similar manner for working for the pattern shop as large, sweeping interior hollows were shaped delicately with the draw spoon.

Sculpting Tools – Outside (Spokeshaves)

Virtually all of the outside sculpting was accomplished with spokeshaves, seemingly undersized by furniture makers but capable of really hogging off material when necessary, or feathering a finished surface.  Patternmakers usually owned and used at least a half dozen brass spokeshaves.

Fillet Irons

Another truth about metal casting and shrinkage is that whenever two surfaces meet at a right angle or anything near, the crisp inside corner needs to be filled with a cove molding to soften the transition from one plane to the other, otherwise the casting will crack at that line.  In my experience this cove was established by shaped wax sticks, called fillets, which were purchased in bulk as literal cove moldings in wax.  I recall many, many hours carefully heating both the polished steel ball serving as the anvil, and the long wax sticks, then pressing the warmed wax molding into the inside corner using the fillet iron of the correct size.

This set of fillet irons even came with a scribed pattern block for making scrapers for each iron.

If it went well there was very little scraping afterwards to achieve a perfect inside corner, other times required some shaping with home made scrapers, one for each size of fillet.

Fillet Cutters

In the days before my time in the foundry fillets were cut from the edges of very thick pieces of leather using fillet cutters to create the roughly triangular fillet.  These tools would be pulled across the edge of the leather sheet, usually along a straightedge, resulting in a cove-ish strip of leather to use as the fillet.   These leather fillets were applied using glue and brads, and the whole assembly was finished by heavy burnishing with the fillet iron.  I never had to use this method but since I have a set of the cutters and live in cattle country, come the zombie apocalypse I will be ready.

 

 

 

 

Core Box Planes

In the Golden Age of Foundries there was probably no bigger component of the industry than that of making pipes.  Think about the civic infrastructure whether on a single building scale or a national scale.  It was all made from or connected with pipes or pipe-like elements.  Making an outside sand mold to cast pipe-ish shapes is no big deal, all the expertise was applied to the problem of making a sand mold “core” to establish the cylindrical hollow insides.  For that process a special “core box” had to be made for each unique casting.  Often the shape of the box was achieved with core box planes, of which there were many varieties.

 

Some looked more akin to a set of hollows-and-rounds,

 

others were similar to the H&R set but instead of full body planes they had a single body with interchangeable soles and irons,

and undoubtedly the weirdest ones were metal frames with notched outriggers to ride on the outside of the core box and were equipped with ratcheting rotating cutting arms that advanced a few degrees around the compass to complete the half-core.  Oh, and these mechanical core box planes looked suspiciously like a Klingon warship.  There is yet a fourth version that is essentially a right-angle sole bisected by the iron, but I do not own one of those.  NB –  metal casting of almost any kind involves core box work regardless of the shape so long as the casting has a hollow configuration.

 

Power Tools and Accessories

Patternmaking since the mid-1800s has employed a variety of machines for fundamental work.  Included were power planers (I just use my lunchbox planer but if I did lots of patterns I would get my Mini-Max 14″ combination machine up and running) that could quickly and precisely dimension stock to the peculiar measurements required especially for stack laminated patterns, tables saws, disc sanders and oscillating spindle sanders to allow working to the middle of a cut-scribed layout line at a precise bevel angle usually 2-degrees.

If you follow my trek down the metalcasting road you will see all of these tools demonstrated over time.  Well, maybe not the core box planes as I have little intention of casting large pieces of iron pipe.

Stay tuned.

PS  I was wondering if I should make a start-to-finish video on metal casting, but I gotta get the Gragg video done first.