Japanese Marking Gauge – The Block

The block for the Japanese marking gauge was, well, just a left over oak block from making some finish samples many years ago.

Since the irons were 1/2″ wide and needed to penetrate the block with an opening that allowed for them to be clamped in place I simply punched a 1/2″ square hole through it with my mortising machine.

Once that was done and I was sure the irons fit through nicely I marked an arc across the top of the block, to cut later.  The line of the arc just happened to coincide nicely with the perimeter of my trash can lid.

In order to make the tool the most useful as either a single cutter or a double cutter I surmised the need to have the first (inner) iron to be able to become invisible to the marking process.  I accomplished this by cutting a recessed housing in the block for the first iron to reside.

Now the inner iron nestles away inside the block (upper picture), and even with the outer iron in place (lower picture) the tool profile is minimized.

Next time I’ll describe my iron clamping system, there are many to choose from but since I am incurably lazy I went the simplest way.  It was the source of some embarrassment but worked out in the end.

Stay tuned.

Addressing the Lacunae – Japanese Marking Gauge

Among the tools I did not have in my set of Japanese woodworking tools were any marking gauges.  Within the form are many different variations so ‘I was faced first with deciding what kind of marking gauges I wanted to make and keep in the tool box?  In the set of hand tools in the shop I have several marking gauges ready to be put to work, but the Japanese tool box was already close to capacity so I needed to be very circumspect in the decision for this function.

Fortunately at the recent Wilbur Pan Japanese tool demonstration, between Wilbur’s tools and the inventory brought by JayC to display and use by the woodworkers in attendance, there were several to view, handle, and use.

In the end I came up with my own version of the two-bladed gauge, with some slight modifications so that it could function well as a single blade or a double blade tool.

My starting point was a pair of mild steel bars, each 1/8″ x 1/2″ in cross section.  Mild steel rather than tool steel because the mild steel would bend easily and the sharpened cutting edge would be marking wood, so the mild steel was plenty robust enough for that.  I got the steel bars down from my overhead inventory; I probably bought it at the hardware store at some point in the past when I was just stocking up on raw tool-making materials.


Placing the bars vertically in the Emmert tool-makers vice, making sure to square them to the jaws, I simply bent one and then the other of the bars so that they nestled against each other nicely.  The hammer work was minimal to persuade them to conform.

Now, on to the block.

Not A Novel Virus, But A Novel Tool

Part of my process of refining the raw “slum gum” unfiltered beeswax from the honey factory delivered in a case of roughly 6-inch thick slabs from the bottom of a five gallon bucket, involves a step wherein the coarsely filtered molten beeswax/hot water slurry (removing the bee bodies and gross debris) is poured through fine pasta strainer into a cake pan and allowed to cool undisturbed.

After cooling and decanting the water with any remaining water soluble adulterant, I am left with a big block of beeswax with a fairly uniform layer of sediment on the bottom face of the block.  This needs to be removed before moving on to the next step of filtering.

Normally I try to time the scraping off step for when the block of wax has cooled enough to be fairly solid, but still warm enough to be scraped easily with a large knife.  There are times, however, when I do not get to this step soon enough and the block of wax with its accretions hardens fully.  And with enough cold, it can get pretty hard.  Scraping this is not impossible but it is some hard work when I am doing several of them at once.

Recently I had a great idea while rummaging through my “Giant Files” drawer and pulled out this little curved Surform tool.  I found that for a fully hardened block, even one that is chilled and rock hard, it removes the precipitant easily and quickly.

That smack is the sound of my pam striking my forehead.  Usually in  just a minute or less the block is ready to be put aside for the next melt during which time it will be getting its final filtering from me before moving into Mrs. Barn’s domain and one final filtering before casting into blocks.

I love it when caprice like this happens.

Model 296 Polissoir (and Whisk Brooms) Back In Stock

I am delighted to report that after a few weeks of being out of stock, as of ten minutes ago I am now replenished with Model 296 polissoirs and they will begin shipping again immediately.

Ditto the whisk brooms.

Finishing And Trying Out The New Dovetail Plane

Finally it was time to put the new plane all together and give it a test drive.  I did not sharpen the iron to ultimate completion in case I needed to change its angle a smidge.  I would hate to get it to 8000+ sharp then have to grind off some of that hard won territory.

Using a piece of trued-up aluminum bar stock as my fence and some waste mahogany from the scrap pile I gave it a go.

The results were very pleasing.  A half-dozen passes and the work was done.

Now I can take the sharpening to the end point.

I now have no technical excuse to put off making some Japanese planing boards, it is now only a matter of time and priority.

Meanwhile I thought I would give my flea-market 1/4″ shouldered dovetail plane a run.  The shoulder feature is mighty nice, but as you can tell the iron needs some reshaping and sharpening.  The iron in the tool has been really boogered up and will need a lot of work to get right (sorry for the technical jargon folks).

The final step for the project will be to make a sawing template with a bevel matching the dovetail angle so that the female joint can be cut to match the male joint half resulting from the plane.  I will be unlikely to make that a post, unless I have a really slow day and am in a complete idea desert.

In closing let me give a shout out to James Wright whose video on sliding dovetail joints was part of my inspiration for undertaking this tool making project.  The other part was this video on making and using a planing board.  I am anxious to get the decks cleared of the dozen things in line ahead of it to make my own planing board.

Gotta Have Sole (Brass Sole, That Is)

With the dovetail plane configured the way I wanted it was time to add the brass plate to the newly beveled sole.  I grabbed a piece of brass from the scrap drawer and sawed it roughly to fit then drilled and countersunk screw holes for attaching it to the plane body.  When I placed the screws the wooden body was too brittle (several cracks) for me to have confidence in that being the only method of affixing the plate.

Instead I cleaned the contact surface of the brass plate with 60 grit sandpaper and slathered it and the wood contact surface with G-flex epoxy to bring it all together.

Since the gluing surface was beveled enough vis-a-vie the plane body that clamping was problematic I simply got the pieces in place and executed and old fashioned “rub joint,” making sure there was intimate contact and at least a partial vacuum between the adherends and the adhesive and then just let it sit to harden.  I’ll know tomorrow if that worked out well.

Next Day

The “rub joint” with epoxy worked perfectly!  I was able to trim and clean the new sole relative to the wooden body so that they configured nicely, first with a Vixen file followed by sanding.

Using my granite block and sandpaper I got the sole pieces flat and coincidentally planar.

Re-drilling the previous screw holes, now filled with epoxy, and drilling new holes on the front half of the sole I got everything copacetic.  I left the screw heads slightly proud and abraded them off smooth.

Now the tool is ready to assemble completely and give it a test drive.

Stay tuned.

Sometimes We Are All Keith Jarrett

The other day I was listening for the umpteenth time to jazz pianist Keith Jarret’s “Koln (Cologne) Concert,” the renowned and best selling solo piano album of time, I believe in any genre.  Jazz may or may not be your cup of tea, and improvisational solo piano is an acquired taste but I hope that someday you, too, will reach that plateau of sophisticated consciousness to appreciate this album as much as I do.  (Do I really need to insert a sarcasm tag?)  Admittedly, personal tastes cannot be accounted for sometimes, I mean I have a younger brother, perhaps my closest friend, who listens to country music.  Country music!  Oh, the horror.  It is almost impossible to believe that we share either any nature or nurture, but there it is.

Album cover art courtesy of ECM Records, via Wikipedia.

And once while I was in high school listening to some avant-garde ensemble music on the stereo (Amon Duul?  Univers Zero?  Mahavishnu Orchestra?) my saintly church-organ-playing mother gently knocked on the bedroom door and stuck her head in.  “Don,” she asked in genuine bewilderment, “are all of those folks playing the same song?”  My Baptist preacher father and mother were petty strict about the music in the home, no vulgar lyrics for example, but were far more flexible on the music itself outside of that constraint.  I will note they probably remained convinced that they’d brought home the wrong baby from the hospital.  They only knew that I listened to both Gregorian chants and jazz, and that did not fit into any template.

Back to Keith Jarret and the Cologne Concert.  The tale of the concert is a fascinating one.  Jarret was emerging at the pinnacle of his prowess as a solo composer and performer after a decade in major ensembles and was embarking on his first major solo tour IIRC.  Almost everything about the concert went wrong.  He was exhausted from travel, didn’t even get a decent meal before the late-night Saturday concert, and the piano was an inferior, out-of-tune substitute for the concert Boesendorfer he had requested.  He almost walked away from this steaming pile of circumstances but the impassioned pleas to continue from the promoter, a German teenager, persuaded him to have mercy on her and give a concert.

Despite, or more probably because of, the challenges — his exhaustion, the poor quality of the tool at his disposal (the upper and lower registers were essentially non-functional) — he drew on the unquenchable fire of creativity within him and sat down and began to play.  Every note and combination of notes was being created uniquely in real time at that moment.  The limitations he faced drove him to accomplish what is generally considered to be the most brilliant performance ever witnessed in the realm of improvisational jazz.

The parallels are unmistakable to me and for our tribe of creative artisans.  I find that my interest in many projects depends on the difficulties inherent in them.  I wonder how many of you are motivated by the same stew.

We might not have exactly the right tool or the right piece of wood..  We might be out of sorts.  We might be tired or hungry or have a backache.

And sometimes in such moments we draw deep on the reservoir of creative genus we possess and magic happens at the workbench.

And sometimes in our shops we are all Keith Jarrett. a kid of Hungarian and Scots-Irish heritage from Allentown PA who set the world on fire that miserable evening in Cologne, Germany.




A Peculiar Plane

Somewhere along the way I picked up this gigantic solid rosewood plane of Eastern design and unknown genesis.  I vaguely recall it being in a box of Japanese planes but since I turned 65 I am uncertain of this is a true memory or a false one.  It does not really matter one way or the other.

The coincidence of building my Japanese toolbox and Wilbur Pan’s presentation to DC-area woodworking guilds led me to pull it out again and give it a closer look-see.  I sent the photos to Wilbur and he shares my inkling that this may be a Chinese plane, not Japanese.

The rosewood body is heavy enough that it would be like planing with a large brick.  To say the very least if there were a sharp iron in the tool there would be precious little chatter.

The piece of hammered steel(?) in the plane throat is only 1/8″ thick, probable too thin to be the cutting iron.  But, it is not exactly configured for functioning as a chip breaker, either.

I asked a friend from China to interpret the pictograms but she was unable to decipher them so I have no idea what information is contained there.

I may just wind up buying a piece of 1/4″ tool steel 4″ x 6″ and grinding my own cutting iron, but am still scratching my head over this peculiar tool.

If you have any ideas about it let me know.

Annual PATINA Tailgate and Auction *This Weekend!*

In the firmament of notable vintage tool events two pop up on my radar every year; the Martin Donnelly warehouse-cleaning auction in mid-July in central New York and the annual tool flea market and auction for the Potomac Antique Tools and Industries Association, or PATINA.  The PATINA soiree is coming in less than a week, and if you are anywhere in the mid-Atlantic region it is well worth your effort to get there.  You can find the details here.

I do not go as often as I used to since escaping Mordor, it’s only an hour north of DC but four hours from Shangri-La.  I think I have been twice since moving to the hinterlands.

The outdoor tailgating starts at dawn and the weather is often (usually?) a challenge so make sure to dress appropriately.  I cannot recall ever going when the weather was nice, but I’ve heard it is a theoretical possibility.

I have had amazing success at the tailgating, finding everything from derelict planes to be transformed into other tools, such as my parquetry shooting plane and the dovetail plane.  I do not mind thrashing about with a $2 or $5 plane body for some wild scheme, but I would be hesitant to trash a $25 plane body.  So I gather up a handful of the cheap vintage bodies to play with later on.  I’ve also had great success in buying loose laminated old plane irons, and have been known to pick up my favorite model of old Stanley bench chisels for just a few dollars apiece.

By the time I’ve gone through the tailgating twice and made all my purchases there, the inside dealer’s sale is usually open and that is where I normally spend the rest of the day until I run out of money or energy.

Alas this year I will not be there as it is the first weekend of our famed Maple Festival and I am on duty there.  These are the two weekends every year where our tiny county community of two thousand people are joined by tens of thousands of visitors to eat and drink all things maple syrupy.  I’m not  a huge maple flavor fan, but the buckwheat pancakes the size of trash can lids are to die for.

Handworks 2020 – Be There Or Be (Out Of) Square

The new website for Handworks 2020 is now live and kicking.  With virtually every maker of fine woodworking tools present as vendors and three adjacent venues and thousands of fellow comrades-in-tools it will be a memorable experience.

Once again Roy Underhill will be the Saturday morning speaker, always a great crowd pleaser.

The Barn On White Run (that’s me!) will be present with loads of our polissoirs, waxes, polishes, and other items for your viewing and purchasing pleasure, and I will be giving demonstrations once an hour on using all of these items.

Plus my friend John will be joining me with the latest developments in ripple molding cutters.

As the days grow closer I’ll be blogging frequently bout the event and our participation and experiences there.

Make your plans to join us.