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.

Great Response!

When I posted a request for volunteer readers of my manuscript of A Period Finisher’s Manual I was hoping for a few responses.  I was certainly NOT expecting a few dozen responses!  Ahhh, the Power of The Schwarz.  It is certainly heartening to know that there is that much interest in the project and I am humbled and encouraged by this situation.  I am attempting to respond with a “thank you” to every one who wrote me; if you did not get a note from my in reply it is because your email server must not talk to my email server.  Whatever that means (I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with shellac so my cognizance is pretty limited).  I have received “Could Not Deliver” or “Email address not recognized” notes for a few folks even though I used the eddress they used to send me the original note.

Sigh.  To err is human, but a really big mistake takes a compewder and a government committee.

Stay tuned.

Looking For A Few Good Manuscript Readers

Have you ever encountered an instruction manual that was so poorly written that it left you more confused and less knowledgeable than when you started to read it?  I have suffered through this experience many times, mostly with instruction manuals for electronics and compewder stuff.  Frequently I have wondered why this is the case, and reached the conclusion that the reasons may be many, including:

  1. The instruction manuals are written by the creators of the product, for whom communicating in standard English is not a highly developed skill set.  There is a reason why compewder geeks are stereotyped.
  2. The manual writers resent the task of creating an explanatory tutorial for their work, and expect the readers to be less intelligent than they and are thus held in contempt, unworthy of even explaining their work to the end-user.
  3. The manual writers are so familiar with their own product that they can unconsciously fill in any informational voids with their own working knowledge.  I have literally called “Help” lines when I could not understand something, and received a reply, “Oh yeah, I guess that [vital piece of information] really should be in there since the product will not work unless X, Y, or Z is done this way,” an informational nugget absent in the manual.  I do mean literally receiving this response.
  4.  The instruction manual is written by someone who is a competent writer but does not know the subject well enough to explain it, and there is no back half to the information loop whereby a technical expert reviews and corrects any mistakes.

What does this have to do with woodworking?

Well, I will soon be at the point in in writing The Period Finisher’s Manual where I am ready to begin sending out sections for review.  I have the back half of the review covered, with my erudite friends MikeM and LenR volunteering to look at it from a technical/wordsmithing perspective.  But they are highly skilled experienced finishers and are thus not the people to necessarily focus on what is not present in the text or visuals.

What I need is a small cadre of readers, preferably no more than two or three, who are literate but not so experienced in wood finishing that they can fall into the trap of Step #3.  I need to know if the verbiage I am creating is actually comprehensible and useful to the less experienced finisher, such that they can read and understand what I am writing with the result being their ability to integrate what is in the book with what they are doing at the bench.  Getting back to the compewder analogy, I encounter this whenever my webmeister or daughters give me some instruction for my laptop.  I recognize that they are using English words but have no comprehension of what they mean.

These reviewers would not be paid, and their commitment to the project must be such that they will read critically and comment back to me in a timely manner so that I can make revisions as necessary.  Creating a book is a long haul, often tedious and thankless.  All I can offer is my public and private thanks and acknowledgement in the book, along with a couple copies of the book itself once finished, and perhaps a nice gift basket of wood finishing swag from The Barn On White Run. Oh, and a substantial credit in the Bank of Don, previous beneficiaries of which I hope would confirm is not without value.

If this sounds like you, let me know.  If you have my email, use it.  If not, try the Contact function on the web site.  If that is being temperamental leave a Comment to this post, these remain private until I review and post them so you can leave your contact information with confidence that it will remain private.

Of Possible Interest To New Englanders

My friend Justin sent me a note about this workbench yesterday and I thought I would pass it along to you.  It looks like a beauty and the price seems eminently reasonable to me.

Roubo bench on Craigslist


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.

My Own Hardware Store

Given the intrusion of outside reality into the world of the workshop made manifest in the cancellation of the recent PATINA tool soiree; the cancellation of our regional Maple Festival, the social and commercial center point for our little county every year; the cancellation of some teaching I was scheduled to undertake in LA in mid-April; the closing of all schools and prohibition on public gatherings for the foreseeable future; the growing impetus for national quarantines — I was considering the coming near future for projects in the barn.  My temperament is amenable to the isolation integral to this routine, probably for an unhealthy length of time.  And, I realized that in many instances I am already my own workshop-related general goods store due in great part to the fact that the hardware section of the local feed and seed is better than it was but still only okay, and closes at 4.#0 weekdays and noon on Saturdays.  The closest good hardware store is thirty miles away with the same restrictied hours, and it seems that I mostly need something at 5.30.

Sure, I’ve got thousands of board feet of lumber from which to make stuff.  Even more I’ve got almost all the other things I need for a whole lot of projects.

My own little hardware store, mostly tucked into the space beneath the stairs, includes fasteners of almost every description along with a host of other fabrication supplies.

This is augmented by my stock of metal bar stock and similar stuffed up between the ceiling joists of my studio and in tubes next to my Emmert die-maker’s vise.  As long as UPS keeps rolling, delivering my frequent orders from McMaster-Carr, the only thing limiting fabrication is time and energy.

I’ve still got hundreds of pounds of shellac in the barn basement.  I’ve got hundreds of  pounds of beeswax and shellac wax I can process.  I’ve got everything I need to make cases of Mel’s Wax.

Mrs. Barn has the gardens underway, and is often in need of my help.

I’ve got a notebook full of sketches and ideas of things to make or try.

I’ve got several manuscript to work on.

Whether we are facing a “crisis” or a crisis remains to be seen, but with all of these aforementioned truths I guess I am ready to keep busy and productive for the coming days and weeks. 

Bench Top Bandsaws

Recently I was corresponding with a reader who asked my opinion about bench top bandsaws, a preferred option for him because his career led to frequent moves.  I answered him that I have two benchtop bandsaws I use frequently, one a 9-inch Delta bandsaw that must be close to forty years old by now, and a 10-in Rikon I bought about fifteen years ago from either Highland or Woodcraft, I honestly cannot remember.  Each bandsaw has a critical role to play in my work, the Delta is my tool for sawing veneers for parquetry and the Rikon for pretty much everything else of modest size.   (I also have a free standing Delta 14″ and a Taiwanese 14″ with a riser block for resawing.)

In the back-and-forth of our correspondence once I understood his situation I recommended he look into the Rikon.

Some not-too-long-ago maintenance on the machine confirmed my overall impression formed several years ago that it is a superb tool.  Last year during a workshop the saw broke a tire, and after setting it aside for the 9-inch Delta for the remaining days a new tire was on-hand and eventually I replaced the broken one.

Swapping out the tire was the easiest time for that task ever.  After removing the retaining ring on the axel of the wheel and cleaning off the detritus of the tire I started the new tire at one point on the wheel then placed that section of the wheel in my Emmert metalwork vise and was able to install the new tire in approximately one minute.

Since I had the wheel off I gave the lower section a through cleaning then did the same to the upper section including scraping the upper tire with a boxwood carving tool with a knife edge to remove the accreted crust but not cut into the tire, then put on a new blade and readjusted all the guides so that it ran perfectly.  Unlike my other bandsaws I have found that the factory originals work just fine.

I know that in the coming decades this might be my only power machine (along with a drill press), and I am confident that the little Rikon will serve me well.  Even now I cannot think of any recent project that it could not have completed.  Perhaps not quite as fast as some ther machinery, but it would get the job done.  I keep a variety of blades on hand to use whatever suits the task best, and find that a 3/8″ blade suits me 95% of the time.

I’ve have recently added a nice standard feature enhancing the machine’s utility immensely.

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.