Plane Iron Rehab – The Force Multiplier

When restoring a plane iron my starting point is always flattening the back, a frequently arduous task as a surprisingly few irons have undergone such a corrective action.  As a result, the time and energy for this step is an outsized proposition.  Even with coarse stones, diamond plates, or abrasive paper, flattening the back of a derelict iron can be a real workout.  Generally, I’ve found that it is practically impossible to work the iron too hard on the abrasive, whatever it is.  And, although I have pretty big, strong hands, it can be wearying session.  To make it less of a nuisance I need a force multiplier.

This is where The Magic Stick comes in handy.  This fundamental tool was introduced to me by my late, lamented and much-missed work pal Mel Wachowiak (his obituary is still tacked up in my shop), who in turn learned it from somebody working on a Japanese plane iron.  The tool is beyond basic but required for a new Japanese blade as the “grabbable” real estate for handling the blade is roughly half that of a Western blade.

With the Magic stick you can really, really bear down on the blade when working it on the stone or sandpaper or diamond or whatever.

By gluing a piece of very coarse sandpaper on the bottom of the stick with epoxy, and pressing that coarse surface against the upper side of the iron, you are no longer limited by hand strength and endurance for flattening the back.  You can basically impose the downward force of your entire upper body on the workpieces with surprisingly little effort.  This approach cuts my work time for the initial set-up of the back by at least 75% and at times 90%.

Recently I brought up to snuff a narrow coffin plane that had been originally used as a semi-scrub plane, and it had been worked mighty hard if the mushrooming of the iron heel was any indication.



Looking closely at the iron I saw that the bevel had been established on a bench grinding wheel or something similar.  But the edge had never been honed and the back never flattened.  The iron was essentially straight-from-the-factory forge.  I knew this because the fire scale had never even been touched!  (I’m still kicking myself for not getting better pictures of this.)

Fire scale is the deposit that forms on the surface of metals when they are worked at high temperatures, it is the stuff that sloughs off when a blacksmith is working a piece of wrought iron or steel.  Not being a metallurgist I am not 100% clear on the composition of ferrous fire scale.  All I can tell you that it behaves carbide-ish, hard and tough.  Very hard.  Very tough.

So, on this blade I had a lot of fire scale that needed to be ground off to accomplish the preparation of the vintage iron blade.  Just abrading it on a diamond stone was brutal work by hand, but with the Magic Stick it was doable in about 10 minutes.  BTW, the carbide-ish ferrous fire scale was so tough that it trashed my 120 grit diamond stone.  Absolutely trashed it.  I wound up doing most of the work on a piece of folded silicone carbide paper.

Working my way up through the grits on diamond and water stones, a dozen seconds at a time, was a piece of cake thanks to the Magic Stick.  This blade is not the previous one with extreme camber, but an example of a blade back that was prepped in just a few minutes.

Workbench Wednesday – Tim’s Walnut Bench 3

Chopping mortises and fitting tenons.

I am fairly confident that had Roubo’s contemporaries owned Shinto rasps, they would’ve used them That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

That is all we did, all day.  That, and listen to music.

Then, with the gentlest taps possible we put the pieces together for the rear half.

Since the whole thing had to be disassembled for the trip home we made little effort to get it, well, all together.  We did just enough to know that it could go together once it got there.


Amana Walkabout

Saturday foot traffic to the booth was less than Friday’s, although the demo and product interest remained the same.  Since John and I had zero time to wander the town on Friday we each took an hour in the early afternoon to do just that.  There were scads of toolmakers I had never seen, although to be honest I was unable to browse HW2015 (Studley tool cabinet exhibit) or HW 2017 (working the booth all alone).

Here’s the pictorial travelogue with minimal commentary.  NB – My effort of traveling photojournalism was greatly hindered by the crowds, which were much more than in the Festhalle.  Still, I hope you get a taste of the many flavors present.

Just outside the Festhalle was this most impressive inventory of vintage tools.

Wandering over to the stable area with its big circus tents, the feast continued.

Immediately adjacent to the stables were a pair of circus tents, chock full of baubles but mostly packed with people (hence the paucity of images).

Wrapping up the walking tour at the Amana Furniture warehouse room, I was especially impressed with the Knew Concepts display, including the large vertical chevalet, for which I was an enthusiastic collaborator an own Serial #1, and its new little brother.

The crowds in the stable, tents, and warehouse were such that I was only able to photograph about one third of the offerings there.

Then it was time to get back to the Festhalle and finish up the day, pack up, and head for home first thing the next morning.

Amana Action Report

Beginning even before “Starting Time” we were inundated with a constant stream of visitors and the booth (the cracks in the barn door opening was soon breached by boomer sooners, who were eventually told to get out until 10 AM).  I was working one aisle, John the other, and engagement was spirited.

As I alluded in previous posts I had decided to give two 45-60-minute demonstrations of taking a parquetry panel from the rough to glossy, including the preparation and use of the  polissoir.  Each of the four demos was well attended — 15-20, which was all about the capacity of my 10′ x 10′ booth — with the observers arriving early and staying until the end.   The 11AM demos were focused on cold beeswax finishing with true French polishing (wax and water), while the 3PM demos were all about molten beeswax followed by spirit varnish pad polishing.

Not much more to say or show visually, we were engaged with the flowing audience non-stop through the day, and we did not catch our breath and sit on out stools until 4.50, ten minutes before closing.

Awaiting show time Saturday morning.

Our booth was a perfect location for the Roy Show, but he stood exactly behind the post in the center of the frame.

The only difference in Day 2 was the huge crowd at the beginning of the day as the doors were opened at 9.30 in advance of the presentation by Roy Underhill.  The rest of the day Saturday was much like Friday, with the only difference being that each of us were able to do an hour long walkabout to visit all the other venues and toolmakers.  I’ll show some pics from my walkabout next time.

Amana – Festhalle Setup

Early on I had decided to incorporate demonstrations to the program at Handworks, and in order to have something on which to demonstrate I made a set of parquetry panels.


I’d begun these some weeks before, you can follow their development in my earlier post about Bandsaw Parquetry.  One of the points I was trying to get across was the importance of surface preparation so I was going to start with some surfaces that REALLY needed preparations.

Finally, after two weeks of assembling stuff to go, two days of playing TETRAS loading, unloading, and reloading the truck full to the brim, off we were.  After two long days of driving, we got to Cedar Rapids for a good night’s sleep before heading down to Amana for the Handworks set-up.  I wish I could’ve said confidently that I prepped thoroughly and tied up all the loose ends but the odds were near 100% that several hours into the set-up or Handworks itself I would remember something I left behind.

John and I showed up bright and early for setting up, the building opened at 9AM and we were there around 9.15.  I think we were the first booth to be completely set up

Here is a walk around the Festhalle during the set up time.  Upcoming posts will document other spaces and activities for Handworks.

I was in my usual spot, on the center row near the Lie-Nielson booth up on the stage, and between Jeff Hamilton in front and Gary Blum to my rear, with Matt Bickford across the aisle on one side and Patrick Leach on the other.  I took the picture of the main space from the stage, where L-N set up very late in the day.  While they were working on their display Tom Lie-Nielson stopped by and we had a nice long chat.

My setup took only a couple hours, leaving lots of time to visit with friends from years past.  I especially cherished the time with the Bickfords, folks who are definitely on my wavelength.

Across on aisle were Matt Bickford and a chairmaker I did not know (there were actually a lot of exhibitors and tool makers I did not know),

and across the other aisle was Patrick Leach’s seductive vintage tool emporium.  Amazingly enough, I escaped the weekend without buying a single tool.

Immediately behind/adjacent to me was Gary Blum with his innovative workbenches and accessories, and hand planes.

Konrad Sauer was just down the way with his spectacularly high-performance planes,

then Lost Art Press.  I think Gramercy Tools was between them but had not set up when I was walking about.

Benchcrafted was the booth greeting the visitors immediately on entry.  It makes sense, they’re the ones who pulled the whole event together.

Back in the corner was innovative genius Jeff Miller who was showing off this device that hollowed out bowls.  It was the coolest thing I saw at the event.  Over his shoulders you can see the Lee Valley booth, but they had not begun setting up yet.

Rounding out the Festhalle setups from that time was Ron Brese, closest to Benchworks at the other end of the center row.

With the rest of the day free we had a chance to go visit all the other booths in the three other venues, although some of the booths were not ready until late in the day or even the next morning.

We were girding our loins for a wild couple of days starting at 10AM the next morning.

Webmeister Tim’s Workbench – Day 1


I first met Webmeister Tim during my research for the H.O. Studley tool cabinet book, probably around 2012 or 2013.  I got an email from a fellow who said, “Hey, I think I’ve got a vise like the ones you are talking about.”  I arranged to meet him in person at a diner in southern Maine and sure enough, he had a vise much like the ones about which I had been waxing ecstatic.  Tim was a wood turner but not yet a full-spectrum woodworker, so he allowed me to borrow his vise to study, and eventually, to display in the 2015 exhibit that coincided with Handworks 2015.  Of all the piano-lakers’ vises I’ve seen his is the closest to Studley’s.

Our agreement was that he would come and get it, “Whenever.”

Well, after more than a decade of long-distance friendship, including dozens of phone calls relating to the business of the website, which he now steers, “Whenever” finally occurred last month.  Finally aligning the stars of our respective lives, he was able to come to Shangri-la and spend a week with us in the Virginia hinterlands.  It was truly a great time of fellowship and productive work together.

Our focus for the week was to build him a heritage workbench that would last the rest of his life and probably any eventual grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.  The raw material for the bench was my slabbed black walnut, the style of the bench a split-top Roubo.

I worked him really hard during the week, beginning with hand sawing the almost 5″ thick slabs to length.

There were a couple of regions of the slabs needing attention, so we saturated them with diluted West System epoxy and walnut sawdust, followed by a top sprinkling of sawdust on top to provide a good surface for final finishing when it got to that point.

I did not have slab stock for the legs and stretchers, so we had to laminate them from black walnut cut from the same tree and some vintage stock I had in my lumber barn.  For the newer stock we ran them through my little Ryobi 10″ planer that has been serving me well for about 35 years.

For the vintage stock from my barn, they had been planed eons ago so all they needed was a quick scrubbing with a wire brush to remove any debris and freshen up the surfaces for gluing.

Then glued-up they were with T3 to accommodate any situation the bench might find itself in the future.

Thus endeth Day One of the Great Webmeister Tim Bench Build.

Aiming for Amana – Waxing Insights

Mrs. Barn and I are diligently purifying and packaging wax for our upcoming trip to Amana.  I thought I might present a refresher post about how we go from bottom-of-the-bucket beeswax from a honey factory to the spectacular golden blocks all wrapped up nicely.

The starting point is this completely unprocessed material from the honey factory, known as “slum gum” in the jargon of the trade.  It has wonderful beeswax along with the bee bodies, dirt, and other contaminants from the factory honey-extraction process.  My goal for the end product depends on beginning with superb and unmodified raw materials; I do not want to modify the wax with solvents or other chemicals like bleaches.  We rely solely on gentle heating to melt the wax multiple filtrations to make it glorious.  What you see is what you get.

The first step is to break up the big hunks to melt them in my biggest Crock Pot so that I have roughly half water/half raw, dirty beeswax.  By melting the wax in a water bath I can get any water-soluble components out, and it makes the first filtering much easier as I ladle out the steaming solution through a pasta strainer into a cake pan to cool.

As you can see, I get a lot of bee parts in the strainer in the first filtering.

No real effort is made to filter out any dirt at this point, the molten wax/water mixture allows the grit to fall to the bottom of the pan/block and it is embedded there when the block is cooled.  I scraped this layer off with a hunting knife which removes more than 95% of the particulate contaminants.

After the block has fully hardened, I can break it up and melt the pieces in the deep fryer, set at about 160*F.

Once that is melted, I filter it through paper towels inside another pasta strainer (I use a lot of paper towels and pasta strainers in this process.)  This results in a clear, golden waxy nectar in a cookie pan.

One ancillary benefit to my process is the large inventory of wax-infused paper towels that serve as my daily firestarter in the winter.

After cooling overnight, I pop out the sheet of beautiful beeswax and deliver it to Mrs. Barn in the kitchen.  She melts and filters the wax one more time before casting the blocks, which are then wrapped and ready for you.

Still Smilin’ After All These Years (not woodworking)

Recently while riffling through some old paperwork, I came across one of my favorite cartoons of all time, from the monumental cartoonists Mal Ent.  I see him in the class of Gary Larson.

I still get a big smile whenever I see this, even after almost 40 years of having this taped on my office wall.

It’s now taped to my shop door.

The relevance of the sentiment is nearly endless.

Aiming For Amana – Bandsaw Parquetry

During my recent Introduction to Historic Woodfinishing workshop I used a parquetry panel to demonstrate the substrate preparation processes and found it so useful that I said to myself, “Self, you should do this demo at Handworks.”  In the blink of an eye, I committed myself to cranking out six more parquetry panels in a very short time.  I will do four (hopefully identical) demos of French wax finishing, at 11AM and 3PM both days.  My plan is to take a panel from rough parquetry to gleaming in about 20-30 minutes using analogs to the tools, techniques, and materials available to a Parisian atelier.

With an audience looking over my shoulder.

Wish me luck.

In the meantime I had to actually fabricate six parquetry panels; four for the demo sessions, one more to remain “raw” and a sixth to be completed in advance to use as a showpiece.  The only ways I could conceive to finish such an undertaking were 1) cutting parquetry lozenges by hand for several days running, or 2) use my bandsaw or table saw to gang-cut stacks of lozenges.  After initial trials I decided to follow path #2 with my little Delta benchtop bandsaw.

I’ve used my bandsaw for ripping parquetry and banding stock strips before, but could I tune the machine to actually create the diamond lozenges themselves?  Let’s FAFO (Fool Around and Find Out).  *Spoiler Alert!* – the result was so successful that it will likely be my standard procedure from now on.  My days of hand cutting individual diamond lozenges may be over.

I first fabricated a crosscut sled for the bandsaw from some scraps of maple runners and mahogany plywood.  I ran this through the saw approximately halfway, then inserted my thin 6″ machinists’ rule into the kerf to serve as the reference line.

Taping a 30-60-90 triangle in place against the reference line, to make sure nothing moved, I tacked a fence to the sled at 60-degrees to the kerf.  I often use tacks rather than glue in cases like this because I can induce micro adjustments with a hammer when necessary.

Using the newly installed fence I cut a 60-degree stop block to use whenever I want to cut 60-120-60-120 lozenges.  For any particular composition of parquetry I cut a slice of the veneer strip then rotate it and place it against the blade to establish the placement of the stop block against the fence.  One good/bad feature of the little bandsaw is that the blades are very thin with almost zero tooth set.  Not good when making rough cuts in irregular stock, excellent when making precision cuts in identically prepared stock strips.

With the machine set up and the test cuts made to assure the angles and dimensions were spot-on I was able to saw five or six diamonds at a time and filled my shoebox-size bin in about 20 minutes.

With the stock elements in-hand I laid out cross-lines on paper and got to work.

I find the cross-lines to be exceedingly helpful keeping myself on track as I glue down the diamond lozenges to the paper.  Any irregularity, no matter how miniscule, compounds and amplifies.  Hence the guidelines to keep me on track.  With precise diamonds and the cross-lines I could compose a complete foot-square panel in a little over a half hour.

Trimming off the projecting elements with a veneer saw and Japanese knife the next morning I now had six compositions ready to glue down, in this case to 1/2″ Baltich birch plywood.

The irregularity of handsawn veneer (or bandsawn for us modernes), regardless of how carefully executed, is why the ancient ebenistes saw the toothing plane as the first woodfinishing tool to be employed.

On to mounting the parquetry panels face down on the plywood.  All the gluing for this project was done with 251 gws hot hide glue.

Final trimming in situ was followed by banding and perimeter strips.  I work two sides at a time, trim the ends of those two sides at 45-degree angles, then cut and trimmed the remaining pair of sides.  It took me a lot longer to do the banding and perimeter strips than to compose the original parquetry.

And with that I am now the proud possessor of six parquetry panels for showing-and-telling.  If you are at Handworks stop by and take a look.  I’ll be in the center aisle of the Festhalle.

A Peculiar Convergence – Channeling Eames

A couple of months ago while doing some heavy yard work I must’ve done something to my left wrist without realizing it, but the next morning when I awoke it – in the words of my sainted  foulmouthed (/s) mother – “hurt like a stinker.”  I babied it for a couple weeks with no improvement.  Since the MRI in the barn was on the fritz I had no way to know what the injury/damage was.  Cracked bone?  Muscle strain?  Bone bruise?  Ligament or tendon issue?  Pinched nerve? I had no way to determine which it was but guessed that immobilizing it was the strategy for almost all of it.

So, I ordered a semi-rigid wrist brace from the pharmacy, which helped a bit but not really enough.  I figured that to really do the trick the wrist needed to be more immobilized than the wrist brace which, even though there was a metal armature, allowed more lateral movement than I wanted.  When moving my hand in a curling motion there was no discomfort, but when there was lateral stress or strain there was considerable discomfort.  Oddly, the worst pain came from buttoning the right sleeve cuff with my left hand, then it hurt like a hot coal.

I decided to call up the ghost of Charles Eames, who got his big break in the molded/laminated furniture world with a government contract to make form-fitted splints and such for battlefield injuries.

Following his creativity, I pulled on a nitrile glove over the affected hand and wrist and laid up a fiberglass resin/linen on the bias (4 layers) sheath on the top of my wrist, essentially making half of a wrist cast like I wore when breaking my arm several years ago.  Once I had the laminate assembled I wrapped it in a release film, and then placed inside the elastic straps of the wrist brace to make sure it was a perfect fit once hardened.

BTW – fiberglass resin is VERY exothermic.  There were a couple times I thought I might have to call the whole thing off due to the heat.  Plus, it took much longer to harden than I first estimated, 2-3 hours.

After the new rigid sheath was mostly set I trimmed it with some heavy shears and faced it with some heavy felt from my scrap bin and put it on.  I wore the brace/half-cast combo for almost two weeks, and it seemed to be the solution as the wrist is now almost fully recovered.

Thanks to the inspiration of and from Charles Eames for more than just my iconic writing chair.