Friday, May 29, 2015

Enjoy Jeff Burks' Posts More With This One Weird Tip!

If you are like me, you follow a lot of blogs, mostly on an iPhone. So today I'm digressing briefly to pass on a tech tip. (I'd guess that android has something similar but I don't use, so can't comment)

Many woodworking blogs are picture laden, but short on words, while others may be a little "less concise" and pretty verbiage heavy (myself included here). For instance, I really enjoy the stuff Jeff Burks' digs up, but often found them fall to the bottom of the unread pile, until I found that you can easily get them read to you. Siri's voice isn't perfect but usually surprisingly good enough (especially with the enhanced mode enabled). I was recently showing this feature to someone else and found Apple had updated this hardly known feature to now allow a two-finger swipe down gessture to begin reading. (Previously you had to select all, and then tap "speak") This pairs nicely with "reader mode" in Safari, for pages outside my RSS feed. Try it, you'll like it. 

Here's how. Start in general settings.
In use:

Ugly Stick© Molding Plane Concept

So after stepping through my design considerations in my previous posts,


I came to the task of essentially designing everything around using a small, easy to manufacture iron. After my usual sketching on random napkins for a couple of days, I had 2 promising concepts that utilized a short iron.

  • First, the one shown, relies on inexpensive hardware for securing and adjusting the iron 
  • Originally I planned on using barrel nuts and 1/4" holes for the 1/4-20 eyebolts which are easily grasped (and easier to come by than 4" thumbscrews) even if they are gouge-out-my-eyes pretty. After drilling the holes with my only long "1/4" drill bit did I realize that it was actually 15/64" (covered in grime) which meant I could thread the wood directly with the screw (and a bit of wax) and avoid the barrel nuts (further simplification
  • Second concept uses wedged methods which I hope to get to soon (thanks also to Brian Eve who suggested looking at the Galbert shave horse for another potential wedge design)
The concept for this plane was not so much to get a working model so much as to slap something together that I could talk about with some pros at Handworks 2015.

(Insert raving about how great Handworks2015 was here, see some pics below)

While there, I was able to speak to Brian Eve , Larry Williams, Phil Edwards, & Chris Vesper about this plane. They each provided valuable information. Below are random points of discussion on the topic:

  • I'm not saying it won't work, but it's a complete departure from how we do things and I'm not sure where the fitting challenges will even present themselves
  • The escapment will need more room to clear the chip
  • Need a blind side wall to provide repeatable registration of the iron and "yaw" control.
  • Wow, that thing is ugly! You've got to do something with the eyebolts.
  • Give it a try, I don't see why it inherently won't work.
  • Way too much iron thickness, 1/8-3/16 max (I was using random chunk of metal in shop)
  • Holding the iron during grinding and heat treat will present challenges, can't get it hot like you can with tang
  • There may be a potential chip clog point where the iron meets the escapement

Many of these comments confirmed what my gut was already telling me, still it was really good to have input from experienced makers, and to actually feel like I have my toe in the door of the illustrious tool making community.

So I didn't waste any time once I got home. I ordered some O1 3/16"x2"x18" steel to take it to the next level of working beta prototype (and also provide steel for other planes). Now I just need to find a way to sneak in time on this project when I should be remodeling 50% of my house...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Open Source Hollows and Rounds: Ironing out the Details

Continuing in the saga for a method for making "user" grade side escapement molding planes. This time I chase the gorilla in the room, the iron.

The irons in a traditional set of H&R planes are pretty intimidating to any wannabe non-blacksmith plane "enthusiast" like myself. Think about the processing required for traditional English H&R (18X):

Material selection

Beyond the O1 A2, PMV-11, R2D2 metallurgy stuff, there's the sizes. 1/8"- 3/16" is typical thickness, check. Since the name of this game is "frugal" To me it sure seems like you'd want to minimize waste and the amount of pieces of tool steel purchased. This leads to going after a very wide bar as a blank like this McMaster #9516K517 and then nesting your irons by rotating H&R 180° as opposed to many varying widths of steel strips.
Nested, still some waste in the centers

Cutting out Blanks

Ideally these could be done with a CNC laser or water jet cutter. (If you have one laying around.) This is a de-facto production method at the corporation I work for (but I don't have access, and side-job personal work is frowned on there #fired) I always thought if I were making a traditional set, I'd source the blanks laser cut with the size and shape marked decoratively in the corner for easier visibility and extra cool factor. (I have so many ideas, eventually one will be good.)

Given "users" don't typically have lasers available, that means hacksaw or angle grinder with cutting wheel. Now remember, this is not a simple cut to length/width job, but instead a wide bit and narrow tang. (Ideally both varying by plane width). Sounds like work.


To me this seems like the scariest part, though in reality, most of the material removal is at the narrower tang portion. I suspect a magnetic jig that would register off the inside corner could be used to coarsely (and medium-ly and finely) linish them on a common bench top sander. 
This isn't absolutely necessary (for instance Philly planes doesn't currently do this) but there are good reasons to do so:

Shaping Profile

This is another laborious part to match the sole. Not really any way around this one. More grinding.

Heat Treating

Scary, but it involves fire and possibly baking Ghiradelli double chocolate brownies (tempering)  so sign me up.


Not your average 1/2" chisel. I don't have a dog in the sharpening race, let's just leave it at that. 

Skipping Ahead

There are a couple of sources to acquire them "ready to go":
But you still are going to be doing the shaping, heat treating and sharpening on your own. These are certainly not crazy priced given the pre-work already done, but it's still a decent chunk of change for soft tool steel, and raises the expectations for the planes made, at which point you might as well go whole hog with the traditional methods in my mind.

So the design targets for the plane should revolve around the constraints of the "ideal" irons which would be something like:

  • Parallel in thickness (as they come from the steel mills)
  • Parallel in width to make them require less processing with limited metalworking tools
  • Much shorter in length to reduce material usage. 

    • Less material and complication in a Krenov vs Stanley iron, despite the thick iron goodness.
    • Use a common width of steel for bit length so the whole set can be made from one piece of tool steel.
    • Stanley #45 uses shorter, simpler irons
    • Bridge City Toolworks has a unique solution with its hp-6v2 irons
    In my next post, I'll show my first frankenplane concept(s) that attempts to accomplish these goals. 
    To get there, I've turned to an antique panel gauges, lifting devices and IKEA... I'm hopeful to get something usable slapped together to do some recon with the master plane makers at Handworks (next week!), but I'm also supposed to be demolishing my kitchen this week too.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2015

    The Day I Met C.Schwarz

    The first time I met Christopher Schwarz face-to-face was extremely briefly at HandWorks in 2013, but this is not that story, it goes back farther. At the risk of sounding cliché (or like an awkward bromance), it was a day that changed my life.

    The date is within a few days of Jan 3, 2007. My life had been linearly progressing, family was healthy, kids were out of diapers, doing well enough in my career, the garage shop was slowly filling with the large stationary power tools "every shop needs" and I was beginning to think about getting a "fun" car instead of the practical (if beater-esqe) transports I had dutifully driven as a frugal family man.

    I began researching the type of car that I longed for, classic gentlemen's roadsters in British racing green & tan interiors. I can't really say what I asked Google, but in addition to the exactly correct answer in the first 2-3 lines there was this:

    I read this post, was intrigued by the English bench project (and MG analogy) and was drawn to the writing that was fresh and personal in a way I'd never seen in technical writing. (I can't even say I really knew what a blog was then.) Over the next weeks/months I combed through mountains of old posts and really began looking forward to the nearly daily updates about tools, old methods and of course benches.
    My English Gentleman's Car for an American (made in Japan)
    Schwarz was sharing everything he learned with his audience and I soaked it up. He wrote his first workbench book and I bought it, not so much for the info, which I'd already recieved in blogs, but as a way of paying back for the information I'd received earlier for free. The same went for the magazine as he progressed there (and continues @LAP). As he mentioned interesting and influencing people he ran into, (Konrad, Raney, Jameel, Economaki, Williams, Brian, Jonas...) I would begin to follow their blogs and expand my list of woodworking mentors. Given the personal writing styles of these and others filling up my RSS feed, most of my corporate cutlist magazine subscriptions lapsed.

    My projects began to move from machine-centric work based on detailed CAD models to more loose organic projects with more personality, and hand finished touches with more focus on getting the lines, details and quality right. An example of his influence finding its way into my work was when I built a picket fence. Instead of a nailgun or screws, I chose to clench all the nails. (the technical data clenched it for me) Years later, all the pickets are still just as tight. While I don't think my work is very similar in style to what Schwarz does, his influence helped me on my way, and eventually inspired me to start this blog to share what I think I know and be a part of this helpful community.

    Beyond woodwork, his blog changed my professional life, It encouraged me to share my lessons learned, not in a dry documentary style, but instead as approachable and like someone giving-it-all-away. He made me think there was something to writing well, demonstrating a way to communicate in a simple, compelling and straightforward style. (This is unnatural for engineering types.) This has led to satisfying job tweaks and a measure of career success that wouldn't be possible had I stayed inside my analyst shell. For instance, I founded a well regarded corporate technical intranet blog and community that I have often been commended for (even despite my attempts at humor)

    If you are still interested in my face-to-face meeting with Christopher Schwarz, it was, as I said at HandWorks 2013. I'd wanted to meet the people I'd followed for years. I waited in the loud and busy line at the LAP booth when simultaneously two such people,  Megan Fitzpatrick and he, started talking to me. I figured Emily Post demanded I address the lady first, but by the time I exchanged pleasantries with her, Schwarz had disappeared. I didn't get to chat with him again that weekend, but in reality I hadn't wanted to. I'd approached a mentor whom I'd felt I knew closely (95% sure ATC was written directly to me), and realized I hadn't been sharing anything back to have a two-way conversation like a real conversation. I felt more like creepy stalker than compadre

    My Best Impression of a Woodworking Icon.

    This year, at Handworks 2015, I do hope to run into him again. This time, I won't hesitate to chat him up, because in the last 2 years I've become a participant in this community. (If you aren't yet, you should be.) If anyone reads this blog and is coming to HandWorks, please find me. I'm sure I won't be busy, and frankly I would be flattered to know that this thing gets read, we can grab a coffee next door and geek out about woodworking and tools. If you find me with the jitters, then you'll know this blog is way more popular than I believe.

    Thanks Christopher, you've made a great number of people's lives better, including this one.

    Friday, April 24, 2015

    Open-Source Hollows and Rounds: Bodies

    In the quest for a modern user set of hollows and rounds, the desire is to jump in and address the body. Likely, most of the opportunity lies in the iron. Still, it doesn't hurt to start thinking about bodies that might work well. To that end, I'm excerpting some images from a pretty good book I picked up when I was fortunate enough to visit a Lee Valley store.
    Also if you haven't already read everything at and seen the Larry Williams video, that's solid baseline information.

    One example from this book ends up with similar geometry as English planes, but creates the mortise by laminating strips on the outside.

    In the next example (opening bouvet image) from Roubo we see the construction even more simplified, with the mortise being completely open on the side. (Dig the horn and the side facing wedge too.) I do wonder how bulky this style would need to be on wider molding planes, or if there is a tendency to warp away from the open side causing tracking issues.

    The next 2 show construction that is quite different, in that they have a mechanism built-in that allows the toe & heel to move relative to each other. Neither are side escapement planes, but it's not a stretch to see such implementation.
    The first shows using this motion to restrain the iron, replacing the wedge with a simple inexpensive carriage bolt. Dowel pins of a sort are used to keep the 2 parts aligned. 

    In the second, the wedge secures the iron as typical, and the heel-toe motion allows mouth adjustment (much less important in molders) The alignment is controlled via the simply created dados in the toe and laminated construction.
    In all these examples, you see that the iron continues all the way through the body or you'd have no way of reaching it for proper setup. As I look at these, I see some opportunity to simplify without sacrificing usability, of course I'm not a plane making expert by any stretch of the imagination so feel free to add to the discussion and/or tell me I'm on the wrong track.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2015

    Coo Coo for Kuksas

    A while back I carved a few spoons. I must say it's a satisfying project; personal, usable and quick to complete. While I've only completed 4-5 spoons, I can definitely see why they are a current woodworking trend. But the next, next thing has got to be Kuksas. You may never have heard of them, but they hit the small fun flexible project sweet spot much like spoons. 
    With Trees, beauty isn't just external

    The name and form come from Scandinavia, where they are a personal drinking vessels usually carved much like a spoon, often with a leather lanyard for clipping to your belt or at least that's what I learned from Wikipedia. 
    The way I came across them was from the Japanese craftsperson M_Hasegawa who's work just blew me away
    (Go check it out, it's stunning) 
    First Try

    Instead of carving with knives, Hasegawa turns the bowl, rough saws to shape and finishes by hand. I have no idea if this is traditional in Japanese treenware or not, but it sure seems to work. Since the bowl of spoons is the trickiest bit for me, it seemed like a good method for me with the added benefit of improving my nonexistent bowl turning skills. On my first attempt with a Cyprus scrap, I quickly learned what an offset block of wood does to my little midi lathe #shakeitlikeapolaroidpicture. By the third attempt, I realized that a blank long enough for handles on both sides would be mostly balanced. Then it's a matter of laying out your shape, drilling the finger hole, rough sawing (I'd suggest the profile first then the "plan" view)
    Second attempt, in walnut

    Then comes the shaping, your preferred methods will all work here. Using knives in the living room with the family is a nice time and let's you "spend time together" yet woodwork too. In the end, I used a stationary belt sander, knives, rasps, chisels, gouges and eventually sandpaper, but really any technique you want to try out is usable here (especially if you aren't on a production schedule)

    I initially used Cyprus because I had some thick stock, but it's probably too soft. Then I tried walnut which would have worked wonderfully had I not tried to make a Big Gulp size and got the look all wrong. For the third try, I found some crab apple firewood from a branch I took out last year that was just big enough for a little 6oz one. I don't have any plans to make any more, but I will be when the right chunks of wood turn up. I'm really happy with how this turned out, I think it may be just my cup of tea.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    Searching For an Escape

    I recently read an interesting post from Bill Lattanzio regarding traditional side escapement planes where he brought up a point that I too have wondered about for years, namely "Where are the "user" Hollows and Rounds?" I must preface this topic with the caveat that I haven't really used these planes, though mostly it is due to the point I am bringing up, the high cost of entry*.

    Now before anyone takes me for being a cheapskate* (which I probably am) I'm not talking about tools made in low labor cost countries, though I am sort of surprised someone hasn't filled that niche yet. What I'm talking about is a wholesale look at what makes a good molding plane designed and manufactured for use by today's wood workers.

    The easy answer is that it looks exactly as it did in the 18th century*. I have the excellent Larry William's DVD as I hope to make some side escapement planes someday. I believe these are amazing tools every bit as refined cultured and beautiful as infills. The amount of materials and labor involved means that they are time intensive and expensive to make, again just like infill planes. This means they cost more than peanuts, and given multiples are needed (yes I know you probably only need a couple), it gets to fairly large numbers quick. Custom plane makers aren't rolling in cash, despite what a set of their tools cost. It only makes sense that a skilled craftsman ought to live somewhere above the poverty line, divide that cost by the planes you can make in a year, and that's how much they must cost, simple economics. The facts that most H&R plane makers have a backlog (sometimes measured in years) and that there isn't a glut of makers proves that this isn't a get rich scheme. Now you can try to address this by finding skilled workers in low cost of living areas, or you can figure out a way to simplify or accelerate production with the end result being more quantity & less expensive tools made.

    This doesn't mean making products that aren't good. Again take infill planes. I doubt many would say that a Bailey pattern plane can't do good work. It certainly could be made in far less time with less expense in craftsman labor. This is why infill plane makers were largely supplanted by "good-enough" Baileys. Thankfully, today there is enough interest in woodworking to allow infill makers to thrive again despite increasingly better (more than) "good-enough" mass produced planes like Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, and others. I believe a line of such H&R will not take away the niche of the small number of makers of traditional side escapement planes (Old Street, MS Bickford, Caleb James, Philly Planes) (and not to leave out the non-traditional Time Warp Tool Works) In fact, I'd suspect that as more folks use these planes, even more people would desire "Premium" versions.

    My intent here is to start a discussion on an open source design for 21st century molding planes. I have thoughts to share on materials and manufacturing, but invite as many opinions as possible, hopefully driving toward a design that is relatively economical to make, just as the originals were in their time. I realize that there is an amount of hubris here as a thus far sideline molder*, and I welcome even disparaging comments on the challenges ahead with such a project.

    *I should add that I recently acquired a nice RH half-set from Hackney Tools, whom I can heartily recommend and will be trying out and reporting on more here.