Sunday, September 20, 2015


My uncle passed away 18Sep15 after many years of fighting cancer. A few weeks ago I wrote him a letter. I share it here to remember a man who was the embodiment of the builder and to encourage everyone to take the time to tell those that matter that they do. Do it today. We are going to miss you Mike.

Uncle Mike,

Sorry this letter has taken so long to write. I've owed it to you for years, but I've kicked it down the road a long time, always thinking I was being "positive" and had no worry about running out of time or that you didn't need to hear me say it. Now, I realize it doesn't hurt anyone to take a minute and tell the people that have positively influenced your life that they are appreciated. I wanted to let you know how grateful I am for your helping me grow up and become who I am today even when you weren't consciously trying to influence me at the time.

Thank you so much for the things you've taught me. You've taught me the value of hard work, and to do things right and by-the-book, to get a high quality result that will last. You've also shown me that some times you need to buckle down and "get stuff done" even if you haven't done the thing before. This was evident in your encouraging young me (and even my kids) to stretch their abilities and accomplish real work on projects, not play work, but real honest hard work that they can be proud of.

Other times in my life you put your trust in me with your vehicles, while it may not be memorable to you, these events played a role in me growing to be confident and independent. For instance, I learned what pedals did what and how to ease out a clutch at idle in your truck outside that strip mall place we cleaned up. I learned what it was like to check out a truck before you buy it when you bought your diesel and you took me along. I took my first unlicensed solo trip in your car when tools or something were needed and I was the only one available. Along the same line, thanks for having me mow your lawn, I'm sure you paid me more than my work was worth at the time, but I appreciated having money of my own for the first time ever and this set me on a path of not being afraid to work hard for a living.

But most memorable is your caring young-at-heart attitude and hard working spirit. I know most of us Wrights can be perceived as loudmouthed know-it-alls (we usually do know a thing or two), but I think the way kids are always drawn to you demonstrates how warm, kind, and approachable you really are. I can't remember how many times you asked me to come help someone (I did help a few times) but I know that you have always been there to help someone with a roof or something else that needed fixing. This has set a bar for me in humbly helping others who need it. I hope that I have learned this lesson you've shown. Throughout you ordeal, we've only talked a few times about your cancer. And even those have been light and superficial. Maybe it was me being awkward or maybe it was me still feeling like I'm "the kid" and  it's such a "grown up" topic, but now I can't delay in saying I'm going to miss having my Uncle Mike around for a time, and while I hope that's a long time from now, if it's not, I'm thankful I know I'll see you again soon. And I know we'll be right back at work together. We often use Isaiah 64:21-22* to refer to equality in the new world, but I also know that you won't stop at just building a house for yourself. No, you'll be building far more houses than you'll occupy, I can't think of you not building stuff, or helping others build.

Thanks for everything you've built with, and in, me.

All my love,

*Isaiah 64:21&22"They will build houses and live in them, And they will plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not build for someone else to inhabit, Nor will they plant for others to eat. For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, And the work of their hands my chosen ones will enjoy to the full."

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.