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.

Friday, March 13, 2015


I've not been working on the Midwestern Oak Roubo Bench Project (MORBP). Besides the normal causes, (it's cold out there, laziness, Netflix) I have a few good reasons that this project has sat idle for far longer than expected. While I expect no reprieve from the harsh blog reading taskmasters, hopefully this provides an interesting diversion from you getting out in your shop...

#1 Injury

Who knew that intensely working with heavy timbers when you normally work at a desk isn't a good idea? Evidently not me. While I thought I had been careful, all that lifting, shoulder shrugging and mortise chopping caused a fairly debilitating injury in my left shoulder/back, I'd wake with tingling in my fingers. Without an MRI, I believe I partially tore the muscle where it attaches to my shoulder blade, and had a lot of inflammation in my left shoulder causing a pinched nerve. Because of interruption #3 I immediately moth-balled this project (and all heavy lifting) til at least mid Feb. (I have since fully recovered.)

Life Lesson: You aren't 25 forever.

#2 Small Projects

My son had recently expressed an interest in starting a project. I had figured that cutting boards would allow me to use up scrap and be an easier project than a box or something, and allow him to make a nice wedding present for a young couple that was getting married. Given the shared interest in video games, we settled on an 8-Bit design. I ripped all my small scraps into squares and then to short enough lengths that we could make the enormous number of components required. Then we glued them up in layers and then resawed into 3 pieces and sanded. This consumed a lot of my time since he couldn't run the requisite power tools; and while simple, there was a ton of tedious repetitive cuts to get the stock prepared. Still, it was a lot of fun to do something with the boy and the end results are pretty cool, and the folks that have received them as gifts have really liked them. We might make more of these in the future, but I would probably work with 2'-3' pieces and make a loaf of 30-40 boards at a time. 

Life Lesson: Father/Son projects are never a fair work split, but the rewards more than make up for it.

#3 Trip

My wife (who is at least as passionate about travel as I am woodworking) took me on a trip down under for a few weeks Feb-Mar. Our primary objective was New Zealand & Fiji (both incredible), but due to flight scheduling we ended up with a day layover in Melbourne, Australia. Somehow I realized this was the town that Vesper Tools calls home, so I began email pestering for a visit. Chris was a gracious host and quite generous with his time. He is very passionate about woodworking & tools. He makes some absolutely spectacular stuff in his shop and has a very nice collection of tools and books. It was nice to visit with Chris and meet a fellow hand tool zealot face-to-face, to see that we are more the same than different regardless of the continent. I must also say that the souvenirs I picked up in Melbourne that day blow the kitschy shops out of the water, and given that I'll use these tools often, will remind me of the entire trip every time I use them. Also I'm realizing that I under-bought (a 10" bevel in Tasmanian blackwood in particular), Thankfully Vesper will be at Handworks 2015.

I had also arranged with Philip Marcou for a tour of his planemaking shop, but due to weather changing our hiking days in New Zealand, it was not to be, Probably for the best, as his souvenirs add up quick. Still in my interactions with him, Philip seems like another nice guy, making high quality tools.

While in the past I've always enjoyed seeing the woodworking cultures of the places we've visited, moving forward, I'll dedicate a portion of each trip to woodworking or tools.

Life Lesson: Any trip that includes woodworking goes to 11.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Starting at the Top

I had decided on a rising dovetail joint for my leg-top joint on the Midwestern Oak Roubo Bench Project, basically because I thought it would be a cool, mind bending joint for display on a bench. I knew I would need to attempt the joint prior to doing this with the larger sized timbers.

I've only really ever seen Roy Underhill do this joint and in his Wedge & Edge book he uses this in a workbench. Of course not to detract from his work, but I was troubled with the angled rear tenon as it would be weaker due to grain run-out. Also I knew from experience that so many sliding contact surfaces (7) coming together would mean a pretty tight fit during assembly, so this led me to make a slight modification and turn it into a tapered surface, such that the joint would only come together in the last instant, making assembly a bit easier. Theoretically, this weakens the joint's constraints a bit in the top rotating around the front edge, but mass and the self tightening nature of this joint will render that irrelevant for my application.

I made a small scale mock-up of this joint from scrap oak. This worked out quite well and confirmed my suspicion that conceptualizing and laying out this joint is most of the challenge. So after surfacing the top & legs I plunged into this joint. 

One key to laying this out is using a divider to break the leg depth into 4 parts, both the top and bottom of joint. I use a cutting gauge or marking knife to leave marks that I can drop into later if need be. Still, I marked all 4 joints (top and legs) at the same time to keep things straight along the way. Another thing to remember is that the dovetail angle is the same at the top and the bottom faces. The bottom angle "line" is buried and can't be marked, but remembering that you are using some ratio for the top tail allows you to transfer the same ratio to the sides. The front and side face angles are the result of connecting the dots of where these angles intersect the faces.

In making the mock-up, I'd found (after cutting the "tail" first and losing some references) that it was important to cut the mortise first. Given the thickness of these mortises, I attacked them with a 3 lobed auger bit which is now one of my favorites. Since the mortice would be tapered, I cut the angled surface with a bow saw to ease material removal and set the depth of the plane for "zipping" out the waste with a chisel. I learned that I don't really have the appropriate scale tools for this type of work (bisaigue anyone?), but with bench chisels, float and file I was able to get to my layout lines. After that the Tail sockets were done in much the same way, except much easier since there is much more access. depth cuts with a back saw are essential here given the remaining knife-edged bridle of sorts that may split a bit or otherwise get removed, taking away your reference.

Turning to the leg, with layout lines already in place (and waste carefully marked) it's fairly easy to make the 7 straight cuts required. I thought it easier to make the angled face prior to the wedged cutout. 

My hope was that these would drop in straight from the saw with a piston fit, but unsurprisingly they did not and require some additional fitting. (So much for those mad joinery skillz) This is a lot more work than I'm used to as test fitting these components requires some weight lifting... The work to this point all occurred around New Year's, not much has proceeded from here, but reasons for that's a story for another day.

Liberating the legs from 1/2 the top

Unexpectedly Rift Sawn leg stock

Leg (and rail) stock  S4S'd

Laying out the mortise

Three lobed auger bits rock (this one is an Irwin)

Setting the depth of the ramp surf
Squaring up and cleaning up the tapered mortise

I knew I needed the whole set...

Making a first class shoulder with a shoulder plane

Legs Marked

Joints roughed in, ready for fitting...later

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fresh Starts

Many of the deepest friendships enjoyed in life stem from commonality plus contrast. It would be tiring explaining the foundation of thought, yet we all need a "you're stupid" kick-in-the-head that we can't get from a clone.

This is the case with Jarrod, one of my closest friends. We grew up together and have many of the same landmarks while at the same time our differences in focus allow us to be that underlying voice of reason we so often need.
  • Him: Do you really need another camera thing, just use the one on your flip phone?
  • Me: Why buy another computer you'll get 3 years out of when you could have a cabinet saw?
  • Him: have you seen the new Superman Movie? Me: Oh yeah, Richard Pryor was hilarious.
As friends will do, we "gently tease" each other on the aspects of their personality we don't share. So after enduring a decade of "your interest in furniture borders on disturbing" comments (it probably does) I assumed he was up to some joke when he started inquiring about getting started in woodworking. 

A Blank Canvas

If anyone has ever said to you "I'm thinking about getting into woodworking, what do you think?" (especially if you are far enough down in the woodworking blogosphere to be reading this), you probably overwhelmed them in short order with very odd sounding things they "need"
Get massive out-of-print volumes, oh they are in french
Consider harvesting your own trees or digging in people's firewood piles!
Buy rusty tools instead of the nice looking ones they sell at big box stores.

Especially true is it when they probably had in mind a set of nailed together bracket shelves. Still, after my exuberant flooding of info, Jarrod actually took my advice and started off not by running out and buying a SCMS, but by reading the Anarchist Tool Chest. and after that, I think I had sold him on the general direction to take. Of course we have different end results (he's got a few specific projects in mind and is starting from ground zero with both skills and tools.)

Still, he was all-in on wanting to build a Roubo bench early and brought up the idea of working on one over the winter break (we are different types of Transpondsters at a corporation that shuts down annually from Dec 24-Jan 2, also ) After seeing Jonas and Brian's woodworking Jam a while back, it got me thinking on dusting off my "probably dry enough by now" oak. I had hoped I had enough 4" thick material to share, I didn't. In the end he decided to push a few tools ahead of the bench and just come help a day on mine during the break.

This meant that I needed to finalize my bench design. Project creep of course sets in after reading pretty much everything C Schwarz has written about benches and thinking on this for years. My end result is that it will be:

  • Split-top slab (FORP) type Roubo
  • No glue?
  • Rising dovetails
  • Kintaro Yazawa "word" mortises
  • Incorporate GPS coordinates of the original tree
  • Ebonizing
  • Experimental parallel vise control?
  • Art Nouveau-ish flourishes in the chop & Deadman. 
  • Keep it simple...

Making room for this winter build meant I needed to also complete the shop renovation that I'd been halfheartedly been working. This I got done "enough" and a few weeks prior to the build.

I pulled out (from the bottom of the stack) the rough materials. My hope was to get the timbers S4S prior to the date Jarrod came and I could just dazzle him with my mad joinery skillz. Regrettably this didn't happen (for a few reasons...), but Jarrod did come and helped out a lot (along with my dad and his 20" planer) and we all learned a lot about surfacing large timbers

In the end, both the bench and Jarrod's woodworking journey are off to a good start. Pretty sure we'll stay friends even though we now share another interest, he'll probably cut pins first if i know him...

Dad finds a use for this 4" jointer
Pretty easy to remember who has a 20" planer when you need one

Friday, November 28, 2014

Woodworking in the Stone Age

This is the follow up I had promised on the making and usage of the plane design I spoke of in the previous post. (better late than never)

Bottom line: I count this a successful design, experiment & tool, but don't think I'll be making/using solid surface material again for a plane. I just don't enjoy the process. I'd like to make the same body in wood sometime though.

If a potential planemaker was already tooled up for working the stuff with a CNC router per the cabinet shop norm, they could come up with some straightforward paths and offer a nice line of smoothers with their scraps, with a pretty minimal investment of effort. The material is very dense, and feels nice.

I'm not planning on detailing the process, but have included photos of steps along the way. If you have a specific question, just leave a comment. Most everything was done using 4 tools table saw, pattern cutting router bit, stationary belt sander, and drill mounted drum sander.

Prior to this build, I made a prototype in a block of Cyprus. I really like the two halves method of plane making. I think this has a lot of potential.

Lessons Learned:

  • Geometric Design. I'm really pleased with how it turned out. All-in-all it handles well (perhaps a bit toe heavy) and looks good to me. 
  • Cross pin. I sort of trivialized that I could make this fit around the other parameters like wall profile and mouth opening later on. This was a mistake, and meant that in the end I had to place it a little closer to the iron than desired, making the wedge thinner than I would have preferred. 
  • Wedge Shape, I sort of thought this would be simple to design on the fly as well. It wasn't. getting the shape that fit the body and could still be tapped in the directions needed etc.
  • Planing angle. I bedded this plane ~55° It makes it a bit harder to push, but cuts well in anything I've thrown it's way (in most any direction)



This project was 80% about the materials, so it's no surprise that this is where I have the most to say.
  1. I didn't have true Corian® but some knock-off solid surface product (my source was leftovers from an auction). The main differences being that it has tiny bubbles (not as good as the Don Ho version) that come through when you work into it. I also suspect that Corian® is more uniform in thickness.
  2. The stuff I had, wasn't parallel and/or flat, which didn't become apparent until I went to glue up, this left a line. If I had used matching epoxy it would've blended nicely.
  3. "Corian" machines very nicely with carbide tools, like routing MDF I suppose. That said, I had quite a bit of chipout in the mouth area from the table saw, this was filled with epoxy, so no impact on function, but again visible.
  4. While not cold as steel, it's not quite as warm as wood. This might again be an issue with the non-genuine Corian®
  5. Its got a really nice heft to it.
  6. Routing Template
  7. Corian is 5 8yr old boys at a sleepover messy.
  8. Even though I know it's less dulling than my cast iron baileys, I feel apprehension installing/removing the iron. Feels like working without a net over concrete.

Maintaining symmetry 

Since only the bed and sole are flat in the end, careful layout and operation sequencing was important to make sure that the needed work could be done to keep things symmetric.