About Brian Ward

I have no idea what I'm doing.

More plane practice

I got out the gear from last week to try to improve my planing and sharpening skills. We definitely have progress here.

It turned out that I messed up the primary bevel last week; I had it somewhere near 25 degrees, but it should be much higher. So earlier this week, I took out the honing guide and diamond stone and (groan) reworked the bevel. This made a big difference; sharpening also went much faster this time. And I have yet fewer arm hairs.

What took a long time was the sole preparation. I was wondering about the “friction” people talk about on plane soles, so I tried a test run on my MF #9 with the iron retracted on a board. Well, I’ll be–“friction” is real. Man, that thing was hard to drag around. So I decided to see if I could get the bottom a little smoother. I probably should not have done that, it was likely a waste of time and it took forever to get all the crud off the bottom and out of the plane. But I couldn’t help myself, and I polished up the sides to a semi-shine while I was at it. Oooh, purty.

After this, I waxed the sole. Now that really did the trick. Wow. I will not skip this step again. It amounts to Friction-B-Gone, and now I’m wondering if hot waxing (as you would do on a snowboard or skis) would be even better. The nice thing about hot wax is that there aren’t any awful chemicals in the wax paste that have to evaporate before you smooth it.

I’m experiencing all of the usual problems you get when you’re still learning how to use a plane and those that you experience in a plane that needs some fine-tuning. My biggest problem is getting the shavings not to jam. The solution I finally ended up at was just to open the throat a little wider. Of course, this was after who-knows-how-long, and the iron was dull at that point, but that’s not a big deal. I’m at least getting good chipbreaking action. My practice board is much smoother this week than it was last week, but I can probably improve on this still by getting better shaving control. I was getting a bunch of single-fiber shavings today. That was neat.

Before cleaning up, I sharpened another chisel, my 1/2″ one, including lapping the back. This was much faster now, not only because I’m getting better at it, but also the lapping took virtually no time on the diamond stone. Then I tried it out on some wood, and that was really cool. I love how a sharp tool gives a glass-smooth finish. Endgrain? No problem.

One thing that’s becoming painfully obvious (and I knew this was going to be an issue) is that the ‘ol workmate just isn’t cutting it when I use a plane, and I need to solve this problem. I need to hold it down with one foot to keep it from tipping up because I’m putting too much force on it. It would work in a somewhat adequate manner if I could find some way to bolster it against a wall. But what I’ll probably need to do is make some cheap ‘n dirty workbench that’s a little more stable (and one that I can do an end vise number on). This would be more useful anyway, because I eventually want to be able to use the workmate for sawing.

Well, there’s that problem, and also that my apartment isn’t a good workshop. But there are solutions.

In the near future, I need to get one of my jack planes working, as well as a few saws. I had the opportunity to use my 99-cent Jackson backsaw today. Even in the wretched shape that it’s in, it cut surprisingly quickly.

It’d also be nice to get one of the fore planes up and running, even though I’m not sure what I’d use it for. I’m so close on my Stanley #6 that I might just try to get it finished before a jack (which is going to require rust removal, some serious grind-o-rama, and who knows what else).

First Usable Plane!

So this weekend turned out to be a big one for me, as I finished off my Millers Falls #9 and tried it out on wood for the first time. I’d been coming up on this for a while now, since there were very few tools that I haven’t messed with so far. The only other new thing (offhand) that I could have done was get a saw into working shape.

There were three things remaining on the plane before this weekend: the sole needed lapping, the iron needed honing, and the screw for the tote needed some sort of washer. This latter one was easy, I just bought a little o-ring and threw it in there.

[edit: I don’t lap my plane soles anymore, unless something’s seriously messed up, and usually, nothing is. This lapping stuff seems like it’s blown out of proportion, and sometimes, doing it can make your plane sole worse. That said, I’ll often quickly rub a plane’s sole on a piece of Norton 3X sandpaper on the surface plate, but this is usually more to remove rust than to “make it flat”.]

Lapping the sole was something I’d never done before, but had heard tons about. My method was to spray-glue some acetate drafting film to my glass plate, add oil and silicon carbide grit, and start rubbing. The acetate turned out to be a great idea, because the grit quickly became embedded. The only thing that might have been better could have been Mylar drafting film, which is more durable, but costs about six times as much. I used sunflower oil because it’s fairly light and isn’t smelly and toxic.

I had a little help in lapping. My friend JJ decided that she wanted to come over, and I warned her that I’d put her to work. It didn’t take as long as the horror stories I’ve heard from this before, though, so I was happy. I’m not sure about my friend though; something tells me that she may have not had a day of plane rehab in mind.

What did take forever, though, was lapping the back of the iron. I’d been dreading this ever since I did the chisel, because it took forever on that. I decided it was time to pull out the wallet to try to buy off some time here. In other words, I bought a coarse diamond stone. It still took forever, especially because there was one corner that was the tiniest bit convex. Argh.

And of course, wouldn’t you know that there were a bunch of pits on the bevel, too. Now here was where I was really happy that I got the diamond stone, because I don’t have a grinder. I just locked the sucker in the honing guide, plopped it on the diamond stone, and rolled like mad, and finally ground past the pits and the other really nice deficiencies.

After the requisite arm-hair shavings, it was time to try it out on some poplar:

Of course, you never get it right the first time. I’d never used anything like this before, so naturally it took a lot of gouging and fiddling to finally arrive at something passable.

This is going to take some practice to get to where I need to be, but you gotta love it when your floor looks like this:

Thank goodness for vacuum cleaners…

First honing

So I had my first attempt at honing today. My 3/4″ chisel was my first victim of the Scary Sharp system. I was a bit nervous about it because, well, this was it, you know… the last thing that I needed to do in order to have a usable tool. That, and I’d been reading about how to sharpen stuff for a long time.

It actually worked. I used a variety of sandpaper grits with repositionable spray adhesive on glass. I learned the following:

  • Don’t use too much adhesive. Just a little bit makes the sandpaper stick and keeps it from sliding around. Too much makes it goopy and slippery. Repositionable is great because you can clean it with citrus cleaner.
  • Lapping the back of a blade is the hardest part and takes a long time. Thank goodness you really only have to do this once. I need some more sandpaper grits to do this more quickly; it took me a long time to work out the original milling marks and skip between the various grits.
  • Corollary: It’s gonna take forever to lap the soles of my planes.
  • Honing the bevel is pretty fast and easy, especially when you have a honing guide.
  • A mirror finish on a blade makes things really, really interesting.
  • It’s pretty easy to tell if you’ve done it right. You really can shave your arm hair, and a sharp blade cuts across endgrain with the greatest of ease.
  • I need a real strop.

I still need more practice. But the today’s results are much better than I expected.

So close!

Through the last few weeks, I’ve been getting the final pieces necessary for me to start cutting wood. I finally got a piece of plate glass for sharpening and lapping. For that, I went to a salvage yard and, well, it might have been overkill, but I found a 4-foot piece of 3/8″-thick tempered glass (for almost nothing). You can’t cut tempered glass, but I thought that it might be nice to have something this big for lapping plane soles.

I also broke down and bought a Veritas honing guide.

To give you an idea of the budget I’ve been using, this is definitely the most expensive tool that I’ve bought so far. Now that I’ve got it, I’m glad that I splurged on this, because it’s gonna be awfully handy in getting bevel angles correct.

So at this point, there’s just one thing separating me from sharpening: spray adhesive. To lap planes, I also need a sheet of Mylar. So I’m going to work on this stuff this week. And then I’m gonna get some actual wood!

#6 Reassembled

After looking at a pile of parts for about a month, I realized that now that I’d cleaned the frog and screws, there was no reason not to reassemble the #6 plane (other than losing a few of those parts, that is). Here’s the result:

It sure isn’t gonna win any beauty contests with that big ol’ chip missing off the front left side. More important is that all of the moving parts actually move smoothly and easily now. It’s amazing how well this stuff works when you get rid of all of the rust and apply a tiny amount of oil.

Of course, it’s not done yet. Two big things remain; first, I have to lap the sole and clean the sides. Second, the iron needs honing. Actually, it needs more than that; it needs grinding first, because the edge lists to one side. That’s sort of a big job for someone who’s never done it before, but it’s not impossible.

[edit: see the edits in this post for my current thoughts on lapping.]

Here’s the rear:

With this one in decent shape, I can move to another plane. I’ll probably do the Millers Falls #9 now. As you may recall, I already started on the lever cap from that. I’ve also cleaned the iron and chipbreaker, so given that the wood doesn’t need any special work, it won’t be long until that one is looking good, too.

At least I hope it doesn’t take too long. Other than these two planes, somehow five others have popped up that also need, uh… work.

First Marking Gauges, More Plane Work

These two marking gauges arrived last week:

One of these is a Stanley #61. Who knows what the other one is, a Stanley #62? The #61 is from the Sweetheart era, so that makes it between 70 and 85 years old. The other one is older, with a patent date of 1873. It’d be real handy if they actually told us the actual patent number, but that would have just been too easy.

The #61 is in really good shape, perfectly usable and ready to go. The other one’s marking scribe is in a strange state. It’s probably salvageable, but I don’t want to munge it too much on a tool that is this old (even if it isn’t in the greatest shape).

These are neat tools; check out the all-wooden screws.

Today’s tool work centered on that Stanley #6. I decided that it was time to attack the schmutz on the bed and frog. I was getting a little tired of wiping crud off, thinking, “OK, now I’m at the end of it,” only to discover more and more of it. So I sat back and thought, okay, well, water isn’t gonna hurt the japanning, and if I dry it fast enough, it won’t rust…

So I took it to the sink, whipped out the Palmolive, and gave ‘er a big scrubbing. That actually did the trick, finally. I had a hair dryer ready, so that’s one clean bed now. The frog is mostly clean now, too, but I did not do as much to it because it’s a more complex part and it may not need any more.

The final cleaning frenzy came this evening, when I scrubbed and polished the various screws and hardware. Although they look very nice now, I have to admit that there is a point, when you’re meticulously scrubbing a frog-securing washer with an off-center hole, that you ask yourself just what in the hell you’re doing…

First Block Plane

I wasn’t really looking to get a block plane right off the bat. First, for whatever reason, the good ones always seem to end up costing near $35-$40 when they’re in decent shape. Second, it wasn’t a pressing need; they are good at trimming end grain, and that’s not something I wanted to fool around with just yet.

As has happened with my other planes, a somewhat questionable example showed up for a reasonable sum (that is, like $5), and thus, I am now the owner of this little Millers Falls #16:

At first glance, this thing looks positively awful. God only knows what inhabited this plane before it was shipped to me. That pin holding in the iron’s cam locking lever doesn’t exactly look like the original part. The chrome on various parts looks like it’s flaked off. And there’s not a lot of japanning left.

However, the rust is really only a little surface rust, the brass knob and depth adjuster are intact, and most importantly, the mouth adjuster is intact. The adjustable mouth feature is really what separates the men from the boys in the block plane business, and this, being a knockoff of the Stanley 9 1/2, has that feature. Don’t ask me why they made so many stupid block planes without it, or why these manufacturers (Stanley in particular) decided to make so many stupid block planes in the first place, or why a low-angle block plane costs so goddamn much these days. I do not know the answers to these questions.

What I do know is that this plane is going to need a little work to clean up, and that it’s not among my priorities right now, especially because I have amassed way too many planes since I started on this little mission of mine. Seriously. When the dust clears from this initial spending spree, I’ll have two smoothing planes, three jack planes, a fore plane, and a block plane. It has also dawned on me that I’m probably gonna need to start to learn a few simple things about metalworking at some point. In particular, a lot of this stuff seems to have riveted parts. I don’t know much about that.

Further Down the Slippery Slope of the Hand Drill

I told you that I really liked hand drills, right? Well, here’s last week’s arrival:

This is a Millers Falls #2 “eggbeater” drill, probably made sometime during WWII or just after, due to its domestic hardwood handles and chuck design. It’s not exactly a collectible, especially due to the owner’s initials etched into two spots, but it does at least have its original eight fluted bits stowed in the handle.

This type has dual pinions, which George Langford poo-poos as an inferior later design “feature,” in part because it takes more energy to crank than the previous (admittedly ingenious) design, which I’ll probably snarf up sometime, too. Aside from the fact that I am a Veritable He-Man[tm] who cares not about trifling expenditures of energy, there may be some merit to that claim, because my example’s rear pinion was chatty and clearly annoyed upon arrival. However, one drop of oil fixed this problem, making my #2 into the easiest-turning hand drill I’ve ever used.

It’s been called “the finest hand drill ever made.” I can’t argue.

I have some other new acquisitions, they’ll have to wait for another day to get their spotlight in the blog, though.

Stanley #6 Tote and Knob

I’ve been working on the knob and tote of the Stanley #6 for quite a while now. Here’s how they looked when I got the plane:

The original finish was pretty much shot; chipped off in many places, cracked all over, and generally lousy. I guess that’s not too bad for 70 years of wear, but it wasn’t going to be very comfortable for a tool that I actually wanted to use.

Being very conservative about this, I first tried rubbing only some mineral spirits around the wood to see if the finish would crack and fall off easily, as it’s purported to sometimes do. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. The weak parts of the finish fell right off, sure, but a little less than half was really stuck on there. Here’s how it looked after the mineral spirits:

I don’t know if this was better or worse than before. However, even though I relish driving around in a beat-up-looking car, I do not want the same to be true of my bench planes.

So I waited for an appropriate time and place to get out the ol’ paint stripper. That stuff always gives me the heebie-jeebies, because it usually melts your gloves to a point where you generally throw them out after a strippin’ session. Scary or no, it is effective, as this photo shows:

I should make one note about paint stripper–make sure that you clean and rub the wood over with mineral spirits when you’re finishing up. Don’t use water. You see, wood expands and contracts based on its water content, and you risk cracks, raised grain, and all sorts of awful stuff. Wood won’t readily absorb mineral spirits like that. It will evaporate slowly over time and leave the wood in a fairly even, dry state.

So, with the paint finally off, I had a decision to make: what to use for a new finish? Traditionally, varnish or lacquer is used for this stuff, but I’m not much of a fan there. I’ve always really liked the oil finishes, but I wasn’t too sure about this because it is rosewood, after all, and it’s a pretty dark wood already. Not to mention that the tool collectors would scream bloody murder.

Eh, screw those guys. The wood was nicked up anyway, and I really like the way that oil finishes feel in the hand:

This is after two treatments; one more tomorrow and it’s ready to go. It’s hard to tell much because of the glare from the flash, but this is really looking good. The knob is darker than the tote (you can tell this pretty clearly from the stripped photo above), and is now a very rich hue, with the growth rings adding a subtle accent. This should hold up fairly well. I guess if I’m unhappy about it later, I could always draw the oil out with the yummy paint stripper and go at it again with something else. But it’s unlikely that I’ll do anything else except maybe replenish with a different oil.

Chisels: Check.

The chisel problem had been weighing hard and fast on my mind, and today I did something about it. After picking my car up from its regular service, I remembered that there was one of those Woodcraft stores in San Carlos, which is relatively close to the mechanic. Having that convenient mode of transport ready, I went there to see if they had any new chisels that were okay and didn’t cost like a million dollars. Also, I’d never been to one of those stores before, and I was kind of curious to see stuff like the Lie-Nielsen planes.

So I asked the guy there about the chisels. He was really helpful. He understood exactly what I was trying to do, and basically said, “Yeah, we have a lot of really spendy chisels, but these plastic-handled Irwin/Marples ones that are much cheaper and available in this handy four-pack will be great for what you’re trying to do. You just gotta put the time and effort into honing and learning how to use them. Then, when you are good at that, and properly addicted, come on back, purchase the really expensive stuff, and take lots of classes ‘cuz you’ll like that.”

I paraphrase, of course, but I have to admit that it was rather refreshing that the guy wasn’t trying to sell me the most expensive thing in the store. This might be partly because there is no shortage of Yuppie Bastard (and his silly German car) in the bay area, and therefore, no shortage of chumps throwing money around like candy at a parade. He asked me if there was anything else I needed, and I told him that maybe my small try square might not be very useful, but he said, “Nah, it may be a little small, but for now, it’ll be fine; sometime later you might need something bigger.” Odd, all of this, but it definitely means that I’ll probably go back there on similar occasions.

Anyway, the store definitely has some drool appeal. Those Lie-Nielsen planes sure do look nice, but, uh…