Taiwan: Final Tool Survey

Here’s an inchannel gouge I got in Taipei. This is how all of the “local” carving tools there I saw were designed:

It’s fairly long, maybe about 9″ or so. But that’s not the first thing you notice about it–the lack of a handle is. They typically aren’t used without mallets.

These things are struck with a long, rectangular mallet made of a single piece of wood. They are somewhere around 2x2x9″, with one end rounded so that it’s comfortable. Due to the small hard area that they hit, the mallets quickly form concavities on their faces. So soon after you start using a new mallet, it tends not to slip.

Although it looks cheap, this gouge was not particularly cheap. The red at the end means that it’s made with “quality steel,” and I think the cost was about $8. I’ve tried it out and it works fine, but I think I’d prefer to make an appropriate mallet before doing too much with it.

The plane below is a little block-esque plane made by “Hsieh Hsing:”

This one actually came with packaging, which advertised it as “Japanese-style,” despite the fact that it’s no different than any Taiwanese plane I’ve seen. It’s short (maybe about 4″ long), and has a thick, quality blade that was very easy to flatten. Its throat is rather wide open, which lends it to uses of more rough block plane, but it does a good job and I can’t complain about that.

The final Taiwanese tool I’ll describe is a little special due to the person who gave it to me. One of the reasons for this whole trip was to meet my future inlaws, and as scary as that may sound, it turns out that they were all really great. One uncle in particular is also interested in building stuff, so I showed him this blog and we talked a bit on the subject. He’s also the one who took me to the store where I got most of these tools; it would have been difficult to find without him. And finally, he gave me this little smoothing plane:

Thanks, Uncle!

I think I’m finally mostly caught up with updates from the trip, so it’s time to get focused back on my various projects; I’ve already got some stuff started and can’t wait to get back to business on that. I’ll have some updates shortly. In the meantime, enjoy this view from Mugumuyu near Hualien (those rocks are marble):

Taiwan: More Tools, Sitou

Continuing with the survey of tools that I got in Taiwan, here’s a funky rabbet plane:

The body is pretty clearly some sort of white oak, the only such example that I picked up. The blade is laminated and decently thick. This was one of the more expensive tools that I got; I think the cost was about $15.

The big characters on the blade and on the red part of the sticker comprise the brand name. On the rest of the sticker, it says something like, “very good quality,” and it seems to hold true. Everything mates perfectly, the mouth is tight, and it produces good, smooth shavings. I managed to do some panel-raising with it.

Next up is this wooden spokeshave:

This is a little larger than most western wooden shaves (maybe about 60% larger), and it was not their biggest model, which was enormous. The “37” is the production number (apparently out of a run of 100). The blade is hand-forged and decently easy to hone; you can straddle a 2.5″ stone with it. It works well. Cost was about $8.

Next up is a rounding plane. We’ve seen a bunch of similar tools under the brand Mujingfang, but this Taiwanese version uses a metal plate rather than the wooden wedge found in most of the others (I didn’t see a single wooden wedge in any Taiwanese-made plane while I was there):

The size is printed on the top near the toe. As with all of the other tools I bought, it works spendidly. I think the cost was about $10.

So switching away from tools, let’s look at some tree stuff. One of the places we went was Sitou, which is home to the Sitou Forest Recreation/Nature Education Area. It’s an experimental forest run by National Taiwan University, and you can see many different kinds of trees that they’re playing around with. They even have a California redwood or two there, which is kind of fitting, since we have a Dawn redwood in Henry Cowell Redwoods Park here.

In any case, there are a bunch of things you can look at, and one of the most interesting is the Skywalk, a walkway on a trestle that extends from the side of a hill that goes right into the forest canopy. It’s not every day that you can just walk around the middle of a bunch of Japanese Red Cedars:

(Yes, there are birds, bugs, spiders, and all sorts of stuff up there.)

The forest is hardly old-growth, though. It was once dominated by the Formosan Cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis), but like so many good trees, it grows slowly and is far too valuable for people to actually want to conserve in any reasonable fashion until all of the trees are gone. But there’s one cypress of note there, a giant 2800-year-old cypress considered a “sacred tree:”

Of course, the only real reason it was spared is because it is too hollow and crummy to be used for timber, so they called it “sacred” instead. Hmph. In any case, it’s pretty amazing.

Somewhat Interesting Uninteresting Chisel

When tool-hunting in Taiwan, I expected that I’d find a few western tools with mostly Asian-style ones. The reality for most places was a pile of power tools that look the same everywhere, but we generally don’t do that kind of naughty talk around here.

I’ll start with what is likely the most uninteresting of the lot. One of the larger tool/hardware shops in Taipei had a western chisel that I felt compelled to buy because there were a lot of things about it that seemed strange to me. (That it cost a little less than $10 didn’t hurt, either.)

What first caught my eye were:

  • Made in Japan.
  • Wooden handle. Seems like some sort of ring-porous thing like ash or hickory, with medium-sized pores.
  • Wide (I didn’t have anything 1.5″ wide).

Well, when I got it home, there were a few more things that I noticed:

  • Unknown manufacturer. The backing card (see below) says “Quality is Approved by Sygma U.S.A.,” but I have no idea what this means. Searches have returned no results for a manufacturer of that name here. It might be an ISO certification company or something, because it says ISO 9002 at the bottom. Or it just may be completely made up.
  • No UPC code that I can see.
  • Hooped handle, which is very much like the Japanese style.
  • Instructions on the back of the card (see below) are actually halfway decent (“A dull chisel is difficult to guide and dangerous to use”).

And then I sharpened it last night. The grinding was really good–it took only a couple of minutes to flatten the face, and there is a perfect little hollow in the center that starts about a centimeter from the edge. There were no jaggies. Once honed, it easily pared shavings off of Douglas-fir endgrain and didn’t seem to lose its edge, but only time will tell to see how good this steel is.

So here are the pics. If anyone’s ever seen one of these before…

Taiwan: Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum

I’ve been in Taiwan for the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been in the shop. However, I got to see a lot of stuff on the trip, and now that I’m back, I can start to post about some of the wood-related things I did.

First up was a trip to Sanyi Village to see the Wood Sculpture Musuem (三義木雕博物館):

Sorry about the lack of photos inside the museum. They don’t allow photos.

If you’re into sculpture or carving at all, this museum is pretty much a must-see for the island. It contains stuff from ancient times, to the Formosan aborigines, to the Han and Hakka sculptors, to contemporary pieces from their annual contest. There are also galleries containing temporary exhibitions. Make sure you get the audio tour, especially if you can’t read Chinese characters–there is an English one available. There’s quite a lot of information in the audio tour and it takes quite a while to go through it all.

There’s also a studio inside the museum where you can see and talk to a sculptor at work with traditional carving tools. I’ll try to explain this in a later post, but I think I need to do a little more research on the matter.

The village itself is full of shops containing lots and lots of pieces for sale. A lot of this consists of the garden variety happy/laughing Buddha sculptures and carved fruit (sometimes made from cypress; take off the cap and smell inside for the effect), but there are some interesting pieces as well.

By this point, you’re probably wondering if I went tool hunting during this trip. The answer to that question is, “yes,” the answer to the next question is, “quite a bit,” and here is a sampler:

This rabbet/shoulder plane was handmade in Taiwan, somewhere in the south. I’m guessing that the wood shaping was done by machine, but the finish looks handplaned, and the blades are hand-forged. The iron is laminated. I’ll have more on this plane later, when I have a chance to play with it.

And, no, Dan, I don’t know why we both posted about weird rabbet planes on the same day.

Frame Saw: Important tweaks

After a bunch of sessions with the new frame saw, I determined that it wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. It didn’t cut quickly, the kerf was too wide, and the blade wandered all over the place. I suspected that more than one thing was wrong, and I had a few ideas.

First, I caught on to the fact that the blade wasn’t really sharp, although it had the appearance of being sharp. I really need to learn that if the guy who made your saw doesn’t have a name like Wenzloff, it probably isn’t sharp, so you should save yourself a lot of trouble and sharpen it before using it. Groan.

I reshaped the teeth to have a fairly aggressive zero-degree rake angle, and took a considerable amount of care when sharpening to make sure that the tips were all very close to the same height. The result looks like this:

When doing this, I realized two additional things about this blade. First, it had way too much set, and second, the saw plate is a little thicker than I thought it was. This latter point was a big deal, because it seemed like the tips of the points originally were chamfered or slightly rounded. I couldn’t see this originally, even with reading glasses. And obviously, it makes a big difference in use, because, as I find over and over again, sofa-shaped blades don’t cut wood very well. (I wonder why.)

The difference in sharpening alone was really remarkable. Because the process removed most of the set, it made for a wonderfully thin kerf, and therefore, it tracked a line much better, even though the blade wasn’t terribly taut. And the more aggressive and sharp teeth cut much faster and smoother.

Now, the second problem I was having was that I couldn’t increase the blade tension too much, because the little screws that I was using to hold the blade in place were snapping due to the tension:

Yikes. So I cut and filed a few brads for this purpose:

Now that there’s enough tension, I don’t have a problem with the blade twisting around (thanks for the pointer, Dan). The only issue I have now is that it’s difficult to keep the blade straight when tightening it up. Christopher Swingley uses a wrench on the flats, which seems like an idea that might work.

After making these two changes, this saw really seems to be on the right track, and I think I’ll be able to do decent work with it. I already sawed out some 3/16″ slices from a couple of smaller boards (without even marking!), and they came out great.

There always seems to be a lot of discussion about frame saws, and what kind of blade is appropriate. Tom Holloway’s saws use thin blades, and I can attest to how effective they are, having played with them. Bob Easton uses thicker blades from old Disston saws and that seems to work too. It seems to me that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

A case in point here is what I edited in as a note in my last post, that there’s a version of a Japanese saw, the “oga kobiki” or something, that has a gigantic blade, but seems remarkably easy to use. Check out the pictures in this link if you haven’t yet. You see how that tiny woman is using that huge saw? Look at how beautifully the cut turns out. Oh, how I would love to examine that saw that they’re using.

So it seems that if the kerf is even enough–not too wide, not too narrow, of constant width, and straight–it doesn’t matter how big your blade is, as long as it’s slippery and sharp.

I don’t think this is going to be the last blade for this frame saw. I’ve got some ideas that might make it faster. Let’s just say that the gigantic teeth on the Japanese saw got me thinking.

I also got to thinking that I might need to do something about my saw vise. It works pretty well for small saws, but when you start to file the big teeth, it shakes too much. What to do here? Finally make my own? Cave in and get one of those new Gramercy saw vises? Find someone who has a good one and mug them?

Frame Saw: Almost Finished

To make the handles into one end of the frame saw, I first marked out the length-wise dimensions with a pencil and the cross section limits with a marking gauge (hard to see in this photo, but they’re there):

Then I set to work shaping the handles. I used my Shinto saw rasp first. I really like that tool: cheap, innovative, and highly effective.

To finish shaping, especially at the edges, I used my Gramercy saw maker’s rasp. Then I smoothed it out with progressive grits of sandpaper on a dowel, starting at 120 grit. Finally, I hand-sanded to 320 grit, and called it ready:

Then I assembled the saw with the newly-waxed blade:

So far, so good. I tried it out and quickly found that I will need to do some version of the trick that others have done to keep the blade square. It does tend to slip around. It also seems like it’s necessary to practice technique, because this thing does have a tendency to slip out of the kerf because the blade is so thin.

And then there’s the issue of workholding. Hmm. Clearly there is more work to be done here.

Frame Saw: Joinery and Hardware

After looking at lots of frame saws that a lot of other galoots have made (not mentioning any names here, Mssr. Isola), I decided to make my own for resawing. Well, I had decided to make my own a long time ago, but never got around to it until now. About a year ago, I ordered the blade (a Wilhelm Putsch blade, about 5 teeth per inch), and set aside a piece of beech. Then I proceeded to do nothing else on the project until last week.

After cutting the pieces out and milling them to size, I cut the joinery. There have been many styles for the frame joints, but most people do mortise-and-tenon joints that aren’t glued (the blade tension keeps the saw together), so I did, too. I decided to make the joints haunched, because in theory, that kind of joint resists twisting better than a plain blind joint. Also, I’ve never made one, so I figure I’d better get down to the business of screwing them up.

And I screw up I did, slightly, on the first two. On the first one, I blew out the side of the mortise when chopping it (it was too close to the end, 1/4″). Nothing a little glue won’t fix. On the next one, I cut the tenon too loose, which doesn’t matter on a joint that I’m not going to glue, but still.

The next two came out perfectly, though:

Then it was time to make the hardware to hold the blade. I didn’t deviate from the way others have done it. I used a 5/16″ carriage bolt for one side (bottom in the picture) and a section of threaded rod (top in the pic) for the other:

The steps I took were as follows:

  1. Filed the threads flat and four-square at the end.
  2. Drilled the hole that will hold the blade-holding pin with a Millers Falls #5 eggbeater.
  3. Cut the blade slot with a Bahco junior hacksaw (slowly, to keep the hacksaw blade from wandering around). The kerf is almost a perfect match for the blade.
  4. Cleaned up the areas around the slot with a small tapered file.
  5. Cleaned up the slot with some folded sandpaper in the kerf.
  6. Cleaned up the tip.
  7. Discovered that the little bolts that I was using to pin the blade were a little too short for the little nut to fit.
  8. Filed recesses around the hole in the big bolt so that the little nut could reach the little bolt.
  9. Cleaned up the tip again.

One little tip when you’re filing any kind of thread: Keep a nut on the inside of the filing area. After each stage of filing, take off the nut and put it back on again. This cleans up the threads, although for this project, it doesn’t really matter for the carriage bolt side.

The saw is functional now (I’ve done a test cut), but I’m not quite finished yet. I’m currently waxing the blade and I also need to shape handles into the ends.

[Edit: I have ditched the wingnut in favor of a regular hex nut tensioned with a wrench. The wingnut does not provide enough tension.]

A D-8 named Sawthra

The last saw to be complete from the pile o’ handles I refinished a while back was a 28″ Disston D-8. The plan was to make it a replacement for the 7 TPI D-7 that I’d been using for a rip saw.

When I first got the D-8, I was somewhat ecstatic. The blade was pretty clean, reasonably straight, and even had its etch. So all I needed to do was refinish the handle, clean off the blade, and sharpen. Easy, right?

Well, I got to sharpening, and about halfway through from the heel to toe, my file started to make strange noises and didn’t want to cut the metal. Huh. It turns out that there was a roughly 8-inch length where someone had done something unholy to the teeth. They were hard, very hard. We’re talking “breaks the teeth off your file” hard here.

I wasn’t going to let a saw make a monkey out of me, though, and managed to work through the hard metal. It seemed to go about 1/8″ deep into the blade. After this, I was tired. Very tired. I thought, well, maybe I should name this thing “Sawzilla,” but quick research indicated that it wasn’t a terribly original name. So here is Sawthra, named after the slightly more obscure Mothra:

The Disston D-8 brings me to another thought I’d been having lately, namely, “wouldn’t it be great to have a brand-new D-8?” Then at Bagathon, I made a rather unusual deal with Larry that brought me this saw:

Notice anything familiar about this 24-inch Pax “No 1” panel saw? Like, maybe, that it’s a total copy of the Disston D-8, even down to the handle and the screw arrangement?

So I really do have a practically brand-new D-8 now. It makes sense, I suppose. The Flinn company tends to catch a lot of flak about its saws, in particular, that the handles aren’t as nice as century-old handles. But they do at least reproduce a true classic handsaw. The blade is taper-ground, for whatever that’s worth. Although I wouldn’t characterize the teeth on this thing as “sharp” (my little carcase saw currently cuts faster than this thing at the moment), they don’t look too bad, and probably need a little touch-up. I’ll wax the blade, like I always do.

The handle? Well, I’m not sure if I want to make a new one or not. To be honest, the handle isn’t that bad. But I always seem to end up making handles.

Finished Tenon Saw, Tool Rack

Looking through my past posts, it seems that I forgot to post when I finished a couple of smaller projects.

First, remember the tenon saw handle that I’d been working on for nearly a year? Seriously competing for the world record of “longest time taken to get a saw handle done,” I finished it about a month ago and completed the saw:

It’s a 16″ blade, somewhere around 10TPI, if I recall correctly. I used it for the larger tenons on the shoe rack project. It took some getting used to, but I like it a lot. Larger saws such as this seem a little strange to use on tenons such as the 1.5″ x .75″ ones on the shoe rack, but it works fine.

The other little thing I was working on was a small tool rack to hold chisels and similar tools behind the workbench. I agonized over this for no good reason, looking at every tool rack I could find on the web and in books. Finally, I just slapped one together in about a half an hour:

And when I say “slapped together,” I mean it. The preceding photo doesn’t really illustrate how hard I’m trying to get the title of “lamest joinery ever seen in a tool rack,” so let’s get a closer look:

Yep, the rack consists of two long pieces of yellow-poplar/tuliptree not really even lap-jointed onto two small pieces of mystery softwood. I just planed them flat, put on some glue, and clamped tight.

The whole thing is fastened to the windowsill with two c-clamps. That’s partly because I’m being lame, but also partly because we rent this place and I don’t want to go around putting holes in everything in sight.

The important part about this is that it actually works; I finally have most of the junk off the workbench. It works so well that I’m considering making a second equally lame example.

Holdfast Hog Heaven

The recent Bagathon gave me a chance to fool around with some of the Gramercy holdfasts (thanks, Kirk), and the Lee Valley/Veritas hold-downs (thanks, Larry). I don’t really know what took me so long to try some, but there they were. I liked both of them, and probably the Veritas version is a bit stronger (and doesn’t require a mallet), but it costs $75 for one of those versus about $32 for a pair of the Gramercy holdfasts. So it was off to the Tools for Working Wood site last week.

They arrived today. So let’s do a quick rundown of what I was using before and how the holdfasts compare for a couple of operations.

For mortises, I was using a c-clamp to hold the work to the table:

It’s really strong, but your bench can’t be too thick, you can’t have an apron, and your work can’t be too big, or you’ll need a bigger clamp.

The holdfast provides more flexibility in positioning the work, and it’s a bit easier to set up than a clamp.

It’s not quite as strong as the clamp, at least not in a benchtop of this thickness (1.5″), but it still works fine.

For touching up tenon shoulders, I was using a handscrew in this configuration:

This requires a bit of fiddling, but it’s a little easier to position than the c-clamp. However, the work doesn’t always level so well, especially with narrower pieces. In addition, there’s a lot of stuff in the way. About the only advantage is that it’s easy to remove.

The holdfast is a great improvement. There’s far less stuff to obscure you while working, and it sets up in a flash.

I’ve also used a c-clamp for this. In this configuration, it’s even less preferable because you not only have to do a bunch of fooling around under the bench, but also have to do a lot of fooling around under the bench near a leg.

All of this is starting to lead to a question of where to put all of my bench accessories, because by now, I have a bench hook, shooting board, two holdfasts, a zillion little bench dogs, a Veritas Wonder Dog, and a few other little things, and I do have a few more things on my list. Should I see if I can make that second shelf under the bench, and if I do, will that interfere with the holdfasts while they are in use?

Oh well, I guess I’ll figure it all out in time. For now, I have to complete the shoe rack (finished two rows of mortises and a row of tenons today!).