Goofs Illustrated: Too Many Planes

I’m going to start a new feature that will appear irregularly, meaning “whenever I have material.” Essentially, when I have enough explanation for something that I messed up, I’ll write about it. I was originally going to call these “mistakes,” but I realized that they aren’t that serious (and Kari Hultman agrees). It’s an important distinction because I don’t want to give the impression that you can’t get anything done if you goof up, goof off, or whatever. I’ve completed several projects while doing the “wrong thing.” The contradiction is that in woodworking, completing a project is essentially never the wrong thing to do. Just ask your significant other.

So here we go with the most obvious one: I bought too many stupid bench planes, and didn’t know what to do with them. You’re going to see a lot of confessions like this (if you haven’t already) due to the release of Schwarz’s The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, where he goes into detail about this. It is a recurring thing, though–seems that everyone has to go through it because otherwise, you really don’t know for yourself.

Let’s start with jack planes. I knew that I needed a jack plane and I got a pair of metal Bailey-style models early on because they were not expensive. I got one working well as a general-purpose plane and I was really happy that I was able to get the thing to take nice shavings. So far, so good, but that didn’t stop me from buying more. I ended up with four #5-size ones. I don’t know why, because I use only one of them. I’m currently thinking about adapting a second to shooting-board use, so that would still leave two extras. And that #5 1/4-size plane I picked up? I’ve used it maybe once, but it sure is cute.

What’s probably worse is that I didn’t put a serious camber on my jack plane until, what was it, three years after I got it? That was almost a year and a half ago. Stock prep has never quite been the same since. I’d made a scrub plane, which is great for getting really icky boards into shape, but it never occurred to me that I should have something somewhere between that and a straight edge.

What was I thinking?

So I’m happy with that thing, but am I finished with jack planes?

Oh well, the answer doesn’t matter. Let’s talk about smoothers now, because we have to. At my peak, I had five metal #4-sized smoothers. I’m down to three: one that does what it’s supposed to do when it’s sharp, one that I don’t use so much, and another that I’m prepping to give to a friend. I have a wooden Taiwanese plane that works wonders as a smoother, and I’m thinking about rehabbing a coffin smoother because wooden planes are awesome. And there’s the #3 size that I’ve got, too. It works great but I never use it.

This would be a nice set. The coffin smoother isn’t tuned, though.

At least smoothing planes are small, though. I don’t have as many as a hardcore addict, so they’re easy to stow away and sort of forget about. Unlike jointer planes.

I’ve owned five jointer planes. I had two metal Bailey #7-size examples and they worked okay, but I was never terribly happy with them. I gave one to a friend. I also had a #8 that needed some work. I gave that one to a fellow BAG when I realized that I hadn’t gotten it to work yet because I never really wanted it to.

And I was still in jointer hell. The one that remained and I actually used, I didn’t like very much. There was just something about it that bugged me, so this year, I bought two more at about the same time. One of these was a woodie that a friend picked up at the flea (thanks, again, Kirk!). The other is Veritas bevel-up jointer (BUJ). Now that there is a serious plane–and I think it cost more than all of my other bench planes combined. I flattened the sole of the woodie with the BUJ, set the woodie for a thicker shaving (kind of like a fore plane), the BUJ for a fine shaving, and maybe, just maybe, I’ve escaped jointer hell. I found stock prep on the nightstands v2 project to be much less of a chore with these. Remember the phrase, “coarse, medium, fine?” The woodie is medium and the BUJ is fine. On thin boards where the blade is wider than the stock, you don’t need to use a smoother.

If I’m lucky, this will be the end of the jointer debacle.

Oh yeah, and of course, I have two Bailey #6-size planes. I never use them because I’ve found that I prefer the jack plane size as a fore plane. Why? The #6 is too heavy for my weight. When I make a diagonal stroke with one, it’s too much effort to lift it back toward me. I’ve noticed that guys who like the #6 size for this sort of thing tend to outsize me. So, would a wooden plane be better, or should I just stop fooling around and be happy with my jack plane?

Too heavy.

That final question is why I’m still in the goofing-off stage with bench planes. There are two sides to this. On one hand, goofing around with tools can seriously detract from projects that you’re supposed to be working on (and believe me, those are my top priorities). On the other hand, there are certain tools that can save you a lot of time on your projects if you spend enough time goofing around with them.

I have slight excesses of other tools, but the plane surplus is the one I’m embarrassed about. So this will probably be the only goof episode about too many tools.

This Year’s Tool Haul from Taiwan

When preparing for this year’s trip to the tool shop, I decided to try to concentrate on purchasing tools that I believe I actually need (imagine that). I had a few ideas already, and I started out with a pile of Taiwanese carving tools–primarily outchannel gouges, but also a V tool and some other stuff:

I also got a big pile of hollowing and rounding planes:

Of course, right away, I might be straying from the “buy what you need” mantra, because I’m not sure I really need all of these. However, they’re so much fun and so cheap (less than $10 each) that it’s hard to resist. And as usual, the blades are great: forge-welded cutting steel on softer metal with hollowed faces that take just a minute or two to flatten. I sharpened and tested all of these in almost no time at all.

When I saw this compass plane, I realized that I didn’t have one and that this was probably a good time to get one:

This plane exhibits a very common scenario for the better planes sold in Taiwan: a blade made in Japan (supposedly) and a body made in Taiwan. There is also a double-convex version of this plane, as seen a blog that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

It’s a wicked fun plane to use. I had to try it out; I first gouged out a curve in some wood and then smoothed it out with this thing. It’s really remarkable how easy this goes when everything is tuned correctly. Although this wasn’t the cheapest tool in the shop at about $30, it’s really hard to beat the performance at any price.

The final tool that I’m going to talk about for this year’s trip is another plane. I got to wondering what a full-sized Taiwanese bench plane would be like. However, as I mentioned before, most bench planes in Taiwan are either wholly from Japan or have a Japanese blade with a Taiwanese body. The shop had one bench plane with all-Taiwanese components, though, and at $35, it was about a third of the price of the hybrids, so I bagged it:

I didn’t have to wait long to use it, either, because while I was still in Taipei, Uncle had a cabinet door that didn’t fit. So I sharpened the blade with the same sandpaper that I used for the chisel on the old cabinet.

It worked fine for this purpose, but it was a job that didn’t need finesse–I wouldn’t have had the time for that, anyway. Not only was the sandpaper (“Matador” brand, 1200 grit) not quite as fine as I had wanted, but the body was new and probably needed some tweaking. I also set the blade for a rather thick shaving.

When I brought it back home, however, I had time to tune the plane. So because it’s somewhat similar to a Japanese bench plane, I dug into Odate’s book and looked at Wilbur Pan’s blog for his experience first, then looked at what I had in front of me.

The first thing I did was to sharpen the blade on my waterstones, and I got a wonderful edge in no time. However, I also noticed something that I still need to think about–this blade was fairly well-cambered, so its initial grinding had it set up as sort of a jack plane.

The type of plane is important because you’re supposed to set up the sole differently depending on its purpose. The rougher the cut, the more you’re supposed to hollow the sole, or so the story goes. However, I don’t need another jack plane, and because the mouth on this one is ultra-tight, I decided that I might want to keep my options open and proceed with caution.

However, something needed to be done to the body because it appeared that the wood had moved slightly since production, causing some of the sole in front of the mouth to protrude a little from the level of the mouth and end. I suspected that I was having trouble with this because my shavings were not of a consistent thickness. I verified this with a straightedge using the method that Odate describes, and quickly marked the high spots. He says to use a scraper plane or something of that nature to take down the high spots (and form a hollow). Wilbur Pan likes to use a card scraper, and I would have done that as well, except that I am silly and haven’t actually gotten around to making one.

I ended up carefully using my Veritas low-angle block plane to knock off the high spots. I didn’t really hollow the sole because I would rather use a scraper for this. But it was enough for a semi-serious test of what the plane can do, and it does make a delightful shaving. A little more work on flattening out the camber on the blade, and this thing could easily be my go-to smoother.

This brings up an important question: What exactly am I doing? After all, I have more bench planes than I can shake a stick at. It seems to be, though, that the more I use wooden planes, the more I like them. It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re western or Asian planes–I simply like the way wooden planes feel, and I’m really starting to appreciate how easy it is to adjust them. Perhaps I will downsize a few of my metal planes sometime.

Someone (who?) once said, “Wood on wood–sure feels good!” There’s a lot of truth to that.

PS: In case you’re wondering what the rectangular hole underneath the blade is, for, the plane comes with a removable handle. When fit, it looks like this:

I believe this is for getting a sturdy grip to pull when using the plane for tougher work, but I’m not too sure. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you’d use two hands on because it’d be hard to control like that. I likely won’t be using it.

An Eggbeater and a Plow

So I’m back after a vacation, and I’ve been going like gangbusters on the bench modification, right?

Ha, no. I’ve just been dorking around with this Millers Falls #5A, first taking it apart to degrease:

Then I reassembled it and tested it:

By this point, you’re asking, hey wait, don’t you already have two of those things already? Correct; this drill now goes to a friend. After testing it out, I realized that it actually works better than my two #5s (I guess I’d better pay attention to them sometime). It may not be as pretty, as it is a late model with the plastic side handle (type 17, according to George Langford, but hmm, that chuck is different), but at least it’s got a side handle!

One of the tools that I’ve complained about not having from time to time is a plow plane. Well, I have one now. This story gets weird, though, because I never imagined that I would get one in this form:

Time will tell if I’m completely insane for getting a Stanley #45. This thing is as complicated as everyone says it is, and it is quite heavy, but its adjustments seem to work reasonably as a plow plane. Although I have them, I won’t be using anything but the plow cutters (Stanley, how did you even think that the beading cutters have even a remote chance of actually working?).

I set it up with the 1/4″ cutter and moved the nickers out of the way, and it seems to work pretty well. Given that the only grooves I tend to plow are 1/4″, I might just leave it like this. Thanks again to Roger for making an offer I couldn’t refuse. Even if this thing does drive me crazy, I can just pass it along to someone else for the same.

At least it’s not a #55.

Nightstand: Bottom Shelf

The front and back of the nightstand are now glued up (Thanks for the help on the back, Jimmy). To complete the frame glue-up, the only obstacle remaining was to finish off the shelf that will go in the bottom. It will be held in place by a groove running around the frame.

Milling the boards for the shelf was a difficult task because there was a big nasty knot going through the two halves of the resawed board that I used. The discovery of this knot marked those boards as being for the shelf; it was possible to arrange them so that it would make the piece interesting but not look weird or overwhelm the otherwise clear (but not straight) grain.

So when I jointed the two boards and glued them together, I was prepared for the possibility that I might need to start again. Fortunately, this did not turn out to be the case; it flattened well with just a smoothing plane after the glueup, and so I was optimistic about the final steps.

The general idea for fitting this shelf is with “tongue” on the side of the shelf going into the groove in the lower stretchers in the frame. However, this tongue would not be a complete tongue; it would be formed by a simple rabbet extending around four edges of the shelf, and the shelf is to hang down so that the rabbet is invisible. With this design, it will be able to float in the frame and be able to expand and contract as it pleases.

I started by marking the underside as being the rabbeted face (the pencil marks going around the edges), and scribed a line 1/4″ from the top face (slightly harder to see in this photo):

Then I got out my Stanley #78, did the requisite fooling around with its adjustments, and cut the bulk of the rabbet almost down to the scribed line:

Then I used my Taiwanese rabbet plane to finish off the cut down to the line and fine-tune the fit:

The difference between setting up and using these two planes is like night and day. The Stanley is an older version without a depth adjuster, and while holding it is more comfortable than, say, holding Kerry King’s armband, your left hand always feels like it’s in an awkward spot. The Taiwanese plane is simple to set and adjust, and its comfortable “back” (“toe” in western terms, or something) is easy to grip and provides a very nice registration surface ahead of the cut. Overall, these two planes complemented each other very well for this task.

The completed shelf looks like this when upside-down:

You can see parts of the knot in the lower left. I was lucky that this did not extend much further into the board.

To fit the corners of the shelf at the legs, I had two choices: I could chop out a little notch on each corner on the shelf and fit it around the legs, or I could extend the grooves in the stretchers into the legs and slip the shelf in as-is. I opted for the latter approach because it seemed to me to be the easiest and the best-looking.

It was quick work with a chisel, since it’s only about 1/4″ square of wood to remove. Here are two of the extended grooves:

Finally, I did a test-fit. Success:

I’ll let the front and rear frames sit for another few days before I glue up the whole frame. Now I need to decide whether I will size up/flatten the top or make the drawer. Apart from finishing, they are (surprisingly) the only two things left to do on this project.

Nightstand: Panel and Groove Work, Router Plane Fence Changes

With the panels milled to thickness, it was time to make the grooves in the frame to house them. Normally, this isn’t such terrible work; I don’t have a plow plane, but I do have a router plane with a fence that I made and it works, just not as quickly as a plow. With this project, however, there were a few additional matters:

  • I needed an additional fence setting, because the grooves in the legs go at a different offset than the stretchers.
  • There are more than three times as many grooves to make in this project than my previous project.
  • All of the leg grooves are stopped on both sides.
  • Two of the stretchers have strange profiles.
  • Beech is much more difficult to work than the stuff I’ve used for other projects with panels.

I started by modifying my homemade router plane fence. First, I took it apart and replaced the wood screw fasteners with screw inserts and brass machine screws so that it would be easier to move around:

Then I drilled a few more holes at different offsets on the fence mount so that I could move the fence sideways. Here’s a view of the complete router plane and fence:

With this done, I did the grooves for the stretchers. These were mostly straightforward, except for the ones on the side middle. Viewed from one end, these have J-shaped profiles because they form part of the enclosure for the drawer. (I don’t think I will ever design anything like this again; I’ll just use additional stretchers or something to avoid complications like this.)

So first, I had to cut a groove about 3/4″ deep into the stretcher:

Then I scribed a line from the bottom of this to the proper height and sawed off most of the waste. The first time, I did it freehand (as shown below), but on the second one, I wised up and clamped a batten on top to use as a sort of guide.

Finally, I used a block plane to bring the side down to final height:

The stretchers were then out of the way, but the grooves in the legs remained, so I moved the fence on the router plane and did them.

The whole process took quite a long time. A plow plane would have made very quick work of the stretchers because those grooves aren’t stopped. However, the leg grooves were just slow going. There’s just a lot of constant time-consuming adjustment when you go progressively deeper on a router plane, especially an older one like this, where there is a little bit of play in the blade alignment. You have to be a little careful about how you tighten it. I imagine that the Veritas router plane doesn’t have this problem, but I’m not shelling out the dough to get one of those when I’ve already got one that works (I’d rather have a plow plane).

At long last, I was ready to start sawing the panels to size and fit into the grooves this morning. Turned out well; I now have the sides done (the back requires a glueup which is in progress):

I’m almost ready to glue up some of the frame.

Nightstand: Legs Milled, Bench Scraped, Etc.

Today, I thought I would have the opportunity to get a lot of stuff done on the nightstand. It turns out that I didn’t get quite so much accomplished, at least in terms of the project. The legs are now milled to profile, which is great, because they’re the longest pieces in the project:

Further evidence that I should really make a saw bench sometime is that I managed to scrape up part of the bench while ripping the board:

Yeah, oops. It’s cosmetic, of course, but it begs the question of how I managed to do that in the first place. Well, I had the board held down over the edge of the bench while I started the cut. On cuts like this, I tend to do the first 1/3 of the cut over on the left side of the vise, and then move the board over to the right of the vise when finishing the cut.

This would be a lot easier on a sawbench, especially without a stupid vise in the way. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that I just don’t feel that I have the time for at the moment because I have to concentrate on the current project. On the list of other things that I should do sometime is really redo my bench top–move it flush to the legs according to the Gospel of Schwarz, get the rear vise jaw flush with the front, and maybe thicken up the top. Maybe I’ll have time for the sawbench at least when I’m finished with the nightstand.

But after the legs were milled, it occurred to me that there was one little thing that I really did need to address at the moment, and that was my jointer plane. The one I’ve been working with up until now is a frankenplane of sorts–an unknown early-type Stanley with a type 6-8 frog, a kidney-holed lever cap, and a Hock blade. Well, that’s all fine and good, except that the tote is broken and the lateral adjuster is kind of woogie. It works, but it’s annoying and sometimes makes the hand ache.

So I could have made a new tote (I had previously glued it back together but that didn’t last) and tried to bang out the kinks in the lateral adjuster, but it turns out that I had a Millers Falls #22 (type 2, postwar) right next to it that I had wanted to use at some point. In fact, back when I had my handle-varnishing jamboree about a year ago, the tote and knob from this plane were happy to attend. But mostly, it’s been sitting in pieces at the bottom of the bench, looking kind of stupid.

I pulled it out and spent an hour or so scraping and sanding off the rust, got most of the surfaces clean (primarily by wiping it with camellia oil), oiled the threads, and put everything back together. Then, for the final touch, I stole the Hock blade from my old jointer and put it in. Bingo, a “brand new” jointer:

Nope, no sole-flattening or anything. Mostly, it was all about cleaning out the dead spiders from the inside of the frog and making sure that it works. Really, that’s all I seem to care about in these metal planes now, quite a difference from when I first started out.

Bookshelf: Making Panels

The final components in the bookshelf are panels to go in the back. Recall from earlier that I used my frame saw to separate slices from the rest of the stock; those slices were to become the panels.

I’d been dreading this part somewhat because milling those panels down to size always seems to be kind of a pain. It’s not that they have to be flat (they don’t; stuff that thin bends to a certain degree), and it’s not that they have to be the same precise thickness (they don’t; you need only line up things on the face). It’s that holding the work in place without obstruction had always been a pain.

So I put in yet another dog hole and made this planing stop out of two dogs, a clamp, and a piece of hardboard:

It turned out to be not so bad. I think it would be even better if I put in some tiny brads at the end of the hardboard to grip the end of the panel, but I haven’t gone too nuts yet.

Another thing I did finally was to put some serious camber on the blade of one of my jack planes. Since I have four, it would be kind of silly not to try. I did this by just letting my Norton 220 waterstone dish out as I was grinding out a new bevel angle. That stone dishes notoriously, but in this case, it produced exactly what I wanted it to:

This really made the panel-milling process a lot quicker and a lot less work. Yay.

Once the pieces were milled, it was time to cut them into various kinds of strips and parts. This process is just like with any other kind of board; you first joint and mark:

Then you get out some sort of saw, rip alongside the mark, and joint that straight. Check out the snazzy reflection of the wood in the saw here, the one that supposedly lets you know if you’re sawing straight:

When first approaching this task, I thought to myself, “A rip panel saw would be awfully nice right now, wouldn’t it?” But it turns out that the bigger tenon saw was actually a lot of fun to use on this thing.

With everything cut to width and approximate length, I put the pieces in the arrangement in which they’ll be glued. It looks interesting, to say the least:

Whether it’s a good idea or not remains to be seen. I haven’t glued them together yet. Maybe tomorrow. I still have to plow the grooves in which these things will rest, and therefore, I still have the part where I wish I had a plow plane ahead of me.

(And yes, all of this because I’m not using plywood. No, I don’t have anything against plywood.)

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.

Various handles and knobs

I’m in the process of varnishing four saw handles, a plane tote, and a plane knob. Here are half of the pieces.

As usual, I’m not being terribly speedy here. It’s been seven months since I started working on that tenon saw handle in the center. Things happen but I like to think that sooner or later, I get back to this stuff. (Especially since I’ve had the saw blade sharpened almost since I started on the handle and it’s otherwise ready to go.)

The larger hand saw handle in the rear is for a Disston D-8 that will become one of my new rip saws, somewhere at around 7TPI. This will be in addition to a No. 7 (I think) that’s going to be a larger 4.5TPI rip saw. The handle for that one is also in this batch, thankfully. Both of these handles were glopped over with some awful green paint that I needed to strip before the refinishing process started. What is it with the green paint?

The initial finish on these two handles was a mix of “colonial maple” stain, some satin polyurethane, and tung oil, for an oil/varnish blend (this makes the rays in the beech look nice). After a few coats of that, I’m now putting on satin polyurethane. I like the way that a top coat of polyurethane feels on the other handles I’ve done (as opposed to alkyd varnish and oil/varnish blends), and it seems to hold up better. It takes a little more effort to get polyurethane to look decent, but it’s not that bad.

I think I need one or two more coats on the handles.

The knob is from a Millers Falls #22 jointer plane that’s been waiting for restoration. I did not use the oil/varnish blend on this (or its accompanying tote), because the ray structure in this tropical wood did not seem worth bringing out. I may be done with the plane parts; I’ll evaluate that later.