Sunday, June 30, 2013

Polite Disagreement

Today I read a blog post by Paul Sellers that I would like to offer an alternate view of.

If you haven't heard of Paul Sellers, he is one of the big names in hand tool woodworking at the moment. He has schools in both the UK and the US, and seems to be making a lot of converts to hand tool woodworking by cutting out much of the B.S. and marketing prevalent in many publications today.

I'll not argue with his results.  I'll not argue with his vast experience. I'll not argue with his success, nor the success of his students. I really don't want to argue with him at all!

Paul Sellers is good for woodworking today, as he has been able to reach a lot of people. I love his YouTube videos.

Paul Sellers is a big fan of the Stanley #4. Older ones, not the new ones. I can't argue with what he does with that tool. One of his best YouTube series is about making a workbench in the back yard with home center lumber, and the only plane he uses is a #4. Brilliant.

His blog today has a question from one of his readers on whether or not a bevel up plane is a good first plane, as many state. He argues that a woodworker's first plane should be a #4, that it is much more versatile than a bevel up plane, and argues with the fact that a 25 degrees is much too low for a plane like this.

Here is my take. I advocate a first plane being a jack plane, and a bevel up jack is a more-than-valid choice. But not the only one. You can read about why I think this in a post I did a while back about what I think should be in a beginner's tool kit. Essentially, you can fudge both smoothing and jointing with a jack plane without too much new to learn.

I think jointing with a #4 smoothing plane is something that a beginning woodworker may have a little more trouble getting the hang of.

Oftentimes for beginners, cost is also prohibitive. Here is where Paul wins big points. An old, rusty smooth plane can be purchased for the fraction of the cost of a new Lie-Nielsen. But, let's look a bit closer. He also advocates in this article getting a #5, a #4 1/2, and a #5 1/2. I'll agree that in the UK you can get these four planes in good shape for a lot less. But, in the US getting these planes in the kind of shape that you will be able to get working as a beginner might cost quite a bit more than a brand new bevel up jack. I think the big advantage here goes to the premium manufacturer.

My Veritas BU jack in action
If you get a BU jack made either by Lie Nielsen or Veritas, you can reasonably expect to go straight to work with this tool right out of the box only having honed the blade. You can't say that about a vintage tool no matter how new it looks. Don't get me wrong, it isn't hard, but it is another skill you need to acquire as a beginner, and I think you should learn woodworking first.

Also a word about the 25 degree thing. I grind my BU jack blade at 25 degrees (or so). The reason I do this is because of the way I sharpen. I think that this is probably what most BU enthusiasts also do. I sharpen and hone a microbevel at 30 degrees. This is the angle that Paul Sellers recommends. His method for sharpening is a lot different than mine, but we both get to the same angle when the blade hits the wood. I know people who use and swear by his method. If it gets to sharp, and you can do it, then you are doing it right, in my book.

The real versatility with this BU jack is the fact that it is so easy to make that microbevel any angle you want. What I do is have a few different blades sharpened at different angles depending on what the application is.  Changing the angle on a bevel down plane involves back bevels.

In conclusion, I think I will say there are many different ways a beginner can go with a plane intended for multiple uses.  The argument for a bevel up plane is valid because in my opinion there is no better way to turn off a new woodworker than for him or her to think that it is too hard.  Indeed there are skills to learn in order to build furniture (part of the fun), but adding skills needed to set up a finicky vintage tool to the mix might be one hurdle too many for the average newbie getting their only information from the internet. There isn't only one way to learn woodworking.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Crashing the Party

Last week when Christopher Schwarz was here, I only got to attend his bowsaw class.  It was fantastic.  There was a couple of extra spaces in his class for the Roorkhee chair, but unfortunately I could not get out of work.

The good news was, I had a couple of mornings during that class where I could sneak away.  I totally crashed the class, and snapped a couple photos for the couple of hours I was there.

Chris started the class with a presentation on Roorkhee chairs.  Many of us had already sat through the presentation at the beer garden the night before.

A word about marking parts.

You can totally tell who has seen this presentation on sharpening before.

Chris started out one day with a primer on sharpening.  This photo is funny because there are several people in this class that have been in Chris' previous classes at Dictum.  Everyone in the back who looks like they aren't paying attention have heard this class before.  Don't misunderstand, it is more like they are making room for those new guys who haven't seen it yet.

I really wish I would have been able to take this class, the project looks like a lot of fun, and I have zero experience with leather.  I think I will make one of these at some point, though.  If I get stuck, I know a couple people that were in the class that can show me what to do.

One other amusing anecdote from the class, one day Martin, a student that was also in the bowsaw class with me, was setting his tools up when he arrived.  I started to make fun of him a little bit when he was carrying his tool kit around in a blue IKEA bag.

My mouth dropped when he showed me what he was carrying in there:

Chris wrote about these planes on his Lost Art Press blog.  I didn't get a chance to use them much, but I could hardly quit gawking at them.  These are some seriously heavy planes.  And pretty.

Martin's tool porn wasn't only relegated to planes.  He also had a beautiful Two Lawyers saw.  It turns out this saw is on their homepage, as their header.  Lucky thing, because I forgot to take a picture.  It is spalted Correlian birch, with 17 tpi.  It is just as stunning, if not moreso, in person.

It turns out that Martin is WoodWurm, and has his own webpage where you can see much of his tool porn. 

I think this is one of the great things about taking woodworking classes, you never know who you are going to meet.  A few of the woodworkers I have been to classes with over the last couple years have wood blogs.  Check them out:

The Plane Doctor
Wood & Glue

I probably missed a couple, so feel free to post links in the comments.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bowsaw Class - Final Day

Too bad this was only a two day class.  It was a lot of fun.

Chris designed this project to be a one day class.  I'm glad we were there for two, as I don't think I would have been able to finish this project in one.

My completed bowsaw.

Dictum had a nice supply of elm for us to make this saw.  I hadn't ever used elm, so I looked forward to it.  On paper, this should be a fantastic wood for a saw due to it's strength and flexibility.

In reality, this wood is fairly difficult to work, which left most of the shaping up to rasps.  I have to say that I am a lot better at rasping to a line now than I was before.

I also took advantage of a few machines that were in the shop since I was there.  I used a bandsaw and the spindle sander to get the parts cut out after laying out the patterns.  I also used a drill press for the hole that the handle went in, and also for the handles to mount the hardware.  Lastly, I used the lathe (for my first experience turning) for the handles.

The rest of the work involved rasping the parts to the layout lines, filing the rasp marks smooth (maybe use some sandpaper to finish that job), and scraping the sanded part smooth.

My saw was a bit unique from the rest in that my bench partner had some boxwood scraps that he gave me (thanks, Andreas!), so i turned my handles and shaped my toggle from boxwood, and I didn't like the look of the synthetic strings that were provided for tensioning the saw, so I used some old twine that must have been left over from when you wrapped postal packages with this stuff.  I think it looks a bit more traditional this way.

Watching the first completed bowsaw take a cut.
I did have one problem with mine.  After final assembly, the handle rotated way too freely in the saw.  CS and I were both stumped as how to fix it (this only happened with my saw).  We tried a few different things including coating the hole with epoxy, filling it up with saw dust, etc.  Finally, the only thing that seemed to work was to place a piece of tape over the hole and jam the brass bit in over the tape.  It seems to hold now.

I think what happened is the inside of the hole was contaminated with wax after I finished it.  I think you could avoid this problem if you were careful.  Alternatively, you could wait until the saw is finished before boring the holes for the hardware.

The class was great.  Nearly everyone left with a completed saw.  No one accidentally stabbed themselves with a mortise chisel.  

I wish I had more pictures of the second day, but I was really stressing that I wouldn't finish this project, so rather than dink around taking pictures all day, I was on a mission to finish this thing.  The only other photo I got was of a couple other vintage bowsaws that were brought to class:  my Swedish bowsaw (a gift from Jonas), and a beautiful English bowsaw that fellow student Bernard brought with him.  

This bowsaw was a great project, and it is a project that could easily be done in your shop.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bowsaw Class - Day 1

My turning saw course  at Dictum with Christopher Schwarz has begun!  Yesterday was the first of this  two day course, and so far it has been great.

CS actually designed this class to be a one-day class, so there is plenty of time.  I think I like this pace, as there never seems to be enough time at woodworking classes.  Both of the classes I took before (the tool chest class and the workbench class) found me in a constant state of feeling I needed to hurry up because I was  a bit behind.  It's great to be motivated and to stay busy, but half the fun of these things is wandering around BSing with fellow woodworkers, and looking at their tools.

Dictum, as always, has been great so far.  The stock they chose for us to construct these saws from is elm.  I find this wood a bit of a challenge, but it should be fine wood for a saw.  The location is not bad, either.  Due to the flooding at their shop in Niederalteich, this year's class was moved to the shop in Munich.  This shop is a lot smaller, but we are making due.  Indeed, I find a few benefits to this shop, including the fact that it is within walking distance to my house.  Also, the Dictum retail shop is right across the hall. 

For anyone who is interested, there are still a few empty slots for Chris' Roorkhee chair class starting Wednesday.  Contact Dictum for more details.

A little cramped, but I think everyone found the space they needed.

My progress at the end of the day.  BTW, I think I will buy some new files and rasps.

Some of the most fun happens out of the shop.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


The Frau is out of town for a couple days, I have a list of chores to do before she gets back, and I need to make some progress on this Shaker side table.

So I did what any of you would have done.

I spent the whole day in the shop making a new handle for an old cross cut saw!

Isn't it pretty?
I took that ugly handle off of the Diston D8 that I have, found an appropriately sized hunk of scrap, glued on a template (I chose to go with a vintage D7 pattern from Two Guys In a Garage tweaked so the saw bolts lined up), and went to town.

I had never done this before, so I was pleased that I finished the saw, including sanding the saw plate until it was shiny, then sharpening it.

Here's the glamour shots:



Plus a nice shiny, sharp saw plate with a nice etch.
The new handle is from a chunk of perfectly quatersawn oak I had laying around.  I've never seen an oak saw handle.  I finished it with the polissoir and Dick wax.

After I screwed the handle back on, I tried a cross cut in some one inch maple.  After a couple of adjustments, It saws bang on straight, fast, and extremely smooth.

This is my new favorite saw.

Lessons learned:

  • There is a reason saw handles aren't made in oak.  It is hard and doesn't shape easily.
  • Bowsaws are cool!
  • Decent hand cut rasps are a must, but a project like this still needs sandpaper.
  • This project was a blast!
  • It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.  However, If I hadn't been so impatient to get it done, I think it would look and feel even better.
  • Drilling precision-depth holes for the saw nuts with a breast drill isn't so easy.  I don't think I got a single hole the same depth as another.
  • I love building tools.
Overall, I look forward to doing this again.  

My Crosscut Saws

A couple years ago, I bought a couple saw filing kits from the guys at Saw filing kits from this site are great.  You get to pick out whatever vintage saw you want, have the teeth shaped however you want them, and they throw in the correct saw file.

I wound up with two pretty cool saws.  A mid 20th century Diston D7, and a really cool old, old saw with split nuts that is of an unknown maker.  

I really like the handle of the old saw, it fits my three finger grip perfectly.  The D7, not so much.  I'm thinking of making a matching saw handle for the D7, and sprucing up the old unknown saw.

Here they are, enjoy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Spear & Jackson (BadAxe-ified)

This is what I would consider the very first "decent" backsaw I have ever owned.

I feel like this saw is an extension of my hand when I use it.

I got it from Mark Harrell at BadAxe Toolworks.  It is a Spear & Jackson 10" backsaw with a steel spine that I use for dovetailing.  It is hard to tell from the photo (which is actually a scan), but the saw plate is shiny and new.  At least it was in 2010.  Mark put a brand new saw plate on this old saw.  It definitely makes a sweet user.  I don't know much about the dating of S&J saws.  Perhaps someone out there knows when this beauty was built?

I've recently bought a bunch of used backsaws from eBay, with the intention of learning how to rehab them.  Over the weekend I spent some time following the links around on the Old Ladies blog, and I think that I am ready to try making a new saw handle.  While I'm at it, I should finally get around to repairing the chipped bits on this one.

Here are a couple of shots of this saw handle that one should be able to print out and use as a template.  The lines in the photos are one inch squares.  You should double check before you start that the template printed exactly the way you want.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Change of Plans
photo courtesy Zeit Online
The above photo is near Deggendorf, Germany, not far from where my woodworking class with Christopher Schwarz will be in a few days.

Needless to say, Dictum had to come up with a 'Plan B.'

Luckily, last year Dictum opened a new retail store right across the hall from their newly-acquired workshop in Munich.  The nice folks at Dictum called yesterday to make sure it would be OK if they moved the class there.

It's perfect for me, as I live only about a 10-15 minute walk from the Munich store.  I think that for some others it might be a problem as accommodations in Munich tend to be a bit more expensive than at the abbey in Niederalteich.

If you aren't signed up yet, it might be worth an inquiry with Dictum to see if there is still room for you in either Christopher Schwarz' bow saw class or his Roorkhee chair class. It is sure to be a lot of fun. Plus, supporting this company by purchasing their products and attending their classes is probably as good of a way as any to help them recover.

Hopefully the thousands of other people affected will recover, too.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Shut Up and Sharpen - My Entry

Chris Schwarz recently challenged people to shoot a quick video of how they sharpen.
Here's mine.

Tool Review: Trevor the Mallet

Trevor the Mallet
Finally! I am able to work on this Shaker side table project. It is weird how a month can slip by without having an opportunity to get any time in the shop.

Today the first order of business was to finish bashing out the mortises.  A while back, I did a poll on how I should fix a mistake, because I went and chopped two mortises out of a leg that only needed one. 


Feedback I received on that post was nearly unanimous in the desire for me to stick with the original leg orientation, and patch the extra mortise.  It was a great idea, as the drawer would cover the patch and no  one probably would ever know.

With this information and advice in mind, I promptly ignored it and decided to re-orient the legs.  These legs all look good, and I don't think it will detract too much.  The biggest benefit, is I was able to move forward with this project, rather than go back and fix a mistake.  

Worst comes to worst, I'll just build another one.

What does this silly table dilemma have to do with Trevor the Mallet, you ask?  Well, nothing.

I was able to finish the mortises on the legs without causing a revolt with the neighbors.  It is Monday morning, I waited until most who would be going to work left, and spent an hour bashing away.  I found out that putting the leg in a clamp and chopping them on the floor Japanese style makes remarkably less noise in my shop than doing it on the bench.

Too bad, really, because my Roubo with a 5 1/2" oak top was born for mortising.

Chopping these mortises really gave me an opportunity to give my new heavy mallet, Trevor the Mallet, a good workout.

The mass of this mallet is perfect.  It isn't so heavy that you get really tired chopping a few mortises, but it is big enough to make mincemeat out of the cherry that I am working on.  The mass makes things nice and easy, just the way I like them.

The handle is comfortable, and the traditional shape of it lends itself well to knowing exactly where you should be holding it.

The big advantage, in my opinion, is the angle of the faces of this mallet.  While constructing this mallet, I measured the distance between where the center of the mallet face would be to the tip of my elbow.  I used a string to lay out this angle on the face of the mallet, and cut the face using this mark.

This angle is a lot steeper than any commercial mallet I have ever used.  I am convinced that this is the perfect angle for me.  

I had absolutely no problem hitting the chisel square every single time without even having to think about it.  This lets me focus on the angle my chisel is at when entering the wood.

As long as the lamination holds together for this mallet, I see no reason why this mallet won't last me a good, long time.  There seems to be very little damage to the face of this mallet, which gives me even more confidence.

If you didn't catch it, I built this mallet using only the tools in my basic tool kit.  You can read about this build here.

Next up, a review of Trevor the Mallet's little brother, Travis the Mallet.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Latest eBay Find

The Good:

18th Century Ovolo Moulder
I decided to bid a few quid on British eBay, to see if I could get a nice example of an 18th century moulding plane, for use as something to look at while I make my own.  I found this nice example for a low price.  18th century planes seem to go for a lot on US eBay, no matter what kind of shape they are in.

This plane has gorgeous color.  My guess is someone put a coat of wax on it in the not-too-distant past, but the wax actually gives the plane a nice glow.  And it is clean.  Not a speck of dust on it, so I know it didn't come out of someone's user kit.

The arises on the bed are crisp and clean.  This plane was not ragged out.  Also, the blade very well could have last been sharpened when this plane was new.  I'll have to take a closer look at this blade to see the tool marks on it.

The little details are what I needed to see for real.  I have never seen an 18th century plane in real life before, so I was excited to get this one.

The Bad:

The wedge on this plane is a replacement.  Not only is it probably a hundred years or so too new, but it is from a plane that had a skewed blade.  Strangely enough, it cants in the mortise because it is too narrow, but holds the blade.  This in itself isn't the end of the world, as I could make a replacement and fit it properly.  That might be good practice.

Because the wedge is for a skewed plane, it has apparently put stress on the blind side of the mortise, and a small crack has developed.

The Ugly:

I think I know why the sole and the blade look brand new.

My guess is that there is no point trying to get this thing to cut.  It is so far out of whack, that I hold little hope for it as a user.


I am not too overly upset, as I didn't buy this plane specifically to use, but to inspect.  There are a couple things I really like about this plane, such as the treatment to the wide edge below the grip (I forget the name of this part at the moment).

I could put it back up on eBay and sell it, but I am thinking of a better use for this plane.  After I am done with my inspection (and hopefully a hollow and round pair), I am thinking of passing this plane on to someone else who would like to do the same, with the caveat that they pass it along to someone else when they are done.  This old dog may have a way to benefit the world other than being nailed to a wall somewhere.

Who's in?