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A few weeks ago I turned some new chisel handles I needed to upcycle an old wooden plane into new life. We made a video to show how and have a second video soon for how to fit step-fit the tang into the handle.
Here is the video. Hope you enjoy it.
We have another planned for a turned hexagonal handle soon too.
For decades and through over a century we’ve seen disparity in thinking through what educationalists, economists and of course politicians present to us through media we have no real understanding of whether they present truth or bias toward things we might not understand the bias of. Through these long decades the people I speak of together with unions, local councillors, governors and so on some how manage more to split society and categorise determinate courses for people without recognising them as much more than statistics. This in turn directly affects the art of real craft and apprenticing and training future craftspeople for worklife outside of anything they control. In recent months I pointed out that people ask me how much I sell my this or that piece of work for. I say the rocking chair costs $6500 and the next question is, “How long does it take to make?” I say I can make one comfortably in two six-day weeks. Immediately I get locked into their only way of evaluating who and what I am and why I do what i do. They have no sense of how long a design takes to develop or how skilled I am or, really, economy and I am evaluated as to whether I am worth knowing or not. Bit like someone asking the same question and receiving the answer, “I’m a doctor.” or, “I am an architect.” Again, two occupations accepted as worthy of note and evaluated as worth knowing. “I work a fork lift.” Doesn’t really grab you as much and so to many other spheres of life. Rethinking things through these past weeks I thought you might like to see a piece I used in a blog I posted 4 1/2 years ago here.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4UI think it’s worthy of resurrecting because the message says so much. Let me know what you think.
I think it might be true that many people suffer a period or periods of depression in a given lifetime. Wellbeing is hard to quantify and with so many working people gainfully employed in meaningless or should I say more mindless work it’s not going to get any better going forward. Politicians of course speak from their vast experience in politics where underlings feed more and more statistics to them so that they can reconstruct their manipulations from the previous debris they caused in education and the governed welfare of the populous. Meanwhile in quiet backwaters around the world more and more people say quietly to themselves, “Whoa, I don’t think that this is me!” Today I worked all the more to get my book together and while I did this Kat and Joseph continued their coffee table and Phil worked on repairing some stools he bought from the car boot sale.
John took care of everyone as usual and in between sharpening tools and serving me with coffee he worked on his stuff too. It’s busy at the castle with visitors from around the world. They drift in and out but not without realising something’s wrong. They have never quite seen anything like what they see in the workshop. They see hands working and people talking as they work. Could it be that the real world outside that they just stepped out of is not the real world but one of fantasy? Could it be that they just stepped into the real world for just a brief moment?
Everything surrounding structures like the castle is more linked to the archaic past. Most are like museums and no matter which way you dress it up they all look very much the same with the same speak and the same displays. Generally they are mostly presented as the past in a way that offsets the disparity between the rich owners of the properties and the poor that made them tick. Not much you can say about the upstairs-downstairs difference, but I must say that when they come into the workshop and see everyone working there, an almost magical sensing happens where the best of the past unites with the present and some gives bright hope for a future that defies the colleges and universities, health and welfare entities, politics and education and so on. Yes, it’s here that we did switch off the conveyor belt for them. They stop thinking about their thumbs on their cell phones, their software engineering jobs and the mindlessness of work. They even leave their cell phone cameras in their pockets for fear of somehow invading what they discovered because somehow they just know inside that what they see is very real. Unbelievably there is a ‘wow!’ thing factorising reality they simply cannot explain or understand and though we tell them who we are and what we believe, they start to assimilate everything for themselves knowing that what they see could be very relevant in the future again. In other words they store it away and treasure it as if it were valuable. For me the word relevant should be reviewed and placed on the page as ‘real event’. Their ears are pricked up like a spaniel when the gun goes off. The eyes spark, the face points and the nose engages and suddenly they imbibe something that drugs and alcohol, and conversation and explanation cannot bring to them. Suddenly something seems to make so much sense and even though they don’t believe this could ever be possible for them, they still feel a hope for the future. So, I ask myself just what is it that people feel they want to connect to? What is it that halts them in their visit that causes them not to smile or laugh, ask questions or whatever, but suspends them in a long and wide gaze. The planes keep stroking the wood and the saws sever the waste from the wanted. Those working look up momentarily but keep to the work. There are no computers guiding routers. If there were they wouldn’t even walk in. I smile at their internal smiles and the sparkle in their eyes that defy the indifference and the bemusing. I love to think that they would embrace what we have if they just had the opportunity, but then I think about the thing called economy and then I think about the polity and then I think about the educational providers and I see why it all stopped.
I personally think that woodworking almost stopped when it got so caught up in the same a consumerism and then, thankfully, things seemed to change and people asked “Why?” eBay came along too and thankfully we could find the tools that were hidden in dark cellars all over the western world. People asked questions and answers started to emerge when we looked into those old mothballed museum entities and saw that these old tools made some of the finest woodworking ever created and that that was before the age of industrialism and mass manufacturing, globalisation and the depletion of craftsmanship – it was even before the age of the machine and the router! The wake up call went out and people responded one by one. They were bored with the machine only world of working wood and other crafts and aspects of life too. They started growing food and baking, raising chickens and eating organic again, but this time it became know as self sufficient and then sustainable culture and so that’s what happens when someone walks into a workshop and sees ten people working with their own hands with tools that are about 100 years old and that don’t cost much but really, really work.
I say all of this to say that that’s why we do what we do and it’s working!
My Week Was Mixed, Different, Refreshing, Inspiring, Hopeful
I left early from my tiny village Saturday morning and traveled the mountain passes, past many lakes to another village to be a part of something I hope never dies. Bedgellert held its annual horticultural and craft fair in the village community centre. We judged the work and ate lunch together and then the villagers and holiday makers came in to see what people grew and baked and made and drew and painted and craft was kept alive by people who felt creative work is worth their effort.
Looking at the Creative Work of Others
I visited some art and craft workshops in town and sales places you could buy from too. It was discouraging in some places to see hand made wooden spoons for £1.50 and original paintings and art framed for under £100. I came back and made my frame for a painting Joseph bought me of a Jay and felt thankful that I could own my own work and make frames for people I like and even sell my frames to people I don’t know. It’s my lifestyle.
Joseph and Kat came in to make a coffee table promised as a gift for friends that married last week. It made me glad that my kids can do things like that and like to. It’s lifestyle you see. Joseph’s a good furniture maker. He can make anything. The oak came from stock I keep around all of the time. It’s my bank; or should I say it’s the bank of a lifestyle woodworker. It’s been that way for forty years now and it’s not likely to change at this point in my lifestyle. I liked seeing them working together. It’s a sort of fulfilled dream to see my children able to work this way if they want to. My skills live in my children. How much more can I ask for. Does that mean they have to be woodworkers? Of course not. It means they are woodworkers. It’s got nothing to do with it being a job. How primitive. It’s to do with choices, abilities, skills, critical thinking, living beliefs, thriving, nurturing being.
John too has been making all week. His tools are coming together and he wen to the car boot yet again and picked up this saw for £5 and lots of other tools that looked ugly but ready to be restored for his kit for another fiver. Square awl and gouges. Lots of stuff really. He’s got to cut off all of the teeth and recut them but he can do it. in about an hour he’ll have an old saw restored that will last him a hundred years more. Imaging a lifetime saw for under £10. You see here is another lifestyle woodworker and craftsman emerging.
I Love the Welsh Mountain Villages and the Rivers that Pass through Them
Sharing your life with your friends is important. Mick and Sally Alexander are the ones that asked me to judge at the craft show in Bedgellert in the mountains. The town is lovely and we all sat and ate lunch together after the judging. Mick loves working wood even though he got involved a little later in life.
He has a sense of therapy from the work and ends up feeling well when he’s done. Wellbeing matters and lifestyle is a choice not luck. You choose how you live whether it’s easy or not. now, that said, I know for some of you this may not be possible and my heart goes out to you. I hope that something might change so you too, if you want, can find a lifestyle of working wood or whatever you feel the calling too.
Sharing a Love for Woodworking Hand Tools
John bought me a 12” drawknife he thought I might like and I do like it. It’s a Marples drawknife and it reworked the bevel unit it fit my intent. I regret leaving most of my tools in Texas and New York because I would like to show you what I have used for five decades. I love them of course, you will not meet many woodworkers and especially teaching craftsmen that have they tools I have and can say they’ve used them for so long. One day they will go to my children and my grandchildren most likely. i buy tools frequently to make certain I have enough to supply those I love with good tools. Do you do that.? I hope so. they will love your gift as they grow and learn from you. It’s about lifestyle and life choices you see.
Reducing the Highs to reach the Lows
Of course you know I restored the flatness to my benchtop. That was a good job done and one I planned on doing now for a few weeks. I really enjoyed it and it felt good to work at again. Seeing Joseph and Kat gluing up the coffee table gift gave me joy and it was here that John brought his two-handed invention to test out. of course this was some fun we often have during the day. Laughter makes the heart glad. I believe in that really, seasons, times that matter – there is a time to be born, and a time to die; I think in part it goes like this; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…
Lifestyle starts with one person thinking just a slightly different though. Expanding the thought can result in options that can become opportunities careers advisors never heard f and school administrators never heard of and politicians note often dismiss than consider. It can keep expanding and people can take a fresh look at the real life they own from a different perspective and think about their future. I love that, don’t you.
Oh, this is me and my daughter. We spent the afternoon and evening together with my five grandsons and Joseph and Kat and my Wife, Liz and John. We goofed around a bit, spent time in the workshop at Penrhyn Castle and ate supper together.
It’s Only 32″ by 5’0″ and it Works Well
Though I use this bench because its narrower size and short length better suits filming for Woodworking Masterclasses, I certainly haven’t found the wider flat surface any great advantage at all and I sorely miss my well and two-sided benchtop work surfaces. Occasionally someone will comment that the flaw in the well stow for tools is covering the tools with a project and so blinding access to the tools. If you really think through this you will see that the concern is quite silly. 95% of work revolves directly around the vise and the immediate surface surrounding it. The mid-section of the well area is of little consequence as an actual work area until you are perhaps planing or scraping a large surface such as a tabletop or frame of some type. In such cases I think ahead and move what I might need to an accessible part of the well and get on with the work. Simple.
On this workbench I added the well after I had made the workbench because at the time of making I only needed a smaller bench to travel with me from time to time; to demonstrate at show venues or to teach from in other locations. Otherwise I need time to get used to lesser benches and that can be frustrating.
I find it most useful for stowing gauges and screwdrivers upright through holes in the bottom. They are ready to hand and easily stored.
Some say the same for the drawer in the apron but…
…the advantage of having a handy place for non-conformist tools offsets any and all occasional first-world problems. Also, you can find flaw with any design, but, working from my experience, I find that automatic forward planning, thinking ahead, making decisions as I work into my future is all part of the craftsman’s mode of constant processing and critical thinking. It’s what separates him from a world of theorising and non craft working. Without it work life is hard. The well and the drawer/s work almost all of the time. I would say about 98% for both combined. That makes it most practical compared to not having either. My tools with round handles never roll off the bench or around the bench top. My whole bench top working area is always free to work on and the mid section of well area is clear for me to span with large wood sections, frames and so on.
Though I almost never use bench dogs as such because of my clamp-in-the-vise systems they may as well be in the bench as an added option if needed. I retrofitted a non-dogged vise with a brass dog in the wood and it works really as well as the built in models I have used with no compromise.
These tills are excellent us of space as you can see. I can pull the whole till out and place it on the benchtop to work from or pull tools as needed. The only issue I have is that occasionally a student will be intrigued by them just before a lecture and pull on one. because they are so short front to back, 7” or so, they pull on them and the whole thing drops the contents to the floor. This is a more recent phenomena surrounding over familiarity, as in my day no one would ever, ever have touched anything of a craftsman’s and especially his tool chest, tool tills, drawers or whatever. Very disrespectful all around.
The top is only 60mm (2 3/8”) thick, leaving the well deep enough for chisels and squares and many of my other tools. On my other bench, my big bench, the well is an inch or so deeper and that means my plane (lying on its side, heaven forbid) can be stowed in the bench if I need too. Amazingly, though the top is so thin and made from pine it is rigidly inflexible and does not bounce anywhere at all, at all. It is redwood pine from Northern Europe. Don’t be misled into believing benches must be made from hardwoods or indeed fancy woods. That’s not the case. I do like hardwood benches too. Beech, ash, oak, maple all make good benches, but pine works as well for me and most benches in Britain were indeed always made from softwoods except school benches for children that were usually made from beech.
This bench does everything I need as a joinery bench. It is immovably stable, rock solid to work from and though only pine is used it still takes two people to lift and move it and even then they need to be stoutly built. The added well is by no means a compromise. I can reach it easily and retrieve tools as needed. I quite like the way it feels under heavy weights and even when the vise is fully extended it will not tip in any direction. On push strokes toward the vise with a big saw or planing and scraping across the benchtop it remains put. that’s what I want from a workbench. I think the bench really does need the five foot length. Any shorter and they tend to scoot in the direction you are pushing in along=the-bench strokes.
Using any wood for a workbench will almost certainly be affected by exchanges of moisture in the atmosphere being sucked into and released from the wood even though the laminations should hold just fine. This then changes the flatness of the top because, depending on the way the wood orients in relation to the annual rings, different sections expand differently. Sometimes the difference is greater on one piece than another and its this that then causes undulation in the surface. When that happens it can be annoying and especially so if the work in hand depends on flatness. Making my picture frames is a point in case, both for the frames as I assemble the components for fitting and testing the mitres but also for the shooting board because it shouldn’t rock.
In my experience bench tops move and especially so if the benchtop is thick and wide. An unavoidable dilemma for bench makers and users. By wide I mean generally about 16” and wider. By thick I mean from an inch and a half and on up. In actuality all tops move regardless of thickness and width but it becomes accentuated in larger sections of wood. Thin tops such as those we use for a regular tabletop rarely show much movement at all, but this of course is not suitable for benchtop work. Although the work area requiring thick and heavy mass is actually more localised to the area nearest the vise area of the bench, the remainder of the bench top being the same thickness adds stability, equality of weight and thickness and this in turn adds the uniqueness we workers of wood depend on. Without it we feel totally ill-equipped for work. Oh, it is worth noting that movement takes place in the first year or so. The urge to flatten sooner should be avoided otherwise you will end up doing it two or three times. I would wait for a couple of years and then do it. After that time wood becomes less elastic and movement slows down. It stabilises you see. This is a form of conditioning we used to call seasoning. It works to wait and allow nature to do its thing.
Flattening the benchtop on wider benches is simple enough. In this case I used a #5 jack plane for the whole process and in a few minutes the highs hit the bottom of the lows and I was left straightening to perfection. This benchtop was made from Northern European redwood pine. The bench is dead rigid and does not flex to unevenness in the floor. That means the benchtop should be untwisted as I t won’t change like lesser benches. It also means that any twist should be corrected through planing. I checked mine with two pieces of plywood stood on edge. Straightening the ends with the jack cross grain gave me a starting point. I stood the ply pieces on edge and eyed the two tops to see if I was in wind.
There was a small amount of twist so I levelled the two extremes until no twist was evident. I did the same in the mode section and then straightened all points in between and finished with long with-the-grain strokes for final smoothness with the #4 smoother.
I remove the corners just a tad to make sure there are no weak edges otherwise they break off anyway.
Easy enough to plane all round and once true I got rid of the whiteness for my photography and filming needs by using an outdoor water-based stain finish from Sandolin using three thin coats. I roll on the finish with a 4” sponge roller for speed but these leaves suction bumps like minute polka dots in the surface as a texture.
To remove this I then draw the sponge in fixed position (so it doesn’t roll) by jamming the roller with my finger and pulling from end to end of the bench. This evens out the surface so I can still see the grain clearly.
Another thing I added in the finished refinished top is two inserts with a “V’ channel notching to accomodate saw cuts each side of the vise. The saw kerf causes this anyway so I may as well add the recess. Dovetailing it in and gluing it in place means it will hold fast but I can readily replace in a few years time of needed.
It smooths out the appearance and means the saw catches less on the corners that rip and look ugly.
Tomorrow night will be Reddit night for me. I’m looking forward to three hours of Question and Answer time on reddit.com/r/woodworking so get your questions ready for tomorrow evening. I will be there answering your questions between 9 and 12 P.M. UK and so wherever you are in the world here is a link to set your time.
I am hoping that this will be a profitable time for everybody and that we will build more into the future of woodworking.
Banks, Bank Managers and Your Personal Account Manager May Not be Able to Answer Your Future
I recently wrote on my FaceBook page that “He who frames the issue determines the outcome.”. I think that that is true. I have had dealings with banks and other enterprises handling business issues and money and for the main part always came away feeling like the apple I bit into looked good on the outside but was rotten inside. Banks have of course shown their true colours here in Britain over the past decade or so and that didn’t happen without some deep-rooted badness in the core essential at the heart of banking. If you are in the business of making money without actually making anything we should ask how can the outcome be any different? When someone starts to think about starting to own their own business it’s usually because they want is to take a measure of control in how their lives work into the future. For woodworkers and other crafting artisans they generally want to make things beautiful to grace their and others homes, give lovely hand made gifts, be creative with their children and friends and then make some income or a way of making a living in the future. I have a friend in Texas who paddles his own canoe, literally, around the shores of a massive lake to pick up driftwood of ashe juniper surrounding the shore line of the lake. He reshapes them into ducks and carves shaped toys from them and sells them at craft shows and he’s done that for 30 years. he also makes trains and trucks from other woods too, but the point is he framed his life, became a lifestyle woodworker and got off the corporate ladder early enough to carve out a life he liked to live. Now he’s retired and he still continues his work but now he has the control he wants and does what he does because he wants to.
Try to imagine walking into the bank ad asking for £20,000 to buy a canoe, some machines and have say 6 months working capital for such a project. They’d send you away first of all and say come up with a business plan, jump through a few hoops and see of you can rely on some other social media things, family money and work out an online marketing strategy like a website design and such. All stuff you could have manage without their input but you feel better because these are the experts in money matters. Well, woodworking is good DIY and so too are these things I speak of. It’s surprising how little it can really take to start your own woodworking business if you have a little vision for it.
There are many ways of starting a business, but they all take a little forethought and planning to ensure startup success as early as possible. Planning such things is both part of the process and, dare I say, very ENJOYABLE! Remember that success is measured by how much money you make only by other people. Don’t use that as the benchmark. Yes, you want to be financially responsible, but measure the success by more important things. Your sense of being in control. Your sense of wellbeing by spending carefully without money excess rather than borrowed excess you will be paying back for decades is payment enough. All too often I hear of people applying for some kind of funding to ‘get going‘ and especially do I see banks somehow declaring whether a model will work or not. Try to remember that banks don’t like risk and especially backing something they don’t understand. Banks do not understand crafting artisans and they can be demoralising when you have an idea that you might like working with your hands and making beautiful things. Banks do however understand that crafting artisans are rarely good business people if they, they banks, define what good business is. Remember banks are ONLY in the business of making money and they ALWAYS make money off people who actually have ideas, who work hard and need a way of exchanging money for goods they need and goods they are selling.
Can a Bank Understand This?
If you can finance your business yourself by continuing in income-producing work then that becomes a better business model until you have proven your income earning capacity by selling what you make. By then you won’t need a cash injection and in many cases I have seen people borrow money for equipment that will make more goods cheaper thinking making more for less is good business. That usually was not the goal in the beginning. they wanted to work for themselves and ended up working for the bank and the staff they feel obliged to care for. I don’t think that that’s what you were looking for. Be true to your original vision. If that’s not what you want, pick up a copy of Financial Times and read no further. Remember that, for some of us at least, making money is or at least can be secondary to the lifestyle we want to carve out for ourselves. Banks don’t understand that you will gladly work 80 hours a week over seven days making £10 an hour rather than £20 and hour for 40 if it’s the lifestyle you are working for first. I have often worked such long days and weeks to make my life happen the way I want it to and have no regrets at all because my workshop was important to my home life and I could be with my family.
This week I made some beautiful hand made picture frames and although I am not going to make this a business plan for me, it certainly could be for some of you. Hand made frames like this cannot be made by mass makers. Mass makers need to buy in stock, stamp out the goods and sell in mass quantities. Even custom framers rely on machine moulds and finishes and their skills might rest more in combining frames and mounts and sizing borders than actually creating the whole from from raw stock. That’s where you come in; to fill the niche for truly hand made, beautiful frames. There is a demand for the combined work of framers and the images and artwork installed in the frames. Creating frames as I have here means you can configure dozens of components to make highly desirable and distinctive frames for customers looking for the kind of quality money generally cannot find to buy. Exclusive work doesn’t necessarily mean exclusivity. You can make all kinds of frames using hand methods ranging from using paint to finish the wood and the actual wood itself. In the frames here I have used no machines at all. I have used standard moulds available in moulding planes and the grain I have planed and shaped has awkward wiry grain. In some cases I have used a scratch stock because of the awkward grain, but, regardless, all nine frames are made without any machine methods.
I have used basically one wood to make the frames from; sapele. One of the frames I inlaid with some figured maple and there are a dozens of other configurations I could use just for a change or to compliment my offering. Soon, in a matter of a few weeks, I will be showing all of the techniques I used to make these frames in a video series. I have chosen the unplugged methods because I feel that they give me a way of life that is quiet and gentle, peacefully manageable, clean and healthy and they give me peace of mind in my work. By now you will hopefully see that it’s the way I work I strive for and not merely money. This for me is wellbeing. You can learn to make frames like this in a few hours. You may already have the skills but have never used them for this application of the tools. Regardless, start working on a business plan that excludes your banker and borrowing is a great place to start. Read this blog post to your spouse, partner, parents, children and friends. Consider it. Go to a craft show. Host a party and invite family and friends to see your framing options. There is no comparison between a mass made frame and one you designed and made by hand. Frame the issue and take control of the outcome.
A man came into my workshop with his grandson and told his grandson how bad I was for leaving my plane stood upright on the bench. He told his grandson that the blade was “being damaged as we speak.” so to speak. I was obviously in earshot of his one-sided conversation and not wanting to correct him in front of his grandson I continued brushing on shellac to my picture frames. He started to take me to task further with his indirect comments even though his grandson could care less about anything beyond his two thumb digits tapping a rectangular glass screen held between his two palms. The granddad didn’t tell his grandson he was being rude by not listening to him and seemed to want to vent frustration out on the upright plane and the person on the other side of it who refused to take the bait.
My frame looked nice and I placed it on the bench to dry. The man seemed more agitated but was it the plane, me, the two irritating thumbs or the youngster’s refusal to hear the opportune nuggets of wisdom the sage had or simply him not saying anything?
Two days ago an Aussie came into the workshop and told me how he would have been in for a serious whipping if he’d left a plane upright on the bench. I thought to myself,”Wow, all the way in Melbourne kids were getting into the same hot water for not laying their planes down on their side.” I said, “Really.” I nodded. “Oh, yeah.” I tried to point out the flawed reasoning but to no avail. He was a cabinet maker and continued his strategy to convert me in case I “placed the plane on some sandpaper.” No point casting pearls before swine, whichever side of the bench you are on. Or of the world for that matter.
Actually, this happens to me most days. Most of the people were told it as boys and had no relationship to woodworking beyond an hour or two a week in school. Occasionally one might have been the related to a woodworker and heard it from their relative and one or two were woodworkers themselves who adopted the pattern as a strategy for themselves. In fact I too was taught the practice in school, but when it came to my work as an apprentice that law went out the window and for good reason.
I can’t remember in 53 years since I first used a plane ever putting it down on something and harming the cutting iron. I know it can and does happen.
All in all I think this has taught me a lesson. I have learned that people become upset if you defy them in their expectation of you even if they have no knowledge of you. They can be surprisingly intolerant even when you offer a very practical reason for what you do. They become highly defensive and I suppose there is some kind of empirical protectorate at work at play yet rarely do they have any substantive evidence to back up what they express. Without any true depth of relational knowledge based on actually working I can’t see making them feel better is a good enough reason at all to change. I confess the pressure sometimes leaves me feeling like I’m some kind of heretic, but quite honestly, I most often do present a couple of good reasons for why I feel this is the way I want to continue working. One, I and the men I have always worked with use benches with wells and the plane can stay upright with the toe in the well and the heel on the bench top. This actually presents the handle of the plane to my hand to perfection and has nothing to do with protecting what I always take care of with the utmost diligence. Two, it’s generally impractical to lay the plane on its side when you’re actually working because you are going in and out of the vise or changing the position of the wood; I intermittently reach for a plane and as I said I want it ready for action. I use my planes second by second and minute by minute throughout any given day. Here is a third reason but I leave you with a question to answer it yourself…
…If this plane is left on its side like this, is it protected well or even at all?
It was mostly in schools that people laid the plane on its side because kids dumped the planes on top of chisels and squares and other tools/ That was a good working strategy to keep the irons from being damaged and most school benches were the flattop type with no wells, otherwise most craftsman-made workbenches were benches with wells running along the centre. Inside the well at each end of the 12’ bench was a swivelling square bar with a screw in the centre on which the plane could rest upright. We used thatat the end of the day when planes were stowed there for the night. It’s funny how things can get out of hand to become internationally ‘wrong’ through the years but often not for the right reason or indeed wrong for another reason. We can easily become legalists to the point that we can’t hear reason at all. If my teacher had told me to leave the plane upright but catty-corner in the well (had we had one) I would have obeyed. If he’d told me of the two good reasons I would have believed him. Now, in school here, there is no real woodworking but kids can program a CNC router to cut their dovetails. Problem solved!
Many emails arrive every day telling how life-changing woodworking has become for them since they adopted hand tool methods for working wood. In the blog beginning I never thought that this would become the vehicle through which I could share my life as a working craftsman but indeed it has.
When I want inspiration myself I go to one of the National Trust’s properties of which there are hundreds all supported by friends of the Trust, legacies, overseas supporters as members of its US -based Royal Oak and a 2.7million UK membership all of whom feel they own a piece of the Trust as a whole.
These are pictures I took today when I visited Berrington Hall a hundred miles from where I live. They have an exhibition of clothes used in the Pride and Prejudice film by the BBC a few short years back. Here is the link to the hall.
I’m never disappointed and as I prepare for the coming year and all that that holds by way of a new work I find myself drawing on my predecessor designers to try to step outside the realms of ordinary as they did in their day as unique designers of 200 years ago.
This harpsichord made by ‘Jacobus et Abraham Kirckman Londini Fecerunt 1787’ is beautifully appointed with diagonal cross banding, ebony and boxwood herringbone inlay and figured sycamore veneered panels capture the essence of accurate handwork to enhance and compliment the beauty of the different woods. I love compositions like this where the maker combine the skills of instrument making with woodworking and his work becomes totally absorbed in the whole.
The harpsichord was an early keyboard instrument popularised throughout the 15-18th centuries until the piano replaced it with strings that could give depth and feeling to each note. The harpsichord was at its peak in the 18th century and English instruments like this mark the pinnacle period of harpsichord design. The ‘key’ difference between the piano and the harpsichord is in the actual note produced by the two very different methods. The harpsichord keys pluck the strings in like manner to plucking a harp but denying the flexing intonation given to a harp. The piano has a far larger range of notes and become ever popular because intonation and feeling can be fully expressed by the player. Dare I say it, the harp’s tone can be somewhat monotonous by comparison and the notes cannot be varied like the notes of the piano. Also it has fewer keys than the piano. Perhaps they should not be judged as apples for apples because they are really very different instruments that look the same.
I was struck (no pun) by the care of all corresponding components forming the main body and then the minute details that are all to easy to miss. I stood and watched maybe fifty visitors walk past the instrument to see if they noticed the workmanship and not one of them gave more than a cursory glance in its general direction.
The different woodwork manorial homes are furnished with is about as massively diverse as it can get. Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Adam may well be well known, but then there is the work of the unknown man behind those many thousands upon thousands of millions of pieces.
Imagine a man losing his whole being as the coves and curves and chipped pieces rolled from the gouges to the bench. To the Lord and Lady the pieces were decorating their lives with refinement and texture. To the man making, the work was feeding his wife and children and paying the rent on his modest home.
Imagine how many weeks and months it took to shape and mould and inlay and veneer the lives of the wealthy and opulent. I’m glad the standard was set in the 16-1700’s; before the machine overtook us. It’s not a question of stopping progress but more a one of looking back and learning, researching, mastering, dedicating, committing and such like that. All of this helps me to see that we can restore the same standards of workmanship and keep woodworking a living way forward into a new and vibrant future.; a future mirroring the workmanship we need to master once more but this time we can do it live in our own homes and not to former designs but those we design into our own lives.
I thought it might help to see a little background to the Stanley development of their scrub plane and so we put together a short video to see the comparison. I am using adapted versions of the old and new roughing planes to show that they both work very well and cost almost nothing as secondhand tools for prepping your wood.
You can dedicate a rough old Stanley or an old wooden block plane of you have one and you will find them very handy for taking off the highs and levelling your work in readiness for finer plane work. Here is the link .
You can of course also buy a modern version of the scrub plane too or a secondhand one.
Today begins the new Shaker Deacon’s workbench series that deploys hand tools to the whole of the project and no lathe or machines at all. Getting people off the conveyor belt is really working and all the more through our master class videos, which has been something lacking for us over the years. The written word will always be integral to what I do in providing training for woodworkers around the world partly because of my love woodworking and the other part because I love to write. This tandem bike means both riders push and pull on the pedals in equal measure to get my training out there and I should tell you how many page views that is each month. We now have over a 150 videos out there in one form or another and hard to imagine but at least 60 of them are free. The Shaker deacon’s bench series was a pretty bold step if you think about it. No lathe-turned components, no machine jointed edges, no tablesaw cuts and no band sawn shapes at all. What does that translate into? Well, the important thing to remember is this. This bench can be made in about 100 square feet. More is better but it’s still a fraction of what you might need for half a dozen machines. In feed and out feed for a five foot deacon’s bench is 10 feet from the cutter head plus some. Same for the tablesaw, bandsaw and power planer. I calculate about 100 square feet per unit but you can crossover the same space some for a slightly smaller footprint. This is progress everyone. Progress!!!!
Adding into the equation that you provide all of the energy and get your exercise at the same time is one thing, but on the other hand it’s you that’s doing it all too. This the very training I intend for you get and imagine how well you will handle a spokeshave when you are done.
We finishing filming one of the next upcoming series today. It’s not a large piece of furniture like the Deacon’s bench but look at this frame and imagine such neatness without yet again using any kind of machine. In this series we create different moulds in under a minute but I have no router in my shop anywhere. The moulds are made using methods you may or may not have heard of and we use different methods just incase you don’t special planes. We make inlays, and moulds and we use no metal fastenings such as screws, nails or metal curvey bits.
When I run the moulds or cut the rebates (rabbets USA and France) I feel my heart beating by the time I’ve taken around 50 strokes. I push and pull sometimes until my arms or hands ache but I don’t sweat much even in hotter climes. I like the honesty of sweat too though. It doesn’t bother me much at all.
It takes me an hour to make a frame and when I’m done and frame a picture of my son or my grandchildren or a wedding for a friend I feel a certain sense of happiness I rarely feel from other things I do. Working wood with hand tools is different than letting a machine fill your shop with poison and your lungs along with it. I feel my skills working for me and I feel fulfilled. A man came into my shop two days ago and asked me if I made things for people. At first I answered in the negative because I have a lot of work on hand to do. We talked and he picked up a dovetailed corner I made to show a dovetail. he told me he would like to buy something like that because it was so beautiful. he said he would like to give something like that to his grandchildren even though they might not know what to do with it or even want it. I understand when people stop in busy lives to like things skilfully made. I like to make things for people who enjoy what was once called by its simplest of names, workmanship. Workmanship was once the measure of a man who’s work had qualities that needed no proving The man rested in anonymity and peace and pay came with it.
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A man stands in the door and closes his eyes as he smells the workshop he seems reluctant to invade. He hesitates all the more when he opens his eyes and sees everything in a single sweep from one end to the other. He laments to his wife in audible tones of melancholy the waste of time , “thirty years”, when he should have been working with his hands. He turns, walks away, and continues his undoing. This for me seems a destiny unfulfilled through self pity. That’s not always the case but this one was. This is the man who chose the wrong path. He chose the will of his parents, money, social standing. His hand stitched coat and clipped Englishness spoke more of his choices than perhaps he knew.
Another thing that saddens me is that sometimes people give up woodworking because their pride kept on telling them that they were too much the perfectionist. People tell me often enough that they are a perfectionist as though that falseness places them at some higher level than others who perhaps accept standards lesser than theirs. Working to perfect your standards and skills is a very different dimension than the illusional perfectionism. Parents who tell their children they are too much a perfectionist rarely tell their children the truth because they live their own falsehood through their children and put undue pressure on them to live up to something that does’t actually exist. Instead of disabusing there children of such lofty self opinions they should look at them and be truthful. It doesn’t have to be hurtful or abusive in any way. Just real.
Another person stands at the door but walks in with confidence smelling the air as though in a rose garden. A sparkled eye reminds me of the magpie that picks up the jewelled ring in its long beak and hops back through the window to escape enclosure. I like being captured by my work. Being anchored to my bench for 8 hours a day six days a week has worked for me for 50 years and I still find freedom in it. How can anyone understand that?
Each hour someone comes into my workshop and the smell united with sight and sound captivate who I am and what I do and people tell those with them that this is the workshops where they repair things and make things for the castle even though they don’t actually know what I do. If they ask questions I answer and they feel rewarded for discovering something uniquely diverse. The wood gives off its musky smell and the buzz of busy workmen about their work are rare sounds and sights and smells now. The women say they remember their granddad’s shed and the men say they remember woodworking in school. It’s as if what once existed died to them and yet they don’t realise it’s still with us if we want it. We don’t conjure up illusions of the past but live life in the real of the present.
Sometimes I want to take down the barrier and say come over here and cut this piece of wood just for a minute. I know you have never done anything like this in your life before and it may feel a bit awkward but just feel it and smell it and see it as you do it. Sometimes I do that with a child and the parents say it’s OK, but if they liked it and wanted to be a woodworker and not a a doctor or a lawyer or someone of standing, would it still be OK? How would they feel saying my daughter or my son is a woodworker I wonder?
More Thoughts About Chisels.
Someone asked me if dovetail chisels sold in pairs for left and right hand use are worth owning. A few years ago I bought some new old stock 3/8” bevel edged chisels with London-pattern boxwood handles from a jobber friend of mine for $2 each at a US woodworking show. I realised that I could make two dovetail chisels without any loss and I did. Then I realised that I had just complicated the whole process of dovetailing without really thinking through the issues. I now had two more chisels of very, very limited use to take care of and I inevitably picked up the left one instead of the right or vice versa almost every time. The benefit over what existed before was barely, ever so barely, discernible, which makes me look at other issues surrounding bevel-edged chisels and fineness. Always remember that tool makers are naturally inclined towards looking for something new to make. First create the illusion of a perceived need and lack and you create the demand. I doubt whether it was a craftsman going to the chisel maker declaring some lack that brought these tools about because you don’t really find them in pre World War II tool catalogs or indeed R A Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodworking Tools. That said, there is of course always entrepreneurialism that shouls always welcome new ideas. Nothing wrong with that at all. Better mousetraps and all of that.
When I cut dovetails my normal bevel edged chisels are close to hand on the benchtop. I use every size from 1/8” to 1 1/4” routinely throughout most days and especially when cutting any type of dovetail. I keep them in a tray in the well of the bench. I use chisels appropriate to width for chopping out the waste and then, if and only if I need to, I pull out a narrower chisel to reach into the inside corners of say a half-lap dovetail innards. A 3/8″ chisel works best for most of this aspect of the work but 1/4″ and even 1/8″ are called for at times. I angle the chisel so that the very corner of the chisel slide-slices right into the corner and slice-cuts a pristine inside corner perfectly.
My personal chisels are old chisels mostly, which I have bought through the years as secondhand tools. Most of them are wooden handled Ward, I Sorby or Marples from between the mid 1800s to the pre 1940s, but I have others made in more recent decades too. The old chisels are refined. Very refined. When I say refined I don’t mean snobby refined but craftsman defined. I think there was a reason for the highly f]developed models and that it wasn’t some pretence of refinement for appearances sake but an exactness demanded by working men for efficiency combined with effectiveness. I think that the steel works as well if not better than many modern chisels I have tested and used over recent decades and that they are not only equal to the task but they have all proven themselves to, one, be readily sharpenable (not to soft and not too hard), two, take a keen edge and, three, equally if not more importantly, hold the edge for a goodly amount of work, which is many hours in a day for the more general work.
The refined tangs of old are still lovely to see as compared to the ugly ones of modern makers…
…I ground the tang to a point for good measure and installation into the new handle.
The thing I like about them the most is that they were designed for fine woodworking, yes, but that they are strong yet lightweight with good balance in the hand and that’s what makes them efficient. On a more recent level, most modern-day chisels are made to thicker dimensions with narrower bevels and thicker sides to them. They look and feel clunkier and though they undoubtedly are more robust for heavy work, they often project the wrong impression. If you look at chisels made with a steel cap and stem passing into or through the plastic handle of a chisel it somehow conveys a message to the user, “Go on, beat me with a waffle head hammer. I won’t break.” In times past, when we only had wood for handles, a craftsman would never have even thought in those realms and would never have stressed a wooden handle in any way. Why do we not think that way any more? The men I worked with all had beautiful wooden handled chisels and had used the same chisels for fifty years and more with nothing done to degrade them. The chisel, saw and plane handles on their tools reflected their sensitivity and care in the use of tools and work. I think we should return to this even if chisel handles are made from unbreakable plastic.
I made a chisel handle for a video on making replacement London-pattern chisel handles yesterday. I fitted it to a refined Aldi 3/4” chisel to show how we can take a £2 chisel and make it into a £30 in about half an hour or so. It is much simpler to do than it looks and the handle made the chisel one that I would like to own and use.
Here is how it looked when done.
The wood is Indian Laurel cut on the bandsaw from the inside of some birdhouses I made using the outer circumference of a 6” diameter limb. I got four chisel blanks from the 9” length, so from one innard I got a £15 birdhouse and four chisel handles. The Laurel feels about as hard as Boxwood and turns just as beautifully and readily. It looks very similar and works the same with hand planes to form the hexagon.
For some weird and very daft reason, after over a century of making fine boxwood chisels with hexagonal handles and a single ferrule with no hoop, Robert Sorby decided to add a silly and flimsy hoop to the the top of their chisels. These hoops come off after a while because the handles always shrink unless you live in Houston, Texas. I chucked mine back in the lathe and refined the shape more like their former counterparts for comfort and shape.
It takes just a few minutes to restore the tool to the former glory of the company father’s standards.
A bevy hexagonal chisel handles is about as lovely as it gets.
In the past this would be an easy question to answer. Stanley, Record, Marples, Ward and a dozen more. Not so today. Most of them are not made in the UK and those that are may not wear or fare as well as the imported counterparts anyway.
This question came up twice in the same day. “Should I buy Veritas or Lie Nielsen?” One of the questioners said. “I can’t afford to spend much,” said the other, and offered three types offered by B&Q, ScrewFix and Wilkes. Pretty much all of the cheap offerings will be Asian products and at one time I would have said the steel or the plastic or the wood would be inferior and would not take a good edge and if it did it would not keep it for long. I can’t any that any more and probably any chisel will do all of the above. Buying lower cost chisels will bring it down to the refinements or lack of them usually. If you need a starter chisel you can make the low cost ones work and they are good to practice on and with anyway. I have used four chisel sizes made for the Aldi food chain for over five years and found them to work as well as the best I own. They cost £8 per set of four. Where they are made I am not certain. They have German details on them but not where they are made. The problem is that they are only offered in the UK and Europe about twice a year. I usually buy a few sets for friends and students to take away when they come to the workshop. If you want to refine them they will take it. Replace the ferrule, reshape the ash handles and you have a very nice chisel for an hours work and eight quid. In the US and the UK a mid range chisels that have proven well for me are the Narex bevel edged chisels.
So, what about the two North American makers?
Both companies have eh easily invested in their own versions of what existed before. Socketed chisels from Lie Nielsen and tanged chisels from Veritas. Both are very nicely made and carry the usual guarantees all chisels carry, even the cheaper ones. Customer service counts if you have a problem and both have a good standard of protocol in this area. The cost factor doesn’t mean you gain much more than with cheaper models but it does mean better refinement to the point that you will have no work to do when they arrive. They will arrive dead flat and sharp enough to start out with. Sharpening of course is something all chisels need throughout their lives so that then puts the cheaper chisels on a par with the best.
There is a compromise. As far as looks go both companies produce good looking tools and as far as functionality goes they are pretty much at a parallel level. One company copies the old designs while the other pursues the innovative new. There will always be a price to pay for good engineering and both have always striven for the best.
Secondhand chisels are readily available here in the UK and the US but shipping costs outside of either country comes at a premium. That said, it is hard to beat a good old Marples or a Ward. If you don’t kind a non-set set you can buy individual ones and make a set for under £50 that will last you a lifetime no mater how old you are or how much you use them. That would always be my recommendation anyway.
A Chisel 1/16” slides into pine like a hot knife into butter. Mortising holes is not always for large work. Many years ago a customer brought hundreds of rosewood parts to me in a cardboard box. It was a multifaceted Chinese lantern made up of frames that housed painted glass panels. Each meeting point intersected with mitred tenons into mitred reception mortises on the adjacent stiles. The owner had missing parts by the dozen, but in the scheme and scale of things, what was missing seemed very small.
I made all of the parts, replicating the pristine mortise and tenons. It was a time-consuming work of love I admit. When i saw the work needed I couldn’t help myself but agree to repair the lantern because the work of a Chinese craftsman two centuries past would have come to an end. I most likely made $5 an hour or less by the time the work was.
Recreating the parts left me in awe of the accuracy of the workmanship. Not only did all of the joints fit interchangeably in any of the mortise holes, so too every mitre fit with a gapless perfection that challenged every ounce of my skill.
I didn’t want a workbench for the fine work. No vise could hold the fineness of the pieces. All plough planes were too big for the grooves and no moulding plane I ever knew of could recreate the moulded stock. I made the small knives and the scratch stocks from Zona saw blades and diamond files. Work I never charged for. I made my chisel from O1 but I am sure what I made would have seemed crude to the old craftsmen that made the lantern. The plane I made left me with little to hold on to but the work was worth any discomfort.
Sometimes your work draws you into deep, deep realms of workmanship we have lost connection with by substituting pathetic alternatives requiring skill-less, workless input through computers guiding styluses. A poor but skilled workman made this lantern and received small reward to establish it for the wealthy man and his family to live with. He was the contented man of depth and substance constrained by a humility I can never know and he lived by his hand work and few words. He lived in an age of no machines and never turned an electric switch to start a motor or even to light his way by. I turned out the work using the same techniques and patterns as I learned from my mentor’s tool marks and cuts. Each cut I made to replicate the work became my treasure and my wage in my heart. When my work was done I delivered it to the rich man who bought it for his son who loved Chinese art work and I closed the lid on my newfound treasure and locked it away until I brought it out to write this blog. The man who made the lantern hid himself in his work. Pride and being known meant nothing to him. This is the art of human life.
Last week I bought a 12” handsaw with 9-ppi but not just because I wanted it. I thought you might be interested in it. Not a serious saw? Oh, I think so. What use can that be?
To be frank, I wish that someone would make saws this size for serious users and uses. I am not a small man but I would use one. If I were small I would make one from a bigger one. It’s all too easy to say what cuts a lot cuts a little, but I can think of many people who would benefit from using one of these including more slightly built men and women, children of all ages, people like me for use at the bench, for tasks that require thinner stock. I could go on.
Well, is it a toy or is it real? Who would have used to when it was first made? What was it used for? Actually this saw is not that old although it is actually a serious saw in that it is spring steel, hard, tempered teeth and with teeth large enough to cut serious depth. The teeth tell me something too.The rake is very passive.
The saw is well used and without kinks or bends in the blade. The handle is well worn but a bit shapeless.
I tried the saw without further ado. To cut down to the line (shown below) took 52 stokes with the controlled, even, forward-thrust pressure used with western saws. Too many, but, surprisingly, the saw didn’t really balk at the work and this was because of the passive front rake. If I were to sharpen a saw for a younger woodworker I would most likely use smaller teeth or develop a lesser rake as in the case of the saw shown. Probably not so passive as this but somewhere between this and fully aggressive rake I might prefer on my ripsaws.
I topped the teeth (jointed) to level them, which then guides me for evening them up as I reshape them to the configuration I want for the work it will be used for. Three strokes worked in this case. Filing the teeth then is a question of shape and tooth pattern.
It took three strokes to each gullet to shape the teeth enough to get to each tooth tip.
I tried the saw a second time and this then took 16 strokes to get to the line.
So in the picture below you can see the 52 strokes when the saw was dull, The 16 strokes with reshaped teeth and the 10 strokes when the saw was finished and set.
Once this was done I added a micro back-bevel for strength and then all I needed was a little more set. I set to 20-ppi because that’s all I need for dry and thin wood.
Below: Teeth before new shaping at the toe end
Below: After shaping and sizing
Now then, just who would use a saw like this? I usually look at a saw like this as I might say a #3 plane and say to myself, “Small saw, small-statured person – perfect unity and harmony.”. It’s a good strategy that many women, men and others who are of a smaller build will find a real advantage in using smaller tools made specifically for them. Children especially need smaller sized tools that parallel their size as they grow up into the larger, more full-sized tools they need. Veritas created a smaller, bevel-up smoothing plane with this criteria in mind. I would that they or others would come up with a 12-16” handsaw.
In my experience there has always been different levels of disparity in ability levels in the ranks of woodworkers regardless of gender. That said, it is only in recent decades that woodworking has been a more open option for everyone and anyone and though those who were restricted in decades past are no longer prohibited by the same archaic dominances of old, they are often disqualified by oversized hand tools that just don’t fit for several different reasons. I would that tool makers making tools would design for new users either beginning in woodworking and for those who need smaller tools to be made for them or at least found for them.
Back in the more regal and royal realms of British woodworking history, and when woodworking was a male-only craft, the gentle men of more noble births discovered that they liked to work with their small hands, unmuscular shoulders, arms, hands and chests. They asked for and got tools made for them and this included all the tools used by the stronger working men of the time; hence the term gent’s and gent’s tools. Such was the power of wealth and certain realms of dominion for the land-owning gentry. What restricts the same movement today is as always demand, the strategies and politics of economics and such like that. Perhaps in decades to unfold more favourable change will come, with the support to create and proportionally sized tools will be more readily available.
I used this newly restored saw on some thin pine and some 7/8” thick pine. Not tough stuff, but harder than all the pines available in the USA. It sliced very readily and as well as my longer saws, but it does of course take twice as many strokes. I’m used to full length saws twice as long and more, but I wouldn’t treat this saw as an inferior saw or kid’s stuff even if it is more than ideal for serious children’s woodworking. As I said, I think it would have been great for my children when the were young and for some of my students today.
Metal and Wooden Scrub Planes Both Work Fine
We have seen that the cast metal scrub planes originating in the Western world started only a little over a century or so ago; and that these dedicated roughing planes found their origins from an early wooden counterpart. Metal versions were never as accepted in mainland Europe, however, I saw that the younger men I worked with felt that this was a flawed perspective reflecting a resistance to change. I don’t think that was the case at all. Whereas I do like all metal planes, I also like the wooden ones too – equally. Every nation I have encountered has always felt it owned the very best of anything you care to mention – best military, best schools, best doctors and best woodworking tools too. Fact is we get used to what we are raised with. I personally found I was less accurate with Japanese saws, chisels and planes than their western counterparts. Japanese craftsmen are world renowned for fine craftsmanship as are British craftsmen using traditional western tools. There’s a place for both and I think respect in both directions in my experience has always been evident.
Planes in Mainland Europe
I would be remiss in this paper if I didn’t give more than just a passing nod to the European planes made from wood that roughed off and trued wood for centuries too. As to different models, makers, cultural styles and so on my knowledge is indeed limited, but I have never found them difficult or awkward to use and I can do the same with these planes as I can with British wooden ones and all of the all metal ones I have used every day of my life for half a century.
It takes only a minute of twisting, turning, rolling and flipping the plane in my hands to realise how well developed this plane became. Simple, yes, but not simplistic.
Today I dismantled a German or continental plane (Any person not born in Britain is continental to the British.) to rework the blade as a scrub blade for a roughing plane. Just like the #4, it’s practical to keep two irons to use in the same plane body if you only need an occasional one for certain types of work such as scrub planing. This wooden plane is comfortable in the forehand and less so in the dominant back hand. A handle or more shaping would indeed make the plane more comfortable, but the plane works the wood very well and it does indeed hog off high spots as well as any all-metal type I have used.
The iron is stamped as shown and I wondered if the iron and heel of the plane were additionally stamped for sale here in the UK as Europe would be unlikely to want none metric sizing.
The front horn housing is a simple enough joint and in this case was totally hand cut with pristine internal surfaces from sharp edge tools. A brace bored the first hole and then subsequent cuts to form the dovetailed inclusion came from 16mm chisel cuts that pared exactness into the angled corners at 1-6 ratio. The solid body and wedging are very similar to British wedging the wedge is longer and more slender. The plane is narrow and the iron at 1 1/4” is comparable to the Stanley #40. This is mostly because the protrusion on a cambered iron ploughs heavily into the wood and the wider the iron the harder to cut.
Scrub planes are used with, at a tangent to and across the grain depending on the wood, the grain and the level of wood distortion being dealt with. Cross-grain cutting at near 90-degrees is usually the easiest depending on the wood type. This gives the ability to remove very localised highs in short jags in greater or lesser amounts according to need. Knots and the surrounding grain will always be problematic and especially so hard knots. Withdrawing the iron to remove less stock helps with scrub planing tasks in such areas.
I think this sums up my thoughts on scrub planes for now. Making a wooden one would be an easy enough task and rewarding too. If we do that we will let you know.
This Blog Post is About Scrub Planes.
Had I said roughing planes, only a few would have understood. Even in the 1960s old wooden planes, the Stanley scrub plane and even the Stanley furring plane would have been referred to as roughing planes because, in typical fashion, the plane derived its name from its function.
In my dim and distant past (yes this is me 25 years ago or so) I worked with many men 40 years older than myself and all the way up to being 80+ years old. My personal tools then were all squeaky new of course, but the tools in the tool chests and joiner’s boxes these men treasured were all very, very old. Older even than them. I don’t think I was even remotely capable of seeing then that the value in these tools could not be appraised in monetary value but by the provision they were to the men from two world wars in making everything from children’s toys to fine furniture and door frames to coffins. Today, 50 years later, I understand their real worth.
I Keep Old Tools to Work With Because They Work; Not Because They Look Nice
Today many planes from the past are somewhere near to my bench and the throats vary according to use. It’s here that I want to share something i think has value to us as woodworkers. It’s a little bit about the history of planes that may offer insight. In time past I have shared that old wooden planes were never abandoned because they didn’t work or indeed work well. They were abandoned because they didn’t keep pace with the industrialising of craft and the art of work. The whole process of plane making was an art that required great skills in both woodworking and metal working to make the tools of the plane maker. The wood too required specific parameters to produce tools that would remain stable. Though wood was dried in large quantities, distilling this down, a plane blank for your average bench plane, regardless of length, would at very minimum be 5 years before the plane would come from the hands of its maker.
For Centuries Woodworking Craftsmen in Different Trades Made Their Own Planes and Tools
Though wooden plane making ultimately became a specialist woodworking trade within the realms of carpentry and joinery, this only happened after centuries of craftsmen making their own planes according to their given trade. Coopers and wheelwrights, joiners, carpenters, boat builders and 50 others all developed their own specialist planes and tools. Making a plane was a 3-4 hour process and from new the plane served its maker for many decades.
The Evolution of the Roughing Plane
In the beginning the plane started life as a plane with tight tolerances. Cutting edges were bedded only 1-2mm from the front aspect of the sole , which created the closed throat needed for fine shaving work. Such a plane brought into service for close and fine work would work for a decade or so before wear began to take its toll. It made sense to create a new plane alongside the more used one as the wear became apparent but before too much wear took place. That being so, the new plane would run alongside the older in tandem in the same way a shepherd runs a new dog alongside the old so that he’s never without a dog. As the original plane sole became worn and needed truing because of wear and unevenness, the mouth opening became marginally wider and more open. Another decade and the mouth would be too wide for fine work and so the second plane began to replace the first. It’s at this point that the craftsman transfers the original plane to its new work working the distorted surfaces resulting from air drying wood and saving his finer plane for finer work. The cycling continued and three or four small smoothing planes would see a craftsman through his decades as a working craftsman.
Wooden Planes Performed Exceptionally and Were Never Replaced By Anything Better
Now then, try to remember that these wooden planes were not simply old fashioned models being replaced by something better and newer. That wasn’t the case at all. Also try to remember that they weren’t called scrub planes as we know the term either. They did however perform the same task. It’s important to know that woodworkers were using wooden planes for these different tasks for centuries and that they were in no way inferior to anything produced with modern-day all-metal planes. These crafting artisans in wood resisted the introduction of the all-metal cast iron and steel planes with legitimate cause. The reason they resisted the new planes was not that they shunned change for the sake of it or were merely nostalgic, but that their wooden planes were, in their hands, flawless designs in functionality in every way and actually worked better than the new all-metal ones. They were much lighter in use, almost frictionless in motion wood on wood, were more stable and they could be refined whenever or if needed. Cycling through three or four planes made from the off cuts of a beech table or bed leg was simply the practice of the day. Running planes side by side meant staggered stages of wear levels in the throat and so planes were adapted and adopted to different levels of roughness for the removal of undulation and twist to rough prep boards for the jack and jointer planes. The shorter the sole the kore localised the ability to rough-down highs and of course the easier to turn the plane to task in tackling grain variance of direction and so on.
Ultimately, planes with large and open throats could scrub off masses of wood.
The Scrub Plane Emerges
So, as you can see, when the wooden planes were ousted by the cheaper alternative all-metal ones that required only assembly-line production, it became only a matter of time before one replaced the other. Add into that the demands of a world war on timber resources for every aspect of industrialism and you suddenly begin to see how the demise of the wooden bodied planes took place. Machining in woodworking lessened the demand on hand methods too, to the point that one, by one, the wooden planemakers of Britain and Western Europe began dropping like flys. In tandem with the demise the need for a roughing plane made from metal was needed to replace the wooden versions. Remember there was no secondhand market for planes as we might know it now in the sense of family members selling off their great grandfather’s old stuff and certainly no world wide web. The term scrub was most likely in use long before Stanley came developed their version in the all-metal scrub. There can be no doubt that Stanley adopted the descriptive name and so created a special plane in a category all of its own. Though still a crude looking plane compared to all others, the Stanley scrub could initially be mistaken for a very unique and different plane altogether which is the much rarer Stanley #340 furring plane. I only ever saw and owned one of these planes, primarily because it was a US development in planes and made only in the US. I bought mine for peanuts in 1985 as part of a collection of tools and planes owned previously by a working craftsman. Just like the the term used for the scrub plane, furring plane to me implies it was used to remove furry and rough surfaces left by the sawyers after sawing, hence the minimalist surface area of the sole with only four square inches of sole in contact with the wood at any given time as apposed to 11 square inches with the scrub plane and 20 square inches with a regular smoothing plane. frictionless humped area around the mouth and the hollows either side to the toe and heel.
Those operating the machines would use the plane to take off furring from the ripped wood before second and subsequent passes on the saw if the wood had deviated slightly or left too much furring on the surface. The plane would be used both with (along) the grain and at a tangent to the grain equally. This plane will most likely never be replicated because its use is so very limited.
We Lose the Art and Craft of Plane Making
In all of this we saw a close to an era; a tradition of craftsmanship destined to die, save for one or two lingering makers who continued into the early 1960s. For a few decades wooden plane making died and became extinct and to a great extent that has remained the same. Two or three individuals in the USA and the UK have become independent planemakers intent to develop their own niche market for making and selling wooden planes made by hand. There are enough collector users to keep them in business.
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Special planes developed for roughing off coarse, rough-sawn, undulating surfaces were developed by the Stanley Rule and Level Company in the late 1890s. This short-lived, little-needed development resulted in a series of planes known as firring planes and scrub planes. The more commonly used of the two plane types is one we know as the scrub plane. This plane is no longer made by Stanley but it was most likely one of the crudest and skimpiest bare-bones plane Stanley ever made.
A scrub plane is a simple plane with none of the complexities associated with the normal metal cast planes we know today. You can achieve excellent results with #4 Stanleys and Records or any other #4 including the heavyweights retrofitted with a thinner iron.
I think that this video gives the steps to a good alternative scrub plane and one that really works on any wood.