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The Indian DIY & Woodworker
|Two varieties of Shellac: Dewaxed Platina on left and Natural Golden on right|
India is the world's primary supplier of Shellac. The tropical jungles of eastern India (whatever little is left of them) continue to yield tons of laac smeared twigs that are processed into usable Shellac.
Shellac or laac (as it is known locally) has been around in India for centuries and has been used as an effective wood finish for as long. The use of Shellac in finishing travelled to the West following the arrival of European seafaring traders in the 16th and 17th century.
Today, most wood finishers seem to prefer the de-waxed, bleached variety of Shellac. Natural Shellac is golden, orange or garnet in colour and full of a type of wax.
De-waxed Shellac comes in many varieties differentiated chiefly by the extent of bleaching. Shellac from which wax has been removed is usually of a golden or garnet tint. This Shellac is then bleached to different extents, producing variants such as Platina, Blond and so on.
De-waxed Shellac is virtually colourless, dries very hard and adheres to virtually any surface. This variety is most widely used in the pharmaceutical industry to coat pills and capsules.
Many woodworkers claim this is the best type of Shellac for finishing. In India, however, woodworkers traditionally have always used, and continue to use, natural Shellac for finishing.
There are varieties or grades of natural Shellac as well, starting with seedlac, which is an unfiltered first stage of Shellac production where the bodies of the microscopic insects that produce laac are present. This Shellac is distinctly orange in colour and is the most widely available in Indian hardware shops.
The next type is called button laac; this variety has some of the wax and most impurities (dirt and dead insect bodies) removed and is pressed into large button like shapes.
The third variety is purified Shellac which still retains its natural wax. This comes in the form of fine flakes and in a variety of colours, including Lemon, Garnet and Golden.
I tested some natural Golden Shellac and loved it. The flakes dissolve quickly and easily in spirit (rectified alcohol) to form a dark cloudy finish. (see photograph).
|The two trays have been given a couple of coats of Shellac: the left is one finished with Natural Golden and the right one with Dewaxed Platina. In the foreground are pieces of the original Pine used in makig the trays.|
I tried some of it on a pine tray and was very pleased with the splendid golden colour that it imparted. The Platina de-waxed Shellac, on the other hand, did not tint the wood.
Clearly, the choice of Shellac depends on personal preferences but the notion that Shellac with wax is inappropriate for finishing is not correct. It would of course be a wrong choice if Shellac is being used as a sealer over which some other finish such as polyurethane is to be applied.
Natural Shellac dries as hard as the de-waxed type but is easier to use for French Polishing on account of the wax it contains. The use of de-waxed Shellac in French polishing requires the use of some kind of oil which needs to be removed later on. Natural Shellac does not require the use of any oil and the wax seems to bond well with the Shellac.
Traditional finishers in India, at one time, would add various resins such as rosin (Pine resin) gum Copal and Sandarac to add shine, hardness and so on to the Shellac polish. These techniques are mostly lost. But the use of the much cheaper "natural" Shellac varieties, some of which like Natural Lemon are extremely light, continues and has much to recommend itself.
24 March 2017
|Grace Tools Screwdrivers|
There are moments when I a feel truly overwhelmed. One of them was today when I returned home to find a package waiting for me. It was from John Canby, an American I had once gone hunting with for local species of timber near where I live. Inside the box were a set of fabulous wooden handle screwdrivers and a few rolls of blue tape.
I was overwhelmed; I hardly know John; we first met because he was kind enough to carry a few hand tools for me from the US. John works for an oil company that takes him all over the world and is married to an Indian academic.
He and his wife have moved to Mumbai and I will possibly never see John again in my life. Yet, his thoughtfulness about my woodworking needs.
Old style wooden handle screwdrivers have long been on my wish list; I have missed the wooden handle ones of my youth which used to grip so well. And now I have them and that too from one of the finest screwdriver makers in the world, Grace Tools, USA, who are renowned for their gunsmith tools.
Oddly enough, Blue tape too has been high on my wish list ever since I read a blog recommending the use of blue tape in marking dovetails.
In dark tropical woods like Teak a fine knife line or a pencil mark is very difficult to see. Fixing blue tape over the areas that have to be marked such as the end of the pin board makes the cut line clearly visible and therefore easy to cut accurately.
I have tried this method and it works brilliantly. Blue tape, for some strange reason, is not available in India. I had ordered some from China. Now I have lots and lots more.
But more than the blue tape and the screwdrivers, it was John's thoughtfulness that filled me with felicity.
I cannot but add that I have often been amazed by the generosity of the average American, of whom I have encountered several.
Despite the terrible events in America we have been reading about in our newspapers, I am confident that ultimately the large-heartedness and the spirit of fellowship of the average American will prevail. Thank you, John.
26 February 2017
They make great gift items too and I have never failed to get a pleased smile in return. That makes it all worthwhile.
My favourite boxes are made of dovetails; gives me good practice and makes for a strong box that will hopefully endure for decades.
Last week I finished putting together a small video I have been painstakingly making over winter. I've put it up on Youtube and can also be viewed below.
Hope you like it.
24 February 2017
|A cabinet for my hand planes|
Tools that are not close at hand tend not to be used. I have had to stow away most of my hand planes because of lack of storage space in the area where I do my woodworking.
This became a problem because I found Jack Planes were the most useful whereas the ones I had space for in my work area were all number fours. Thus sprang the need for a cabinet for hand planes particularly my Jack Planes.
|A STACK OF PLYWOOD FOR THE PROJECT|
The aim was to quickly put together a plywood cabinet with pocket hole joinery, white glue and a few housings.
The basic carcase came together quickly as it does when using pocket hole joinery but then things slowed down a bit.
|HOUSING ROUTED FOR THE SHELVES MAKE FOR ACCURACY|
|BASIC CARCASE CLAMPED|
|6MM PLYWOOD BACK IN PLACE|
I needed to glue on wooden strips on the exposed plywood edges for which I had to painstakingly edge clamp each piece and wait for it to dry.
|GLUING AND CLAMPING WOODEN EDGES|
I also decided to use real veneer ply for the sides to cover the plain plywood. Real veneer is available laminated on 2mm plywood sheets. Prices range from Rs. 40 to Rs 200 per square feet depending on the kind of wood used; great looking burls can cost upwards of Rs 400 per square feet.
|PLYWOOD VENEER STAINED AND POLISHED|
I usually go for the cheaper varieties as it serves my purpose, which is to cover raw plywood with a material that can be stained and polished. I prefer stain and polish exteriors to painted ones, though there are times when paint is preferable.
One lesson I learnt while painting the interior of the cabinet, which is difficult if the gap between shelves is narrow, is that it is better to paint the shelves before assembling the cabinet. I'll keep that in mind for any similar projects in the future.
|FETTLING THE DOORS|
Making the doors took longer even though they were made with mortise and tenon joints and were of a plain Shaker style. For the panels, I laminated oak veneer on plywood and nailed it into rebates routed in the insides of the frames.
I lightly stained and polished the oak fame and panel. The doors are stopped by two magnetic catches on the top. It is a simple but functional home for my three Jack Planes (which I find myself using all the time), one old but great Ambika jointer plane, a couple of block planes, a small shoulder plane and an assortment of scrapers.
The other lesson I learnt was that its far from easy to get things done as quickly as one would like to.
|THE COMPLETED CABINET|
17 February 2017
|Shobha Low Angle Jack Plane|
Most Indian woodworkers would not be familiar with a low angle hand plane since no one made these planes in India - till now.
Shobha Industries, our favourite hand tools maker, has recently come up with a low angle plane that should interest hand plane aficionados in this country.
The Shobha plane is basically a modern copy of the famous Stanley #62 low angle plane. Like its illustrious predecessor, this plane is 14 inches long and about 2 inches wide.
It comes with a short stout blade which is much thicker than normal plane blades and an adjustable mouth which can be opened or closed by loosening the front knob and rotating a ring.
This plane was originally designed as a Jack plane for heavy work but somehow seems to have found favour as a smoother as well.
Several top notch Western tool makers like Veritas and Lie-Nielsen make similar copies of the #62, which according to some woodworkers work like magic.
|Vintage Stanley #62|
It comes with the standard Indian Rosewood (Sheesham) knobs and powder coated interior.
Apart from its adjustable mouth, it is a rather simple plane that does away with a traditional frog and cap iron.
The blade sits on an angled block which is part of the overall casting and is held in place with a lever cap that is tightened by a knurled screw.
|Parts of Shobha #62|
There is no lateral adjustment lever as in the regular bevel down planes as the blade fits quite accurately on the bed. The blade can be moved forward and back by a regular brass adjustor.
My only grouse with the plane was the way its blade had been ground; it came with a concave bevel and a coarse secondary or micro bevel. This made blade preparation extremely troublesome.
Many woodworkers do not care to put a secondary or micro bevel on their blades for whatever reason and for them grinding away the one made in the factory would be extremely tiresome and time consuming.
Moreover, a secondary or micro bevel actually needs to be very fine. It requires a very light touch on a high grit honing stone to produce a micro bevel.
David Charlesworth, an authority on the use and tuning of hand planes, recommends just four or so strokes on a 16,000 grit stone for a micro bevel. This apparently is more than enough.
On the other hand, a micro bevel that has been ground isn't a micro bevel at all.
I had quite a time fixing the blade - though once honed the plane behaved admirably.
I don't know how Shobha are going to price this plane but clearly it won't be cheap.
At the same time, is a low angle plane a necessity for the average woodworker? I don't think so. The regular bevel down planes work well especially with difficult tropical woods such as Teak and Sheesham so popular in our country.
I suppose a hand plane is a personal choice; some people seem to think that low angle planes are the best, others differ.
I find working with the Shobha #62 very pleasant indeed but I am certainly not going to pack up any of my regular bench planes I have tweaked and tuned over the years.
29 January 2017
I have made a brief two-and-a-half minute video on using the Shobha #62, which might give you an idea of what the plane is capable of.
Raj Moudgil from Assam sent me photographs of the bed he has recently made. It is way better than his previous projects which shows that his woodworking has improved dramatically in recent times.
This bed is a fine example of professional quality work.
He also built a bench-type sofa-cum-bed.
|Moudgil's wooden sofa|
Sunil Chetiwal in Delhi was busy building a cupboard for his wife. This was a plywood project that was meant to be put together quickly.
Ashok George in Bangalore too has been busy getting his workbench together and making various tools.
|George's Cambered Iron|
|Mteric Dowel Plate|
He made a couple of dowel plates (metric) one of which he sent me and ground a lovely camber on a hand plane blade for me. I intend to use this blade for hogging lot of wood, in effect turning one of my planes into a scrubbing plane.
Thanks, chaps. Keep sending in your projects so that others might be inspired and motivated to keep at it.
24 January 2017