There it is...
A final shot of the completed floats, ready for handles:
One showing where in a plane the float is to be used, mounted to a temporary handle:
One thing I would do differently is how to mount the handle, opting for a handle more like the floats pictured at the beginning of this odyssey rather than using a tang version. I might yet make another set in that fashion. I might also try 1/8" thickness steel, and only use either 3/4" or 1" wide material rather than cut it out of 1-1/2".
Hardening the Steel
I have read from planemakers' texts in several instances that hardening of the steel isn't really necessary, and after making these, I would agree, at least at this stage. I am going to see how these perform without hardening before I pursue that avenue. If and when I do go down that road, here is what I would do, based on discussions with some fellow woodworkers who have metalworking experience.
Using a charcoal grill, a hair dryer, and a MAPP gas torch for an additional heat source, heat the steel up in a bed of hot charcoal to cherry red (or the point at which the steel is no longer magnetic if you are unsure of the color you are working to). The charcoal helps to evenly heat the steel, and the hair dryer is needed for use as a "bellows" on the charcoal to raise the heat of the fire to a suitable temperature for hardening. When the steel is hot enough, its dipped into a quenching oil to cool it quickly (this is what hardens the steel). A can of peanut oil, or used motor oil will suffice for use as a quenching oil. Lightly swish the tool in the oil until cooled.
Please keep in mind that I actually haven't done any of this hardening process to these tools, so the above advice is not tested, at least not by me. I may give it a shot later this spring to see what happens. I did happen across this site that goes through much the same processes, only he is making a plane iron out of a leaf spring, but he does makes use of the same basic process, and presents an intriguing source for plane irons.
I still have two blanks for skewed floats - I'll be getting back to those at a later date, when I have a better idea of what angles I'll need. I'm going to try my hand at using these two first. So far, they seem to work quite well. I'll need more experience with them before I can give a more qualified answer than that. I can see where these tools would be of use in other woodworking applications, especially in truing up through mortises. I may also want some thinner versions of these for smaller planes, but I think the need for them will drive that decision.
Some have suggested to me using certain kinds of files as plane floats. The only kind of files I might consider are aluminum files or Simonds "Vixen" files, which are used in the auto body trade for filing aluminum or fiberglass and are available in several different profiles. I'm not sure how successful using these files would be, but it may be a thought to consider, especially if you need to deviate from the standard flat style. They seem a bit fine for my tastes, though.
Do you use floats or anything else for the beds?
I've got floats but I never use them. I mainly use a modified chisel.
On truing beds:
Although I don't use floats, I have a wonderful tip that i've never,ever seen mentioned in any book or magazine. Get a normal woodworking chisel - any width - and heat it up to cherry red, then quench it. The chisel then becomes exceptionally hard and it will even cut steel. If you then grind the end of it to make it ninety degrees it will scrape timber like nothing else. It won't dig in, but it will remove high spots like they weren't even there - it's fantastic.It's much easier to use than both a chisel or a float, and even though I have several floats I don't use them because I find these modified scraping chisels so useful.
All in all, this has been a satisfying little project. I spent about 5-6 hours time on it at a leisurely pace (and I do mean LEISURELY!). I probably could cut that time easily in half if I pushed it, but where's the fun in that? In any case, it raises my respect yet a bit more for the original craftsmen who made these over a century ago in their own workshops.
UPDATE: some final Final thoughts:
It's not the molding plane I was going to do first, but a smoother, as you can see - used some hard maple and walnut scraps, and an iron and chipbreaker from an old Stanley Handyman plane. I built this plane just for experimentation and experience, and I had great fun doing it, and learned tons. Everyone interested in old planes should build one, along with the floats. It has given me a greater appreciation for planemakers of old.
And I can tell you that the floats work great! But, there are a few things that I should address here. First off, I can see I'll be making a bed float that is 3/4" - 1" wide for it's entire length - and with no tangs and from 1/8" steel, and maybe a second from 3/16" steel. The pointed float worked well in the side of the wedge pocket, but got me into trouble on the bed for the iron, where it ended up having just a bit of a hump in it that gave me headaches before I figured out what I had done wrong. The plane now work excellently, I might say, after some extensive troubleshooting.
The comment made by Bill Carter above still intrigues me, and I might yet do one of those.
Hardening won't be necessary for these floats, as I had thought it wouldn't be. I haven't given up on the idea, though. It's easy to see that these will need sharpening after a 8-10 planes or so. If I harden them, they probably never would need sharpening past the first time its done..
Thanks for reading!