Sunday, May 30, 2010

Taking Adam Cherubini's Challenge, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

As I practiced a little more, I wasn't satisfied with the shavings I was getting from the jointer. They were much too narrow. Looking closely at the mouth, I could see it was slightly dished. Not a problem for a jack, but a problem for a jointer or smoother. Time for a little sole flattening.

With the iron retracted but wedged up to get the proper stresses in the body, flattening the sole on 80-grit sandpaper on glass. Glad I got that long glass plate from the home-center shelving section!

After some initial sanding, the dishing in front of the mouth is apparent.

After a few more minutes: the dishing gone.

I touched up the iron on the fine stones and put the plane back together. A little finessing with the plane hammer and some scribbling with a beeswax block and I was in business. Now it was taking nice wide full-length shavings.

I wanted to get used to adjusting the iron with the hammer, so I spent some time practicing edge-jointing. That was very satisfying. I got to the point where I could advance and retract the iron with reasonable control. It just takes light taps, far lighter than you would expect with the wedge in tight.

One issue that came up is tendinitis in my elbows. I've had to deal with it for 15 years. I think taking very heavy cuts directly across the grain brought it on this time. This puts a lot of shock on the elbow as the iron digs in. So I went back to diagonal cuts with the jack planes. This is less violent both for my arms and the wood, producing less tearout and chipping. It still gets the job done plenty fast. I don't want to hone all these skills only to have to stop using the tools!

The three videos below show the results. There are no cuts, so you can see just how quickly the tools can work. The first one goes through edge-jointing, practicing adjusting the iron. The other two show taking 1/8" off SYP and oak and restoring a smooth face.

I still need practice, but I have a lot more confidence with these now. The one I have most difficulty with is the smoother, because of its short length. So I'll definitely invest some time in that one. But in general, Adam's statements hold: the wooden planes can do just as good a job as the metal ones. It's just a variation on the skill set.

Recommended Books and Videos
Hand Tool Essentials: Refine Your Power Tool Projects with Hand Tool Techniques (Popular Woodworking) The Wooden Plane: Its History, Form and Function Coarse, Medium and Fine (DVD)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Taking Adam Cherubini's Challenge

There's a thread on the Sawmill Creek Neanderthal Haven forum discussing Adam Cherubini's blog post "Improving Planes". While he doesn't say it directly, they took it as a challenge from him to try using wooden planes instead of modern metal-bodied ones. I've enjoyed using wooden rabbet and molding planes briefly, so I decided to take the challenge whole hog.

The test subjects. I've been accumulating these over the past year.

The soles are all in reasonable shape. The coffin smoother lower left has had a mouth repair.

The irons and chip breakers are also in reasonable shape under the rust. Except...

First casualty: the iron on the wooden jack has already been ground down so far there's not enough left to camber it and reassemble the chip breaker.

Unfortunately, the short iron put the jack out of commission until I could find a replacement. That was the one I was most looking forward to trying, since Adam's post was primarily about using a jack plane for fast stock removal.

As I prepared the remaining irons, I discovered another problem. When I sharpened the iron of the cute little smoother and tried it out, I noticed plane tracks in the middle of the cut. Huh? Examining the edge, I could see where a notch had chipped out.

I resharpened it, same result. Closer inspection with a magnifier revealed tiny hairline cracks throughout the metal, only visible once I had polished the bevel. Now I was down two.

I had already cambered the iron on the transitional jack last fall to use building my workbench, so I tried it here. I had put an aggressive 4" radius on it for roughing down Southern Yellow Pine.

For this test, I set the iron to the maximum depth allowed by the camber, a little over 1/16". Adam's criteria was to get at least .060" shavings in order to  take a board down in thickness by 1/8" quickly. In his Coarse, Medium, and Fine DVD, Chris Schwarz mentions setting up for 30 thousandths. Since 1/8" is .125", in round numbers 1/16" is about .060", so I was in Adam's ballpark.

Wow! This isn't a plane, it's a wood-chipper! I took a chamfering pass down the far edge to reduce spelching, then took steep diagonal cuts.

I took a piece of SYP down by 1/8" in less than 30 seconds. It's so fast you have to be careful you don't overdo it. You also have to watch for heavy tearout and chipping of the far edge (spelching). So it's probably worth backing off the depth a bit after the bulk has been removed.

Big, meaty chips flying all over the bench.

Here you can see the heavy camber and depth. That mouth needs to be wide open.

Right at Adam's minimum requirement.

The cambered iron.

Of course, anyone can look good on soft pine. Next I tried it on oak. A couple of quick swipes across the grain showed that the iron needed to be backed off. It was catching heavily and the plane was bouncing across. I took it down to about half it's previous depth.

It worked just as well on the oak, just took an extra 30 seconds with the reduced depth of cut.

The oak shavings are a little over 30 thousandths, so about 1/32". That means four passes to take off 1/8".

The oak took it's toll on the edge. Not seriously damaged, but roughed up.

I picked up some new test subjects at Brimfield. I got a shorter jointer, equal in length to a Stanley #7, and two jacks, to be setup at two different cambers.

The new planes from Brimfield. The dealer over-worked the razee jack a bit cleaning it up. I like a tool to show its history.

The soles all look good from a distance. However, I found in usage the sole of the jointer is slightly dished in front of the mouth. Why do these always looks like they were used to remove paint?

The irons all have plenty of metal left. I checked before I bought them!

The edge of the dirtier jack iron needs to be jointed first.

Jointing it on 80-grit paper on a granite plate, side-to-side with light pressure.

I cleaned up the back of the iron and the chip-breaker enough for rough setting.

I set the iron to project a little over 1/16"....

...then marked the sides.

Using a simple string compass to make 4" and 8" radius paper templates.

The 4" template lined up well with the marks, so I colored in that profile on the iron.

Cambering requires a lot of metal removal. For that I turned to the powered grinder. First I ground the radius profile flat on the end of iron, then I angled the work support and ground the bevel, dunking in water frequently. I stopped when there was a hair's breadth of the flat grind left and switched over to the sandpaper.

On the paper I used an alternating grind. First I swung my wrist back and forth to grind sideways until the grinder scratch pattern was gone, then switched to up and down the paper, again until the previous scratch pattern was gone, repeating this several times. Watching the scratch pattern is a good way to tell when you've adequately ground the whole surface in one direction.

Starting a sideways swing.

Ending the swing, keeping pressure on one side of the camber.

Up and down the paper. I focused on one segment of the camber at a time. This doesn't make a perfect curve, but who cares? This is for rough work, not fine carving.

I prepared the second jack iron the same way, except that I used the 8" radius template. Cambering an iron this heavily is time-consuming, but it only has to be done once, then can be maintained with subsequent sharpening. One fascinating aspect of these old irons once you get the bevel polished up is that you can just make out the two layers of metal where the steel cutter was welded to the softer iron.

The first jack setup with the 4" camber. This mouth looks a little dished out as well, but it's of no concern on a jack.

A test shaving: .080". That's a huge cut! Probably too much, in fact.

The razee jack setup with the 8" camber.

This one takes a much tamer .030" shaving.

Need to take out some aggression? Just spend a few minutes chewing a board down to nothing with a jack plane. Very satisfying.

Finally, time to use the full triumvirate of jack, jointer, and smoother to take an oak board down by 1/8", then finish up with a cabinet scraper. While the smoother left a nice surface, it still had a few ripples; the scraper took these down nicely.

Step 1: plane across the grain using the jack for heavy removal. This leaves uneven scallops across the width. This is less than a minute of work.

Step 2: plane diagonally, then with the grain using the jointer to straighten the stock, taking it down just to within final thickness. This brings the high spots of the scallops down and then starts taking full-length shavings, much like using alternating grind directions when sharpening the iron. Depending on how rough the jack left it, this takes from less than a minute to a couple minutes.

Step 3: plane with the grain using the smoother to smooth the surface, removing any scallops from the jointer. This takes fine gossamer shavings of neglible thickness. Less than a minute.

Step 4: use the cabinet scraper with the grain for final finished surface. This is less than a minute of work. Don't you dare get out the sandpaper!

In two to six minutes, depending on your control and the quality of your tool setup, you can take a board down by 1/8" and get a polished final surface. Need to take it down by 1/4"? That's just an extra 30-60 seconds with the jack.

After getting used to metal-bodied planes, these were a bit awkward at first because of their larger size and higher center of effort. But the reduced weight definitely helps. I also scribbled on the soles with a block of beeswax, which made a difference in smooth motion. I found that these planes rely more on a follow-through stroke, probably due to their reduced mass and consequent reduced momentum. Aim to end the stroke several inches past the end of the wood.

Checking the flatness of a piece of SYP. Nice and smooth.

The final bonus was this epiphanous moment, one of those things that makes learning to use hand tools so glorious: I finally got a cabinet scraper to take effortless shavings, not just dust.

Closeup of the fine oak shavings from the scraper instead of dust.

There were two keys to achieving this: a Ron Hock burnisher, and a video that Jacob Butler had pointed out. I had gotten the burnisher several years ago at a scraper class at Woodcraft. I already had another burnisher made by a manufacturer who shall remain nameless in shame, but my scraper just scored deep ruts in that piece of junk. Hock metallurgy proves superior again.

The class had taught essentially the same scraper sharpening technique as in the video, except for one critical element: take just one hand-held stroke with the burnisher. Previously I had been clamping up the scraper and applying heavy two-handed force in multiple passes. So I was over-turning the hook, ruining what the previous steps had accomplished. The method in the video is unbelievably quick, simple, and effective.

But this isn't my last word here. I was going to post a couple of videos showing the four steps above in real-time, but I need a little more practice, otherwise I'll do the tools a disservice. I've also done a little more work fine tuning them for better results, and tried some edge jointing while experimenting with love taps from the plane hammer. It's a bit like learning to plane all over again, but I'm progressing quickly.

(Continue to part 2)

Recommended Books and Videos
  Hand Tool Essentials: Refine Your Power Tool Projects with Hand Tool Techniques (Popular Woodworking)Coarse, Medium and Fine (DVD)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Good Day At Brimfield

Maybe too good! But how can you resist a booth full of beautiful old tools?

The day's haul. Starting at the back, the planes: wooden jointer, jack, and razee jack; Stanely 35 transitional smoother; spare iron and chip breaker; Stanley #3 and #2. The rest: Starrett engineer's square; small reversible ratcheting screwdiver; spoke pointer; Starrett #94 combination square; Stanley unknown model and #18 bevel gauges; Stanley #79 side rabbet plane; assorted mortise and bevel-edge socket chisels; assorted gimlet bits; Yankee #41 push drill with 7 bits; and two wooden spokeshaves.

Brimfield is a huge antique show that takes place in Brimfield, MA three times a year for a week. It's a sprawling mix of high-end dealers and low-end flea market junk. You can't cover the 21 different fields in a day. There must be hundreds of booths. My wife and I managed maybe a third.

I found three booths with really good selections, two of them approaching Patrick Leach level. Then two more with moderate selections. The rest of the stuff I found one at a time slogging through it all. I saw one wooden jack being sold as a planter (complete with plant in the mouth), and a chair made of saws welded together. No painted saws.

This trip, I was on a mission. There's a thread on the Sawmill Creek Neanderthal forum on the challenge Adam Cherubini's issued in his blog regarding using wooden planes. I was preparing to take the challenge, but discovered the iron in my recently-acquired wooden jack had been ground down almost to the chipbreaker slot. No way could I camber it to the degree required for heavy stock removal.

So I was looking for another jack or a replacement iron. I was also looking for bolstered pig-sticker mortise chisels, but the only one I found all day was wider than I wanted and more than I was willing to pay. At least the planes were a success.

I was very happy to find the two Stanley bevel gauges, because they lock at the base. This is much easier to set than a screw or cam lever at the pivot. I was also happy to find another Yankee push drill. These things are great for small fast holes. And the spoke pointer? Ummm, it's cool?

The Stanley #2 was the one real indulgence of the day. It cost as much as most of the other stuff put together. Illustrating the price premium once you get smaller than #3, the #2 cost me five times as much as the #3. Do I really need it? No; if I need something that small for smoothing, I can probably do the job with my #18 block plane.

But the fever had me in its grip. Now I have a nearly full series, from #2 to #7. I don't expect to be getting a #1 or a #8. Unless a really good deal comes along...

After a long day in the sun, we headed to The Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield for dinner. They had been handing out flyers at Brimfield. It's a beautiful place on beautiful grounds. The only problem was that it was also U Mass graduation day, so they were overwhelmed with people. But the food was excellent and the service was cheerful if a bit harried.

Side view of the Inn.

Front view.

The gazebo, leading out over the field to a farm in back.

Down the lane to the farm.

I found this lovely spalted burl at the end of their woodpile. Hopefully, since they've ripped it down to see the spalting, someone has some nice plans for it, not just burn it.

This morning I checked the Starrett combination square. There's a reason Starrett has a reputation for perfection. It's because they are.

Draw a line on one side with the square against a straight edge.

Flip the square and draw another line next to the first. If they're parallel, the square is true.

My no-name combination square fails the test. Notice the lines converging at the right end.

Correcting the problem.