Monday, March 29, 2010

Fettling a Wooden Plane

My little coffin smoother has always been good at chamfering an edge.

But try to take a full-width pass on the edge of a board, and the blade would either pull through, resulting in a thick shaving, or be knocked loose completely.

The plane is such a little thing, you'd think it would be able to do its job. But it's the little things within the structure and fittings that prevent it from doing that.

I spent a wee bit of time with the wee plane today and finally got it to take the wispy shavings for which it was made.

If you're tweaking a plane, one thing to check is the flatness of the bed. I used a thin straightedge which revealed a high spot in the middle. A file removed it with ease.

Another thing to check is whether or not the blade is in contact with the bed and the wedge. One way to determine if everything is seated properly is by waving your blade over a candle, so that soot is deposited on both sides. Insert your blade and wedge, remove it, and the soot will show where the contact points are located.

Uniform contact points on all surfaces is the ideal goal. I had good contact along the outer edge of the wedge, but the middle was a little hollow. A file makes quick work of eliminating the sooty spots, so the middle of the wedge also contacts the blade.

The next thing I checked was the flatness of the sole by holding a straightedge and the plane up to a light to find the low spots. The entire sole doesn't need to be flat, but if you're fixing up a wooden plane, you might as well make it so, since it's easy to do.

Slide the blade and wedge into your plane, but retract the blade a bit so it's protected. Tap it in place. Then rub the sole on a sheet of sandpaper that's clamped to a known-flat surface, like a table saw. The scuff marks from the sandpaper will tell you when it's flat.

If your wedge is still not holding your blade in place, try a trick that Jim Leamy taught me. Lay a file on the arms of your wedge and tap it with a mallet. The impression left by the file roughens up the surface, giving the wedge more gripping power.

The last thing I did was use my small mallet to seat the wedge. I had been using finger pressure only, but the mallet gave the wedge just enough of a push to provide the results I was hoping for.

Finally, the plane is finished.....until next season when the wood moves again. heh.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dealers' Shows

Who has time for woodworking when there are lumberyards to tour and dealers' shows to attend?

The PATINA and Brown International shows are in close succession, which is tough on the wallet, but easy on the eyes. And even if you're not looking for anything in particular, you can usually find something you "need".

New additions to my collection include: a well-maintained "user" moulding plane; a book entitled Carpentry and Woodworking—A Handbook of Tools, Materials, Methods, and Directions (1945); a jeweler's saw; an inexpensive, but workable wooden brace; and four shell bits.

If you attend enough of these shows, you start to make friends and see familiar faces.

Last year, I met Bob Baker, an antique tool restorer, who made a reproduction of the famous Thomas Falconer plane and a reproduction of one of my favorite planes—the Moisset.

Apparently, when they were dishing out bowls of talent, Bob went back for seconds. He's blessed with a heaping helping of it, as evidenced in his Moisset reproduction (shown above), which he made 27 years ago—his first attempt at carving.

At these shows, you'll find a lot of user tools that are just waiting to be adopted and put back to work. But you'll also find some rare and unusual ones.

Jim Bode carries a number of unique tools, some of which you may have seen in fine tool books. Poke around his site and you'll see what I mean. I snapped pictures of an ivory figurine of Japanese carpenters and a fish hammer.

The last group photo shows some pieces that will be auctioned off today.

But I'm sitting this one out and staying home to play with my new old tools instead.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Two Great Lumberyards

Thirteen years ago, Groff and Hearne Lumber became two different companies—Groff & Groff Lumber and Hearne Hardwoods.

This past Saturday, our woodworking club toured both since they are in close proximity to one another.

Morris was our guide at Groff & Groff (first three photos) and showed us where the lumber lay in log form, waiting to be sawn into planks. He said that pine can remain in the yard for a year before it decays, and hardwood can lay for 2 to 3 years.

Allowing some hardwoods, like cherry and walnut, to remain outside as logs is beneficial, because the sapwood will darken.

Once the logs are cut into boards, they will stay outside for 6 months to a year before being kiln-dried. Depending on the type of wood, it will take between 3 and 8 weeks to bring the moisture reading to 8%.

In the kiln, an 8"-wide board will shrink to 7", and 1/8" in thickness will be lost during the drying and milling processes. And after 3 days at 130ยบ, any bugs that made a home in the wood will be toast.

Groffs carries some exotic woods, but they have a very large selection of domestic hardwoods, much of which is local, since Pennsylvania is abundant in timber.

They will also cut and plane boards and logs that you bring in for milling.

I left with a 1" x 15" x 6' piece of pine, a small piece of Swiss pear, and a substantial chunk of quartersawn cherry that will make a couple of nice planes someday.

From there, we caravaned to Hearne Hardwoods, where the owner, Rick Hearne, showed us around his specialty lumberyard.

Rick considers wood to be the "art of nature" and travels all over the world to find one-of-a-kind pieces. He explained that in Germany, they harvest oak trees in 200 year cycles. Compare that to the U.S. which cuts them down after just 60 years. The Germans plant beech, which is shade-tolerant, beneath the oak trees, and will harvest them 3 times before they fell an oak.

Hearne has several outbuildings completely overflowing with boards, some of which are 6 feet wide, and a yard that's loaded with logs.

One enormous log measures nearly 7'-wide at the base and 9'-wide at the crotch, and is the largest walnut tree I have ever seen. They plan to build a special saw just to cut it, because to Rick, it would be a sin to shave off a section just so they can fit it in their existing saw. "This log needs to be cut from bark to bark."

Hearne carries a huge variety of exotic species in addition to well-known domestic hardwoods.

One club member asked "What's the most expensive wood you sell?" Rick's answer—an unusual rosewood burl that costs $400 bf.

I left with a large piece of Swiss pear, which sells for considerably less.

The new showroom, which is located in a gutted 1810 barn, is still under construction, but we were permitted to enter...and gawk.

The flooring in each room is a different species, and in one room, the floorboards are Macassar Ebony.

The ceilings are all the same, though. Tiger maple.

Groff & Groff and Hearne Hardwoods: two distinct lumberyards that are filled with the things we love.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chew On This

So, I'm sitting in the dentist's chair today having a tooth drilled, sans Novocaine, ala Little Shop of Horrors, and after the filling is ground with a dremel-like tool whose high-pitched screech can peel paint, the hygienist slides of piece of paper in between my upper and lower choppers.

"Bite down, please. Tap. Tap. Now grind your teeth back and forth."

The paper leaves a residue on the high spots of the filling so the dentist knows where to file, garnering a perfect fit between your teeth.

I often disappear to my "happy place" while at the dentist's office, and today I was whisked away to a book I'm reading, entitled "Our Workshop: Being A Practical Guide To The Amateur In The Art of Carpentry & Joinery" by Temple Thorold, 1866.

This book was sent to me by my friend, Gary Roberts, who runs the Toolemera site. Recently, he's produced exact reprints of some 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century woodworking books that contain fascinating, relevant information, all told in a prettier language than we speak today.

The episode with the dentist reminded me of one passage on joining two boards, one of which has been made square:

"If a little chalk be rubbed evenly all over the true edge, a small portion of the white powder will be deposited on the prominent points of the work, if the former be slightly moved backwards and forwards over the latter in the direction of its length. By removing the material where the chalk has adhered we shall soon bring the edge of the second plank into close contact with that of the first."

I had to try it. One problem, though—no chalk. The next door neighbor kid has a bunch that she uses to decorate our shared driveway (which is highly amusing and much appreciated), but I was unable to divert her attention long enough to pilfer some.

Instead, I tried a series of experiments with graphite, flour, baking powder, and powdered sugar. Nothing worked well. So, I reluctantly parted with a buck and bought a pack of chalk. Which worked.

"Our Workshop" is a short book, only about 195 pages, but covers several topics that a handtool woodworker would find captivating. Many will already know much of the content, but there are enough details and tidbits that you might not know, all presented so eloquently as to be lyrical, that it's an absolute delight.

And it's close enough to modern language to be easily understood. Like Moxon, but without the lisp.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two Upcoming Auctions

If you've never been to the PATINA auction, dealers' show, and tailgating extravaganza, you're missing out on one of the best tools sales on the east coast. It's this Saturday, the 13th.

I went for the first time last year, ran into some friends, snapped a photo of St. Roy, and came home with some new toys.

The tailgating starts around 6:00 a.m. and the doors open at 9:00 for the dealers' show.

The second auction is the Brown International Antique Tool Auction on March 26 and 27. The dealers' sale is Friday and the actual auction is Saturday. It's a good sale, but the spring show is typically not quite as packed with vendors as the fall show. Last year, vendors started closing up early and many were gone by 5:00. So if you plan to go, go early.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Almost Out of the Woods

My busy season is starting to wind down at work, which means I have time to take a walk during the day to get some fresh air.

Soon I'll hear the buzz of chainsaws as people have their trees pruned or cut down. That's the sound of early Spring around here—music to my ears.

It reminds me of one of the first projects I ever built: a rustic chair. Back then, I had only a jigsaw, electric drill, one chisel, a really dull handsaw, and sandpaper. I didn't have much disposable income to buy tools or nice lumber. But I did and still do live in a neighborhood that has an abundance of trees. And neighbors who love to trim them.

One day on a walk, I spied a homeowner cutting down his small locust tree. I've never been shy about anything, except for being a wee bit shy of 5' 6" tall, so I asked him if he had plans for the wood. Nope. Would it be okay if I took it home? Yep.

So, what do you do with short, gnarled branches? You build a rustic piece.

I had read about mortise and tenon joinery so I drilled holes with a spade bit and used the chisel to make the tenons, which I rounded with sandpaper. It took a long time, but I was so proud of the painfully uncomfortable chair I had built.

Then I found more branches and made a rustic table. Try using a dull handsaw to cut limbs in half lengthwise if you ever feel like being mean to yourself.

Eighteen years later I'm still using branches and logs given to me by friends. I use them to make spoons and lately, a kuksa. The difference is, now I have some really nice tools to use.

So keep your eyes and ears open. Let your friends know to keep you in mind if they're planning to cut down a tree.

And if you live in apple country like me, now is the time that orchards are cutting down old apple trees and are happy to give them away.

You don't need a hike in the woods or the lumberyard to find suitable wood for projects. Sometimes you can find what you need right in your neighbors' backyard.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Films from 1930s Finland

Heritage Crafts Association posted a link on its facebook page to some interesting films made in Finland from 1936-1939.

One in particular is a film that woodworkers will like. It's 34 minutes long and here are some key parts:
10:30-12:13: using a bow saw, auger, and axe to make a maul.
12:47-18:54: using an axe, knife, and frame saw to make an axe handle; and using a piece of glass as a scraper.

The remaining minutes show some agile knife work to make toys and slats, and wooden wedges to split logs.

Here is a link to the video and here is a link to the main page if you would like to see other crafts.
You'll want to install the latest version of Flash, otherwise, the films are pretty choppy.