Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A few "quick" planes

After working on a few jointers and several large panel planes - I needed to build something small. Small does not always translate into easier - holding a 3-3/4" plane on an anvil and piening requires one's fullest attention! But the parts themselves are that much smaller - with fewer dovetails... these planes go together quite a bit quicker than a two foot jointer.

The other simple fact is planemaking requires a tremendous amount of focus - something Jim Leamy and I have talked about many times. Making these small planes is about as close to "instant gratification" as I can get. And sometimes - it is just what I need.

As I was chamfering the edges of these planes, I was reminded that several people have asked about how it is done. Once the sole and sides are square and finished, I take a black sharpie marker and scribe a quick 1/8" reference line on the sidewall (the planes above are just about to be "Sharpie'd"). This line is not rigidly adhered to - but it gives me a rough guideline. I do not make any marks on the top of the plane. I clamp the plane on a 3"x 3" x 3" block of wood and start with the lambs tongues. These are quite simple to do and require 2 needle files - a triangular and round one. The round file is used to define the tip of the tongue and the triangle file is used to define where the chamfer terminates and the tongue begins. The hardest part is making sure they are all the same distance from the sole of the plane. After the tongues are done, I start into the rest of the edge. At this stage it is really important to watch the light reflection off the edges you are filing. Watch the light change as you remove material - it will tell you when you are heavy on one side, out of alignment with the previous stroke etc.

This is what the chamfer looks like after rough shaping. This represents about 10 minutes of work.

At this stage, I will use a finer file (a 6" single cut Nicholson to be exact) and draw file the edges. Again, watch the light. It will tell you when you are done. I think I had better expand on this light watching idea.

This is something I learned in design school - to really learn to trust your eyes to tell you when something is right or wrong. Most of us were inclined to pull out rules and take measurements of things - but we were told to develop a feel for it. In my first year of college, we did almost everything by hand... including rendering all our typography. We had French curves, binders full of different diameter radiuses and all manner of line drawing tools. We used a "Tech pen" which was a technical drawing pen that used ink to draw very precise line widths. After a while, you could look at a line and know how wide it was.... 1.5 points, 2 points etc. Over time, you just learned to trust your eyes, and this philosophy ran throughout all our training. At the time I don't think any of us truly realized how valuable this simple idea was - but there is rarely a day that goes by where I am not thankful for those 3 years.

The picture to the right is an attempt to show the draw filed edge. I tried to line up the shot so you can "sight down the chamfer" to see how it lines up. The next image shows it a little more clearly I think.

After draw filing, I use sandpaper to finish it off. I start with 320 grit, then to 400 then 600 and finish it off with 0000 steel wool. The sandpaper is wrapped around a hard piece of rubber. It will soften the edges a little bit - but I like the effect - a "sharp" chamfer defeats the purpose really. The image to the right shows the completed chamfer.

The process is exactly the same for the second side, but take care to make sure you remove the same amount of material so the chamfers look the same. Watch the thickness of the sidewalls where the wedge goes in - you can see this "thickness" in the photo on the right. Watch to make sure the width at the top of the chamfer matches. I usually get it close, and then finish it off by draw filing. The draw filing is slower, but it will give you a chance to sneak up on a perfect match.

Of course, you can always fire up a mill to do this... but I am not sure it would be as much fun.


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