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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Friday 14 September 2007

Lapping sucks

This week has certainly not included any of my childish reward systems for good behavior. I lapped a 16-1/2” African Blackwood panel plane on Monday. Did some other work on Tuesday and wednesday to give my abs of sorrow a break, but then returned to lapping madness on Thursday to lap a 14-1/2” Rosewood panel plane. And guess what… I lapped another A1 today. Say hello to abs of jello.

Lapping the sole and the sides of a plane is pretty sweaty, filthy work.. but a necessary evil if you are a planemaker. Yeah – I know… why don’t you buy a surface grinder? That will be the subject of another discussion.

When Joe and I started making planes, we tried every type and manufacturer of sandpaper we could find. Every paper we tried was terrible – the grit lasted about 2 minutes, the paper curled, tore and was messy. Then we found “Champaign Magnum” – a curious name for our hero paper. This is automotive sandpaper made by Norton and currently goes under the more manly name A275. It is a cloth backed paper, so it does not curl like paper backed sandpaper. It has some sort of coating that keeps it from loading but does not interfere with the cutting action of the grit. I buy this stuff by the 50 sheet box at a local Carquest. It is very reasonably priced – about $.50 a sheet. I typically go through 12 sheets on a panel plane - lapping both sides and the sole. A steel sided plane may take 16 sheets as the 01 tool steel is quite a bit harder than the bronze sides.

Lapping the sole of a plane is a little like honing the back of a plane iron – it will only be as flat as the substrate you are working on. In my case, I have 3 lapping stations and one checking station. Two of the lapping stations are 1-1/2” thick, 12” wide, 48” long pieces of machine ground marble. I have been using these for years and they have worked extremely well. The two pieces of marble are built into the tops of two cabinets. I use a spray adhesive from 3M called “Super 77” to lightly dust the back of the paper and then stick it down to the marble. Be sure to wear a mask when you are using any sort of spray adhesive – you don’t want that stuff in your lungs. I place 4, 80 grit sheets end to end, being careful to remove any grit or crud from the marble beforehand.

The process of lapping is pretty simple looking – but there are several important things to keep in mind. Keep the blade in the plane, and held in place as if it were being used. This will ensure that any distortion caused by the blade holding mechanism will be taken into account while lapping. When I am lapping, I do not hold the plane as if I were using it, but rather hold it parallel to my body. I move side to side, being careful not to tip the plane forward or towards myself. Count the number of strokes you take on the fresh paper and take the same number of strokes with the plane rotated 180 degrees on another section of fresh paper. This is really important – you want to wear the paper as evenly as possible – just like using a waterstone. Be sure to let the toe and heel of the plane extend beyond the paper – this will help insure you are not just wearing the middle of the paper surface. If you are lapping steel, use a magnet to remove the dust. If you are using bronze or brass – use a shop vac with a good filter. Once the paper is worn out, peel it off and re-apply.

Check the surfaces for flat and square often. And here is where time and practice factors in. There are times when you need to deliberately remove more material on one edge to bring it to square. I am not quite sure how to explain this… but you have to “feel” where the paper is cutting and adjust your hand position and body pressure to suit. For anyone who sharpens without the aid of a jig and puts a camber on their iron – you know what I am talking about. If anyone has a more universal analogy – please add a comment at the end of this entry. It may also help to visualize where you want to remove material. Mark a grid on the sole of the plane - with lines spaced 1/2" apart. Also mark the high side that you need to remove material from. Now take two passes having adjusted your pressure and check the sole. If the grid is gone on the high side you are on the right track. If not - try again with a little more pressure on the high side. Over time, you will develop a "feel" for it... trust me.

My third lapping area is a fairly recent addition to my shop. It is a 4” thick, 12” x 36” granite reference surface. The literature says it is has a bilateral accuracy of plus or minus .0002”. I use 3 sheets of 180 grit and do the final lapping on this surface.

The last step is to check for flat – and this is done on another 4” thick, 12” x 36” granite reference surface. I place the plane on the surface and use a .001” feeler gauge and try to slip it under the plane all along the perimeter. On Thursdays panel plane (and the one in these photos), there was one corner that I could get the tip of the feeler under. For this stage of the process – I will call this flat knowing I have another crack at it when I file the mouth.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply amazing work, thanks for sharing part of the process with us. Jus one question though, why the tape on the wood portions?

21 September 2007 at 10:08  
Blogger Konrad said...


The tape on the wood protects the finish. At this stage, there are about 12 coats of French polish on the wood and the last thing I need is a stray bit of steel or bronze scratching it up. That and my sweaty, fithy hands from lapping:)


21 September 2007 at 10:30  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work. Please keep it up. I enjoy your post as well. I know they take up your valuable time but we enjoy them.

21 September 2007 at 15:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope I never do enough planes to get a feel for the process. You certainly put in the effort to produce great planes.

I have one question. How high are your lapping surfaces and where do they hit you when you are standing next to one?


13 February 2009 at 13:09  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Jim,

I am in San Francisco right now - but I will measure them when I get home.


14 February 2009 at 09:40  

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Friday 7 September 2007

A “life list” item arrived yesterday.

We all have them – a list of things we want to do, places to go, and items to treasure before we pass on. One of mine arrived yesterday in this innocent looking box.

I had better explain.

Shortly after I started woodworking, I bought Garrett Hack’s Books “Classic Hand Tools” and “The Handplane Book”. It was page 184 & 185 of “Classic Hand Tools” that did me in, and in a lot of ways started me down the path of a planemaker. On page 184 is a photo of two very small mitre planes and a portion of a large jointer. Until this point, I had not heard of Bill Carter... but after this image and a few words, I needed to find out more. There is not much information out there – but what I found all had a common theme – that Bill is one of the finest infill makers in the world. Over the next few years I kept my eye out for more of his work – finding a few examples on Ebay, and in the collections of a few collectors and furniture makers. I also began to notice a few signature design characteristics in his work – which became the gensis for forming “The perfect Bill Carter plane” in my head. It was a small mitre plane, the sides made from the brass back of a tenon saw with a boxwood infill and wedge. Pretty specific I know - but that was the quintessential Bill Carter to me.

In 2005, I traveled to England to attend the Axminster tool show near Exeter. It was a great show… but the highlight of the trip was a chance meeting with Bill and Sarah Carter in the parking lot of a small David Stanley auction. It was a very cold November day, but we managed to visit outside for 3 hours. It was fantastic. After that meeting, I decided that some day, I wanted to own one of Bills planes. In the next two years, I saw a few more examples and really finalized the perfect plane in my head. There were a few that came up for sale, but if I was going to spend the money, I would rather it go to Bill than a re-seller.

Two days before I left for England, I happened to check Handplane Central to see if there were any new photos. As luck would have it, there was a little “new” beside Bill Carters name! I opened the gallery to find a dozen planes I had not seen before. I quickly scanned them and found two small mitres made from tenon saws – one was Rosewood infilled and the other was Boxwood. So there it was – my perfect Bill Carter plane. I quickly emailed Bill to find out if these were new planes or if he was just posting photos of some older work. But most importantly – if they were new – was the little boxwood mitre for sale?

While I was in England I was not able to check my email – so I had to wait until I returned home. And upon my return, found Bill's response... and the plane was available.


The plane arrived yesterday and I have to say – it exceeded my expectations. It really is a perfect plane in every way. Here are a few photos of the plane as well as a link to another site with photos of Bill’s work. The plane is 3-3/8" long, with a 1/2" wide blade, and the sides are from the brass back of a saw by Turtle.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also have some Bill Carter planes. I have the first metal plane that Bill ever made

21 March 2010 at 16:35  

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