Suddenly, the woodworking is flowing faster than the writing.

I’m not sure whether it’s the warm weather or the promise of the finish line, but woodworking is progressing faster than I can write about it these days. Lately I’ve been trying to wrap up my Anarchist’s Tool Chest build. Once I got the lid assembled, the project really seemed to accelerate.

I see a saw till.

I see a saw till.

The saw till and the wooden plane rack are installed and holding tools; the runners are installed.

Runners, keep on runnin'.

Runners, keep on runnin’.

What I thought would be the fussy part of the project is turning out to be the quickest part.

It’s exciting to see the inside of the chest come together. I’ve needed this storage for a long time. My tools like to take headers off their wall-hung cabinet shelves when the wind is high, and I dreaded the day I would walk in to find a favorite plane busted on the floor. At this point, all of my planes have a home in the chest, along with my saws. (Okay, some of my saws. I have quite a few. Maybe too many. Don’t tell Bonny.)

"Oh no, that is not all." Dr. Seuss knew of which he spoke.

“Oh no, that is not all.” Dr. Seuss knew of which he spoke.

Now I’m looking forward to having those sliding tills. That’s roughly a quarter of the chest’s storage capacity. As I begin to consider what tools will fill them, it occurs to me that I may need another round of purging. I somehow have four 10″ braces now, even after outfitting my kids’ kits.

Brace yourselves.

Brace yourselves.

I also have a surplus of Irwin-style brace bits. (Wait… is there such a thing?) Anyway, once I sort it all out, I may have some fresh tools for the For Sale list.

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I had to go and make it my own.

A few weekends ago I was doing some final fitting for the lid of my tool chest, and I just wasn’t happy with it. No matter what I did to shape the tenon shoulders, I just couldn’t get a nice crisp joint. In retrospect, the tongue-and-groove joint between the frame and panel may have been too tight, causing binding that prevented the mortise pieces from being drawn all the way in. Taking a few shavings from the bottom of the panel probably would have made for a more slip fit and allowed the frame to come together more tightly.

Shrugging shoulders

Shrugging shoulders

The thing was, though, I wasn’t happy with the grain of the wood I chose for the frame, anyway. I really didn’t end up with great frame pieces, and I ended up with plain-sawn boards that weren’t telling a coherent story at all.

On top of that, this was the first project of any size I’d attempted from poplar, and I haven’t enjoyed it. If I had it to do again, I would make the extra effort to find some tight-grained eastern white pine, which I enjoy much more. The poplar seemed very stringy, bending and crushing instead of slicing or chopping under the chisel. With more experience, I’m sure I’d learn some tricks for overcoming that tendency, but the project was dragging on and I was ready to move on.

It was time to start over on the frame, so I followed my instincts and reached in to my stash for some walnut.

I stewed about it that Sunday evening and Monday morning, thinking about how to move forward. After some encouragement from my family (they’re handy that way), I pulled out some of my remaining walnut stock on Monday evening. It was all rough-sawn, so I planed a small area with my block plane to get a sense of the grain.

I discovered these beautiful black streaks running through the board in arcs just long enough for the pieces of the frame.

I discovered these beautiful black streaks running through the board in arcs just long enough for the pieces of the frame.

I found some pieces with strong linear grain that looked promising. There were some knots to work around, but as I measured, I found that the knots fell nicely between sections of arcing riftsawn grain in a way that offered good lengths for each piece of the frame.

Composing with the help of blue painter's tape.

Composing with the help of blue painter’s tape.

The next weekend I got enough time in the workshop to fit the tenons for the new frame. I made sure to adjust the thickness of the panel for a slip fit in the frame, which came together sweetly. I glued up the lid early Sunday evening and celebrated with a beer.

Put a lid down on it. Everything'll be alright.

Put a lid down on it. Everything’ll be alright.

There are differing opinions on whether to keep lumber on hand or to buy it per project. As small as my shop is, there’s a certain logic to taking a just-in-time approach, having only the material on-hand that you’ll use for your current project. The thing is, though, the just-in-time approach doesn’t give me the freedom to explore and compose the way I can with a generous stash of wood. I find myself making compromises, settling for what the lumber retailer has on hand. (The one exception I find to this is sheet goods. I hate having a bunch of plywood hanging around.)

It’s just about time to refresh my stash of walnut, and when the opportunity arises, I’m sure Bonny will lend a sympathetic ear.

Having the lid glued together has accelerated this project, which is good because it’s time for this chest to start paying some rent. I took the time to shim up the left rear wheel so that the chest sits level, and then I moved on to making the wall for the wooden planes at the back of the chest. For the wall, I planed a thin piece of Douglas fir, ripped it to four inches wide, and made cleats from the offcut. The Douglas fir was reclaimed from a workbench a friend of mine gave me that had been his grandfather’s. It was a rough piece made from dimensional lumber, so this has been an exercise in “upcycling.”

I see a saw till.

Son, it’s time you started earning your keep.

The saw till is more reclaimed lumber from that workbench, including a piece of eastern white pine for the wall, which planed very sweetly.

Tomorrow, I plan to move on to the dovetails for the large sliding till.

Bill Rainford on the Craft

Bill Rainford of North Bennet Street School recently filmed a series for Fine Homebuilding on reproducing period molding for a historic home in Boston. These videos complement his article for the August/September 2013 issue of the magazine (subscription required). I had let my Fine Homebuilding membership lapse, but the few videos outside the pay wall convinced me to renew my membership.

Many of the experiences he spoke of hit home for me: learning from his father and grandfather; coming from a machine woodworking bias; realizing that all the personal protective equipment he used to save his lungs, hearing, and eyesight from machines were coming between him and the work; recognizing that as the craftsman’s skill and muscle memory increases, the use of hand tools overcomes the initial efficiency of power tools.

These videos are worth viewing, not just for his thoughts on the craft, but also for the practical insight into the work of sticking architectural moulding by hand. As Rainford demonstrates, it’s a surprisingly practical approach to reproduction work, and an incredibly handy skill for a woodworker to have.

Plinth Block Progress

Halloween seems to have marked the beginning of the social season this year – at least for my family. While I’ve made good progress on the plinth blocks, I realized tonight that I hadn’t shared much in the past month.

David's Jack O'Lantern

October brought some good progress on the plinth blocks I’ve been working on. Following Matt Bickford’s advice in Mouldings in Practice, I began with dados for the cove.

dados

The coves took a little extra time while I tuned up the No. 12 round. The wedge wasn’t making good contact in the throat mortise, allowing the plane iron to slip in the cut. Without a float in my kit, I used a triangular file to clean up the mortise. The triangular file was a good width, but it cut pretty slowly, so it wasn’t ideal. (I later bought the planemaker’s edge float from Lie-Nielsen with the idea that it would allow me to tune up my wooden planes to a finer degree. I’ll share the results when I’ve had more time to experiment.)

Along with the throat, the iron needed some reshaping. The arc of the iron was a bit too broad, so I needed to regrind slightly. This is not an exact science. All I’m looking for is the iron to emerge uniformly from the mouth. If it looks right and feels right, it’ll do the job.

cove

The tuned-up round follows the dados and results in a nice cove. Note the open cup of coffee. I couldn’t enjoy that with machines!

Spelching is still an issue when planing across grain. For the cove at the top, I chose to make these a bit wide and plane away the torn fibers.

With the four coves complete, I moved on to the v-groove at the bottom of the ogee. When working through my prototype, I discovered that I need to use my skewed rabbet trailing edge down. This helped quite a bit with the reliability of my cut, allowing the plane to follow the reference edge and not overshoot it.

scribing the reference line

I found, though, that this technique wasn’t quite yielding the crisp surface I wanted to see. The plane iron left a nice, flat surface, but the reference surface was not uniform. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to technique, tool, or unreasonable expectations.

Luckily, a few passes with a heavy shoulder plane cleaned up the reference surface on the first workpiece.

For the remaining grooves, though, I flipped the workpiece around and planed from the opposite approach. Since the upper surface of this v-groove serves as the chamfer for the convex portion of the ogee, it will be worked further with the hollow and doesn’t need to be perfect.

This switch allowed the iron of my rabbet plane to leave the nice crisp surface where I need it.

With the v-grooves complete, it was time to tackle the ogees. A combination of grooves allowed me to waste away the concavities of the ogee. Here, I plowed a groove with my combination plane, and used my rabbet plane for another v-groove to form the transition from concave to convex.

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I’m pleased with the results so far. I’ve completed two of the blocks, am nearly finished with the third, and the fourth is awaiting its ogee.

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Plinth Block Prototype

After spending all of Saturday morning on yard work, I escaped to our local woodworking store, Metro Hardwoods, who were celebrating their fifth anniversary. I’m really pleased to have a them so close, and the irony of a woodworking store located in a building once occupied by Pier 1 Imports just makes this place all the more special.

While I was there, I picked up a fine India gouge slip for sharpening my hollows and rounds, and so far it’s been a great investment. I got back to my workshop and started tuning up my No. 12 hollows and rounds. These are the planes I’ll need to make the plinth blocks for my current project.

Carpenter's Hatchet
As a warm-up project on Sunday, I put a new handle on my carpenter’s hatchet. It’s heavier than I expected.

The plinth blocks I’m reproducing for my current project seem fairly straight-forward: an ogee and a cove. However, the fact that these elements run across the grain makes for a surprisingly tricky situation. Instead of using my plow plane to make the grooves for the round to ride in, I used a backsaw and my router plane.

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The piece I grabbed from the scrap pile was pretty ugly, but it presented some worst-case scenarios to consider. The big risk, I found, is that the grain blows out as you reach the far edge of the workpiece. To protect against blowout as I approach the profile, I’ve inscribed the profile along the far side. Working with very straight-grained wood will help, too.

To begin the convex side of the ogee, I began by striking a knife line at the far edge for a v-groove. My rabbet plane followed the scribed line to start, but I noticed the guide edge of the groove was becoming distorted. It turned out that the leading edge of the skewed iron has a crisp arris, which was scraping the opposite face of the groove. Using the rabbet leading edge up allowed the plane to track straight.

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The concave and v-groove established, I moved on to the convex portion of the ogee. After fine-tuning the plane iron in my hollow, I found the convex a little easier to stick than the concave.

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Starting with a prototype turned out to be a great way to shake out the challenges of this task.

A Great Day for Woodworking

Sunday turned out to be a great day in the workshop.

David and I kicked off the day by cleaning up our workshop and getting things rearranged. He’s a great little apprentice. After he cleaned up his piles, I set him up with the push broom while I moved my drill press and sharpening station farther back and moved this rolling cart closer to the workbench. I filled it with planes, liberating my workbench.

rolling cart

I built the cart originally as a rolling base for an intermediate tool cabinet, but earlier this year I inherited my stepfather’s rolling tool chest, leaving this stand floating around without a purpose. The machinist’s chest belonged to my great-grandfather. Maybe someday I’ll get around to restoring it.

I can’t claim that this cart is an efficient storage solution, but it’s better than my workbench. Eventually I plan to build my own Anarchist’s Tool Chest, ditching both the rolling cart and the metal cabinet I use as a sharpening station. The wooden planes store so much more compactly on end, and these shelves are leaving a lot of wasted space.

The metal cabinet is a decent surface for my sharpening stones (I’m an oilstone guy), but the drawer and cabinet below are mostly opportunities for clutter. once I have a proper tool chest, I’ll store my oilstones there and ditch the cabinet. I’ll make some kind of tray to place on my workbench to keep it clean when I sharpen.

sharpening station

With a clean workbench, it was time to plane the core for my tail vise. I got it planed four square at 2-3/4″ thick, only to realize my plan was wrong, and it needed to be 2-7/16″ thick, meaning I needed to waste more than 1/4″ of hard maple. After a workout with my rip saw, I got it four square again. Good practice, I guess.

All of that practice reminded me how much I’m going to appreciate my tail vise, and also how much I need a saw bench. Luckily, while I was getting all of this practice, David was making our “someday maybe list” of projects, and he made sure to add a saw bench.

At some point after planing the end grain for one end of my vise core, I got sidetracked putting my miter box back together (I’m pretty sure it was when I measured the workpiece and found I had 1/4″ to trim from it). This led to dragging sawhorses from storage, using a circular saw to cut a 4″ wide piece of 1/2″ plywood for the table of the miter box, and remembering why I like hand tools in the first place: fine dust particles. Hand tools don’t make them. And, aside from the circular saw, the loudest noise in my shop today was the box fan in the window.

my miter box

Hooray for the miter box! Soon I need to make a platform for it with a cleat, so it doesn’t wander across the workbench while I’m sawing.

After dinner, I got a chance to meet up with Greg, who had some cool Stanley bevel-edge socket chisels set aside for me. The backs of the chisels flattened pretty nicely, and they look right at home in the tool cabinet.

chisels

It was one of those fine, rare days when I get to lose myself in the work. And yes, I forgot to eat lunch.

They’re Here…

My half set of hollows and rounds arrived yesterday, and I am super-excited. As it turns out, my nine-year-old son is too. When he saw the tool dealer’s return address on the box, he started tearing into it like it was his birthday. Packing materials flew everywhere. As we were pulling planes out, he said “I can’t wait to take this out to the workshop and see how it works!” He cooled his jets a little when I explained what needed to come next.

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These planes were in “as-found” condition. Most were covered with a dry, gritty sort of grime, as if the planes had been sitting in a box below the previous owner’s bench grinder. I wanted to get rid of that grit before I did anything else.

Luckily, the planes cleaned off pretty easily with paste wax, and the result is a great combination of patina and feel. A discussion thread from the archives of the OldTools mailing list offered great insight into the range of cleaning methods out there. Based on the discussion, I went with paste wax as an easy method that’s also easily reversible.

Now that I have all of the planes cleaned, my next steps are to make sure the soles are straight and the irons are sharp. In the interest of my project, I’ll prioritize the actual planes I’ll need to make plinth blocks and casing first.

It’s also time to build a sticking board to hold my work while planing.

I finally purchased the ePub version of Mouldings in Practice last night, hoping it would offer advice on getting these planes up and running. Bickford sidesteps many of the questions I had, but he offers sound advice on the topic of sharpening plane irons, and enough information on making sure the soles are straight that I can get started.

One noteworthy tip I picked up made the book well worth the price (which it is, many times over). I’d been worried that the casing would require v-grooves due to its alignment to the face, and I don’t have an elusive v-groove plane or a sacrificial rabbet plane to modify. Luckily, Bickford offers a technique for using the rabbet to cut the vee, and shows how a plow plane can assist with my cove.

So it seems for now I’m pretty well set.