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.


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.

The True Economy of the Half Set

It took all of ten minutes after posting on the false economy of half sets of hollows and rounds for me to come across a half set I couldn’t pass up.

I wouldn’t have been looking, but I was having significant communication issues with the first dealer, so I wasn’t even sure he could fulfill the order I placed last week. In his defense, he’d been on vacation, and I felt bad when I finally did hear from him after cancelled my order.

So what changed last night? Well, the half sets I’d been considering up until that point were uniform makers. While tool collectors go out of their way to snap up these sets, decreasing supply and increasing demand, I’m not really a collector at heart.

I don’t want to own tools for the sake of owning tools. I want to own tools for the sake of using them.

Enter: the harlequin set. The harlequin set has the same sizes of planes as its purebred cousin, but lacks the uniformity of maker prized by collectors. These sets are priced according to the value to the user, not to the collector. A typical collector would have to snatch up many harlequin sets to assemble a collectible set.

The other nice thing about harlequin sets is that because the price isn’t inflated by virtue of it being a matched set, there’s no loss of value if you split it up. So two years from now, if I figure out there’s a plane in the set I’ll never use, I’ll have no qualms about selling it to a fellow craftsperson. If I knock one off my workbench and the wedge breaks, I’ll make a new wedge and move on.

So this morning, I placed an order for that harlequin half set of hollows and rounds, and once again I’m waiting for tools to show up on my doorstep.

The False Economy of the Half Set

One of the things I really liked about Bickford’s premise was that you could start with just a couple of hollow and round pairs in common sizes (say a No. 4 and a No. 8) and cover a lot of ground befor you felt the need to buy more tools. And for most cases, I think he’s right. If I were making up my own profile, I could come up with something attractive with just a No. 8 pair. But because I’m reproducing an existing profile, I’m bound by the choices of the original maker.

The casing requires a No. 8 round and a No. 6 hollow (both of which I needed to purchase). These are two common sizes that will be useful for both the joiner and cabinetmaker.

The plinth block, an ogee topped by a cove, requires just a No. 12 pair. That’s pretty big for furniture work, but looking around, I realized that the original baseboard in my World War I-era foursquare have just a cove at the top. The radius of that cove? 3/4″, perfect for a No. 12 round. It’s been bugging me for years that the baseboard in our remodeled kitchen was not a faithful reproduction.

So maybe my project is really the exception that proves the rule. While I’m constrained by the parameters of the project, it turns out that the makers of these mouldings used just a few sizes.

For the baseboard, which has four 1/4″ reeds, I ordered a 1/4″ center bead, since I don’t have snipes bill planes, and they’ve been going for outrageous prices this summer (maybe longer since I only recently started paying attention).

So why not buy the half set? I’ve come across a few half sets that are certainly worth the investment given the current market. I’m definitely intrigued by their versatility. And as difficult as it’s been to find the few planes I need for this project, I’d love not to have to go through it again.

The truth is, I may never use half of the planes in a half set. My taste in furniture has leaned toward the gothic influences of the arts and crafts rather than the classical motifs where these planes excel.

Who knows? Maybe this project will have me hooked. Let’s find out.

What Keeps Me Up at Night

It’s a common notion that people who have trouble sleeping at night must be harboring a guilty conscience. I often lose sleep, but guilt has never been the problem. What keeps me up at night are projects and other puzzles my brain keeps at, like a dog with a rawhide strip.

The project bouncing around in my head right now? Reproducing the casing, baseboard and plinth blocks from my brother-in-law’s Victorian. He bought this house from his parents, so this is the house he and my wife grew up in.

I decided I really wanted to do this project with hand tools. Anyone wondering why need only read Matt Bickford’s 2010 blog post on hollows and rounds. In fact, it only took the one sample chapter from Bickford’s book to convince me of his methods.

Owning just a few random hollows or rounds, and none of them with the right radius, how would I figure out which planes I would need, without dropping $1000 or more on a half set (or $3750 for a new half set from Bickford)? After a few comparisons based on the planes I had on hand, I had guesses, but not enough confidence to place an order for tools.

I started with what I knew: hollows and rounds are sized in increments of 16ths of an inch radii; typically they cut a 60 degree arc; the width of the iron (the chord) equals the radius. To get a positive ID, I came up with these gauges that I made from index cards.



Using these gauges, I was able to come up with the profiles I needed, with the confidence to place an order for tools. So why was I not able to sleep that night?

While I understood why my gauges worked, there were a few things that didn’t add up. I couldn’t figure out why my previous guesses (based on the irons from the hollows I had on hand) were so far off. The answer was in the geometry of the plane itself. While the profile of a hollow or round corresponds directly to the arc that it cuts, the same is not true of the plane iron.

Laying there, wide awake, it helped me to imagine a 1″ cylinder laying in my cove, with the No. 8 round forming the bottom of that cylinder. The cutting edge of the iron meets the bottom of the cylinder, bisecting the cylinder at an angle equal to the bed angle. The curve of the round’s plane iron, I finally realized, is an ellipse rather than the 60 degree arc of that 1″ circle. The same holds true for the hollow, except that my imagined cylinder rests within the work, and the hollow rests on top of it.

And now I can rest.

At least until I start to think about sharpening.