Running a Leaner Workshop

One of the subtle gems featured in Jim Tolpin’s The Toolbox Book is the tool chest of Tony Konovaloff. In one of the tills is shown maybe a dozen spare plane irons standing on their side.

For well over a decade, I’ve looked on that thick stash of spare plane irons as some ideal situation: sharpen en masse and swap out when you need a fresh edge. So I headed down that path, and all seemed right with the world.

And then, during my sabbatical table build, it happened. I realized just how quick it is to pause from planing, turn around to sharpen a plane iron, and get back to planing. I also found that the stop-to-sharpen approach offers a natural break during high-endurance planing tasks.

But it was my jointer plane itself that began to press the issue. I bought my Stanley No. 8c (a type 13) five years ago from a fellow hand tool enthusiast. The plane came to me with a Clifton Stay-Set cap iron and a Hock plane iron. Somewhere along the way, I acquired a spare Hock iron.

a conundrum

As quick as it is for me to hone an iron and get back to work, the Stay-Set cap iron makes it that much quicker, allowing me to get back to work without fuss. I was really feeling conflicted. I had to do something: either get rid of the cap iron in favor of Ron Hock’s version, or ditch my spare plane iron.

Finally, despite keeping that spare plane iron oiled and in a cloth tool roll, I noticed a spot of rust developing, and it was clear what direction I needed to go. I scrubbed off the rust and sold it to a fellow woodworker.

I also sold a few other tools while my back was healing, tools that duplicated my trustiest users. With the proceeds, I ordered a Lie-Nielsen large shoulder plane. Once it arrives, I’ll offer my Stanley No. 93 for sale. My No. 93 has served me well, certainly for 95% of the tasks I set it to, but when working the shoulders of long tenons, I noticed I’d like it to be taller so I didn’t scrape my knuckles.

They get scraped up enough just dragging on the ground.

I Didn’t Know Jack

For my latest project, I’m working with a lot of 12″ to 18″ wide boards, so jointing by hand is the road home, and the jack plane is getting some serious mileage.

and miles to go before I sleep

While jointing the first two boards, I learned a lot about what makes a jack plane comfortable in my hands.

First, I learned that while my eyes prefer the subtle elegance of the low knob, my hand prefers the taller knob to keep my palm away from the base of the plane.

(Insert knob joke here.)

My No. 4 smoother had a tall knob, so I swapped it for the low knob from my No. 5. Since the smoothing plane swoops in toward the end of the project when the jack has done all the hard work, it seemed like a good trade.


The second lesson I learned was the importance of the horn on the tote. Here on the island of broken totes, the tote that was on my jack was missing its horn, leaving an annoying nub that pressed into the web of my thumb.


Reaching into the parts bin, I found a tote that had broken in half, had been glued back together, and then broken again along the glue line. I glued it together with tinted epoxy, but didn’t quite get the pieces to line up. A shame, really. The rosewood is beautiful on this one.


As I was about to install the re-glued tote on my jack, I looked up and saw the No. 7 jointer plane that’s been sitting on the shelf just looking good since I got my No. 8 a few years ago. The No. 7 tote is compatible with the No. 5 body, if slightly larger. I won’t complain.


I didn’t know my jack plane could be so comfortable in my hands.

This Tool Earns its Place in the Kit

My mother and my mother-in-law both settled in to new homes this summer. Because of this, I find myself working on more home repair projects than before. Coincidentally, my cordless drill gave out early this year. All of this is leading me to think more about an essential around-the-house toolkit, and I’ve been looking for the right combination of human-powered tools so that I don’t miss the drill/driver.

One tool that earns its spot in the rotation is my Yankee screwdriver. (See what I did there?)


The Yankee screwdriver is not a tool I expected to love. It almost seems like too much of a marketing gimmick. Far from it, in fact. It’s surprisingly responsive, allowing me to control turning speed with more finesse than any battery-powered drill/driver I’ve owned (but then, mine have all been crappy, so what do I know?) Because of the mechanical advantage of the spiral, and the fact that I’m using larger muscle groups to do the work, I can summon a fair amount of torque.

I didn’t always love this tool. For a while, I saw it as a sloppy tool, prone to jumping out of screws and scratching workpieces. A Yankee screwdriver can be a risk to your projects, but it turns out that a slight adjustment in the way I used it took much of the risk out of it.

The Yankee screwdriver is best used with two hands: one hand is on the handle, providing the thrust and twist; the other hand is holding the free-spinning sleeve. (You know, that knurled tube that slides back to release the bit?)

My Yankee screwdriver of choice is the 130A; mine was manufactured after North Bros. was acquired by Stanley. I’m not sure if I can say with any confidence why I like it best. It’s in good condition, and a good size for the toolbox. I have an assortment of bits for it, unlike my 31A and 131A examples; I only have two bits between them. I have a 135H with a Phillips bit that comes in handy, but it didn’t like to let go of bits (WD-40 fixed that), so I haven’t used it as often. (I should order replacement bits from Lee Valley for the 131A and the 135H to be able to say for sure, right?)

I’m of two minds when it comes to the spring action. Using it one handed, the spring return was almost a necessity, so I didn’t even consider using the 31A. Now that I’ve figured out to hold the sleeve to keep the driver bit in place, the return motion is much more natural, regardless of the spring.

All in all, I don’t find myself wishing for a cordless drill that much. The bit brace, eggbeater drill, and the Yankee screwdriver work nicely together, and never need recharging.

A Side Order of Shavings

I want to finish up plinth blocks soon, but meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the gift-giving season. I always seem to enjoy the holidays more when I make gifts.

One of my holiday side projects is a shavehorse, following the design so generously shared by Pete Galbert. David and I have been talking about building one for months now, once we finish some other projects. He’s been anxious for it, though, so I decided to sneak it in as a Christmas gift for him. It’ll give us some flexibility, letting him work on his projects while I work on mine. (He is, after all, a prolific maker of magic wands.)


David is a big fan of Galbert’s “smarthead” design, but I think I’ll make the simpler dumbhead first and if he feels ambitious enough, we’ll retrofit it with a “smarthead” together.

Since I don’t own dedicated chairmaking tools, my first tasks were to make a tapered reamer and a matching rounder. This weekend I made the tapered reamer, following Jennie Alexander’s plan, with a turned stock and a saw blade as a scraper. Alexander’s writing is not the kind you can skim, but I appreciate the generosity with which it’s offered. Case in point: it took me hours to figure out that the scraper blade stuck out both sides of the conical stock. I couldn’t figure out why it mattered whether the blade was tapered in width!

I don’t claim to be anything more than a novice at wood turning, but I’m incredibly lucky to have my grandfather around as a coach. He rescued me last weekend when my rough and pitted tail center threatened to burn away my workpiece. Not only did he demonstrate how to grind the tip of my tail center to reduce the friction, he also sent me home with a cup center that fit this project perfectly. The man is a treasure.

While dialing in the fit of the handle to the stock, I was reminded of why I’m doing this in the first place. We need a shavehorse! (Hopefully David won’t mind sharing his once in a while.) I plan to make it adjustable so he can continue to use it as he grows.

With the stock and handle of the reamer ready, I cut out the scraper blade and sharpened it with a 45 degree bevel and a burr.

my tapered reamer

Next up is a rounder with the corresponding taper, and then it’s time to make the shavehorse. Who knows? Maybe there will be some chairmaking in my future.

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.


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.


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.


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.