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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.