Saturday, May 3, 2008


The Real Deal; this time...

O.k. so the phony headline on the last post was a little mis-leading. You thought you were going to find out some top-secret finishing techniques I have locked away in some old turn of the century wood working encyclopedias, but no, you only got a mellow-dramatic tale of one small Block Planes journey through wood life in my shop.
I felt pretty bad after hearing from the countless readers who wanted the 'Real Truth' behind my wood finishing procedures. What follows is my advice to you; my secret finishing techniques revealed, with a detailed diagram for a unique and truly state-of-the-art Sanding Aid. I urge you to try this technique on some scrap wood first and then let yourself become comfortable with this method. I don't expect anything in return for this information but please, work safely at a pace that is comfortable for you.

Proper Wood Finishing

The first step in fine wood finishing is to go out and buy yourself the nicest Smoothing Plane you can possibly afford. Sharpen it like there's no tomorrow and take a light pass over all show surfaces of the piece in question. Make sure to overlap each pass slightly. Once this step is complete follow with a cabinet scraper, taking care to watch for tiny tear-out in the wood fibres from the last step. When you feel the heat building up in the card scraper, stop. Put it aside because I'd really hate to hear that you burnt the tips of your fingers. Now the secret weapon; the Sanding Aid that will change the way you think and work with wood. I'll include specific dimensions at the end of this post. The Sanding Block. An approximately two and a half inch squared piece of hardwood, ( I used Oak for mine ) take this small off cut and reach down onto the floor of your shop. Scoop up a handful of shavings left over from the Smoothing plane earlier. Place the pile of shavings on the work piece and compress it down with the block of hardwood. Rub vigorously around for as long as you can stand it and step back. Look at the gleam rising out of the wood grain! Incredible isn't it. I usually follow this step with an oil and varnish hand rubbed finish. Amazing eh?
So the specs...about 2 1/2" squared.

Thursday, May 1, 2008



O.k. now that I've got your attention...what's up with the screws in my ECE (Primus) Block Plane.? Not a straight head or flat head, a square head er,,...a Robinson here across the border. No. It has two, sort of 'softish', poorly machined metal Phillips style screws.? Hmmm....
This really boggled my mind, which obviously doesn't have enough to worry about these days. It seemed to me that this may actually be an error. No, not the name of the kind of screw head it is, but an actual manufacturing error. I think the original design was meant to have heavier and a more universally accessable screw style on the lever cap. After all, it was manufactured by a dependable company that's has been making wooden bodied, European style hand planes for years now. Ahhh, but there lies the question; are they still 'assembled' where they're actually manufactured? This is my question and this is the story. Let me take you back a bit to tell you how I arrived at this mystery.
As it goes recently, I was working with some nice Walnut, putting a chamfer on the edge of a foot-board, bed-rail. I decided to actually take the time to 'mark out the chamfer' in an attempt at giving the bed a slightly modern feel. Funny how a simple detail such as this can change the over-all look and feel of a piece of furniture; allow me to elaborate. Seeing as the rail in question will be the last thing you (my clients) touch before you, or should I say-they, crawl into your/they (you get the picture!) bed. That private or perhaps not so private sanctuary where God knows what takes place; this rail needed to be relived of any harsh or sharp edges. My first thought was to use my handmade rosewood Hollowing plane; a gentle round-over would be nice to the touch. I opened my tool cabinet to reach for the 3/4" Hollowing Plane and there it is, my ECE Block plane, starring at me. I haven't picked this poor old dog up in the past six months I'm sure. In a moment of haste and blind romanticism I lifted up the short, rather plump beach wood vessel from the darkness of the tool cabinet and dusted it off. It felt different from what I remembered; sleeker and a little more refined. I grabbed my Lie-Nielson, Gunsmith styled flat head screwdriver, you know the ones, all pretty with brass ferules and turned out of hardwood. I placed the plane down on my work bench and lowered my hands around it's body; cradling the block, I attempted to un-screw the lever cap..." My God" I cried. "It has Phillips style screws in it!" Shaken, yet determined I went back to my tool chest and found an old Phillips style screwdriver. It was hidden in a kind of suspended animation, lying there quietly under a pile of old Hockey cards I used to have back in the days when I used to use these Phillips style wood screws. I focused at the job at a hand and removed them. Slowly, backing them out of the Beech wood. Turning and twisting they started to bend and tear, a little at first and then a bit more. That Star shaped Phillips head, gleaming and proud, cast into each and every one of it's kind. C'mon, really does anyone still use these things? Apparently so, I thought to myself.
Once I had the cutting iron out of the finely machined plane body, I sharpened it like no other blade I know of. Honing and re-shaping, polishing and rubbing until finally, ready as the day it was born, I put it back into the plane. "Ahh, those damn Phillips screws again." I stumbled through my screw and bolt bins to find a couple of 'Square-Head' machine screws, suitable for the job with no danger of getting stripped. I picked up my old friend and brought it over to my work bench; the walnut trapped, pressed between my bench dogs like an offering of sorts to the newly reclaimed Block plane. I thought about my James Krenov-custom made Smoothing plane and my heavy in hand and perfectly produced Lie-Nielson Bronze #4. I thought about the planes of old, wooden bodies alike. I saw the similarities in the shape and body of the block. I pressed the sole to the crest of the stock and pushed ahead taking that first virgin shaving, peeling it off like an outter layer of skin. It purred almost like an animal, tearing through some prey; and then suddenly stopped. A grabbing-action and choking sputter, followed with tear-out from the stock. I took it back and waxed the sole, adjusting the iron and starting again, it hiccuped and then staggered. I thought again of my finely tuned arsenal of quality made hand tools, ready to use right out of the box. No fussing, reliable; a true joy to use. I walked back over to my tool cabinet and slowly swung open the door, and quietly, almost secretly, placed the little block plane back inside. Until next time old friend, I guess you really do get what you pay for.

**This story was a work of Fiction. If it sounds like a hand plane you have or have ever heard of, it must surely be coincidence. In defence of the Character plane of the story, I do like using my ECE Block plane as well as the larger bodied Jack plane by Primus I have. Just so happens, I didn't like using it yesterday morning to do some fine tuning on the piece of Walnut I have in my shop at the moment. Funny how hand planes can be so cranky at times. Both are available through mail order at Lee Valley Tools and both are very reasonably priced.
"This is a good all-purpose wooden plane at an almost affordable price!"

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Earning their Keep

Nice to have 'em when you need 'em

This morning while working on a rabbet and dado joint cut using power tools, I discovered the fit to be a little too tight. It would have taken me hours to re-set my Table saw and start to fine tune this fit; instead I reached for a few Special Purpose Hand Planes. I don't use these tools everyday but when you need them, there isn't anything better.
So I'm at the beginning stages of a Platform Bed project using 4/4 Walnut. It's a basic box with solid frame and rails. I wanted to make the side platform rails a permanent fixture so I cut a rabbet and dado along the underside of the stock. I then cut a groove into the top of the 3/4" Walnut plywood that makes up the underside box section of the bed. I used my Table saw with a stacked Dado blade attachment for both operations making sure to set up feather boards on top of the cut and along the length as well to insure a tight fit. The solid stock over it's length had a slight twist which made the entire process a little harder than it should have been. The result; a joinery fit that turned out to be much too tight. I could have set up the table saw to re-run the same procedure making sure to take shallow cuts until everything fit as it should. The problem with this is that to re-set the saw, do some test runs and then finally attempt to peel off a sliver at a time from the joint,would turn into hours of prep for something that may not work. I quickly realised this was the perfect time to do some fine tuning with hand tools.
My two Lie-Nielson side rabbet planes were the perfect tool for widening the dado walls ever so slightly. What took me 5 minutes with these hand tools would have taken an hour on the table saw. I followed with my small Router Plane manufactured by VERITAS here in Canada. It was the perfect tool to ride down the edge of the stock, cleaning up the depth of the cut. A quick and easy hand tool fix for a joinery problem from a power tool. Nice!
I don't reach for these tools everyday but when you need them, they're sure nice to have around.

Tool Chest Update

Just wanted to say that the new Tool Chest I built two weeks ago has been performing everything I had hoped for. A great way to transport my essential tools to a work site it's actually been on the road for two weeks now with me. I thought out a few minor design changes and will add them to the next one. Stay tuned...

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Colours of Working Wood

A Shade Away...

I love working wood, from the feel and the weight of the rough stock coming off a truck and into my shop to the smell of the fibres as I rough plane and cross cut the planks to a more manageable size appropriate to the piece that I'm building. The feel of the surface as I bring it from it's saw milled state to a silky finish that greets the hand and welcomes the touch. The color of the wood, the shades of blond and brown, red, yellow and pink hues; all of these elements are what makes wood unique. These colours, grains and textures are what gives a specific species of wood it's charm. After talking to a friend and fellow woodworker recently, I realised that the majority of people out there have no idea what I mean by the colour of wood. The real colour of wood. The natural, unchanged colour of wood. Sounds strange but that is the truth. My friend said he had recently finished a Maple dining room table for a client and had to take the piece back to his shop due to the fact that the colour was not to their liking. He used an oil based stain followed with varnish and wax. So my point here? Why was the client disappointed with the colour? What colour were they hoping the table was going to be when they ordered the 'Maple Table'. At least through my eyes Maple is a lighter tone wood that can go from blond to medium browns, with high lights of yellows, sables and well, maple...think of maple syrop. mmmmmmm...maple syrop. Hey, we're in Canada eh?
This is not the first time I've heard from someone, "I'm not happy with the colour" Why are we so determined to change the colour of wood? If you want a dark table, build it out of Walnut or maybe a Black Cherry? If you wanted a piece that was light, use a Birch, Beech or Maple. I sometimes laugh to myself when I walk through the big-box style stores and see a piece of furniture with a finish called say, "Cherry" and when I look at the finish it's so dark that you can barely see the artificial wood grain they have generated into it. Stains and dye's, oils and pigments; the market is flooded with hundreds of magical mixtures to alter and change the natural colour of wood. Sometimes I wonder why we're so quick to try to change something that I believe is so perfect to begin with.
Not to be a narrow minded purist, I do see a place in stains or dye in wood working. Sometimes a highlight here or a shade or two there, but really; if it's Walnut you want then build the piece out of it, not out of a white Birch and then spend days and days trying to darken the Birch to some ridiculous colour it was never intended to be. Maybe I'm crazy but I like the colour of Birch; I also like the colours of Maple, Walnut, Cherry and Oak. Poplar with it's yellows and Oak with it's browns to reds. Any North American domestic species of woods can offer up a full range of colours and shades to the woodworking palette. If it's something more extreme you need then a quick look at some of the more exotic woods out there which have become quite attainable reveal an entire rainbow of colours. So with that I say before you start trying to change the natural colour of the wood your using, ask yourself if you're using the right wood.

Adam King said...
I have to say, I certainly agree here, Tom. It simply comes down to the fact that people do not know any better. All they see are pieces offered by retail outlets that have nothing but under-built and over-designed pieces that cannot last more than a decade at best. Thanks for such passionate writing. Keep it up!