Tools for Working Wood

 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

A Look at Violin-Maker's Planes  


Luthiers have a problem. When making a stringed instrument the belly (front) and back need to be thin in the right places so that they will vibrate correctly, and thick and strong in other places so that string tension doesn't break the instrument. To do this they have a need to carefully remove slivers of wood in very localized areas. While scrapers are very useful, small, metal "violin-makers planes" evolved at least as far back as the 16th century and in France by the mid-eighteen century (Diderot plate 1205) had evolved to essentially the same form as the C. 1910 Preston violin-makers plane seen at the left of the photo. Available sizes listed in the 1909 Preston catalog ranged from 5/16" - 15/16" in either a flat or convex sole. Preston's planes were supplied with both a regular plane blade and a toothed blade. The latter blade significantly reduces the tearout you get when planing and cannot always plane with the grain. The second picture has a closeup of the toothed iron. Preston's offerings were similar to most British planemakers. Preston closed in 1932.

The second plane from the left was made by an English company named ESE. They made similarly styled planes in a full range of sizes. Machined from solid bronze, which negated the need for a fancy casting, the style is boxy but ESE planes worked well. ESE ceased production shortly after the turn of the twenty first century.

The two planes on the right are by an American, Christopher Laarman. I had the privilege of stocking a few of his planes for the few years he made them C. 1990's-2003. The highly sculptured bodies were investment cast and fit fingers perfectly. The irons, which are solid and thick were by Ron Hock. The sculptured bodies are a joy to hold, a joy to use, and a feast for the eye. His planes are treasured today. The larger of the two Laarman planes in the picture has a palm rest, which many people feel gives them even more control.

Luthiers also use small block planes, which are sometimes also called "violin planes". But the larger violin planes, (which are still pretty small) developed separately, with a different set of roots that also go back to the Renaissance. These larger block planes are the ancestors of the entire modern family of mitre, block, and bench planes.

There are a few makers of violin-maker's planes around today. IBEX is probably the most well known although I haven't used one and don't have an opinion on if they are any good.

N.B. I am calling their planes "violin maker's planes" rather than just the more common "violin planes" because that's how Preston listed them in their index. Also it's more pretentious. Either term is obviously correct. "Finger Plane" is another term that is used, but in my view, that term is more suited for the family of small boxwood planes that were used by cabinetmakers and casemakers, not by luthiers.

Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 4

Linoleum Block Printing  


It was at an exhibit at the Met a few years ago that I learned, much to my amazement, that linoleum block prints weren't just an art students' thing, or a kids' project. The linoleum block prints in the exhibit were from a sophisticated school of art practiced in England in the 1920's and 30's. I was really taken with the prints, most of which were about 12" x 15" or thereabouts. They had real power. The experience of seeing them was one of those serendipitous moments when you turn a corner in a gallery and say "Wow." The exhibit included a book in a glass case that had been written by Claude Flight, one of the leaders of the movement, about making color linoleum prints. I took down the details and located a copy; since then I located another contemporary text on the subject. Unlike most of the later texts on the subject, these two books tried to teach how to make professional grade prints of quality and complexity.

I haven't actually tried doing this myself - I can't draw. But it's important to understand that the medium, in this case linoleum, very much shapes the form of the piece. Nowadays you can duplicate just about any style with Adobe Illustrator, but you can't easily duplicate the rules enforced by a medium, or in the case of block printing, the depth and dimension of something actually printed on a block in a press.

A quick search on google immediately comes up with hundreds of modern linoleum images, most in just B+W, but some in color.

I also happen to have in my book collection "Treatise on Wood Engraving" by John Jackson, with two additional engravings by Baxter. The book, which was published in 1839, is the gospel of woodcut engravings, written at a time when the art form was at its technical peak. The book is sometimes found with the Baxter prints removed, since the prints are valuable on their own. George Baxter (1804-1867) was the first person in England who managed to produce color wood engravings in any quantity. He used a variety of techniques and the last image in this blog, "Parsonage at Ovingham" is by him. (Apologies for the mediocre reproduction.)

Why do it in the first place? That question can actually be asked of any craft endeavor, or any activity, really. Why carve? Why make furniture? Why decorate a cake? The actual urge to make stuff is intensely personal, primal, and way more complicated than can be addressed here. But unlike furniture or carving, block printing can allow you to create multiples. With good paper and ink, block printing gives you a result that is unlike any modern printing. The bags we use for the BT&C nails are printed on a letterpress, using ink blocks for the graphics, and pressure to stamp the ink onto the paper. We do it this way mostly because we need to cut and score the bags for folding, but the result, with depth to the letters, is so satisfying to the touch, that even if we didn't need to score anything we would still use letterpress.

You don't need a printing press - although building a small press out of wood is pretty easy, and the actual carving is well within the ability of just about everyone. Any hand printed item - a business card, an invitation, a thank you card - printed with your own block is a far more personal form of communication than the laser printed equivalent.

For those of you who might be interested in giving it a go, the basic idea is pretty simple: carve, in reverse, the pattern you want to print. Actually, that's not true. Unlike engraving, where you remove material where a line goes, in linoleum printing you carve away all of the top surface that doesn't print. The skill comes in leaving clean lines remaining, and carving in a way so that the thinner lines remaining, and the edges or the printed parts, have strength and won't collapse under the press. (I know it's more complicated than that, and the final result is the printed paper, not the carved printing block, which is just the vehicle.) You do need sharp tools, of course. Printing the blocks also requires some basic skill which can be easily learned.

We recently started stocking a linoleum block cutting kit by Flexcut and block printing supplies, which I hope will become popular. We also stock a large selection of "Block cutters" by Ashley Iles. Most of the block cutting tools we sell are used by carvers who happen to like the smaller tools, but it's gratifying to know that we do have a fair number of print makers amongst our customers.

I would hate to think that all the traditional methods of printing will get swept away by the computer.

The main picture at the top of this blog is from "Lino Cutting and Printing" by Claude Flight (1934) and the second print is from "Colour Block Print Making from Linoleum Blocks" by Hesketh Hubbard (1927). This is the final proof print after the book works its way step by step through all the plates, printing each color one by one.

The second to last picture, a wood engraving from the early 19th century, is by Jackson and is from his book.

As someone who collects books I can say that part of the appeal for me of 18th century and earlier books is the physical beauty of early printed engravings, woodcuts, and the way the letters are embedded in the page.

N.B. You might have noticed that in the past months I am blogging considerably less. I would much rather blog less than just publish endless drivel, and in the past months, continuing to the present, we have been remodeling our entire space. We now have a passenger elevator, and we expect to add Saturday hours by the fall. This means that while we reorganize, my toolboxes and carving bench have been moved to a corner, and I am loath to start doing anything useful because the entire shop is at sixes and sevens. I'm also changing my role at TFWW. Over the coming months I will be doing less day-to-day management and more computer work (which is actually my main area of expertise) and more woodworking content. I realized that unless I stopped working on day-to-day problems I would never get a chance to resume making stuff - which is the reason I ended up in this industry in the first place.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects
Comments: 3

Blasts from the Past - Reimagined - and Made For the Future  


There still is a lot of innovation in hand tool design - innovation that ranges from tweaks to completely new approaches in design and manufacture. Modern makers of tools, all of us, are using new materials and new manufacturing techniques to advance tool performance and tool appearance. The hand tool innovators of the 19th century did the same and did their best to industrialize handtool manufacture and wring the most performance from human-powered machinery. They did a great job. It's always been the philosophy at TFWW to look to the past for direction, and then push forward using the advantages we have today. Two years ago, at the first Handworks show in Amana, Iowa, we got a chance to see a real Montague-Woodrough handsaw. The saw, made by a small competitor of the giant saw companies of the time (Disston, Atkins & Simmonds), had an innovative tooth design that ripped brilliantly, crosscut smoothly in hardwood, and while looking bizarre, was no more difficult to sharpen by hand than any other good saw. It probably didn't succeed in the marketplace due to its lack of distribution and the difficulty of sharpening it using the machines available at the time.

We are closing the circle today, and it is fitting that we are introducing the BT&C hardware store saw with our version of the Montague-Woodrough tooth pattern at Handworks 2015. (The saw will be available on our website shortly after we return from the show and finish catalog photography and related things).

The tooth pattern of our saw was inspired by the Montague-Woodrough saw, but isn't identical. We have the benefit of studying what they did so we can move forward. We did a lot of prototyping and we think our tooth pattern has some advantages over the original. We also added a few other 19th century innovations. The saw cuts like a demon and also functions as a pretty accurate square; ruler; protractor; layout guide for dovetails; and many other tools. The idea of using a saw for layout is of course a 19th century idea, but it never caught on much and was hard to manufacture reliably. The graphic details on the saw are inspired by the mid 20th century machine tools in our workshop and the background texture (you can't really etch a flat surface evenly, and it would wear too fast too) takes its original design from an 18th century leather instrument case.

But this is a high tech 21st century saw. Really. The detailed etches on each side of the saw are accurate and clear to read. The black color of the etch is below the surface of the saw and will last for years. In the 19th century, makers could not effectively etch that amount of detail. In the 20th century, the shallow electo-etch that was popular would wear off over time and even initially rarely had the detail needed. In the 21st century, we use a state-of-the-art etching mask, lots of computer time and precision in punching to register the blade and pattern correctly from each side of the saw. Unlike the fancy square saws of the 1900's, these saws can be made to a precise standard at reasonable, if not rock-bottom, price. In the USA.

The end result is a saw that you would want around the house or shop. A saw that you might take with you on the road. A saw with a comfortable full sized wood handle, that cuts fast, but is short enough (16" cutting length) to carry around without damage. A toolbox kit, an all-around saw, a household saw. You know that saw your dad had, that he got from his dad, who got it at the local hardware store a long time ago. The saw that he used for everything. You just wish it was a better saw. This one is. We also wanted to make it versatile so you don't have to go around with a kit of tools just to cut a square line or measure off a few inches on a board or cut at an angle.

When we were first discussing the concept for this saw, we referred to it as "the hardware store saw" because that was our frame of reference: the useful saw you get at any hardware store. We figured we'd call it something different later on but the name stuck, so Hardware Store Saw it is.

Here are a few pictures. In the next weeks we will release the saw to the world. We hope you like it. I'll be writing more material about the engineering and manufacturing of the saw, because for all that it's a hand saw with 19th century roots, it really is high-tech. High-tech for what a 19th century saw can do, and high-tech in some areas even for 21st century manufacturing.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects
Comments: 28

Festool Package News and Some Long-Term Things You Should Be Aware Of  


Festool just released an official statement about packages. In the past if you bought a tool along with a vacuum at the same time you would be entitled to a 10% discount on the vacuum. Two tools, two vacs, two discounts. And so on. In the Festool catalog there were specific part numbers to deal with these discount packages. As the number of tools rose the number of packages got out of hand so Festool said "No More". The new policy is that if you buy a tool, any tool, including a drill, or a Vecturo, which don't even connect to a vac, you can get 10% off any vacuum or MFT/3 table that you want. It's the same discount as before but much easier to determine. So under all the tools we have added a drop-down which lists all the package add-ons. The discount is shown in the shopping cart. If you purchase more than one tool, or several vacuums the system will automatically give you the best discount it can. If you want a drill and a vacuum they aren't listed on the same page but you can add them separately and the cart will know how to calculate the best discount. I wrote the code for this feature last week. It seems to work, please let me know what you think.

While we are on the subject of Festool I want to talk about some issues that have occasionally come up with the line.

Sanding pads that wear out. Over time you might notice that the sanding pads on your sander seem to stop holding the sandpaper well. This is normal, pads do wear out, but there are a couple of things you can do to make the pads last a lot longer:

Turn down your vacuum to about 1/2 power. There is just too much suck going on for sander dust collection. What happens is that the suction from the vac pulls the sander to the work, making it stick to the work and therefore making it harder to move the sander and harder for the sander to oscillate and do sanding. So the extra friction gives you more heat, the heat softens and destroys the pad. Cure: turn down the vacuum to about 1/2 power, or actually the minimum level needed to get great dust collection. Your pads will last a lot longer, and sanding will be a lot easier.

Another reason sanding pads can wear out is if you use Abranet sanding mesh. Holes in the mesh mean that the hooks on the pad stick through the mesh and will be worn out. The solution is Mirka makes an inter-pad for Abranet (we don't stock it as we don't stock Mirka) that you should use between the pad and the Abranet.

Motor Brushes - If you use your tools a LOT. and I mean a lot, weekend warriors will probably never wear out the motor brushes on their tools, but professionals who use their tools a lot might. If you wait too long before changing brushes your tool might start operating irregularly, and if you wait even long you will damage the motor armature, requiring an expensive repair. Brushes are considered consumables and replacing brushes is a normal long-term care item. You can change your own brushes pretty easily. If you bring the tool in we will do it while you wait - it takes about five minutes. We do not charge except for the actual brushes, which are pretty inexpensive. We stock all the replacement brushes here. (we try to stock all the brushes for every tool but we probably are missing a few - give us a holler if we don't have what you need).

Tool sockets: The concept of detachable cords is great and convenient but in order for it to work you need to twist the cord in the socket on the tool a complete 1/4 turn. Otherwise you don't get a complete connection and inside the socket you get arcing. This coats both the cord and socket with carbon, reducing efficiency even further and causing even more arcing. And if you use a carbonized cord or socket with a nice clean cord of socket, the carbon layer will cause arcing and destroy the good cord or good socket. The solution: replace both the cord and socket as soon as you see carbon develop. We stock both sockets and cords for just about every tool and you can easily change it yourself. If you come to the showroom with the tool we can do it for you at no charge in about 5 minutes.

Vacuum sockets. The way the socket on your vacuum works is there are two leaf springs that form the connector to the plug of the tool. When you plug your tool into the socket on the vacuum the springs give a great contact and everything works perfectly. However over time as you move your tool back and forth, the cords sways back and forth in the sockets, and especially with sanders, those springs can wear and suddenly you get an intermediate contact. The solution is to unplug the vac and bend the socket prongs back together. This will work for ages although eventually you might have to replace the socket.

Finally, a few months ago Festool changed it's warranty. In the old days in the case of a problem Festool paid for shipping both ways in the first year of purchase, one way the second year, and you paid all shipping in the third year. The NEW and much improved policy is that Festool will pay shipping both ways for ALL THREE YEARS. You can either bring the tool to us and we will be happy to arrange shipping to Festool for you, or you can go to and create your own ticket and get a pre-paid return label. In either case Festool turns the tools around pretty quickly.

N. B. After writing this blog I reread it and I am hoping that you don't get the impression that Festool products aren't what their reputation has lead you to believe. The actual number of tools that come in for repair of any sort is tiny. With a three year warranty Festool simply cannot afford to make junk. But like any high end item the tools aren't meant to be disposable, and at some point some of your tools might need some assistance. What makes Festool a great tool company is not just that they make great tools, but also that support them in a professional way. Part of both our and Festool's job is making sure that if you do have a problem you aren't alone.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 0

Sleep Like an Egyptian  


Every since I was a kid I have been fascinated by this Egyptian funeral bier which is on exhibit in the Egyptian wing of the Met. Over the years, with each shifting of the galleries, it has been moved hither and yon but fortunately it is still on display. Dating from the Dynasty 1-2 about 2966-2926 BC (about 5000 year ago), its use of bull hoofs as feet is both functional and elegant. They have other biers of similar style on display, including ones of ivory. The front of the biers have bull forelegs and the backs have the rear legs. The mortise and tenon joinery is of coarse familiar to use and in fact the structure is entire familiar. But what it makes it, at least for me, this piece that has drawn my eye for nearly a half century, is the imagining of the bier as an animal. Not some plain post, but a person is on top of an bull. Now these are funeral biers for carrying the body into the tomb (I think before mummification but I am not sure) and it makes sense to be riding a bull. I think also that the use of bull feet was also done on beds for the living but again I am not sure. But also look at the power in the foot. It's not really stylized. Five thousand years ago, using bronze and copper tools, some skilled craftsman carved this object and for all that I don't live on the Nile, and that we don't have herds of bulls roaming Grand Army Plaza I can still connect with it. And a modern bed, higher up and larger, with similarly carved (and maybe painted hoofs - would be totally awesome.

The ivory Madonna and child in this picture was something I noticed as my son and i were wandering through the medieval wing. While in comparison to the Egyptian bier, at only 900 years old, this sculpture is brand new. What stuck me is how tender and affectionate the mother and child are. The baby is reaching up to cluck his mothers chin (the photo doesn't do this justice) and they are both enjoying each others' company.

Of course that these objects have survived so long is amazing, but for me what truly is wonderful is the emotional contact the creators have made with me over eons of time.
Make something special, make something worthwhile, make something, as functional as furniture, and it can touch people, cheer them up, and enrich their lives for generations, maybe even for thousands of years to come.
Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects
Comments: 3

Game Changer: Should You Buy the Festool Conturo Edge-Bander?  


Should You Buy the Festool Conturo Edge-Bander? First of all as a seller of tools with a mortgage to pay the obvious answer as far as I am concerned is a rousing "Yes!" However, from your standpoint it's the most expensive piece of equipment Festool has ever brought to the US, and it's too expensive just to sit in the shop and take up space.

In all seriousness I think the Conturo is a game changer because it allows a smaller shop to apply edge banding that has the same level of quality ( up to 3mm/ 18" in thickness, up to 65mm in width (2-9/16"), and curves (only when using the machine hand-held) but up to a teeny-tiny 2" inner radius), as a large shop can using a stationary giant machine of many times the cost, with similar savings in labor and time.

In other words one competitive edge of a larger shop just disappeared, and the minimum expected quality of a small job just increased.

As far as I know there are, including the Conturo, six ways of applying edgebanding. (^*&! - notes below)

MethodGluing MethodolgyCapacityFinal AppearanceLabor CostCapital Cost
Clamps & Cauls
wood glueAnythingCan be Awesome!Very High!, and some skill is needed.0^*
Iron on - Freehand
pre-glued banding is neededvery thin, Glue has to be melted with an iron through the bandingOK - You have limited options in edging, and the thin edging limits edge treatmentsHigh and some skill is needed0*
Iron on with a fixture
pre-glued banding is needed
very thin, Glue has to be melted with an iron through the banding
OK - You have limited options in edging, and the thin edging limits edge treatments
Not as high as without a fixture<$1000
Hand held Festool Corturo
hot melt applied to the edging
up to 3mm (1/8") bending, needed to be at least slightly flexibleExcellent! As good as any edge banding I have seenLow compared to all methods except a Big Fancy Bander2800-3500!
Table Mounted Festool Conturo
hot melt applied to the edging
up to 3mm (1/8") bending, needed to be at least slightly flexible
Excellent! As good as any edge banding I have seen
Big Fancy Edge Bander.
hot melt applied to the edgingUsually anything, even very thick ridged stock.=C2=A0Awesome. Depending on the machine you can have a finished edge in no time, with any material you can imaginge, with more consistent results than by hand.Low compared to other methods10k and UP#

^ - I am not including the costs of clamps because lots of clamps are used for tons of things in the shop, not just applying edge banding.
* - you do need some sort of Laminate trimmer to flush the edges. There are some inexpensive trimmers that are just a blade in a fixture but they work OK at best. On heavier edging that

! - The higher number includes the MFK700 laminate trimmer - which if you don't have one you don't absolutely need.

#Depending on the specific machines there machines not only apply the banding, but can also trim, and finish the edging. Also some of these machines will take long rigid edging of 1/4" thickness or more. Most will require riggers for installation, and custom electrical wiring. There are also long term maintenance charges to consider.

Another thing about this machine and why it's a game-changer is that unlike a big machine that takes weeks to install and needs special maintenance, the Conturo is like any other portable machine. You can bid on a job taking it into account for use on the banding you need to do, then when you get the contract, come on down (or let us ship it to you - free) and that's it. And it is covered by the regular three year Festool warranty. And you can start using it when it arrives. Cost out the machine based on your labor savings and the increased quality of the result.

Check out our video that Tim made on his phone when we first hooked up our machine. It's cool and the hot melt glue system is the professional way to attach banding - no more iron-on!

We have a unit up and running in our showroom. If you are within striking distance come on by with some scrap or a couple of shelves and try out the machine out for yourself. We only have 3/4" banding samples - so you might want to bring your own if that's not what you want to try. Please call ahead just to make sure we can do the demo.

Click here for details and pricing. The units are in stock now - ready for immediate shipment beginning next Monday March 16, 2015.

Special thanks to Sebastian Lata for setting up the machine and running it through its paces for us.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 4
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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Recent Blogs:
A Look at Violin-Maker's Planes-07/08/2015
Linoleum Block Printing-06/17/2015
Blasts from the Past - Reimagined - and Made For the Future-05/15/2015
Festool Package News and Some Long-Term Things You Should Be Aware Of-04/29/2015
Sleep Like an Egyptian-04/08/2015
Game Changer: Should You Buy the Festool Conturo Edge-Bander?-03/11/2015
Guest Blog: Many Sincere Thanks-02/25/2015
Festool Vacuums and the Changing Jobsite-02/18/2015
News (some good some sad)-02/04/2015
Pay For Play-01/21/2015
Diamond Sharpening - Part 2 - Grits and Scratches-01/14/2015
One Book - Three Editions-01/07/2015
Diamond Sharpening - Introduction-12/11/2014
Professional Status-12/03/2014
Cyber Monday - Actually Starts On Sunday Night!-11/26/2014
American Field Show At Industry City Nov 22 - 23, 2014-11/16/2014
PayPal, Festool, and Cyber Monday-11/12/2014
Colen Clenton - A Man and His Shed-10/29/2014
Designing a Moxon Vise-10/15/2014
The Modern Split-10/01/2014
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