Tools for Working Wood

 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

Long Planes in the Modern Workshop  


These are the longest planes I own. I don't actually use any of them although I have tried. The longest planes I use are in my shop, these planes are in my tool collection.

Long planes, "Jointer Planes" as they are called exist for two reasons:

The first reason is for accurately milling wood. The second reason is for making the soles of other shorter planes accurate.

The first reason is the usual reason we are all taught that when milling wood by hand (which I do) the longer the plane you use the more accurate the final result will be. The standard way of planing anything flat is to first intentionally plane it hollow and then with the longest plane you own go from end to end until the high ends disappear into one long continuous shaving. If you use a short plane the concavity under a shorter plane will be less and therefore you will get that continuous shaving over a shorter distance than a longer plane and it is less accurate. It's beyond the scope of this blog entry to go into all the geometry but that's why in the days when people did all their milling by hand a long plane was pretty useful. This is especially true because in the 18th century, when wood was sawn by hand it was sawn pretty accurately and to final thickness and by the time it got to the joiner ideally only a few passes with a jointer plane were needed to finish the job. Smooth planes were used to take care of low spots the jointer missed.

The second reason comes from shops that used wooden planes regularly. The beech soles of hard used wooden planes wore and the occasional pass over by a long accurate jointer plane easily got their soles back to flat. Shops would keep a long plane especially for this purpose and use shorter planes for most things. Milling wood was done with long but not your longest plane - so that the longest plane would stay flat and could be used to fix all the other planes in the shop.

The long wooden plane 26" (second from the back) is a late 18th century jointer plane by Gabriel. It's in very poor condition, but the main reason it probably survived was because unlike short, more useful planes this plane was initially used as a reference and was taken very good care of for at least the first part of it's working life. Long wooden planes are the lightest of the genre and with their high sides by far the easiest to hold square. I learned this from Larry Williams many years ago and put it into practice. When you hold a plane with a high center of gravity vertically, it feels square, much like holding a glass of water and walking across a room. You get this effect with all planes but with woodies the effect is most pronounced. It because far easier to joint something free hand because once you get used to the sensation you can feel when you are out of square.

The long Stanley 28" transitional plane (no. 33) at the back is a rarity, Mimicking the long wooden planes that were readily available Stanley, offered transitional planes with a wooden sole and a metal mechanism in lengths up to 30". By the time this plane was available however almost every cabinet shop in the US of any size would have used powered machinery to do basic jointing and planing, and there wasn't really much of a call for long planes. In use compared to a regular iron Stanley they are at best mediocre.

Thomas Norris & Son - the great ((mostly) 20th century) infill plane maker listed jointers from 13 1/2" to 28 1/2" long in their catalogs and longer one on special order. I included three (that I don't use) here. The 22 1/2" A1 (the "A" is for adjuster) Norris jointer in the picture (middle) is on the rare side, but once you try using it for any length of time you understand why. It's just too heavy for regular use. The 17 1/2" plane plane I have in the shop (not in the picture) is far, far more common because it was far more useful. Of course by the 1930's there was less and less call for long planes and production was never very high.

Behind the Norris jointer is a 1930's Norris A72 22" wooden jointer plane. This is a collectible rather than a working plane. They suck. Norris in a depression era bid to lower the cost of their tools grafted the Norris mechanism onto a fairly random Beech body. The mouths are wide and it's not uncommon for the cheeks to be cracked. You find them in good cosmetic condition because they weren't used much.

The long plane in front of the Norris jointer is a C. 1920's Stanley Bedrock 608. The 608 being the premium line of Stanley No. 8's. The Number 8 and 608 were the longest iron planes Stanley made and is 24" long with a 2 5/8" wide iron. I find the tool way to heavy for regular use. In my toolbox I have a Bedrock 607 ( 22" long - the same length as a regular No 7) which I like a lot, use, and is long but a lot lighter than the #8. Lie-Nielsen and Clifton make long planes, we have a Clifton no.7 in our showroom and it's a wonderful plane, better in many respects than my 607, but both Clifton and Lie-Nielsen use far heavier castings than the original Stanleys. I find the modern 8's and 7's planes unwieldy for a long sessions of planing.

The English use the term "Panel Plane" to describe planes that are too long to be smoothers and too short to be very accurate jointers. 13"-18" long or thereabouts. These planes are a wonderful size and perfect for dressing timber in most cases.

In the front on the left is a C. 1830-18400 panel plane by Robert Towell This is one of the earliest iron panel planes in existence and it might have even been an experiment by Towell. It predates the typical construction of a panel plane and internally it is more like a mitre plane, with the bevel down but a mouth cut in and the sides wrapped around. Next to it on the right is a 13 1/2" A1 Norris panel plane. C. 1920's This is a very very nice plane to have for planing boards when accuracy isn't the primary concern (although it is more accurate than a smooth plane and usually has a wider blade). As mentioned earlier I mostly use a 17 1/2" panel plane, but you can use a longer and less wieldly longer plane to give you your accuracy and do the bulk of your work with this plane. As antique tools go these shorter infills are far more common, although it's important to get one in good original shape, and too much "restoring" can lessen the very properties that make these planes desirable in the first place. Stanley make a panel plane sized number 5 1/2, but I find the balance off and it has never had much appeal for me.

Now that I have a planer (I didn't use to) I find myself reaching for long planes less and less. If you really want to work unplugged even for milling timber a No 7 or better yet a wooden long jointer is a wonderful thing to have. The other options are IMHO too heavy (please don't write me if you love your No. 8 - that's fine but this blog is about what I fine useful).

If you mostly use machines for planing wood really all you need is a smoother you can count on, but a panel plane is really nice to have.

Comments: 8

CBN Wheels - The Next Generation of Grinding Technology  


It was about ten years ago when I sat down with some folks from Norton Abrasives and we came up with the 3X Grinding wheel line. 3X, which is a consumer version of seeded gel abrasives, grinds cooler than pure (AO) aluminum oxide (white) wheels that came before it. Since I have always thought a wet grinder was way too slow, having wheels that I could easily grind with no burning was a great thing. Some people will point out that with a coarse wheel - 36 grit or less and proper wheel dressing - you can cool grind just about anything. This is true. But AO wheels run cooler than older style wheels, 3X runs cooler than AO wheels and now CBN (Cubic Boron Nitride) runs the coolest of all and does not require dressing. Each generation of cooler grinding technology makes it easier and easier for a person to grind to an edge without burning the steel.

CBN is a curious little crystal. Unlike vitrified wheels which reflect back the heat of grinding into the tool, or diamond abrasives which react with the carbon in steel, CBN absorbs the heat of grinding resulting in a cooler than ever grind. In the video below I am grinding with an 80 grit CBN wheel, from a flat bevel on a tool to a hollow grind to the very edge, forming a wire, in in a few seconds without needing to dunk the chisel in water (although if you need to grind the chisel a lot you should dunk. The tool will get hot but not nearly as fast as on a regular stone). Part of the reason I can do this is that CBN runs very cool, the other part is that our CBN wheels are very slightly crowned. The crown means that when I freehand grind and don't approach the wheel exactly square, I will still contact the wheel at a known point. This way I don't grind the wrong thing, or grind a corner excessively (and burn it). I have lots more control. I suppose in theory there is less overall contact with the wheel but the entire grinding still takes place in a few seconds. A few controlled seconds. Once the tool touches the wheel I sort of pivot the blade slightly so I am using the entire left or right side of the wheel.

BTW I just noticed this in the video - with a crowned wheel when you are taking off a lot of material in the beginning, the crown buries itself in the bevel and as you can see in the spark pattern you are grinding pretty much the entire width of the chisel or at least the half that's engaged. As you come closer to finishing and are at the edge with a light touch you are grinding most at the center with less contact area and less heat. As you can see at this point the spark pattern is a thin line in the middle. Remember of course that if you don't have crowned CBN wheels you can just as easily dress any wheel with the smallest crown you can, and get the same control, ease of use, and lower temperatures.

We currently stock 6" CBN wheels, and a CBN version of the Gramercy Custom Tuned Baldor Grinders. We do plan to get 8" CBN wheels and grinders in soon. I would have had them now but my order at the factory got lost :(. It happens. However, as much as I know turners love CBN I am not sure why. The primary reason for an 8" grinder is for grinding turning tools with a minimal hollow grind. I get that and it's fine. However what I don't understand is that most people turning are using high speed steel (HSS) tools which don't really have the sensitivity to burning as do regular carbon steel tools. So in general you can safely grind on a regular grinder and any old wheel with no danger. I understand if you want one grinder for both the workshop and the lathe but if mostly what you do is grind edge tools you can certainly grind the occasional turning tool on a 6" grinder. For regular tools a 6" grinder gets you a nice hollow grind, weighs half as much as a 8" grinder, and costs a lot less to purchase and ship.

In the picture above and in the video we are using my grinder. That's why the grinder doesn't have one CBN wheel and a stock wheel like our custom grinders and has instead a 3X wheel. My grinder was used as the test for the CBN wheels, the machined flanges, handles, the 3X wheels when we first got them, and all the other hop-ups that we made for our Gramercy Custom Grinders. Having one wheel as CBN and one as a stock wheel saves you money and is actually a better combination because you should not grind non-ferrous metals on a CBN wheel - you can clog the wheel, and having a second wheel (the 3X) just so it runs cooler, doesn't matter except for hardened steel which you will be grinding on your CBN wheel. In my case I was comparing CBN and 3X and haven't had a compelling reason to remove the 3X wheel. Between all our grinding equipment we don't really need an all purpose grinder and my grinder is just for edge tools and any experimentation we want to do.

Comments: 3

English Patternmaker's Paring Chisels  


In the days before CNC, patternmakers would carve precise patterns used for metal casting. Pattern makers faced many challenges in their work: the objects for which they made patterns ranged from tiny to huge; the need for specific dimension; and, because of the nature of casting, how rare it was that they dealt with square simple surfaces.

Pattern makers consequently had specific edge tools for their craft. Here are several of them.

From the top of the picture:

A classic English bench chisel, in this case by Marples. English bench chisels are typically longer than American socketed chisels such as the Stanley 750 (which, come to think of it, I should have included in the picture. Sorry.) I included this chisel in the picture to give you a sense of how long all the other chisels are. The Stanley 720, which is typical of American paring chisels, is pretty short compared to these English chisels.

A narrow 1/8" cranked paring chisel by A. Hildick (Sheffield). I am not sure if it is full length. (See below on cranked chisels.)

A wider cranked paring chisel by the same maker, probably never used. The photo doesn't really show the crank, but it's the same as the 1/8" only larger all around.

An in-cannel scribing gouge - English, but maker unknown (I can't read the stamp). The handle is incorrectly installed and the inside of the gouge isn't ground bright. Not grinding the inside of a gouge was pretty common, but that handle wasn't put on by a cutler. Probably the chisel was bought unhandled and handled by the user.

Finally a nice wide, long, but not new, English pattermaker's paring chisel.

With the exception of the bench chisel, all of these tools were meant to be pushed by hand and never malleted. They were also sharpened at very, very low angles. 20 degrees with a tiny micro-bevel was pretty common. Of course this leaves a fairly fragile edge, but one that takes very little effort to pare with a lot of control. And control is the reason the chisels are so long. With patternmaking, it is pretty common to need to shave off a sliver to a dimension, and the further away you are from the cut - that is, the longer the handle or blade - the fewer errors any hand motion will introduce. Japanese paring chisels typically have a short blade but a long wooden handle, which accomplishes more of the same thing.

English paring chisels were offered in sizes ranging from 1/8" - 2" and specifically identified in catalogs as "Beveled Edge Long Thin Paring Chisels." Unbeveled ones were less expensive but also available. The "long and thin" part of the description wasn't a random happenstance or an accident. They were made specifically to capitalize on these features. A long and thin steel blade has a touch of flexibility in use, giving better feedback and greater control. You can also "English" the cut with a little pressure that just doesn't work with thicker tools. The flexibility is an advantage over Japanese paring chisels.

The downside is that long, thin paring chisels were hellish to make. Between forging, and grinding, and hardening, the chisels would warp. Skilled smiths and grinders knew how to compensate for the distortion, however, so when all said and done you ended up with a straight tool.

Nicely ground, long paring chisels that are thin with wide bevels are no longer made. My harlequin set by various members of the Sorby family doesn't see much use in regular cabinetry, although they are the cat's pajamas in paring a mortise to a scribe line after chopping. I have never seen a 1/8" straight paring chisel in the flesh. They were made, but are not common at all. Wider sizes are very nice to have if you can find them in good shape (no pitting) and near original length.

I have two sets of cranked paring chisels: the rest of this set by Hildick, and an American set by Buck. The English set is longer, and has better forgings. The reason they exist is that in pattermaking it isn't uncommon to have to level a pattern detail from far from the edge, where a regular chisel cannot reach. They do not have much application in modern cabinetry and I don't think I have ever used mine.

Gouges, of course, are pretty useful in woodworking. This particular gouge is in-cannel, meaning the bevel is on the inside, unlike a regular carving tool sharpened on the outside (out-cannel). Having the cutting edge on the outside edge of the gouges means you can easily cut an exact concave arc in wood, which is handy for setting wooden hinges and certain other woodworking details. These, however, are "scribing gouges," which means that the gouge curve is in the precise arcs of a circle, unlike most gouges (in- and out-cannel) that follow a carving sweep chart . Scribing gouges are essential for precise patternmaking to a print, and a century ago you could order them in any number of sizes. They are no longer made.

Comments: 7

Wisner Tool  


Sometime in the early 1980's Thomas Lie-Nielsen, who worked for a short time at Garret Wade, the famous toolshop started in the 1970's in New York City, took over Wisner Tool company from the founder Ken Wisner and moved back to Maine to start the great and wonderful Lie-Nielsen Toolworks that we all know and love today. I have always been told that the first product of LN was a bronze copy of the Stanley 95, an edge plane. Here is a link to a PDF of a 1978 Wisner Signature Tools brochure where we learn that in addition to the 95 Wisner offered a modern copy of a Stanley 66 Scraper plane as well as a corner chisel.

The interesting thing about the Stanley 66 is that LN does make a fairly close cast copy of the 66. The Wisner version wasn't a casting, it featured a bent metal body which I have never seen in the flesh. I have no idea how well it worked but it is a really interesting design approach. My guess is that very few made it out the door but that could have been for bunches of reasons.

Another interesting factoid about this brochure is that it was distributed by "The Tool Works" another NYC tool company that I have never heard of. Apparently Garret Wade didn't have an exclusive.

Download the brochure here.

Comments: 5

Krenov Quality Plane Irons  


I recently came across an early catalog of Hock Tools and I thought it was worth sharing. Starting a business is never easy and in the 1970's and 80's one didn't have the advantage of the Internet to spread the word instantly and free. The optimistic entrepreneur needed to advertise and send out brochures to any incoming inquiries. One such brochure recipient was my late woodworking mentor, Maurice Fraser, who was always on the lookout for tool improvements. While I haven't found evidence that he ever bought a hock blade he was certainly interested in Ron's custom service. There is a fair amount of correspondence from Maurice to various manufacturers pointing out the need for quality tools, letters that fell on deaf ears.

I asked Ron if this catalog was his earliest. He wasn't sure but said it dated to the early 1980's - so if it's not the first it's pretty close to the first. Here is what he wrote to me about the early days:

"I started making knives out of saw blades from the local lumber mill shortly after we moved here in October of '81 (coming up on 35 years!) Kitchen and hunting knives all hand-made, selling at ACC fairs (PITA). In Spring of '82 I was approached by one of the instructors and one of the students from Krenov's first year class. (By perfect coincidence his school/shop opened the same week we arrived.) Their goal was to have me make the blades and then resell them to the students at a profit. They didn't get their act together so I showed up with a batch of blades in December of that year and felt like a craps table croupier tossing out blades and raking in money. I saw the future.

Jim Krenov was famous for never doing product endorsements. When I decided to buy a one-inch display classified in FWW (all I could afford) I asked if I could call them "Krenov Style" plane irons. He not only liked the idea, he volunteered, "Call them Krenov Quality Plane Irons. It sounds better." He used to take my brochures along with a couple of irons when he did speaking/seminar engagements. Prior to my blades, he and his students used POS replacement block plane blades ($8) from the local lumber yard. Then they had to get very creative about breakers. I appeared with a solution to a problem and he was so grateful that he eagerly advocated for me to crowds everywhere. There is no question that I was at the right place at the right time with the right stuff. I totally lucked out and couldn't be more grateful.

My tiny FWW ad sold a few blades, the word got around, sold a few more. Then the phone rang. It was Woodworker's Supply of NM wanting to know what my wholesale discount was. I said, "Uh, I'll call you right back." At that point I knew how to make a blade but didn't know much about how to run a business. I actually called John Economaki, who'd launched BCT just a few months before, for some generous advice -- we had a mutual friend locally who'd recommended him to me. WSNM added my blades to their full-color catalog and sent that tacit endorsement out to 4 zillion woodworkers. A map-pin moment, for sure, in the Hock Tools history (still called Hock Handmade Knives then, and would be so for a number of years. I never really officially changed the name, just started using Hock Tools more and more.)

So, one new blade, another, one foot in front of the other. Thank goodness Linda was willing to work... Here we are, big fish in a small pond.

Sorry for the long answer but I like telling the story."

You can download a pdf of the catalog here.

Ron sent me the photo of the knife that illustrates this blog. It's one of his early knives, made before his business became mostly blades for woodworkers but as you can see the shape and style is pretty much the same as some of his current knife kits which you can take a look at here. It's great that the design is still available.

This week is Woodworking in America, We unfortunately won't be able to attend but a lot of toolmakers will be and Ron and Linda will be there. Be sure to stop by their booth and say Hi!

Comments: 4

Gabba Gabba Hey!  

08/17/2016 (I just Saw An Exhibit That I Could Go For)

Before I get into the body of this week's blog, I want to mention that tomorrow afternoon (August 18th) from 3 - 6 pm we will be having a Festool Demo Day at the showroom. In addition to seeing all the current tools, you will have a chance to take a first-hand look at some new tools for the fall. This includes a new carpentry saw - with a built in miter fence! - and a new screw-gun that takes magazine loads of screws for really fast professional work.

This has nothing to do with woodworking (well, maybe see the last paragraph) but it does have lots to do with getting people's attention. The most popular exhibit ever at the Guggenheim Museum was about motorcycles as art. People came from all over the country and from all walks of life to see the show. There were lines to get in outside the museum almost every day. Why? Because the topic resonated with people.

Learning about motorcycles interests people much more so than does an exhibit of self-indulgent paintings or sculptures. The Queens Museum, an interesting, but mostly off-people's-radar museum located in Flushing Meadow Park (where the 1963-64 World's Fair was held, and right near the spaceship restaurants from Men in Black) mounted two of the best museum shows I have seen in a long time. Hey Ho Let's Go just closed. (Sorry.) The line on opening day at the Ramones show was four hours long.

I had in mind to go to the show since first hearing about it well before its opening, but various other things in life intervened, so I made sure to see it shortly before it closed. The show consisted mostly a collection of memorabilia with videos of performances. It's very interesting to see that first wave of crudely printed punk music magazines (before we knew they were punk), a great photo article on the Ramones buying their first touring sound system. The Ramones were all Queens guys, though only Dee Dee continued to live in Queens after they had a bit of fame, and first got acquainted at Forest Hills High School (one town over from Kew Gardens, where my parents moved, allegedly "for the children's sake").

The coolest bit was Tommy Ramone's Forest Hill High School yearbook, opened to the page with Tommy's picture. Smiling on the same page was a larger picture of a teacher, young Gasper Fabricant, who five years later was the principal at my high school. The Ramones weren't famous yet; perhaps later on he enjoyed some bragging rights.

The most poignant part of the exhibit was two pages of lyrics scrawled by Joey Ramone in the hospital, miserable, writing: "I want my life." Joey Ramone died of cancer in 2001.

Even on its last weeks the exhibit was pretty packed, and there were more people taking pictures than any exhibit I can recall.

There were two other exhibits going on at the same time that haven't closed just yet and are very, very good. The first is a permanent exhibit of the museums Tiffany lamp collection. That was fun.

The other is an exhibit of cartoons, illustrations, and paintings by William Gropper, a leftist illustrator of mostly social issues. I thought his work had real power, enough to get criticized by the Japanese government before WW II for his caricature of the emperor and by Joseph McCarthy of his painting of lazy senators. Gropper was blacklisted by the House Un-American Committee.

Is there a connection between these shows and woodworking? Certainly woodworkers face constant pressure on woodworkers to make stuff that is "different," "new," or that "explores the condition of humanity in the 21st century." But what our customers really want is a nice chair or table. I complain about the loss of skill, about the industrialization of furniture making, and the decline of traditional skills -- and then along come the Ramones, with the musical skill equivalent of using a hot melt glue gun. And I find the result incredibly compelling! 40 years after the punk rock movement made headway, the lack of musicianship is being overlooked (okay, not by metalheads) because of the compelling style that was developed. So when you design furniture, worry less about your ability to make it and more about what you are trying to achieve both practically and emotionally. That's the message of the Ramones for the modern woodworker.

BTW in case anyone is curious, my favorite Ramones songs are "Rockaway Beach" (Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Rockaway Beach, we can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach...) and "We're a Happy Family" (Sitting here in Queens, Eating refried beans...). In case you are curious, no I didn't need to look up the lyrics for either song.

Comments: 1
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.
 Joel's Blog
 Built-It Blog
 Work Magazine
 Classes & Events
Newer Entries...
The Saw-Book Quarterly January 1903-05/04/2016
Big Discounts on Festool Vacuums, Demo Days, and Sharpening Classes, and Surprise Sale Bin Stuff -04/27/2016
The Old Merchant's House-04/20/2016
Festool All Brilliant Abrasives and 15V Cordless Drills Being Discontinued-04/13/2016
Six Reasons Why You Have Trouble Getting a Razor Sharp Edge-04/06/2016
Maurice Fraser 1928-2016 RIP-03/30/2016
Hayward - You Blow Me Away-03/23/2016
Sawmaking returns to 26th Street-02/10/2016
New Space - New Plans - Too Much to Do!-01/27/2016
Moving! Moving! Moving! and More on Building Decorations - And Popular Science!-01/13/2016
The Casual Decoration of Objects Before the 1930's-01/06/2016
The Craftsman Magazine, Christmas, & Jacob Riis-12/30/2015
Christmas Cheer-12/16/2015
Festool Fall Promo - Festool - A - Friend-12/10/2015
A Video about Pottery-12/09/2015
The Art Nouveau Furniture of Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940)-12/02/2015
Repair Tip-11/25/2015
A Visit to the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages-11/11/2015
Begin at the Beginning-10/28/2015
Here Lies Duncan Phyfe-10/21/2015
Older Entries...