Compass planes

Compass planes

I’ve been testing curves for back slats recently. That’s meant a lot of time with my compass plane making bending forms. That plane is a chatterbox. It’s in its nature. There are so many light, movable parts only partially attached to each other that it’s a wonder the thing can stay quiet at all.

Roughing in the curve with spokeshaves

Most plane makers go to great lengths to make their tools out of heavy, solid lumps of stuff. It keeps the chatter to a minimum. Compass planes are not built the same way.

The handles on my straight spokeshave show a lot more wear than on the round-bottomed tool. You can get quite a lot of curve before you need the curved sole.
Cambered iron

But there are things you can do. Starting with low expectations helps!

I used to think of my Record 020 as a jack plane. I expected it to do a lot of work quite quickly and give me a decent result. These days I see it more like a jointer plane. I use it for the last few shavings to get the final shape. The curve comes from a bandsaw, jigsaw or bowsaw followed by spokeshaves. They are my jack planes for curves.

As with all edge tools start with the sharpest iron you can hone. It won’t solve everything but at least you’ll know that’s not one of the issues. Grind and hone it like a jointer plane iron – with a small camber. Rather than trying to take a full width shaving I work the high spots and check for square frequently. I don’t expect to get beautiful long ribbons from end to end. Given that we’re making a curve the grain direction will change at some point and these things don’t go up hill!

The mouth and bed aren’t flush. Not ideal but it works.

If you’ve got a sharp, cambered iron, lightly set, you’re cutting downhill and you’re still getting chatter there are a couple of things worth investigating. The mouth of the plane is a magnet for resin. It builds up and needs to be scraped out. There’s little you can do about the step between the mouth and the frog. The frog has no fore and aft adjustment. I’ve tried shimming it with mylar and sheets of tin foil. Not worth the effort. Make sure that the cap iron fits well and the lever cap is tight.

With the mouth clean have a look at the peened pins that hold the frog to the sole. With the sole set for a concave curve these can stick out and catch. You won’t notice it when planing but it can’t help the chatter. You can sand the sole much as you might lap a smoothing plane. I didn’t notice a lot of difference but it can’t hurt.

And finally, with the plane perfectly set up a squiggle of wax on that rather rough sole makes the world of difference.

Not the most satisfying shavings but it’s the curve we’re interested in
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Round and round…

Round and round…

On a chair leg’s journey from square to round (for the pedants: from cuboidal to cylindrical) there are several options for marking it out to get to octagonal. I’m a big fan of the spar gauge; they’re handy for any piece that tapers along its length. But for building the occasional chair a dedicated tool may be a bit much.

Here’s another way – one that I use a lot even though I have a couple of spar gauges in a draw.

  • Plane the future chair leg square to a hair shy of the final diameter.
  • On one the end of the workpiece mark the centre using the 45 degree fence on your combination square.  
  • Draw a circle (or just a quarter of a circle) with a pair of compasses.
  • Mark a tangent using your combination square.
  • Set your marking gauge to the point where the tangent meets the edge.
  • Use this setting to mark the length of the workpiece.
  • Set the leg in joiner’s saddles and plane until the marks just disappear
  • Draw a line on all eight sides.
  • Plane a few strokes until your piece is an even 16 sides. No need to gauge anything here – trust your eye and the length of the ever decreasing pencil lines.
  • Scrape with a concave scraper.
  • Sand in a saddle
  • Repeat until fade…

Or you could use a lathe.











Repeat until fade…

The Slick

The Slick

NB: This post will contain no puns. It’s an exercise in self-control.

The renaissance in chairmaking has breathed new life into the drawknife. I’ve got two and use them a lot. But I’ve been neglecting my slick. It’s a beast of tool, more suited to timber framing or big boats. Every once in a while I find an excuse to use it just to stay in practice. And because it’s so much fun.

It’s capable of hogging off great ribbons of wood. Catch the grain in the wrong direction and you can do a lot of damage very quickly. In the video you’ll notice I’m very cautious at the start; I’m testing the grain direction. There are a couple of knots and I want to know what I can get away with.

I use two hand positions. For big movements both hands are on the handle. I keep the edge at an angle and simply push it along the bevel.

For finer work I wrap my left hand around the side of the blade and use my finger as a fence. This gives me more control and I can make finer cuts.

There are diminishing returns as I get closer to the lines. It quickly stops being worth taking smaller cuts with the slick and I turn to a heavily set jack plane.

Endgrain is less fun but still possible.

Several companies are making drawknives. Is anyone manufacturing slicks?

Bench dwellers

Bench dwellers

img_2776 (1)When Mum and Dad were round over Christmas I proudly showed off my new(ish) bench, expounding its virtues. I enthused about the way I had built the tool tray so that it can be turned upside down and is level with the bench top, so level, I insisted, that I could mark the bottoms of the legs of chairs to trim them. “It’ll take you half an hour to empty it first.” Dad observed.

It can’t be denied that it does fill up in the middle of a project. But half an hour is just hyperbole. It didn’t take a second longer than 28 minutes to clean up the bench and that included rescuing all of the pencils from the pile of shavings. I maintain that it’s worth it. Not one tool fell on floor throughout the last project.

Most tools went back in their respective places but a favoured few were returned to the bench and are now full time tray dwellers.

img_2787

From left to right: the leftmost dog that interchanges with the Simon James toothed bench stop to its right. Below them a lump hammer for holdfasts and chair legs. Some tenon cheeks from a project long forgotten that serve as clamp/holdfast pads. Leather scraps that do the same. Joiners’ saddles, candle for waxing planes and screws, bench brush.

All pencils were repatriated to the pencil box. They’ll find their way back; it’s an ongoing process. The holdfasts are too big for the tray and hang from a peg next to the bench or one of the stretchers on the leg assembly; always within reach.

Happy New Year.

End vice

End vice

I’ve been using the end vice on my newish bench for a couple of months. I’m delighted with it but it could have been easier to build.

The construction was ludicrously complicated. I used massive dovetails at the front and back of the bench to hold the end cap on. I don’t think I needed to; three beefy draw bore pegs through a clamped (breadboard) end would have been sufficient and cut the construction time down.

The vice screws were a very good price but I couldn’t get them with square section nuts so there is a bit of dust trap at the end.

I’m working on some drawings; they’re getting complicated.

Sharpening a router plane iron

Sharpening a router plane iron

I just watched a video by Vic Teselin and Fine Woodworking on sharpening a router plane blade. I do it differently and thought I’d stick my oar in.

‘My method’ (I’m sure others do it the same way and have done for longer) reduces the strength of the iron a bit though I’m not sure it matters much. But it’s everso easy and doesn’t require jigs or sanding drums. Vic sharpens the upper part of the iron which is probably the manufacturers’ intention. I don’t. Sorry manufacturers.

Sharpening seems to be very contentious so just for the record: I don’t mind if you don’t do it this way. I don’t want you to change if you like your way. I’m not a terrible person because I do it this way and I’m happy to concede that your way may be just as good if not better. Has that covered everything?

Vices: Part 1 – double screw leg vice

Vices: Part 1 – double screw leg vice

The modular nature of the Moravian workbench was one of the many reasons I built this bench. If I don’t like the tool tray I can replace it with a flat board flush with the bench top. Don’t like the position of the vice screw? It’s not through the leg so I can change the back piece without messing up the rest of the bench. I’ve built two sets of legs so that I can have a taller carving bench and a shorter joinery bench.

AC528B6F-B022-4241-8C88-478F88AD01F2It’s given me the opportunity to play with a couple of ideas. Two years ago I saw one of Douglas Coates’ Ad-Vices at Oliver Sparks’ ’shop. Earlier this summer I got to examine it in a bit more detail and take some photographs. It has a clever double screw mechanism. Instead of a parallel guide at the bottom with holes and a pin it uses a threaded rod with a nut between the vice chop and the back piece. This keeps the chop parallel to the front plane of the bench.

Building one into my new bench been a rather lengthy diversion from all of the other projects I’ve got planned and I’m not sure it’s a huge improvement over the traditional guide but it’s an interesting feature. The Ad-Vice has a greater distance between the small, lower screw and the large, upper screw than between the workpiece to be clamped and the upper screw. This gives it a lot of mechanical advantage and means that the smaller threads of the lower screw aren’t under so much pressure. I couldn’t achieve this ratio and it will be interesting to see how long the lower screw lasts. If it breaks I’ll just replace a couple of components – the joys of a modular workbench.

I’ve also built an end vice, but more on that next time.