Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why I love the internet, and FOG

The Festool Owner's Group saved my sanity today.

I won't get into technical details, but the short version is that I own two Festool track saws, the big one and the regular one. I bought the big one used, and it wasn't properly adjusted. I was trying to trim the ends off of the slabs today. The blade was deflecting, scorching the wood, overheating and dishing (ruining) the blade... Deflecting to the point of nibbling at the saw housing. When a tool is causing damage to the project, and to itself? That's bad. It needed help.

FOG to the rescue, saw works great now.


I was talking to someone the other day about Festool, and their complaint was that much of the system isn't intuitive. This from a woodworker who rebuilds his land rover as a hobby when he's not raising two daughters... Like any of that is intuitive.

There are many things in woodworking that seem intuitive and simple. And they are, to a point. But doing them better... Sharpening, sawing, layout, hand planing, chiseling, working more productively, and on, and on... Getting better at almost anything, is not intuitive. So, it helps to have a tutor for some things.

I hate the Internet for learning things a lot of the time because it's a bottomless, shifty morass of unreliable information from professionals, novices, hobbyists, and 50 year old men posing as underage girls... And it's just as likely to ruin your mind and your day if you give in to it.

But if you come in with a specific question, within specific boundaries, a bit of a knowledge base, and you don't mind taking the time to UNDERSTAND what the proposed solution is, it can be miraculous, and help you get past those things that aren't as intuitive as we'd like.

My $500 circ saw is now cutting cleanly. It's not scorching the ends of a $4000 slab of walnut, and it's not causing $75 blades to overheat and self-destruct. That makes me happy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stupid little jig of the day

It's just a block, on a bolt, to support a long piece of wood while planing. But what a difference it makes.

And if Chris Schwarz ever reads this, he'll curse me for a nincompoop, and say something tantamount to "No $#%¥, Sherlock! I told you about that in a work bench lecture 5 YEARS AGO!"

Spiers Repair pt. 1

So, the infill is out.

I whined to Konrad that it was a great little plane and why couldn't I just inject it with glue... But he was right... And I'm glad it's out. As it turns out, the tenon on the handle is tapered in thickness from top to bottom, and it really didn't fill the slot that way, which is why it was wiggling. No way a glue injection would have solved that.

Back to work... I have things to get built today.

No Guts, No Glory

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tuning up an infill plane

Crooked lever cap in the Mathieson
I know that infill planes have a reputation for being the Wood God's Harbingers of Immaculate work. The truth is that they are just as susceptible to hard wear and imperfection as any other tool that was created or used by man. 

My first infill plane was a dovetailed steel Mathieson smoother that I’m still having problems with. It took me two years to notice that the lever cap had been installed at an angle to the bed, and four more to notice that the screw for the chip breaker bottoms out in the groove in the bed. And the sole isn’t flat, or at least not flat enough.

The Musgrave was the second plane that I bought. It has a cast iron body that’s chipped on the back corners. The sole needed some flattening, but cast iron is soft, so this was easy to do. Once the sole was flat, I was able to use it, and to start learning just what these planes can do.

When I was just starting out as a woodworker, I learned to tune up Bailey style planes by working on Record and Stanley smoothers. Those are more straightforward: most of the work has to do with making sure the sole is flat, and that the parts are mating properly. Infills generally have no parts to take out, and no obvious interfaces to refine, so it took me a while to notice the subtle things that need to be attended to. Of the three infills that I own, the plane that has taught me the most about tuning up an infill plane is a dovetailed steel coffin smoother from Spiers. So I’ll describe my experiences with this plane, to date.

I started with the obvious: sharpening the blade, and tuning up the chip breaker. That led to me discovering problem number one: neither was squarely ground. I was a little surprised to see that, but it was easily resolved.

Once the blade assembly was ready, and I went to install it in the plane, I started having issues with lateral adjustment. Eventually, I noticed that the screw for the cap iron was way too thick; it was bottoming out in the groove in the bed. Apparently it’s not an uncommon thing for old infill planes to be paired with replacement blade assemblies, even if the screws don't fit the groove. So, that's why the discrepancy existed. (Noticing this on the Spiers led me to notice a similar issue in the Mathieson plane, too.  The discrepancy isn't quite so egregious, but was just as problematic.) Once I ground the screw down, the Spiers plane was a lot easier to set up and adjust.

That said, it wasn’t really taking good shavings. It took some inspecting to realize that the sole wasn’t flat. In fact, the surface in front of the mouth was not at all in the same plane at the surface behind the mouth: It was almost 1/64” off. Steel is much harder than cast iron to lap flat, so I had to take the plane to a belt grinder to (carefully) get the whole surface to be approximately co-planar. At that point, I could take shavings with it, but once I started dialing the thickness down, the shavings only came in at the corners of the iron. What that told me was that only the corners of the blade were engaging, and the middle of the sole was bellied out by roughly the thickness of those shavings. I flattened the rest of the sole with a file, and a machinist’s straight edge, until the shavings were perfect. This took some time.

With the blade sharpened, and the sole completely flat, the plane started functioning at a very high level. So all that remains is repair to the body and tote.

There was a crack in the handle. The other two infill planes I own each have a screw that is driven up into the handle to reinforce the rosewood. But Spiers used a steel rod, and I couldn’t thread it back out. The cracked handle was holding together just fine, but it was flexing, and needed to be fixed. It took me a while to figure out a viable repair: I used a dovetail saw to turn the crack into a saw kerf on each side of the handle, and then I glued a piece of veneer into those kerfs. Once the glue dried, there were no more gaps to allow the handle to flex. That said, the handle was still moving in relation to the rest of the plane, though.

At this point, I sent an email to Konrad Sauer. He asked for pictures, and pointed out that most likely, the handle had separated from the rest of the infill, and was pivoting around the rivet pin. When I got back in to look at the plane, it feels like this is exactly what’s going on. The options I have are to flood the cracks around the handle with glue, and hope it works, or to drill out the cross pins, pull the infill, and reconnect the handle. That’s where the process has taken me to date.


I emailed Konrad back and mentioned that I was writing an entry about tuning up infill planes. I mentioned all of the above to him, and asked if he had any extra advice. This is what he said:

"The usual issue with an infill is the bedding. Most of the time, the bed of the plane is not coplanar with the metal block that is rivetted to the sole. This means the blade rocks or pivots on that point. Doomsday for trying to set the iron. The first thing to check is the bed. If it is flat (they rarely are) then you are in for a tedious PITButt job of finding a narrow file that has safe edges to get in there and re-establish a flat bed. All the time trying not to touch the leading edge of the mouth or the lever cap. And... you have to do this evenly because of you change it too much, the blade will sit differently and the front edge of the lever cap will no longer contact the top of the cap iron squarely. So now you have to either continue re-shaping the bed, or... file the underside of the lever cap. The best way to do all this is with the lever cap out - but that means pulling more pins. This task is by far the most challenging task - all the others are way easier. "

Given the importance of properly bedding the blade, and given the importance of the alignment between the infill and that metal block, I'm seriously thinking I should try for the glue injection method, as it seems easier, and not pulling the infull seems less likely to result in a misalignment between the bed and the metal block.

Konrad may have a good reason for having me pull the bed. And truth be told, I'd like to have the experience of pulling the plane apart. But I'm not sure that a little handle wiggle is good enough reason to take apart a plane that's working so well right now, if a simple glue squirt will fix it.

So, we'll see...

On Infill Planes (Part 1 of ?)

I like to promote the idea that good work can be done with humble and simple tools. So, talking about infill planes feels a little disingenuous. Recent experiences have taught me that while both humble and fancy tools can both be made to do good work, some tools make it a little easier to do.

My first infill plane was a Mathieson coffin smoother, with a dovetailed steel body. A couple of years later, I bought a cast iron Musgrave infill (possibly made by Norris?) and a Spiers coffin bodied smoother that is slightly smaller than the Mathieson. Both have required work to get them functional, and I’ve learned a lot about tuning up infill planes from them. (These are the two in the photo above)

I'm aware that infill planes have a certain aura. New infills can cost more than a decent used car, and the more notorious builders have impressive reputations for precision work. And to hear some folks talk about the older models from the British Isles, you’d think they were magical instruments, carried down from the days when gods and monsters walked the earth. What I’ve learned is that they’re not. They’re just as subject to wear and imperfection as any other tool that was made and used by the hands of man. Once they’re properly tuned, and once you’re used to setting one up, infill planes do make it possible to easily make very minute adjustments to shaving thickness, and allow for more accurate surfacing to be done. I'll talk about tune-ups in the next installment.

The Musgrave plane taught me the most about setting up an infill plane for use. I tried setting up with the blade short of the mouth, and using a hammer to adjust it to the desired setting. But eventually I realized that I could just loosen the lever cap, let the blade assembly sit on the bench, slide the plane slightly forward to bed the iron, tighten the lever cap, and work. It’s very fast, and requires no other tools to set up this way.

After using it for a while, I realized that the lever cap also doubles as a very fine depth adjuster, and it doesn’t need to be heavily cranked down. Whether this feature is by accident or design, I have no idea. But because the lever cap is built as a lever, and multiplies the force that’s applied by the screw, which is also a force multiplier, very light pressure on the screw will hold the blade pretty firmly in place. If the pressure is too light, it’s easy to knock the blade out of alignment, but it’s not hard to find the tension sweet spot with a little practice. Once the plane is set up, the lever cap has enough force to slightly affect the projection of the blade from the bottom of the plane, and make those delicate (sub-thou) adjustments I was talking about. With time and practice, setup and adjustment of an infill plane is much faster and easier than on a Bailey style plane.

In recent work, this adjustability has helped me to shape blanks more precisely than my power jointer or planer would allow. At the time I was putting together a complex compound miter joint with large surfaces, so accuracy was more important than normal. Because the adjustment on an infill is so precise, (using only the lever cap, I don’t have mechanical adjusters on my infill planes) I was able to take much finer shavings, and get the blanks accurately square and reference-flat. This in turn allowed me to make more precise cuts on a sliding table saw, thanks to the ability to reference more accurately against the table.

Infill planes do need to be very well tuned. It took me a while to understand what that meant. I’m used to Bailey style planes, and while Bailey style planes have many areas that need to be tweaked, tuned, and properly fitted, these areas have been described in detail in many publications, they’re more obvious, and more accessible. Infill planes are a lot more subtle. The entire assembly is one solid unit, and when there are no obvious assembly points to tweak, it’s hard to figure out what can be done... and what needs to be.I'll write about that in part 2

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Happy Customer: Rockler Glue Brush

I can't honestly say how much glue I've wiped off of my fingers onto the underside of my bench. But it's a lot.

I've tried acid brushes and popsicle sticks, and other disposable things that inevitably don't get replenished, or at least, not in time for the next glue up.

I picked up this little gem a few weeks ago. The silicone brush clears so easily once the glue dries, if's almost self cleaning. And the paddle makes obvious sense for glue spreading.

I'm not a corporate subsidized anything. I just thought this was worth mentioning.

That said, I haven't used it with hide glue yet, and hot hide glue's on my short list of things to introduce into my work flow. Still, I don't foresee many issues.