Thursday, January 24, 2013

Converting a skew rabbet plane to a dovetail plane, part 2

This is where I left off: A plane body, a fence, and two posts. The posts are actually installed backwards in the photo: At one point, I'd considered making a bridle fence, which would have the posts fixed in the plane body, and sticking through the fence. But once I'd cut out the escapement, I realized that wasn't really an option anymore, so they'll be fixed in the fence instead. Some projects are like that.

I turned down the posts to fit on some brass ferrules. The plane body will have thumb screws to hold the setting, and fine adjustments will be made via mallet taps on the posts. Ziricote is hard, but brittle, and splintering can still happen, so I figured the ferrules were a good idea.  Once that was done, I cut a notch in the other end of each post for a wedge, and I epoxied the brass ferrule onto each post.

The fence was the next thing that needed work. The purpose of the fence is to define the length of the dovetail tongue on the end of the board. To be able to do that, it needs to extend underneath the plane. So, I milled another piece to mount onto the bottom of the fence that I had so far, and mounted it with glue and screws.

After that, it was back to work on the plane body. I started by planing the new sole to be flush with the plane body. The next step was to cut a dado for the nicker that I'll need soon. Then I cut through the sole, and shape the bed and the throat, so that the iron could be re-inserted, and would bed properly. I did this mostly by paring carefully with chisels, but final tuning was done with files, for a reasonably tight mouth. At this point, the body was back to 'normal,' and ready for the rest of the conversion.

I decided to add a steel plate to the side of the plane body. Ziricote is pretty durable, but I want to do everything I can up front to prevent wear at the sharp edge of the sole. For a dovetail joint to come together cleanly, that inside corner really needs to be sharply defined. Most of that work will be done by the nicker and the iron, but the edge will be subject to a lot of wear.

Fabricating the plate was a pretty involved process, all things considered. The plate needed to be flattened and gauged. (Made even in thickness) A rabbet had to be cut into the side of the plane body to let in the plate, and holes must be drilled and counter-sunk for mounting. Once the plate's mounted position was established, the bed and throat were laid out on the plate, cut, shaped, faired to the plane body,and a slot cut and filed for the nicker. Note the Emmert is turned around so I can use the metal working jaws... The ability to tilt and turn the vise and work at funny angles was a huge help.

On the list of things yet to do, the dovetail bevel must be filed onto the edge of the plate, and faired to the sole of the plane. Once the sole and the side of the plane have been fully defined, I need to regrind and sharpen the iron, and make the nicker. I also need to drill and install the inserts for the thumb screws that will hold the fence in place. This includes inserting wooden pieces that will press against the posts; I don't want the metal screws to do any damage. At this point, with a working fence, iron, and nicker, the plane should at least be functional. Lastly, I'll clean up and finish the plane.

Read part 1.
Read part 3.
Read part 4. 
Read Part 5. 
The Plane In Use.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Converting a skew rabbet plane to a dovetail plane, Pt 1

The job I'm working on right now calls for tapered sliding dovetails. I know there are ways to cut those joints by hand without a dovetail plane, but those methods seem tedious, and I don't have time for that. And I know there are ways to cut them by machine, but those methods don't appeal for one reason or another, mostly because they seem overly fussy, and time consuming.

Truth be told, I could probably have figured out the machine method in the time it's taking me to do this conversion. But I've wanted to add this method to my arsenal since I saw John Reed Fox demonstrate it in a Japanese tool class that I took at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, back in 2005. John had his assistant cut the tapered dovetail groove with a router while he was explaining how the plane worked, and when the assistant came back, it took him about a minute to fit the mating board, with the dovetail plane. I was impressed by this, both because it was very cool to watch, and because it was clearly a very efficient way to put a carcase together. But, fast forwarding back to me planning out my current project, Japanese versions of the plane would cost me serious money, and I had this plane on hand. 

Well, that, and fixing up the Spiers plane has given me a real tool-making yen. Yeah... like that's gonna help me focus on my bench work. :-P

Side note, before I proceed. I've gone through phases in my woodworking where I really idealized the purity and (BANG BANG BANG) silence of hand tool woodworking. And I've seen people who know what they're doing demonstrate that it can also be a very efficient way to get things done, if you use the proper methodology and mindset. So my inner purist is laughing his ass off at the fact that I'm using a router table, a table saw, a power planer, a drill press, and a band saw, all to make one measly hand tool.

The photo up top is a 7/8" skew rabbet plane that I bought at an antique shop in Corning, New York, about 6 years ago. I'd intended to get it up to 100% and use it more, and had gone so far as to patch the front right corner, and laminate a rosewood sole onto the thing. As antique wooden planes go, it's not too bad, but had definitely seen some hard times. It was pretty heavily worn, and was shorter in the front than it was in the back. It had a few nail holes in the side, and in the sole. I'm guessing that a former owner used it very regularly, and at one point, scabbed on a fence, or a new sole. There were also nail holes on the side of the plane body, so maybe it was a fence. The factory didn't use quarter-sawn stock, so the growth rings are parallel to the sides, and not the sole, as they should be, so I'm guessing it wasn't a premium model anyway. (Or, maybe the factory had simply stopped caring) Issues aside, there's plenty of length on the iron, and the wedge fits well, so I figured it was worth holding onto.

First things first, I wanted to start with a straight, square, and flat plane body. Like I said, it's not quartersawn stock, so it wasn't as flat as I'd like. I didn't want to take off too much wood if I cold help it, so I flattened one face by hand. I ran the other face through a power planer to get a parallel face, taking very, very fine passes. One side effect of this was to make the iron too wide for the body. This is fine, though, since the iron's going to get reground anyway. I also cut off the rosewood sole, and cut the sole to be parallel to the top. I needed to cut the sole at an angle, since this is going to be a dovetail plane. Bearing in mind that I plan to use the plane in conjunction with a router, I made an angle gauge block with a router bit that had the angle that I wanted, and I used this to set the table saw blade angle. So, I now had a decent blank to start from.

One of the other functional parts of a dovetail plane is a movable fence to gauge how far in the plane will cut. I bounced around a few ideas on how I wanted to set it up, and settled on a fence that looks a little bit like a plow plane fence. To mount this, I needed two posts. I made these on the lathe out of ziricote, because I had some kicking around, and I was feeling fancy. The next step for the plane was to drill holes for the posts, but because the holes in the plane and the fence must match perfectly, I wanted to drill them both at the same time. So, I milled a piece of beech for the fence, and drilled both fence and plane body at the same time. Once that was done, I cut an extension of the escapement through the fence.

The last part of the plane for this step was to laminate a new sole onto the plane. For this, I went again with ziricote. It's related to rosewood, so it's nice and dense. I wiped it down with mineral spirits, and alcohol, and epoxied it to the sole of the plane. Because the sole is beveled, clamping things up can be a challenge, the sole will typically slide to one side. I put some wire brads in the plane body, and clipped them down so that they would bite into the sole, and not let it slide. The sole was milled over-size, and will be planed down when the epoxy has cured.

Read Part 2.
Read Part 3.
Read Part 4. 
Read Part 5. 
The Plane In Use.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why work with wood?

A while back, someone asked in the comments section why I worked with wood. I thought it was a pretty good question, so I tried answering it. Trying to answer that question was as hard as I imagine it would be for someone else to explain why they have faith, or don't

I enjoy the learning process, because I'm a brainy, geeky type, but that's not a viable explanation for 'why' the topic grabbed me as strongly as it did. Psychologically, I am who I am, and there are biographical reasons for that, but nothing in my personal history is a reason for why I do this, either. It was, is, and remains an active part of my life, and an active choice.

In part, I blame North Bennet. After seeing what two years of regular practice can do to build skill and enhance learning, I was hooked, and chose to follow my bliss. Woodworking as a topic is almost boundless, and the field is so huge, that I can run as long, hard, and as fast as I want. From design history or design process, to tool making and maintenance, skills and techniques, manufacturing and production theory... The more I learn, the more I realize that there is more to learn around working with wood than I will ever completely understand. That's intoxicating, and it lights up my world. Still... that's a reason to dabble, it doesn't explain why I've tried so hard to turn it into a lifestyle.

In part, I also blame some of the larger lessons that I've learned from reading about efficiency and productivity. The Toyota Way has shaped the layout of both my shop, and my kitchen. Adapting Getting Things Done has helped me to minimize downtime in my shop, organized a lot of my day to day business, and minimized the time I waste on household errands, which ultimately gave me more quality time with my wife. The slow but steady methodology of Sloyd has helped shape me over the past decade, both personally, and professionally, and has been the compass that guides me when I get lost.

That slow but steady progress is not for the faint of heart. I've made a lot of mistakes, learned hard lessons, and paid dearly for my obsession several times over. It's a hard mirror to look into, and there have been times that I really thought it wouldn't work out. But I've been rewarded with insights into skill, craft, and into my own abilities after taking those long, hard looks.

Ultimately, the reason that I continue to pursue woodworking as a career is that it's proven to be more personally and philosophically fulfilling than anything else I've ever done. Aside from the hard work, the learning moments, and the various leaps of faith that I've had to make, the process of making a useful object demands a lot of thought. When I try to work in a space that's cluttered or disorganized, it takes me forever to get anything done. When I try to rush through a job without thinking out the details, that thoughtlessness is reflected in the end result. When I work without paying attention, that inattention is reflected in the end result.

But when I take the time to create a purposeful space, understand what I want, and when I work with care and attention, it enhances everything I do.

Maybe trying to be a better woodworker has helped me become a happier, better person. Or, maybe it's the other way around, or both.

I work with wood because I'm compelled to. It's a tactile, aesthetic, visceral thing that I really can't quite explain.

George Nakashima heavily emphasized the spiritual side of working with wood, and his reverence for the material. Sam Maloof emphasized that it was work, it was his job, and that while there were some pieces of wood that were beautiful, it was a working relationship for him, and that he knew there would always be more wood that came through his door. I find myself in between those views. I love wood, and there are days when I get to work with some really beautiful stuff, and some truly awesome tools, and it makes me happy.

At some point, there's going to be a companion piece to this entry, that talks about why I decided to work with wood professionally, (as opposed to remaining a basement hobbyist) and to struggle with being a small businessman in manufacturing. But that answer will take some time to figure out, too.

Question for the Photophiles

Most of the photos I take in the shop are done with the iPhone. I've generally been pretty happy with them. But they're only so big, and (I'm told) some of the colors aren't exactly accurate.

So, I brought in an old point and shoot. And I've been having a lot of problems with artifacts due to dust. In some cases, it's just a matter of cleaning the lens. In other cases, I've been told that it should be simple to fix the issue with photoshop. But images like this one make me really doubt that.

So, putting it to the people... is there an easy fix for dust-proofing a camera, besides photoshop? I've taken to dusting the lens every time before I take a photo, but that gets old pretty fast.