Hand Scraping a Hand Plane Sole Flat

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The plane was made by a fellow named Spiers of Ayr, Scotland about a century ago and is of a style called an “infill” plane because of the Brazillian rosewood that fills the body. Its interesting to note that the body was not cast as one piece, but was joined together from three pieces that were double dovetailed together. The joints are so tight that they are all but invisible, a very beautiful feature. And consider that this plane was made by hand!

I started by refinishing the wooden bits, sanding out some of the more minor dings and dents, and then finishing with dutch oil and several coats of paste wax. It looked a lot nicer, but without a blade I couldn’t try it out. To top it off, the wood had noticeably shrunk (a common problem when wood goes from balmy Scotland to Colorado) and probably warped the sole of the plane. I bought the largest blade I could find, a massive 3/16″ thick Lie Nielsen which turned out to be too thick for the mouth of the plane.

The sole presented the greatest problem. I bought a large precision straight edge and a feeler guage set to be able to measure how far out the sole was, and it turned out to be bowed and twisted to the tune of about .006″. I’ve lapped out smaller planes with sandpaper on a granite flat, but this plane was too large, and too out of flat. I considered sending it to a machine shop for surface grinding, but the clamping force on the plane during the grinding process would have warped it, and was too expensive to boot. Besides, sending a valuable antique to a machine shop is just asking for trouble. I finally came upon hand scraping, laid out the cash for a granite surface plate large enough for this monster of a plane, and picked up a nice carbide scraper from Anderson Bros. and the diamond abrasives to sharpen it. I scraped every surface on my drill press and vice to get a feel for the process. It turns out that scraping cast iron is a joy compared to the mild steel of the jointer plane. Scraping the sole turned out to be twice as slow as cast iron for me to achieve the quality of surface finish the plane deserves. You can see in the photos the progression of the sole of the plane as it gets progressively more flat.

The granite plate is inked with prussian blue oil paint and the object to be flattened is rubbed against it. A brayer would have been nice to spread the ink, but my palm worked just as well, as long as you don’t mind a blue hand.

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When you pull them apart, the blue transfers to the metal, and you then take a pass over the inked spots with the scraper. After each pass with the scraper the sole of the plane was deburred with a fine synthetic sharpening stone.

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The scraper removes about .0001″ at a pass. Then you do it again, and again, and many more times, alternating the direction of your scraping pass perpendicular to the last. I’ve since learned that a HSS scraper blade would leave a better quality surface when scraping mild steel. The carbide was prone to galling on the cutting edge, leaving deep scratches that took many passes to remove. I also was truly careful not to slip off the edges of the mouth opening and gouge out a bunch of metal that can’t be put back.

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I probably spent about twenty-five hours scraping, and man does that paint get absolutely everywhere! The resulting pattern of scrapes is quite beautiful with the light reflecting on it, and the quality of the surface is comparable to a high quality surface grind job (the plate is flat to .0001″).

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I knew I was doing a good job when I started to have a hard time getting the plane unstuck from the plate, and having the plate lift on me, which weighs 150lb.  As you approach full flatness of the plane the amount of ink on the surface plate should be lightened considerably.

With the sole flat I removed a little metal around the mouth so that the blade would fit, and polished up the bronze lever cap. Although planes of this period did have blade adjusting mechanisms, this plane showed no screw holes where it would have been mounted. The blade would have also had a cap iron, but the blade I bought was so massive it was not necessary, and I substituted a small piece of oak under the lever cap to make the blade seat properly. To adjust the cutting depth and alignment you tap on the blade with a small hammer.

I’ve received a great deal of satisfaction from restoring this tool. It is the bedrock of accuracy in my shop. It performs beautifully, truly the best hand plane I have. Its interesting to note that I spent about the same amount of money restoring it as it would have cost to buy a brand new top of the line Lie Nielsen, but the Spiers is unquestionably the finer tool.

Homemade Wood Clamps

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I made these clamps for layout work as a direct result of my adventure making shoji for the first time. I have plenty of your typical screw type wood clamp, but they’re cumbersome and heavy if you only need moderate pressure to hold a few pieces together for marking. Doesn’t it also hurt badly when you hit a metal clamp while cutting with your expensive Japanese saw? Well, these clamps excel at holding kumiko together to cut the joinery. They may not be quite as nice as the fine little brass clamps you can get from Japan, but as many as are needed, in whatever size, can be made for almost no cost for the wood.

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The construction was very straight forward. The beams I made from oak, the braces with the mortices are from walnut. The beams are 1/2″ x 3/4″, by whatever length is needed secured. I’ve made a couple sets of these in different sizes: 6″, 12″, 24″. A hole is drilled in the sliding brace for a pin, and then that same hole is used to pilot holes into the beam every 1/2″. The braces measure 1″ square, with an inch of clamping surface below the beam. You can basically prepare your brace lumber in sections about 12″-16″ long, lay out many at the same time, and drill and tap the hole for the wood screw as well as cut the mortices before cutting the braces to length. A 1/2″ thread box and tap was used to cut the wood threads, in this case from maple. A bit of fitting was required to get a good fit for the brace that carries the wood screw, but allow the other two pieces to slide easily upon the beam. An oak pin and a couple lengths of 1/8″ steel rod finish things off.

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Here I’ve put them to use for a bit of assembly work gluing up the bridal slip joints on a cabinet door.  Using tools you’ve made to make other stuff is its own special kind of satisfaction. I’ll never buy another wood clamp if I can help it. Its a load off my mind not to have to find the money for sets of parallel bar clamps. And sure, you can’t be using these clamps to pull the twist out of a 2×4. If you need that much clamping pressure you probably did something wrong, and may I then offer you my commander timber framing mallet?

 

Making Shoji Screen Room Dividers

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Shoji are, to put it simply, awesome.

I discovered them through Toshio Odate’s book “Making Shoji” one day wondering through the book section of a local Woodcraft store.  I have Odate’s book on Japanese tools and their use and it has been one of the most important sources of knowledge for me as I have developed skill with hand tools.  The fine grain of the wood, the clean lines, the subtle light through the paper; all combine to create a simple elegance that few outside of japan have the pleasure of enjoying in their homes. I looked around the web and found several companies that make shoji in the US for prices of $300-$1000 a panel plus installation. That may seem like a lot of money, but for the joinery involved, it makes sense.

Odate describes how a professional shoji maker in Japan, back when he apprenticed after WWII, would be expected to produce two panels in two days. And that with hand tools. So, I suppose, I should be able to do better with all the power tools in my shop. If only that were the case, it took me about a week to make these two panels. I use a table saw and bandsaw to cut material to rough dimension, and then bring things in to square with hand planes. The joinery was also cut with hand tools.

The distinguishing feature of the mortices for shoji are their depth. So much so that the Japanese tategu shokunin employs a special bottom cleaning chisel to scrape the bottom of a mortice beautifully clean and close to the opposing side. Odate employs a single mortice of 3/8″ width, which with a slightly tapered fit to the end grain of the mortice, gives excellent strength to the main frame elements without requiring clamps for assembly.

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The hipboard was edge glued together from pieces about five inches wide. It would have been nice to use wider boards, but it is very difficult in my part of the country to find wide boards of quality lumber that can be resawn to 3/8″ without warping badly from drying stresses. The lumber that I used for this project was very good quality vertical grain Douglas Fir.  The finished thickness of the hipboard is 1/4″, so it is very important that the glue up go smoothly, and the edges join such that the panel is not warpy. To achieve this I jointed the edges such that they were ever so slightly concave such that no gaps opened up on the outside edges of the joints.

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Here you can see the hip board together with the rails and kumiko. The kumiko were assembled first, and then the hip board fitted to the bottom and middle rail. You can see that even without the stiles for side support the kumiko tenons provide enough strength for the partial assembly to stand on its own.

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Both stiles get fitted to the rail tenons at the the same time. Its a real moment of truth, because with the compression joinery of the mortices you are not supposed to pre-fit your joints. I had to wack the stiles pretty hard to get them seated, but had no joints crack or split.

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Here you can see the pair of assembled shoji. I made these to standard demensions without a particular track opening to install them into, so I ended up leaving the horns on the stiles and adding some small feet on the bottom so that they could be used as free standing screens.

The layout of the kumiko was spaced to accept traditional 11″ wide strips of shoji paper, which I glued on with some home made sticky rice glue.

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I learned a great deal about accurate layout during this project. The half laps for the kumiko joinery was a real moment of truth for doing accurate work with a saw. If you’re interested in shoji don’t hesitate to give it a shot. Shoji represent a real elegance with an economy of material. Like poetry, the best words in the best order. Here, the best quality wood in the best orientation.

How to make a Spinning Wheel

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Its hard to figure out where to start when it comes to making a spinning wheel. You get interested in making some yarn, maybe get a few different hand spindles. And then you get to the point where you want better quality yarn faster. For me that meant figuring out how to make a spinning wheel. Look around for plans a bit online and you come to the conclusion that the most difficult bit of the whole affair comes down to the wheel itself, making a large accurate circle. And if, like me, you don’t own a lathe that can throw a 30″ circle, you need a work around. Thankfully in woodworking there is always more than one way to get something done.

I’d like to say thanks to Carson Cooper for his excellent work publishing his guide to making spinning wheels and flyers, and the various plans of wheels that he puts out with excellent dimensioned drawings and fabrication instructions. Without having a collection of spinning wheels to work from for basic dimensioning and design Cooper’s books were an invaluable aid. That said, you have to know your way around a woodshop to make use of his work.

A spinning wheel starts, from a design perspective, with the wheel. Build the wheel first, and all else follows.

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I figured if I could build a large wheel, then a small one would be a piece of cake, so I started with a 30″ wheel. The most useful thing to note about how I made an accurate wheel is the piece of Baltic birch plywood my wheel blank is resting on. It serves as both circle routing jig and assembly jig, using a central pin drilled in the middle and being the same diameter as the wheel axle shafting.

Cutting the mortices for the splines that hold the segments together was done with saw and mortice chisel. Frankly, it would have been much, much easier if I had used a straight cutting bit on a router, but I like to try things the old fashioned way first, even if I know it will be time consuming. I cut the corners off of each side of the six wheel segments to decrease the length of the mortice, making it much easier to keep things accurate, but making it much more difficult to hold the work securely while cutting with the chisel. Once the pieces were glued together I screwed the wheel down in three places to the jig, being able to use those same screw holes to locate the cut rim back exactly to its concentric position around the axle for assembly.

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Drilling the holes for the spokes required the fabrication of two different V blocks and a center finder for my drill press. Even with the routing jig to align the parts, accurate hole drilling is a must if you want parts to actually fit together.

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Here is the assembled wheel, on the routing jig. I had to make the wheel hub in three pieces so that the rim would lie in plane with the hub on the jig. I would definitely recommend some holes cut in the jig so that clamps can reach through and press the two main halves of the split hub together against the spokes.

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With the wheel together you can decide upon the angles for the splay of the legs, and the distance between the wheel and the flyer. You want the wheel as far away from the flyer whorl as possible to give the drive band as much wrapped angle as possible on the smaller drive whorl. The wheel can’t lean back too far though, or it will want to tip over. A happy balance occurs if you put the center line of the wheel over where the two front legs meet the ground.

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The main challenge of making the flyer was getting my Rigid lathe to accurately center drill small metal parts. Cooper recommends brass for the flyer orifice, as it is soft enough to turn on a wood lathe. As difficult as CR steel is to work, at least it is cheap. I even made the bobbin bearings out of 1/2″ CR rod. And don’t get me started about threading the flyer shaft for the drive whorl nut. Save yourself a great deal of trouble threading free hand with a die and use a collet to hold the shaft on your lathe and a tailstock die holder. I thought that my dies were just cheap because of the gnarled look to the threads. Turns out holding the die in a stable alignment while threading is everything when it comes to getting clean threads.

Well, I know I left a great deal out if you’re reading this and trying to figure out how to do it yourself. It took me a couple years from when I first conceived of making a spinning wheel to gain both the knowledge and tooling to make something that doesn’t look too bad. So don’t give up, keep studying anything you can get your hands on. Find a store that sells wheels and study them in person. From never having used a wheel to building a quality heirloom is totally possible. If you have any specific questions about how something was done, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to put up another blog post.