Category Archives: Good Woodworking Books

Laminated Molding Plane Irons

A couple of months ago someone dropped off an old molding plane in my shop that was missing the iron and wedge. A plane missing its iron is like a book torn in half, so unsatisfying…

Lie-Nielsen happens to make tapered molding plane iron blanks from solid 0-1 steel that you can buy annealed and ready for profiling for not too much money, but how about making your own by forge laminating some tool steel? For anyone interested in Japanese tool blacksmithing forge welding is an important skill, one that I don’t really have ideal conditions to practice, having to set up my forge in the out of doors. But I’ll be damned if life just goes on and on without giving it a try.

For the main body of the iron I used 3/16 mild steel. Hollow and Round molding planes are generally made as matched sets, so it makes sense to make two irons at a time. Hence a way of cutting the steel to rough shape and pre-forged dimension with little waste.

I plunge cut the middle with an angle grinder and finished by hand with a hack saw. If you don’t have an angle grinder you could just leave a little extra room on the reigns of the iron and cut a slot wide enough to get the hacksaw blade in for the vertical cut.

The tool steel I used was forged down from an old file to about 1/8″ and tapered on the back end. Any less than that and I found that the tool steel in my lamination tended to become quite uneven. I tried so, so many times to get the tool steel to stick properly after fluxing with borax to the mild steel and stay in place while bringing up to welding heat in the forge. Its tricky, to say the least. Luckily I have a MIG welder so just tack welded a tiny spot in the back, brought up to fluxing heat, and separated the pieces enough to get some borax in there, then back in the fire for welding heat. The mating surfaces had previously been ground bright and clean.

Previously I had been dubious about my ability to get a good welding heat, its hard to judge outdoors, even with a big piece of plywood casting shade. Using hardwood charcoal I practiced forge welding mild steel back on itself, and found that yes, that shit gets hot enough to melt away and form little bloom nuggets around the tuyere. The key for me was making a (relative) large fire where I had clearer oxidation and carbonization zones. Judging when the steel is hot enough…still a matter of experience.

Three welding heats and two forging heats to get down to thickness and taper from 3/16″ at the cutting edge to a little less than 1/8″ at the back. Mild steel is much more forgiving of cold forging than tool steel, and the reigns of the iron draw out quite a bit. Get them as close to finished dimension as possible! The lamination I didn’t forge on edge, just squashed out like a pancake and cut, ground, and filed to shape.

The laminated part will warp a bit during quenching, and some of it will come out after tempering, depending on how hard you are going to leave the steel you might consider forging in a little bit of the opposite bend before quenching. A decent ura would help too, that might come later for me.

I like using old files for tool steel, you can find them really cheap in junk and antique shops. That said, now that I’ve met with some small portion of success forge welding I went ahead and bought a stock of 0-1 tool steel 2″ wide by 1/8″ so that I could practice with steel of consistent properties, and it saves a good bit of work and charcoal compared to forging files to the right shape and thickness for lamination.

I need this sign, my shop is a slow work zone.

Indeed it was a very slow work zone out on the road, nobody was there.

I like “Wooden Planes and How to Make Them” quite a bit, but you won’t know shit about how a proper side escapement plane is made by reading only that one book. Larry Williams DVD “Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes was great, and lists all the requisite molding plane iron dimensions for any give size of plane.

If I get the chance I’ll make some sen and the plane blade and knife for a Japanese dovetail plane I’ve wanted to put together ever since trying one out at Mark’s. Easy sliding dovetails in my future!

Trammel Points for Circular Work in Carpentry

Need to lay out an arch? You’ll need some trammel points and a beam of sufficient length. After a survey of what was available to buy I decided to make my own.

Why three? Most simple arches can be formed with just two. Approximations of ellipses, the so called “bricklayers arch” similarly use two. If you want to draw true ellipses though, you’ll need three. So go ahead and make three and thank me later, haha.

I recently had a chance to read both Hasluck’s “Carpentry & Joinery” and Collings’ “Circular work in Carpentry and Joinery”. They’re both excellent texts and Hasluck’s stuff is in the public domain, so go treat yourself to a bit of free knowledge if you care to understand a bit better what modern carpentry has been reduced to.

The wedge and point sit in a gentle sliding dovetail, which keeps things from popping out of place. Both are contained within the long grain of the vertical clamp side. I used a thread box to cut the threads for the screw and tap the threads. Really, they’re just made out of a little scrap I had lying around. The points are 1/4″ mild steel.

I was asked recently to cut an arch-top molding for the inside of an entryway door. Its no small feat, really the domain of specialized shaping machines in custom mill shops. I’ve seen a tilting router setup that can do some decent profiles in a home shop, but how did the carpenters of old make this stuff before shapers and profiled knives? Radiused hollows and rounds of course. A look at carriage makers planes is very instructive.

The layout for the molding I have to cut wasn’t one listed in the books I have, but follows a standard model that I was able to deduce once back home in my shop. Fun stuff!

As an aside, have you ever noticed how much Mentos “The Fresh Maker” candy look like bi-convex go stones?

Japanese Cabinetmaking: A Dynamic System of Decisions and Interactions in a Technical Context


If you’re interested in Japanese woodworking at some point you run across the Japanese cabinetmaking tradition, sashimono woodworking, and tansu. Unfortunately most of the text references for sale are centered around collectors of tansu, not so much for the craftsman. As it happens Carol Ann Link published a doctoral dissertation on the subject back in 1975, “Japanese Cabinetmaking: A Dynamic System of Decisions and Interactions in a Technical Context”, that was referenced a long time ago in an article in Fine Woodworking magazine, and Mark Grable actually went to the effort to get a copy printed from the microfilm.

This is one of those texts that is a little bit obscure, hell, I doubt most people know it even exists. Says a lot about academia that so much useful work like this is pretty much fossilized in university libraries.

That’s where I come in, bringing you a few useful bits that you probably won’t see discussed any where else. I’m not at all concerned in giving a book review that one could call comprehensive, just the stuff that interests me.

The first half of the text is devoted to an anthropological discussion of technical definitions of technology and technique, not terribly helpful.

According to Link, “The research took place in the city of Kasukabe in Saitama Prefecture from September 1972 until July 1973”, during which time she undertook a modified apprenticeship with sashimono-shi Mr. Yusaku Tsuzuki and his son.


Of great interest to me was the many illustrations of functional and decorative tansu that formed the basic production repertoire for the Tsuzuki’s workshop.


I’ve never seen a Japanese music stand.


In the discussion of material, primarily Kiri (Paulownia wood), Link was taught that, “One major goal of a cabinetmaker is to finish high quality Paulownia so that the surface is ‘like the light colored, smooth body of a beautiful young girl.'”


I’ve often said that a shooting board is one of the more under appreciated fixtures in a woodworking shop, and the Japanese versions are rarely seen outside of videos of shokunin on Youtube.


Have you ever wondered about the Japanese version of a router plane? Me too, me too.


The more you work with wood the greater your appreciation for the initial selection and placement of stock. I had never considered that you might want the grain towards the front of a cabinet different from the grain towards the back. In Japanese cabinetmaking there is a great deal of subtle refinement in every detail.


The “technical context” that Link frames her discussion around is quite developed in its form and detail, unlike any other woodworking text I’ve read.


Of particular interest was her description of Ita yaki, literally toasting the wood over a charcoal brazier to straighten the planks prior to joining.


Just like fire straightening arrow shafting from natural tree shoots, the simplicity of the description belies the complex interactions necessary for success. Practice is the best teacher.


Every detail of the tansu makers craft is optimized for speed an accuracy, including glue up of boards to make panels. Speed does not necessarily mean a loss of quality if you have a highly developed technique. Unfortunately there is precious little information out there about how to work quickly.


Great stuff! Is it worth it for you to seek out this text? That I’m not so sure, perhaps if you’re dedicated to making tansu. This was written before the internet, before Youtube and the proliferation of blogs, like mine, dedicated to mining this gold and sharing it freely.

All the time I wonder at the fact that craftspeople come and go with this knowledge like a fart in the wind, blink and you miss it.