Category Archives: Hand Tools

Old School Spindle Steady


I whipped this up one day when I was out of cash and tired of poor results end drilling spindle work by eye with a cordless drill. Thankfully like most woodworkers, I’m swimming in small hardwood scrap. The wheels for this spindle steady are made from cherry with ironwood bearings pressed in. I didn’t have bolts lying around to secure the wheel arms to the frame, but I’m quite familiar with fitting a wedge. The wheel arms are adjusted the same way as a wooden hand plane, light taps with a hammer. If your wedges are not mated quite perfectly to the frame the vibration of the lathe will work them loose. In practice they must be set quite tight or you risk a sloppy hole.

Of course, hardwood wheels do tend to compress the wood grain of the spindle, but its not a problem if you do your end drilling after roughing down to a cylinder. Then its a simple matter to locate the tailstock center on the hole you drill and go to town turning down your spindle.

This spindle steady is definitely noisier than a commercial one  with ball bearings and neoprene wheels, but I’m about getting shit done with the stuff I have and not waiting for the nth tool to do better work. Oil your bearings!

Hand Scraping a Hand Plane Sole Flat


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.


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.


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.


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″).


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


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.


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.


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?