Category Archives: Hand Tools

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?

Studying with Yann Giguère of Mokuchi Woodworking


I managed to sneak in a few lessons between his busy production schedule with Yann Giguère of Mokuchi Woodworking in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, NY. Yann undertook a nine year apprenticeship in traditional Japanese carpentry with Dale Brotherton of Takumi Company, and there are few people more capable of teaching hand tool skills and passing on knowledge than Yann at the moment. Interestingly enough, Yann was also there in Iowa when Yataiki was teaching, and I heard about him from a traveling shakuhachi musician/carpenter Max Citron who visited with a trove of great photos and video from Takenaka carpentry museum while I was in Vermont.

What a great teacher! Like most of the people you’ll meet that work in this field Yann showed a total lack of pretentiousness or aloofness. You might imagine that we dived right in to the intricacies of koyabari, hip roof layout, and joked about the frustrations of kumiko-zaiku work. However, of far greater utility was working at the fundamentals of good carpentry; marking, sawing to a line, sharpening, and tuning kanna. I could have spent three times as long learning this and not have gotten it all.

For example, even more than discussing what a good layout looks like we started with exploring the sumisashi (bamboo ink brush). I’ve made a few of these in the past for marking logs to saw to boards, but approached their use with a admittedly western mindset, placing the bevel on the wrong side of the pen for right handed use. You see, I was assuming that the greatest accuracy came from holding the marking tool plumb against the straight edge. The reality of this is that you can’t very well see the line that you’re marking, and tend to draw less than straight lines. Ever wondered why your marks don’t come square around a piece you’re marking even though you know the piece is perfectly square? By holding the bevel edge of the sumisashi against the square you’re hand is out of the way allowing a clear view of the work.

And neither in this regard did Yann have a slavish attitude of adherence to one particular marking instrument. In his shop at the time was a bunch of white ash being joined into a low bed for tatami, marked with pencil because the ink might bleed into the open pores of the wood and require too much material be removed at finish planing to remove the marks. So too did I see a nice selection of left and right hand marking knives.

Next, having myself had the need to show the use of the hand saw, I was greatly impressed to see the ease and naturalness with which Yann let the saw work. We discussed the problems I’ve seen in my own work with producing flat sawn surfaces, mostly related with pushing the saw too hard into the cut and using too dull of a saw. You might expect that Yann used only the highest quality saws, but everything of what was demonstrated to me was quite intentionally with saws of the disposable blade variety. And he had quite a nice collection of hand made saws.


Including three maebiki-oga, one of which you can see in the background!

We covered snapping lines with sumitsubo, Yann demonstrating how, and why, to snap curved lines by twisting the ink line. Most of my last lesson was devoted to sharpening and tuning of kanna, which opened my eyes on what good sharpening looks like, and its not like I’ve failed to spend my fair share of time learning this skill. Will I be able to sharpen while squatting on the ground? Lets find out…

I feel ready to make my first foray into Japanese structural carpentry now, for better or worse, daiku means action and practice, and I can see the road ahead quite clearly.

Even in the short period of time I spent at Yann’s shop I learned more than could possibly be discussed in a simple blog post, and that would miss the point in any case.  Having come from a fine music background previous to carpentry it was not hard for me to appreciate the relationship of student and teacher for the direct transmission of knowledge. Some things are still most easily communicated person to person.

Imagine then a gathering of many skilled carpenters! Kezurou Kai NYC will be held August 26-27, 2016 in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, NY. Last year Jim Blauvelt won the planing competition, and he not only cut the dai he used, but forged the kanna! Want to go?


Sen and Sen-Dai for Hand Scraping Saws



This is going to be a post with a lot of pictures, hopefully it won’t take forever to load on your web browser. To start, a method for measuring saw plate thickness, basically a red-neck deep throat dial micrometer using a drill press. By setting the zero on the dial to the thinnest parts of this saw I could write the deviation in thousandths directly on the plate, a grid of numbers. Supposedly this kind of saw plate variation of thickness for western panel saws is unusual, but it offers me a good opportunity to discuss the Japanese tools used to hand thickness nokogiri.


With the grid of the saw mapped I built up a topographical map to better visually represent the variation in thickness. After all, if you’re going to scrape a saw evenly you need to know where to take off metal. This saw already went through quite a bit of hammer straightening, but the problems with the uneven thickness of the plate are making it difficult to get that last 10% of straight. The normal fashion for gauging proper thickness on Japanese saws is to bend the saw and observe the curve, and I can attest that this is, with appropriate experience a la Yataiki, an extrememly accurate way to thickness saws to within a thousandth of an inch, based on some of his saws that I have looked at with the dial micrometer.


The tools used to scrape the saw plates are sen. You’ll find that these were once very common tools to all of the tool making blacksmith trades, including katana and kanna. Some of the sen pictured here are specialized for saw making, like the one at the very bottom of the frame, but there are others that could be used for hand scraping the ura (hollow) on the backs of Japanese chisels and kanna, or the flute on the sides of a katana.


This particular set uses laminate construction with Swedish steel.


And the final stage of scraping involves a lot of work hand burnishing the surface with a lot of pressure and elbow grease.

What kind of Swedish steel I would very much like to know, seeing as saying Swedish steel is about as useful as saying they are made from high carbon steel, there’s a lot of different kinds out there these days.


Lets start with a frame of reference for what the hell I’m talking about. This is a photo of Yataiki thicknessing a saw at the sen-dai. Beautiful metal shavings, no? The sen-dai comprises both the board the saw is resting on and the staple vise used to hold the saw flat. The large staple goes over the sen board and is mounted into a foundation block of poured concrete in the ground, a large block about two feet wide by four feet long, very stable.


For holding the saw down flat to be scraped on the sen-dai there are lots of little spring clamps and wedges. These are all used under the staple of the sen dai. The ball bearing is for rolling vigerously in hand to prevent blisters, the loop of steel is a way of binding the handles of a pair of tongs when forging. The little rectangular wedges hold the sen board against the wedge beneath it that gives it the proper downward angle for work.


For holding the opposite side of the saw nearest where you would be seated are more spring clamps, elegant little pieces of spring steel that slip over the edge of the sen board.


Saw makers don’t make one saw at a time, its more of a production affair. Here is a good stock of rough forged blanks, ready for rough grinding after the tangs are forge welded on.


An elegant spring clamp in use.


And under the staple the various wedges. The spring wedge holding the tang down has a curl at the other end used as a snell, for tapping the wedge loose.


This is just a mock up of the sen-dai. There is one size of board for larger saws.


And a smaller, thinner board for dozuki. Both of these are made from Kashi, Japanese white oak, the same wood used in plane dai.


The staple spring clamp for dozuki have a variation with a little stop cut at the end that the blade butts up against.


That allows for working right up to the end of the saw plate.


In the past all of the thicknessing would have been done by hand. More modern methods involve a rough surface grinding to remove most of the excess material. Here is a ryoba saw, rough ground and tempered. Beautiful colour.


Apparently dozuki are differentially tempered, softer along the tooth edge.


What you’re seeing here is a dozuki blade that’s been hammer straightened after tempering with two different kinds of hammers. Fascinating surface!


Note: This post has been edited to correct an earlier mistake, referring to Japanese Oak as Keyaki (a type of Japanese Elm) instead of Kashi.

Cutting Compound Angle Mortise and Tenons


Is modern digital technology running rampant in your life? Grab a saw! Join me for a little work and find out if your mind has been colonized by a corporation.


I finished the stool yesterday, so time to work through the rest of the problems associated with making a splay legged stool. Its a good thing that I’ve waited to post about this until finishing, because I found a few mistakes I made that were very instructive in understanding this project, which I’ll go into more detail with on the final post of this series detailing the final assembly.

The compound angle of the mortises meant that chopping with a chisel would have presented some great difficulties, so I started by drilling the waste with a brad point twist drill. I used the layout lines on the sides and a straight edge placed on the side for visually aligning the drill.


Just as you would for chopping with a chisel, drill half way through from both sides to reduce the chance of drilling waste outside the cut lines.


The table mortises were first layed out on the bottom using measurements from the center lines of the board, with the lines transferring up on all four edges with the common 3.5/10 slope to the top. Because the mortises were too far in to sight accurately I used a bevel gauge placed at 45 degrees in plan to gauge the angle for the drill and its alignment. In this case the angle for the drill, because it is at 45 degrees to plan (top view) uses the displacement multiplied by the square root of two, working out to about 4.9/10 for the angle to set the bevel gauge to.  Why the square root of two? I’ll let you figure that one out, its very, very common in dealing with slopes that are a regular 45 degrees in plan.

To pare the surfaces of the mortises in the top I made a guide block for the chisel at the common slope, which applies to both the end grain and side walls of the mortise. One block to pare them all.


I tried using the extra leg I had cut as a guide block for the mortises on the legs but found it faster to simply sight along the edge of the leg, and used a big timber framing chisel.


Cutting the tenons was very special for me because it was the first chance that Mark has given me to try some of Yataiki’s saws. I used a 240mm ryoba for all of the cuts. This saw was very good, to put it mildly. My saws are all mushy disposable blade type, so coming from that to a saw like this is a quantum leap, and I joked with Mark whenever he asked how it was going that I had only broken off a couple of teeth. That is a real concern with lending someone a good saw to use, its no small matter, you don’t just hand a saw like this over lightly, and I greatly appreciated the gesture on Marks part to let me use this tool.

The saw was very thin, light, and finely set. Easy to use one handed, and really did all of the work without me pushing it through the cut. For the first time I felt like I was really experiencing new dynamics of the saw in the cut.


Should you run across a saw with these Markings…


Treasure it dearly.


Yataiki gave this saw to Mark when he was teaching in Iowa for making charcoal for the forge and asking doing things like counting the number of teeth on a saw.


It has some history, as the staining and hammer marks from hizumi will attest.

As an aside, I’ve been meaning to write a post on Marks hizumi hammers, but have been holding off because I don’t want to be too proscriptive about which hammer is the correct one for a particular task. What is important, besides the weight of the hammer matching the thickness of the plate, is the shape of the cross peen edge. And to that end, its easier to describe the correct shape and size of the mark it leaves than the degree of radius on its edges. Measuring the ghosts of the marks on this saw shows a cross peen mark about six millimeters long and one millimeter wide, an ellipse.


The yoko-biki (cross-cut) are nice and slender little daggers, really well proportioned.


The tate-biki are likewise pleasing to the eye.


My normal method of ripping tenon cheeks is with the piece of wood held vertical in a bench vise, but I found the teeth of this saw too sharp and aggressive to handle the angle of cutting uphill to the grain. The alternative is cutting downhill with the piece held horizontally. The saw horse I’m working on is a bit low for this task but It worked nicely, with the advantage of being able to freely orient to the best light from the south facing windows.

Getting the chance to use this saw was a real eye opener for me. I knew my disposable blade saws weren’t that great, but the positive difference is almost unquantifiable, and I find myself hoping to buy, perhaps not a totally handmade professional grade saw, but something with decent steel that I won’t feel too bad about sharpening on my own. The world needs more saws like this!