Note: The content of this post has been moved to my new blog. You can find the new post here:
I finally finished my reproduction of the William & Mary bible box I have been working on. If you missed the previous posts about it, you can check them all out, including pictures of the original, here: William & Mary Bible Box Posts.
To give you the short version, this project was a group build with my woodworking club, the Central Jersey Woodworker’s Association. I co-mentored the build with our club president, and each group member built their own box. We met as a group four times, once a month from January through April, to discuss key steps in the build process. Then each member went back to their own shop to complete that phase of the build. For certain specialty tasks, like the veneering and turning, we did those at the mentor’s (Frank’s) shop so that everyone wouldn’t have to invest in specialty tools that they may not have. Overall it was a really fun project.
My biggest take-aways:
- Veneer work is fun stuff! Everyone should try it.
- Turning small items on the pole lathe is a bit of a challenge. One needs to be sure to leave an extra 4 to 6″ where the drive cord wraps around for turning small things like the feet for this box. For long items like Windsor chair legs, it’s not a big deal. You can just turn the leg end for end in the lathe and continue to go at it. For turning small stuff though, having extra length is the way to go. I didn’t have that here (the blanks were designed to fit Frank’s Jet lathe) and I struggled a bit with the turning (not just because of the short blanks, but that’s a post for another day).
- The parting tool isn’t a lot of fun to use on a pole lathe. The skew works much better.
- The tool rest on my lathe flexes too much. This was the first time I’ve done any serious turning for a piece of furniture on my lathe. Previously it had been only practice pieces and rough turned items for the shop, such as the handles for my tool chest. I hadn’t noticed the flex in the tool rest with those turnings, but it reared its ugly head while turning the feet for this box. So I’ll need to remake the tool rest before I do any more turning. If you make this lathe for yourself, do yourself a favor and use a stiff hardwood for the tool rest and not construction grade lumber. The hem/fir I used just flexes way too much to make a solid tool rest.
Tonight is our club’s annual member showcase meeting where the club members bring in projects to display and talk about. It will also be the unveiling of our group’s finished bible boxes. If you’re in the area, you should stop by. You can get the address from the club’s web site, linked above. There’s no cost for your first meeting, so you have nothing to lose. It’s sure to be a great meeting with lots of really great work on display.
I love using wooden planes. I don’t think they’re in any way better than other types of planes. The wood certainly doesn’t know if it was planed by a wooden or metal plane. I just prefer the feel and action of wooden planes. As a result of using them and demonstrating using them through the blog and podcast, I receive a lot of questions about using them and getting old wooden planes to work well.
The first thing to check with a problem plane is that the iron is sharp. The second thing to check with a problem plane is that the iron is sharp. Assuming that the plane iron is adequately sharp, the most frequent problem that new users of wooden planes encounter are that the planes either don’t cut at all or when adjusted for a deeper cut they will only take thick cuts, chatter, skip and jam. Mouth clogging is also a frequently encountered issue. In my experience with wooden planes, these problems are almost always caused by two or three issues that the planes might have. I suggest addressing one of these issues at a time, in the order they are listed, and checking the plane’s performance after addressing each. If you are having problems getting a wooden plane to work well, I’m betting that one (or all) of these adjustments will solve your plane’s issues.
Flattening the Sole
Usually, the sole of an old wooden plane is slightly concave in profile. This causes the plane to either not cut at all when the iron is set to take a light cut (because the concavity lifts the iron off the work), or to dig in and chatter because the iron has to be extended too far out in order to make contact with the board. So flattening the sole would be my first attempt at a fix.
With a jack plane sole flatness typically isn’t an issue. Jack planes are usually set up to take a thick cut. I have never personally bothered to flatten the sole of a jack plane, though I’m not going to tell you not to if you really want to. With a try plane, smooth plane, or joinery plane, however, you want the sole to be relatively flat in order to do fine, accurate work.
Planing the sole with another plane is one way to get there. If you already have a well tuned metal (or wooden) plane, simply planing the sole flat is probably the fastest and easiest method. With the iron backed off but tightly wedged in place, you put the plane in the bench vise, sole up, and plane the sole flat. Take very fine cuts and check the sole frequently with a good straight edge and a pair of winding sticks. The process is no different than flattening the face of any board. When you’re done, you want the sole to be flat and free of twist.
Lapping the sole with sandpaper attached to a flat substrate is another way to make it flat. Be careful with this method though. Lapping a long plane can quickly turn it into a convex soled nightmare if you use too much pressure or too aggressive of a paper. If you make the sole convex, it is a condition that is much harder to correct.
I recommend not going coarser than 220 grit paper. It will go slower, but that just means that things won’t go wonky as fast. Draw lines about 1/4″ apart side to side across the sole of the plane. This will help gauge progress. Make sure your substrate is flat and well supported. Brush the dust off the paper frequently to keep it cutting as evenly as possible, and change the paper before you think you need to. Lapping causes the paper to dull fastest in the middle because the middle area is always in contact with the plane. When the paper dulls in the middle faster, the outside edges of the paper will cut faster than the middle, resulting in more material being removed from the outside edges of the plane than the center. If the plane is currently concave, this can easily be mistaken as removing concavity because in a concave soled plane, the outside edges will obviously be sanded down first. So don’t just rely on the pattern of the pencil marks on the sole to gauge your progress. Check the sole often with a straight edge and winding sticks to make sure you don’t go past flat and make the sole convex.
Use light pressure when lapping. Just enough to move the plane. Believe it or not, if you use too much pressure, you can flex a concave sole slightly back into flat while lapping, so you will think you are making progress when in fact you are simply flexing the concavity out. Then when you check with a straight edge, it will still be concave and you’ll be banging your head against the wall trying to figure out why. The weight of the plane should provide the majority of the downward pressure. You just want to move the plane back and fourth, without putting any significant downward pressure on it. And remember to keep the iron tightly wedged in the plane while lapping to make sure the plane is under wedge tension. Just back it off so it doesn’t project out the mouth. This provides the most accurate surface from lapping.
Re-bed the Iron
In these old planes, seasonal movement over the last 150 years sometimes causes the bed to take on a slightly humped profile. This makes a wooden plane all but unusable. I’ve found this to be a very common problem with these old wooden planes. Addressing this issue usually makes a drastic and immediate difference in how a wooden plane works.
This might seem like a difficult task, but it’s really not. It’s just slow, tedious and time consuming. But I’ve found that almost 9 out of 10 planes have a bedding issue when they are experiencing chatter and issues with not cutting or digging in but not producing a nice smooth cut. To check the bedding, put the iron assembly in the plane and wedge it tight. Turn the plane over and try to insert a thin feeler gauge between the iron and the bed (a thin piece of paper will work too). You should not be able to insert the feeler gauge past the end of the iron’s bevel. If you can, then it means that the iron is not well supported behind the cutting edge and that it is likely flexing in use. This causes bad chatter, skipping and planes that will either not cut when set thin, or will dig in and chatter when set just a hair deeper than when they were not cutting.
Re-bedding the iron is fairly easy, and much easier to see done than describe, so I strongly suggest you check out the podcast I did on re-bedding the plane iron in a wooden plane. All you need is a candle and a file. Basically you soot the bevel side of the iron by holding it in the candle flame. Then put it in the plane, being careful not to disturb the soot. Wedge it tight, then tap the iron a couple times to advance it slightly. Then remove it from the plane carefully and see where the bed of the plane has had soot transferred to it. This is where the iron is contacting the bed. File away the sooted spots and repeat until the iron makes good contact all along the bed right at the contact point of the bottom of the iron. When done, you should no longer be able to get the feeler gauge under the iron.
Address Wedge Issues
As long as the wedge is fitting well, it’s probably fine, unless its tips are catching shavings and causing the mouth to clog in use. Many times, the wedge has shrunk narrower than the mortise, so the tips of the wedge are not in contact with the sides of the wedge abutments. You can see if this is the case by looking into the mouth from the sole of the plane and observing the tips of the wedge. You might need a flashlight to do this. If the wedge has shrunk, you’ll see a small space between the tips of the wedge and the sides of the wedge abutments. These spaces can trap shavings, especially when the plane is skewed, because skewing directs the shaving to the sides of the abutments. To fix this problem, you can glue on a thin piece to either side of the wedge and reshape the wedge to tightly fit the sides of the abutments or you can make a new wedge. Here’s a post I did several years ago on making a new wedge.
Thoughts on Mouth Patches
Some people advocate adding a patch to the sole of a wooden plane to close up the mouth. I’ve never bothered to do this, although I have seen some examples of old planes where this was done. The thing is, I don’t think these old planes ever had or were intended to have really tight mouths. I have seen (and purchased) old planes that were virtually unused and the mouths were not what would be considered tight today by any means. I’ve not encountered a domestic hardwood where I felt a plane with a tighter mouth would have been helpful either. I think a really tight mouth in a wooden plane can lead to clogging do the the wear part of the throat closing in on the shaving. Perhaps a really tight mouth would be helpful in a smoother designed to tackle really nasty exotic hardwoods with convoluded grain. I’ll never know as I don’t use these woods. For a jack or try plane a mouth patch would be a waste of time in my opinion. Even for smoothing, I’ve never found a wood [that I commonly use] that I couldn’t handle with my 55 degree smooth plane and/or a card scraper. So I’d pass on the mouth patch for now.
Wooden planes have way fewer parts compared to metal planes. In addition, none of these parts move (except that whole seasonal movement thing). So in my experience, they are much simpler to troubleshoot and fix than metal planes. Hopefully these tips will help you get that old wooden plane of yours back into prime working condition as well.
Note: The content of this post has been moved to my new blog. You can find the new post here:
One of the best way to get started in the craft, learn a great deal, and meet other like minded individuals of all skill levels is to take a class or get invloved in a local woodworking club. Classes are great because you get hands on instruction. They can be expensive though. Local clubs on the other hand are an absolute bargain, and often you can attend a meeting or two for free to see if the club is for you. The benefit of local clubs is that you can meet local people who usually are more than eager to help out newcommers and get them started right. Most clubs have lectures and demonstrations fairly regularly, and many have special seminars, group wood buys, and mentor led group builds to help you get your feet wet.
My own club, the Central Jersey Woodworker’s Association, has recently started doing mentor led group builds as a way for us to get together in small groups, work out project details and learn from each other. Participant experience levels run the gamut from rank beginner to seasoned professional, and skill sets are equally as diverse, from CNC to hatchet and drawknife. Group projects like these are a fantastic way to see other woodworker’s shops, learn new skills, build new projects, and make new friendships for nothing more than the cost of a club membership.
So seek out classes, but especially get involved in your local guilds and clubs. The cost of annual membership to one of these organizations typically pays for itself the very first meeting. If you’re around the New Jersey area, feel free to stop in to the CJWA meetings. New members are always welcome. We meet the second Wednesday of the month (except for July and August) and are centrally located to many areas. Click the link above for more information and directions to the meetings.
It’s a hot topic that always manages to ruffle some feathers. There are lots of opinions on what constitutes “hand made”. At one extreme are folks, often deemed the “purists”, who believe that the use of electrons in any way shape or form immediately disqualifies a project from the “hand made” category. At the other extreme are those who believe that anything not “manufactured” on a factory assembly line qualifies as “hand made”, even though the only hand tool to touch the project was the rag used to rub out the final coat of paste wax. Then there are those in the middle (i.e. the majority of us), who work with both kinds of tools. Can’t we all just get along?
Of course everyone has an opinion on the true definition of “hand made”. So who’s right? The answer, at least as far as the hobbiest is concerned, is neither; and both. Got it? No?
Well, in truth, there’s no standard definition as to what constitutes that something is “hand made”. So as with many things, it comes down to interpretation. Even in the world of period reproductions you will have propnents on both sides of the debate. I have two opinions about the subject. One is specific to the commercial world and those advertising their wares as “hand made” in order to entice potential customers. That interpretation, however, is the subject of another post.
Since I do this as a hobby, and since I’m sure 99.9% of the readers of this blog are in the same boat, I want to talk about how I interpret hand made as it applies to the hobbiest. In my opinion, when it comes to the hobbiest, it absolutely doesn’t matter to me one iota how much of your work you do with hand tools and whether or not you consider your projects “hand made” (which I’m sure you probably do). The reason is that it has zero impact on me or the way in which I work. I love hand tools. I love using hand tools. I even like doing the “grunt” work with hand tools (most of the time).
But I also realize that not everyone is like me. Not everybody wants to work the way I do. Not everyone is physically capable of working the way I do. But it doesn’t matter. Your work is your work. Whether or not you surface your stock by hand or machine, rip with a Disston or a Delta, or scroll with a bowsaw or a bandsaw, it matters not to me. What is important is that you enjoy the hobby the way you do it. As a hobbiest, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. If you aren’t happy with the way your current setup is working, you can change it.
I occasionally get an apology from someone building the tea table that always makes me chuckle. They will typically talk about their experiences building the project and how much fun it has been to build, but apologize because they used a bandsaw instead of a bowsaw, or because they ran the rough stock through the planer instead of hand planing. They write this as if I’m somehow going to be disappointed because they didn’t do it just like I did. I have to laugh, but then politely reply that I’m glad that they found a solution that worked for them. That’s what being a hobbiest is about. Finding a way that works for you. I do things the way I do them because that’s what I enjoy. If I didn’t, I’d be podcasting how to use a bandsaw to make cabriole legs instead of a rip saw. If you like my way that’s great. If you have another solution that works better for you, that’s great too. As long as you are having fun.
How much hand tool work went into your projects is irrelevant. In the end, it’s your project. You have to live with it. You have to be happy with it. You have to be satisfied with the process you used to complete it. Whether or not it fits your definition of “hand made” is completely up to you. The definition in this sense really only applies to your work and your interpretation of your work.
Here’s my interpretation as I apply it to my own work. If the final fit, finish and composition is a direct result of the work of my hands, then in my eyes, that piece can be called “hand made”. If the appearance and surfaces are not a direct reflection of the work of my hands, then I do not consider that piece to be hand made.
Here’s a little example I like to use. Consider a turned spindle for a table leg. I could use an electric lathe to turn the spindle and I would still consider the piece hand made. That’s because the shape of that spindle and the crispness of the details are all controlled by the tools that I am manipulating with my own hands. The motor serves only to turn the wood. In contrast, if I were to rig up one of those automatic duplicator things to my spring pole lathe, I would not consider that hand made. Even though there was no electrical power used, my hands did not cut the shape of that spindle. It was cut by a machine (which the duplicator technically is even though it does not have a motor).
In that vein, we can look at some pieces and apply a similar definition. Take a Maloof rocker. Would I consider this hand made? Absolutely! He may have used a die grinder to do the shaping, but it was his hands controlling the tool and ultimately the composition of the final piece. Similarly, a Krenov cabinet has a great deal of hand sculpting to finesse the final composition and appearance. He may have rough cut many of the parts on a table saw and band saw, but it was his hands that turned those boards into a thing of beauty. By contrast, a shaker table that had it’s rough milling done on the jointer, planer and table saw, its joinery cut with a mortising machine and router, and it’s surface hand planed, would not meet my interpretation of hand made as I apply it to my own projects.
So to get back to the original question, “What is hand made?” The answer is, as far as we hobbiests are concerned, whatever you interpret it to be. It’s your work. Call it whatever you like, as long as you have fun with it!
Throughout the centuries, the cabriole leg form has been used in many different styles of furniture in many different cultures. The form is thought to originate in ancient Chinese art and architecture and through the centuries the Chinese have used this form extensively. In fact, the ball & claw foot, often associated with the peak of the Georgian style in 18th century America, is thought to have originated in Chinese culture to depict a dragon’s claw clutching a pearl, symbolizing power and wisdom.
Furniture isn’t the only place that we see the graceful “S” curve shape of the cabriole leg. It also frequently shows up in other items such as Chinese porcelains.
While the form may have originated centuries earlier, half way around the globe, today the pieces most associated with the cabriole “S” curve are the furniture forms of early to late 18th century America. So with the work progressing on the shaping of the cabriole legs for my tea table, I thought I’d take a minute to show some different variations that are common in American furniture that can be employed to give cabriole legs a different feel.
Pictured above are several different forms of the common cabriole leg. The form on the left is probably the most widely recognized and used version of the leg. It’s the style I’m using for my tea table and the style most commonly used in early furniture. The leg has the subtle “S” curve and turned pad foot (also known as a Dutch foot) common to most cabriole legs. The leg in the center is a slightly different form. This leg is completely turned on the lathe, from the leg block at the top all the way through the offset pad foot. These legs are turned using two different centers at the foot end. The first, in line with the center of the leg stock is used to turn the foot. The foot is then repositioned to an offset center to turn the tapered leg, which meets the foot at the “heel”. The leg to the right is a bolder style commonly seen in French pieces, and therefore commonly referred to as a French cabriole leg. This style is square in cross section for the entire length of the curve and has no distinct foot.
In addition to the leg style, there are several different common variations of feet that can serve to terminate the bottom of the leg. Pictured below are four of the most common foot styles found on early American furniture.
The first foot pictured above is the common pad or Dutch foot. This is the style of foot I’m using for my tea table and the most common form seen. The bottom is turned on a lathe (or carved as I’m doing in the podcast) and the rest is shaped by hand. Notice the incredibly thin and delicate ankle on this particular example. This feature is very characteristic of pieces from earlier in the period.
The next foot is called a slipper foot. This is a very delicately shaped foot that looks very nice on light tea tables and early style dressing tables and highboys when paired with a leg with more delicate proportions than I’m using. The slipper foot is one of my favorite forms. It gives a piece a very light, delicate feel when added to a matching leg.
The next two feet are more typical of pieces from later in the period when the leg proportions began to become more stout. The first is called a trifid (meaning three lobed or three toed) or drake foot. It is a slightly heavier foot that looks better on a slightly stronger, heavier leg.
Finally, we have the well known ball and claw foot. This one is in a Philadelphia style as noted by the powerful gripping claws, webbed toes and slightly flattened ball. This foot also looks better on a more heavily poportioned leg, typical of later in the period.
As you can see, the variations of the cabriole leg are really only limited by your own imagination. The examples above are just a few of the more common variations historically seen in 18th century American furniture. Styles can be as simple and plain or as elaborate and addorned as your imagination can dream up. While not an appealing style to me, the Rococo leg shown below is just one example of how detailed and elaborate one can take this simple, yet beautiful form.