As you might of noticed it's been quiet on the blog since October last year. The reason being is I've been lucky enough to write a weekly blog post for Popular Woodworking Magazine. I'm delighted to be be writing for them. The Editor Megan Fitzpatrick has been excellent and given me a great deal of room, I can pretty much write about whatever is on my mind. Sadly for her she has the task of trying to make anything I write make sense. Anyone reading this blog will sadly have to put up with my average grasp of English!
It's been great to have people commenting on what I write and I'm thankful for anyone who has shared their thoughts with me whether at Popular Woodworking or here on this blog. I personally feel it's important to respond to comments and if I ever miss one I am sorry!
I take nothing for granted though and if I was asked to stop I would do so with no ill feeling. If anyone had said to me when I started work in the late 1990's that I would be sharing my thoughts on woodworking via the internet on an American magazines website my response would of been "what is the internet". I've been aware how woodworking is woven into the minds of many people from this island but I never anticipated how just how vibrant and varied the American passion for all things woodworking is. I think it's fair to say that the woodworkers on that continent have contributed massively to the progression and enhancement of woodworking.
However I've decided I need to write some more content for this blog as I still have the urge to share things that interest me here too. The photo above gives a hint of what's going to be happening. I want to try and stand back from the bench a little and see what's going on in a Joinery workshop of today. I'm hoping that will give a nice contrast to my efforts for Popular Woodworking.
In the main I’m a vintage plane user although a few new ones have also passed through my hands and as much as I enjoy the planes I have if presented with the opportunity to try and review something new I’ll gladly share my thoughts. Such an opportunity presented itself via Peter Sefton’s Wood Workers Workshop. Peter has begun to stock the WoodRiver range of planes and he was interested to hear my opinions. I was sent the versatile 5 ½ that can perform a wide range of bench plane tasks found in the workshop. Throughout I will be contrasting it with what I normally use.
The plane is made in the very familiar “Bedrock” pattern. The quality of the casting and general finish is exceptionally high. Although the neat black, brass and crisp surfaces don’t guarantee good performance when combined here the aesthetic for me at least is pleasing. The position of the tote is right on the money with no stretching of the finger to reach the adjustment wheel. For my medium sized hands there was plenty of room and I felt no issue with comfort at all. In fact I found it a little more comfortable than my Bailey. One of the most pleasing aspects of the tool for me is the cutting Iron. UK WoodRiver planes have high carbon water hardened steel that is quite sublime and hones very readily to a very sharp edge. For those who like spec sheet comparisons it’s a T10 steel hardened to RC 63 but I’m not that kind of person and the bottom line is T10 is excellent and perhaps deserving of more widespread praise. The cap iron is also good but I did add a secondary bevel to the front edge to enable the best results when the cap iron is set very fine. The only issue with the whole blade/cap iron set up is the screw. With the cutting iron done so well by WoodRiver it was a shame not to have serrations on the cap iron retention screw. Perhaps it’s just what I’m used to but Bailey style planes have this feature and it makes it easier and more comfortable on the fingers when setting the cap iron close. Although my wooden planes do not have serrations the screw head is deeper allowing more grip. It’s a small issue and not prohibitive to good work and could be improved by the user or perhaps even better by WoodRiver in the future. The Bedrock platform works just as it should allowing the user to open and close the mouth as required with the cutting iron remaining in place.
The most pressing issue though is what happens when the iron meets the wood? Well all I can say is its impressive. Adjustment of the blade feels very smooth and there is a very pleasing amount of backlash in the adjuster, about a quarter turn. My vintage tools have much more and I can forgive them for that but it’s nice to see a modern plane with this attention to detail. The size of the adjustment wheel allows one finger to advance or retract the cutting iron while in use allowing very precise setting to be achieved easily. I don’t feel limited by my planes or indeed feel the need to change them but I have to be honest and say it was easier to get fine settings with the WoodRiver when compared with Bailey or Wooden versions that I own. While I don’t have the means to test flatness to engineering standards I am able to put typical woodworking hurdles in the way to see if the tool will do what is expected of it. Edge jointing was easily done, tearout was tamed and end grain was shot. At no time did I find any issue causing a problem and the WoodRiver felt very tight and crisp. To be fair though my other planes also do what I ask of them. There is a significant weight to the WoodRiver that lends itself well to refining, smoothing, jointing and shooting. However if you use your plane in a looser way for working at odd angles, shaping or for any volume of stock preparation from the rough you might prefer to add a lighter vintage plane to the list. As a vintage tool user I know how to get the best out of them to suit my needs but I often feel for someone totally inexperienced the biggest hurdle would be knowing just what that means. What the WoodRiver does brilliantly is provide superb value hone and go experience that can be used with no extra fettling allowing the user to get on with making things. It comes with the back up of a guarantee and the ability to get help at the end of the phone if you have and issue. It also could provide a benchmark for people new to vintage tool restoration. I wish this option were there for me when I started work in the late 1990’s. As I pack the plane back into its box and send it back my thoughts are well done WoodRiver, if the cap iron screw was to be improved I’d find it hard to find fault.
I always try to be open to new opportunities and welcome pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Any writing is not the most natural thing for me to do. But I do enjoy it and so I aim to make the best of my time writing for Popular Woodworking http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/editors-blog . I've been given free reign to write about whatever I want so you can expect content very similar to what you have seen so far. There is no long term guarantee but I hope I can keep people interested. The idea is I'll submit once a week and I can drop in videos etc so there will be very little changing, projects will also be included. So what's in store for my writing here? Well, if things don't work out I will be back here writing as normal. Because this is fun and a passion for me I'm unlikely to stop no matter the headwind. However while I am able to write for Popular Woodworking it's likely my posts here will slow down a little, possibly once a week. I'm also very grateful for anyone who has left encouraging and kind comments on the various corners of the internet and thanks also to anyone who has taken the time to leave comments on this blog over the few years I've been doing it. The conversation with other people is something I enjoy the most and I hope that continues. I'll be posting links to this blog and the Popular Woodworking in the G S Haydon facebook feed https://www.facebook.com/GSHaydon?fref=ts. I'm looking forward to it and I hope the new chapter is a good one.
How comforting it is to see a very nearly worn out plane iron. I must confess the stubby plane iron is not down to me, it was a recent purchase I could not resist. Many of us (myself included at times) are drawn to the new and shiny, the perfect example. But this one had me drawn in all the more. I wonder if a poll was taken how many a woodworker has worn themselves through even one plane iron? Sure there would be some but perhaps not as many as you'd think. If I'm blessed with enough time on this planet I'd love to think that when it is time for me to go all my bench chisels looked like butt chisels, all my place irons were down to the last little bit and my mallet ready to fall apart. And hopefully a few good pieces of furniture, joinery and various other projects in the wake of those tools. For me handling the unremarkable Record No.5 this iron belongs to was a great moment of reflection and a kick up the backside to make sure I keep on making things. There is still a little life in the plane iron and am very much looking froward to finishing it off.