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Archive for February 2014

  • Dovetails

    Tuesday 25th February 2014


    With the first project looming large one joint we will need to get our heads around is the dovetail. For many folks this joint is a real draw to woodworking, it seems to resonate quality even to those who don't understand woodworking or furniture. A word of caution before we get too misty eyed though, it is only a joint! I'm going to be looking at making basic through dovetails suitable for a utility piece. That's not to down play it though, when I use the term basic here it's effectively laying a foundation and making sure we understand context and how to make a sound joint. The image above is an example of through dovetails used in contemporary furniture design, they add beauty and an element of tension. See mine at the bottom of this post from my tool chest and they speak a different language, one of utility and strength above all other factors. You now see why I used the term context, and just as a treat take a look at a hidden compartment dovetail directly below!

    Secret Dovetail

    I'm going to start simple, once you have the skill mastered you can look to use it in an expressive or hidden way as your project dictates (hidden is good, secret mitre dovetail joint is good fun for sure). So to start simple I'm going to turn to my friendly joiner from history George Ellis and his book "Modern Practical Joinery" 1902. Mr Ellis picks a one size fits all approach, an angle of about 1:7 for both hard and softwood. This angle is always close at hand for Mr Ellis thanks to his simple 'shop made "Dovetail Bevel" on page 66. The Dovetail Bevel is a simple template made from scrap wood that can be kept with the tools to apply the angle when setting out. Now some like steeper or shallower angles, fact is it doesn't matter that much. I think 1:7 is a fine starting point for most projects. That said if working on historical pieces I suggest a trip to the antiques store to examine a piece to see just how they were proportioned at that time in history.

    Tool Chest Drawers

    In the next article we will make the George Ellis Dovetail Bevel. Thanks also for Rob Stoakley of Wilton Woodwork for the use of his images, If you have the time take a look at his website and stick a like on his facebook page

  • How To Make a Shooting Board

    Saturday 22nd February 2014

    Shooting boards can be very useful for trimming and refining cuts and are used on long grain and end grain. The type shown here is primarily an end grain shooting board. The sizes shown on the pictures are near enough sizes, use whatever you have to hand. I used melamine faced MDF base as it stays flat and has a nice surface for the plane to run on. I used ply on the raised bed as it's hard wearing on the edge and some scraps of hardwood for the fence and the hook. Don't feel you have to use the same, your scrap bin will be a great place to look for anything suitable.

    Shooting Board

    Shooting Board

    The video really does cover everything that's needed on the making of the shooting board. Happy shooting! And by the way I can't wait to get onto sharing my first blog project. I have a few more articles to do and then we can get to it. If you have the time please do stop by my you tube channel and subscribe, there will be plenty more videos coming soon.

  • Sharpening a Handplane

    Monday 17th February 2014

    Sharpening a handplane is very similar to sharpening a chisel. As with the article on sharpening chisels I will be demonstrating on the India combination stone. The video above has a good demonstration of what's required and hopefully the addition of these photos and notes will bring further clarity to the process. First off remove the lever cap from the plane, carefully remove the blade and then remove the cap iron/chipbreaker from the blade. The first job will be to work on the back of the blade. If the plane is new to you a little work will be required. The extent of this work will depend on the quality of the blade, if buying new, or how it has been cared for if buying secondhand. The photo below shows a cheap plane blade that illustrates very well why we need to work the back. It is covered is machine marks. These marks will limit how sharp we can make the blade, we need to remove these marks and replace them surface which is of the same quality as the edge we hone on the front.

    Plane Blade Before

    To do this lower the blade to the stone heel first and work all over the face of the stone. Check after a minute or so to review progress, keep working the blade until the marks behind the cutting edge are gone. Once they are add some autosol to the strop and refine the finish. The photo below show the quality of the finish I'm looking for.

    Plane Blade Ready

    Once the work on the back is complete you will not need to spend the same time on it again. Just removing the burr and finishing on the strop will be enough to maintain the back. The next step is to hone the bevel. As with chisels it is usual for plane blades to be supplied with a 25deg primary bevel. This angle is too shallow for normal work so we will need to add a secondary bevel of around 30deg.

    Secondary bevel

    I prefer to do this freehand but a honing guide is also very good for this process too. To hone this angle bring the ground bevel to the stone heel first and then lift another 5deg or so and work the front edge. We also need to break the corners of the blade so the plane does not leave track marks on the wood. I like to do this when I draw the blade backwards/towards me as I find I have more control over the process. Once a few passes have been made remove the blade from the stone and feel the back of the blade, you should be able to feel a small burr along the whole width of the blade, if not hone some more. Once the burr is there turn the blade over and lightly work the back to remove the burr, this will turn the burr over to the front so lightly hone the bevel again, then onto it's back once more. Now finish the edge on the strop as shown in the video. The image below show what a the secondary honed bevel looks like.

    Secondary Bevel

    Put the plane back together and set the cap iron about 1mm away from the cutting edge as shown below which will be great for normal work. In future posts I will take a look at moving the cap iron closer to the cutting edge for a very refined surface finish.

    Cap Iron

    Then it's time to test! Grab a piece of wood and hopefully you will have some great results.

    How to sharpen a handplane

    As the blade becomes dull over time just refresh this small secondary bevel with a light honing and stropping. When the secondary bevel get's big (say around a third of the primary bevel) regrind the 25deg primary bevel. If you don't yet have access to a grinder the grey coarse side of the India stone and a honing guide can be used to reestablish the 25deg. Don't grind the secondary bevel away, leave a hint of it and then simply go back to light honing and stropping.

    Enjoy the planning!

  • A Date With Saw Sharpening

    Monday 10th February 2014

    Spear & Jackson Dovetail Saw

    I want to sharpen my own saws. I have always relied on a Saw Doctor or disposable saws for my needs. The disposable hardpoint saws are still as good as ever, sharp, long lasting, useful, very very good value and will always be part of my kit. I also have a nice Disston panel saw and a Spear & Jackson tenon saw which are great to have at hand with a couple of Pax brand saws in my hobby tool set. Sadly our local saw doctors no longer seem able to provide a good level of hand saw sharpening. I know most hand saws are now machine sharpened but it seems like the person setting the saw filing machine no longer appreciates what's required. So what better time to jump in. There are many good instructions on sharpening available and the best bit of advice is to grab a few cheap saws and get some practice in (see saw above).

    As much as the instructions online or in books are very good nothing beats some one to one time with a skilled person to really get your head around any skill and furthermore, if that person sharpened their own saws their whole career all the better. I am very fortunate that one of my former workmates has agreed to call in and show me the ropes. He retired some 6 years or more ago now and I instantly thought about calling him when the urge to sharpen came. We have made a date for a "Wednesday when I'm passing", so it could be this week, could be two months away! Needles to say I'm looking forward to it and hopefully if I get good results I can share some of his skills with you.

  • Your First Hand Plane

    Wednesday 5th February 2014

    Your First Hand Plane

    With a decent set of chisels under our belts let's give some thought to hand planes. Now for me I'm happy with humble chisels and I find they yield very pleasing results. Planes however are a different animal. Until around the 1970's you were able to buy decent planes in the Bailey style by makers such as Record, Stanley, Marples etc. Sadly this soon changed and quality took a real nose dive for some time until makers like Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Clifton etc took up the mantle to start making high quality tools again. You can buy a cheap new hand plane as long as you stick to the smaller sizes and only want an occasional user, a site box tool or DIY plane. However, if you want a decent long term user for work at the bench you will need to look at other options. I and the people I work with in our shop all own and use a No 4 Bailey style plane like the ones shown above and below. One of them also has a No 5. I feel so familiar with this layout that I will be steering you in this very direction. Simply put buy a new quality No 4 for smoothing and a good Vintage No 5 for shooting edges (longer trying planes can come later), if you have more funds feel free to buy two new quality planes. I would personally suggest you buy your one new quality plane from a reputable seller. Vintage offering can be snapped up on ebay, car boot sales and dealers. The reason for this recommendation is that a quality No 4 plane will show you how a plane should work. 90% of my planes are quality vintage offerings and jolly nice they are too. However, I know how to correct and refine any problems that I find when they arrive and I know how I like and expect them to work. There is no mystery to that process, it's easy, but if this is your first plane and you have no reference point how are you to know if the vintage offering you bought is any good? Is it working correctly? The new tool will be your benchmark, a tool your other offerings can be compared and contrasted against. If you decide to sell that quality No 4 because you love the vintage planes then you will easily make the money back on the secondhand market. The real surprise is it's very rare to see them for sale, they are that good!

    Quangsheng No 4

    At the beginning of the year I purchased a Quangsheng No 4 from Workshop Heaven which you can see above next to a vintage Record No 5 1/2. The Quangsheng is made in the Bedrock style and cost about £120.00. I have been using it for about three weeks and it is quite interesting to see what buying a quality hand plane is all about. The fit and finish is excellent with neat well finished castings. The blade was the star of the show, a flat back, nice thickness and was honed and ready in moments and shavings were raised in short order. All told it was about 10 to 15 minutes from starting to open the parcel and having it working at the bench. The only fault I had was the cap iron was not perfectly flat and allowed shavings to jamb when set very close (0.4mm). This required 5 minutes work on the stone to resolve. If I compare that experience with vintage purchases that's a great deal less work. When buying vintage I like to sniff out something that looks like it has been cared for and used, seeing a short blade is reassuring as you know it was a user. Any plane suffering with rust, anything missing, with no sign of love I would recommend ignoring unless you like restoring tools. When buying vintage budget around £25 to £40 and look for brands such as Record, Woden, Stanley, Marples and Millers Falls. Avoid plastic handles, I have nothing against plastic for tool handles, it's just an indicator on planes that the standards have lowered.

    Clifton No 5

    If you fancy it you can go for a quality No 5 and a vintage No4 but I were you I would stick with a nice new smoother. In the next article we will review the parts of the plane, honing the iron and putting it to use and how to make sure the vintage plane is working as it should. All these articles will be in the "Basics" section of the blog as a reference fro those wanting some advice of those initial purchases and methods.

  • The Strop

    Tuesday 4th February 2014

    Autosol Strop

    Picking up on a very valid question on the strop, here is a bit more detail on the Autosol product. Firstly, you can omit the Autosol and just use the leather, this would still help remove the burr and give a good edge. It would in many ways replicate the hand stropping that is sometimes done. I did not feel comfortable showing that method to readers for obvious reasons. I have read about using tallow (an animal fat product) with some fine silicone carbide, effectively creating a fine abrasive paste. In essence Autosol is just that but without the using animal fat. If anyone has used the Tormek paste that comes in a yellow tube, Autosol is very much like that. Some woodworkers charge their strops with other compounds, jewelers rouge or chromium oxide that are also worth looking into and may work better for you. Here is a link to the Autosol main site with the product details. Investigating other supply sources might be wise as the price seems quite high on their site. I will also be adding some more detailed information on sharpening in the future, I just wanted to have a nice simple method in place to support this run of articles. If anyone has any questions please do send them in via e-mail or the comments section, the interaction is great and if we can help each other out all the better.


  • First Bench Chisels

    Sunday 2nd February 2014

    Beginner's Chisels

    With the last two articles we looked at what it takes to get a sharp edge on your chisel. But which type and brand of chisel should you buy as your first? There is lot's of good advice out there, much of it sounds like "buy the best you can afford" and there is nothing wrong with that. The reality is though that there are so many brands and styles of chisels available today it can be very hard to choose. From my standpoint there is a great deal of hard work to be done at the bench with a chisel, some of it not that forgiving. Therefore as a beginner a robust general purpose set of chisels will be a great starting point. These will stand you in very good stead while you learn how to use them. These would often of been referred to as firmer chisels and would have straight sides.

    These days there is nearly always a light beveling removed from the blade normally leaving quite a thick edge, not dissimilar to a what we think of as a traditional firmer. So with my opinion that a set of general purpose chisels are an essential what brands should you look for. I would initially look away from the expensive options from Lie-Nielsen, Ashley Iles etc. These can be added later for fine work. If the budget can not go far the Faithfull set of chisels I bought on a whim a while back would be fine. If you would like the set I use, leave a comment at the bottom and email me you address, I'm giving them away to a UK reader. Nothing against other parts of the world, it's just that shipping will make it too expensive. If nobody makes a claim they will find themselves in my site box. The only reason I'm giving them away is because I had some tool vouchers given to me and I had a prang of nostalgia.

    Narex 8105

    The vouchers enabled be to purchase a set of the Narex 8105 chisels. These robust chisels are a popular choice and I was interested to find out more. A set of 5 costs around £45 and for that price they come in a plastic wallet so make sure you have a roll or chisel rack to keep them safe. There is a boxed version if you spend another £20. These have wooden handles so feel warm in the hand and the grip is comfortable and ideally suited to bench work. I'm not sure about the raised bump with it's hoop iron. After using them for a couple of months it feels a little bit small. These chisels are nearly always struck but I do push them too and that's the only time the bump causes me problems. The wood on the handle is stained darker than the natural timber colour and I actually like this darker colour. I find I often get hot when working and unless the chisel handles are boxwood the sweaty hands can make pale wood look a bit mucky. The steel seems very good. Removing the factory grind marks from the back took longer than others I have done. This was not down to the machine marks being heavy, it was just because the steel is hard. The edge is sharp and durable. The next thing I experienced with these chisels was a first for me, I cut myself! Not with the cutting edge but with the junction between the back and the side. I was paring with a pushing action with one hand supporting the blade, I pushed forward and felt the edge slice me! Not deep, but it drew blood. I therefore, very lightly took the edge off of this junction and I mean lightly, I did not want to create a round. One other thing that has happened with both my 8105 Narex and my Narex mortice chisel is that the edge chips when first used. Do not let this worry you. Narex harden their chisels after the primary 25deg bevel has been made, this seems to make the tip brital. Hone past this and you're into the good stuff.

    Marples M373

    The nostalgia made me buy a set of Marples M373's (Marples is now part of Irwin tools). This was the first set of chisels I had when I started work as an apprentice and they were the choice of or the wanted chisel by those I worked with and were referred to as the "Splitproofs". Marples always used to lifetime warrant the handles on these chisels. If they split (impossible on plastic, it was their stab at the wooden handled chisel market back in the day) they would replace them. I saw this happen some years ago and it was replaced. It would be interesting to see if the same thing is true today. My first set was a Sheffield made product, my most recent set is made outside of the UK. When compared to the Narex they look a bit brutal with the bold red and yellow plastic handles. But because of my nostalgia toward them I look at them very fondly. Although that plastic handle is not perhaps beauty personified it is very very comfortable to hold. The plastic is very slightly soft and in no way slippery which the pictures do suggest. They also have a nice simple top, no raised bump so I find them very comfortable to use with a mallet or when pushing. They cost around £45 for a set of 6 and they do include an appropriate wooden box for storage. Ideal if you don't have a roll or other storage method. I found them very easy to prepare, you can watch me get the 3/4" chisel ready here. It took five minutes which is not bad at all. To the best of my knowledge these are not available outside the UK, however I do have one modern Irwin M444 which would have the same steel but a slightly lighter blade which would also be fine. These come in a set of 6 also with a decent storage box for about £40.00.

    Irwin M444

    I feel I can recommend these because I have owned and used them. There are doubtless other brands that do a great job but the two described above tick my boxes on value, quality and performance. The Narex and the Marples will be on my bench for the next few months and it will be interesting to see which I reach for first. And remember if you want the set of Faithfull chisels put a comment below and send me your address.

    Sharp Chisels


  • Sharpening a Chisel

    Saturday 1st February 2014

    In the last post we covered what would be needed, this time out it's how to do it. If you want to watch the process take a look at the video above and you can also follow these steps. The first job is to work the back. As you can see from the photo below the back of most standard chisels have grinding marks that must be removed.

    Chisel Back

    I prepare the back of the chisel to the same level as I would the hone the edge. To do this I place the back of the chisel onto the stone and work it over the whole area of the "fine" orange side of the stone applying oil as required. The India should remove these quickly as you will see in the video. Don't use heavy pressure, just keep the back nice and flat. When applying the chisel to the stone lay the back on carefully avoiding at all costs undercutting behind the cutting edge. Spend about 60 seconds or so working the back. Lift the chisel off and check the back. You should see the factory grind marks being removed and the fine surface created by the stone. Once the grind marks are removed from behind the cutting edge you can stop. Now take the chisel to the stropping block, add some autosol to the strop and repeat the process only now only drawing the chisel backward. Once finished the chisel should look like the photo below. This process only needs to happen once, after that no further work on the back should be required.

    Chisel Back

    Next we need to hone the edge. Chisels usually come from the factory with a basic 25deg bevel. This angle is too low for general purpose work, therefore we apply a bevel of 30deg. We do not need to redo the whole bevel. The photo below shows how we lift the bevel up to an approximate 30deg and just hone the tip. Removing metal from the focussed point makes honing quick and easy.

    Honing a secondary bevel

    I demonstrated two types of honing in the video, freehand and with a jig. Go for the one that gives you the best results. As we hone we create a burr that can be felt on the back edge. As soon as we can feel a burr turn the chisel over lay the chisel flat on the stone and draw it backwards. This usually turns the burr over. Flip the chisel over and take a few light passes, flip it over again and remove the burr from the back for the final time. Next, take the edge to the strop and polish the 30deg bevel for a few strokes pulling backwards, turn it on it's back and draw it backwards. You should now have a polished and refined edge as shown below.

    Secondary bevel

    You should now have a nice sharp edge. To find out how sharp, securely clamp some wood and try to pare end grain. Make sure your hands are always behind the cutting edge. If the grain cuts sweetly all is well, if not, hone for a little longer and ensure you raise that burr.

    Sharp Chisel

    Simply use your chisel and repeat the process of honing the edge on the stone and stropping. When that 30deg bevel get's big and it takes longer to raise a burr set your honing jig to 25deg and use the coarse side of the stone to reinstate the 25deg bevel. You will not need to grind away all of the 30deg, just leave a faint trace. Then begin honing again. Easy!