Saturday, 28 November 2009
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Friday, 23 October 2009
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Friday, 25 September 2009
I bought the book, but not through Chris’ offer, but instead, from Lee Valley Tools, a company I support whenever possible. Now don’t start thinking I believe in “Protectionism” because the reality is, I believe that concept to be ridiculously counterproductive. I bought the book from Lee Valley solely for selfish reasons.
Canada has one-tenth the population of The United States. Lee Valley, and its tool-manufacturing arm, Veritas, sell worldwide, but also operate 13 stores across the country. Compare that to a company like Rockler, which operates, between owned and partnered, 90 stores across the United States and you get some idea about what this Canadian company is up against. Now add in exorbitant taxes, ridiculous levels of government red tape and high overhead, and you have to wonder why this company stays in Canada at all. Trust me, it ain’t easy being Canadian, despite what you read, and even harder to be a successful corporation here. I just figure if enough Canadians are like me and stay loyal to this company’s retail outlets, we will give them an incentive to stay here and not be like the many others who moved south of the border in search of greater profits. Protectionism tries to keep others out. Loyalty tries to keep ours in.
Ok, enough of that, on to the book.
A while back, after downloading the teaser and having a look, I gave credit to Al Parrish for the fabulous photography in this book. At that time I didn’t know who did the design and layout of it, but thought they deserved some recognition as well, as this is a truly well-done publication. The first thing I did when I got my hands on my copy was to look through the title pages to see who did what and discovered that the Typographer of Essential Handplanes was Linda Watts. If I went looking for the designer’s name, you know I had to be impressed with her work.
The bottom line regarding Christopher’s work in this book is that I’m glad I bought it. It is a comfortable read, forces one to think, and is packed full of information.
First and foremost is Christopher’s style of writing. While his topic is technical, his writing structure is relaxed and informal. As you read it you get the feeling that he is talking to you about planes while the two of you are having a beer together at the local pub. His ability to achieve this, “Hey, buddy” attitude throughout the book is the anecdotal information he adds to almost every article, most quite funny. After reading the book I know he has a reserved respect for some of his past shop teachers, gets a charge out of some of his own students, can easily be made to spit up his coffee, has a wife that owns cats and often shops for tools at antique shows and flea markets. Chris also has some rather strange phrases that he throws out that make you pause. Thankfully, he does not give explanations of them because, frankly, I never want to know just how wet a Louisiana’s underarm is. All of these little charmers are included by Chris to bring his human side into his technical writing, making the reading and learning experience far more enjoyable than it should be.
In fairness to Christopher, he has acknowledged in several articles published during the lead time for this book that it is a compilation of his past articles on handplanes, and he wasn’t exaggerating that point. There is a fair amount of repetition in it, more than would be necessary in a 312 page publication that focuses on one topic. The book does, however, touch on just about every aspect of handplanes that you can think of; from buying them, through using and sharpening them, to selling them on eBay. Where the information excels, though, is in his constant comparisons between vintage and new that are found throughout the book. As someone who is starting to look at adding some more planes to my collection, I found these observations helpful and informative. I also enjoyed learning more about the less common types of planes out there as Chris included articles about Miter, Moulding, Rabbet, Plow and Shoulder Planes; all covered by one article about the plane itself, and a second describing how to use it. With his descriptions of some of the processes, you will have to go back over the content two or three times because the first time around, you have no idea what the hell he is talking about. In those rare cases, though, the fault lies with the complexity of the process, rather than the inability of the writer.
While I am more than impressed with the book and found it to be well worth the forty bucks it cost me, I am not without my criticisms, although few.
The major complaint I have with the book is its lack of graphics to help explain the technical aspects of many of the processes covered. True, there are many photographs included, and while they are well done, some information requires a technical drawing to truly get the point across, and these are seriously missing in this publication. An example of this is within his article entitled, “Squaring Boards Using Handplanes & An Historic Book”. Six technical photographs accompany this article, and while they are all well done, they just do not give the viewer as much information as a well thought out graphic would. The two photographs that show planes running either across the grain, or at an extreme angle to it, freeze the planes’ travels at mid point, the least problematic point in a plane’s stroke. It is easily understood that a long soled plane will bridge the hollow in the middle of a cupped board. Where the problem lies for the inexperienced is in the start and end where the sole isn’t supported at both ends by the high points. Displaying one good graphic that could show all three points of a stroke; the start the middle and the end, would be a huge benefit in determining how to handle the entire stroke. There are a few more examples that would be better served by an accompanying illustration, but this one alone exemplifies their omission.
While overall I was extremely pleased with the book, I have to admit that a nag seemed to grow in the back of my mind as I progressed through it, a nag that keep saying, “There, see, he isn’t as lax about technicalities as he leads you to believe”. Christopher makes many comments throughout the many processes he covers which point out areas where he believes such things as blade angles and the like are not that relevant, or where perfection in grinding them is not necessary. Some of his comments also lead the reader to believe, at least this reader, that Chris isn’t too impressed with those that chase perfection in all things plane, and that planing is a technique, not a science, the way some treat it. My background with handplanes has always led me to believe that, whether that concept be right or wrong. However, throughout the book, many of his technical explanations belie this attitude, which results in that nagging in the back of my mind. On the one hand, my reason for respecting Chris for his instructional work is because, in my mind, he isn’t anal about what he is describing. On the other hand, I could actually see his butt cheeks tightening as I read some of the explanations he included in this book and believe me, that is a mind-image I would rather not see.
With all the content, descriptions and advice included in this book, there is one that stood out for me like it had neon lights around it and reading it resulted in a rather hilarious result. To explain, like most married men, the one room in the house that I feel left alone in is the can, and much to Chris’ chagrin, that is where Handplane Essentials resided until I had finished reading it. Reading along, I came across the line, “Teaching yourself to use a handplane without guidance is a challenge”, and when I read it, I let out a rather loud “No Shit!”, a profanity that is common for me, but one that is not normally stated with such vigor. After finishing that article, and – ahem - “finishing up” in general, I went off to the kitchen. When I got there I found my wife cooking something, and when I walked in she pointed to something on the kitchen table. I turned to have a look and discovered two plums sitting in a small bowl and listened to her comment, “Eat those, they may help you”. With great embarrassment, I explained that my comment was figurative, not literal, but I did thank her for her concern.
So what brought on this reaction? Let me explain.
My exposure to handplanes before switching over to hand tools is limited more to the results of planing, rather than the use of a plane. As a carpenter who specialized in kitchen cabinets, my old man always worked on a site, rather than in the shop. Because his toolbox was often his workbench, it was always full of shavings and it was my job on Saturdays, before he went off to the Legion, to clean them, as well as the sawdust, out. I remember collecting those shavings and playing with them, as the lengths of those paper thin strips of wood fascinated me, as well as how those really thin lacy ones felt when I rubbed them between my fingers.
Sadly, by the time I was old enough to help out in the shop and job site he had pretty much stopped using planes except for the occasional swipe or two. Patience was not his virtue, so when the price of power tools came down enough that he could afford them, he found himself a new altar to pray at. His most revered purchase was a radial arm saw, purchased in 1967 and produced by Skil. What that man could do with that saw would make old Norm green with envy. The result of all of this was that my instruction, and believe me, I got a ton of it whether I wanted it or not, was limited to all things with a power cord.
One time stands out, though, a time when he brought out his Stanley Block Plane. There are two reasons this occasion stands out to me; the first of which is that this was a very rare joint in his work; one that didn’t fit as tightly as his joints always did. In truth, I believe I had something to do with its slight misalignment as when the old man cut a miter joint; either on the tablesaw or the radial saw, you couldn’t slide a cigarette paper anywhere along it, they were always that tight and true. This was a consistent accomplishment that I was never been able to achieve and having seen the results of many professionals, both on and off the television and web, I can attest to the fact that not many others have achieved his deft control either. My second reason for remembering this incident is that it was one of those very rare times that I volunteered a question, asking him to explain the tool a bit to me because I was intrigued by it.
In answer to my question, my father gave me a quick run-down on planes. I remember him explaining the different angles of planes, some of what to look for when you apply them to wood, and which one to use for different applications. He didn’t, however, explain to me any of the technicalities of it, and in fact, volunteered the admission that he just didn’t know them, which, at the time, surprised the hell out of me because I thought my old man knew everything there was to know about woodworking. What he did say, though, was that if you use it, you quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, and like any tool, you soon develop a “feel” for it, knowing how to get the most out of it “instinctively”, which was a huge word for him, considering his grade 5 education.
Now I don’t know whether or not my old man was full of it when he told me about developing a “feel” and “instinct” about a plane, but I can tell you that I am not my father’s son when it comes to teaching myself about getting the most out of one, which is why I bought Chris’ book in the first place.
I will tell you one thing I know for a fact, and that is that buying this book is truly a worth-while purchase. It may not make you a better planer, but after reading it, at least you will know why.
My copy does not have a little hand-drawn picture on the title page, though. Bummer!
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Now as I don't read Chinese or Mandarin, and as I do not know a soul in any country in the Far East, my curiosity got peeked and I started to wonder what the person had to say. Taking them into the Google Translation pages, I pasted each, set the translator to the few Far Eastern languages that they offer and hit the button. Google came back with a few words here and there in English in each one, but not enough in any of them to figure out what is being said until I put the four together.
Without explaining what are in those comments, I will just state that the title for that post has been changed from "Questionable Skills? - Whack Off a Nice Piece of Walnut" to "Questionable Skills? - Try Using a Nice Piece of Walnut"
Oh the joys of the internet.
Friday, 11 September 2009
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Sunday, 23 August 2009
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
As a kid, buying old junkers for fifty bucks, fixing them up and selling them at a profit was not only a hobby for me, but also a way of putting food in my belly sometimes. I was so prolific at this; I once got a letter from our government informing me that if I bought or sold one more car within that fiscal period, I would be charged with operating a used car dealership without a license. Back then, although I have no idea what the rules are now, you were allowed to buy or sell 12 vehicles over a 12-month period. I had gone through 11 when this letter arrived.
The record for the shortest length of time I owned a car is 23 hours. It was a 56’ Buick Holiday four-door hardtop, one of three GM products that I ever bought. Sorry, I’ve always been a Ford man. That old Buick had all the options, including “Chrome Delete”. Back in those days you could order a car from the dealership in any configuration you could image, including taking things that came as standard fare off of it. The only chrome this one came out of the showroom with was the bumpers, grill, the portholes on the front fenders and badging. I bought it off a farmer who had it sitting in his field for who knew how long, drove it from his place, just outside of the city, to a car wash, where I removed all the evidence of it ever being a chicken coop, and then drove it down the main drag on my way home. I was stopped on that trip and asked if it was for sale. I replied with the affirmative, and the next morning the guy showed up with four times what I paid for it and drove it away. I never even had a chance to have the ownership changed.
The car that I owned the longest was a 72’ MGB. I loved that car and owned it for seven years, three of which had it sitting in my driveway awaiting a rebuild. One day I had to move it so I removed the cover, opened the door and climbed in. My foot didn’t stop until it hit the ground as the floor had rotted away. When I extracted my leg from the hole and stepped back to look at things, I had discovered that not only had I removed a good portion of the floor, but as a result of this, the unibody had jackknifed; the centre of the car being about three inches lower than the front and back. I went inside, heartbroken, and called the wrecker to take it away. This was my second “B”, the previous one being a 67’, and is the only car I ever owned that I miss, even to this very day.
My original plan for that 72’ “B” was to swap out the engine for a little 210 cu. in. Buick V8. This is a pretty common conversion in England as Rover used this engine for years. Up until recently I had it in the back of my mind to buy another and build it, a few years ago changing the engine swap plan from the little V8 to a turbo rotary.
Time, as we all know, has a way of catching up with us. Lifestyles change, ideas change, and often it is our abilities that change. Sometimes these changes are for the better and sometimes for the worse. Often these changes force us to face the fact that some of our dreams will never be met. Two things that came up this summer forced me to realize that my dream MGB will never be built, at least by me.
A few months ago I decided it was time to change the plugs on the car. Due to my eyesight problem, the government will no longer allow me to drive, so the 2007 Ford Fusion that we currently own is technically my wife’s ride, but it is my job to keep it out of trouble. One day I decided to lift the hood and see what I was up against swapping out the plugs. My God. What a nightmare; plugs fitted in the old Hemi configuration, individual coils atop of each one, plug wires that seem to come out of no-where and disappear into the weirdest of places, and an absolutely impossible gap to work in between the back three and the firewall. I closed the hood and walked away defeated.
The second decision-maker arrived just after that in the form of a doctor’s report that I won’t get into. It was nothing serious health-wise, but catastrophic car-building wise.
As a result of these two unconnected events, I decided it was time to turn my mechanics tools over to my son.
I have a kid that any father would be proud of. He is slowly working his way up the chain of command as a chef, employed by one of the major hotel chains. He has been shipped from Toronto to Arizona to Egypt and back again over his short career, and is currently residing and working in British Columbia. His first car build was a 1987 Mazda RX7 and he did some great work on it. Sadly, it was stolen while he was away from home visiting me. He ended up replacing it with a new Scion xT, a car not currently available in Canada. He has taken what was a relatively impressive car in its stock configuration, to one of exceptional performance and beauty. It now sports a turbo charger, headers and a sport exhaust, just to name a few of his modifications. Aw, the things your kids do to make your chest grow proud.
Actually, my son’s love of cars came as a bit of a surprise for me. We had talked cars often, but his conversations leaned towards the exotics; Porsches, Ferraris and the like. As a “there is no replacement for displacement” kind of guy who is more at home on a dragstrip than a raceway, I neither liked nor knew much about exotics, so the conversations didn’t go far. When he approached me about buying a second car, one he could play with, I was surprised. When he ended up buying a newer version of a car I owned when he was a kid, I was shocked.
The day he called me and told me what he had purchased, I hung up the phone and went to my toolbox and had a look at what I had. Taking inventory I realized that everything in the box was the old SAE size, which wouldn’t do him any good on his imports and newer cars. I committed there and then to put together a decent set of tools for him to improve his enjoyment with his new hobby. It seems that my father’s statement that, “You can’t do a proper job without the proper tool”, is being sent along to another generation.
Over the next five or six years I watched the sales, eBay, and other assorted suppliers of mechanic’s tools and purchased the items necessary to fill out the selection. I picked up a Snap-On torque wrench for a song, was able to collect the complete set of sockets in all their drive sizes and configurations, and even was able to scoop some odd-ball items like stubby wrenches, in both metric and SAE, for a fair price. I even went as far as to strip down the old toolboxes to bare metal and repaint them. While I was working away at collecting these tools for him, I used them occasionally, but mainly they sat idle in my office as, with my son’s constant moving every few years, I didn’t think he would want to be bogged down with cabinets this large. I also wasn’t ready to let them go, in all honesty. That MGB was still in the back of my mind.
I am flying out for a short visit with my son next month, the reason I started to pack them up. If I take them with me, a rather large shipping charge can be avoided as paying for an overweight suitcase is much less than what FedEx has estimated. Most importantly, though, it will allow me to witness his enjoyment as he unpacks them all. When I return, I’ll make arrangements to have the cabinets shipped to him, as it will be a lot more economical without a couple of hundred pounds of tools filling them.
So there you go; another milestone in my life met and recorded for posterity.
Enjoy the tools, son.
P.S.: PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY!
Friday, 17 July 2009
Collecting vintage tools has become a serious and enjoyable hobby for me. Spending time seeking out and purchasing these tools is a real blast. Paying for those purchases, not so much, but when you finally get them in your greedy little hands, the buzz returns in multiples. The two most enjoyable parts of the equation are the researching of the tool once I find one I want to purchase, and of course, the end result - owning it and being able to use it, or simply just look at it.
When I first started down this collection road, I got truly taken on the purchase of two saws. One was a Disston D-12 that turned out to be so bent, it is better suited for cutting circles than anything else. The other is an Atkins Rip that had been sharpened so many times it looks more like a keyhole saw, than a rip saw. In my defense for these two stupid moves, I will state that they were my first two purchases of vintage tools on eBay. When I made them, I had no idea what I was doing.
While it took getting taken twice, no-one had to hit me across the head with a two-by-four the third time. I swung into research mode, learned to study the images provided in these listings and worked to take the emotions out of these purchases. Since then, I have probably made thirty-odd more purchases, and I am quite satisfied with each one. Some were true deals, some were true steals and some were true must-haves at any price, which I acknowledged before I hit the submit button.
While educating myself to some extent has protected me so far from being taken again, the questionable practices of some sellers on the internet still remain; ready to take advantage of the newbies. One such listing on eBay has the following, short description; "Nice Stanley chisel, no cracked handle here, also a nice tip as well!! Check out my other listings!!!”
Have a look at the image that accompanied this description. It does show that the description is true; it does have a nice handle and the end isn't too bad. It also shows, to me at least, that everything in between is nothing but junk. Do my eyes deceive me, or is this thing seriously bent? It also might have been heated at some time, maybe to try and straighten it out, as there is something seriously wrong going on just above that "nice" tip?
I must acknowledge that this particular purchase is the first one I have made that breaks one of my own rules; “never buy a tool I wouldn’t use”, as I fully expect never to put this tool to wood. My reasoning behind this purchase is purely aesthetic; I fell in love with this tool the moment I first laid eyes on one as I believe it has exceptional proportions and is a very clever design. As a result, I just had to have one. Having watched for one at a reasonable price for quite some time now, I can tell you that discovering one for under their normal price range of $375 to $400 is next to impossible. When this one came up on eBay, the bids were far below what was expected, and to me, this is a huge warning sign. If the collectors on eBay are not willing to open their wallets for a known collectable tool, something is not right with it. The images that the seller provided were adequate, but they were your typical snapshot. They showed signs that the seller was trying to show the tool honestly as he had placed the tool against a plain background and didn’t distort the angles. Because of the exposure, however, seeing a true likeness of the tool wasn’t possible. I grabbed a capture of the image as you can no longer save images off of eBay, with the results of that capture shown below.
Now that I have it, I have to figure out what to do with it. It is not the cleanest tool I have ever purchased, nor the worst, for that matter. I do, however, want to clean it, and this is where conflict rears its ugly head. If you go online and check out the articles regarding cleaning a vintage tool, most will tell you not to touch it, other than a wipe down with mineral spirits or the like. This category of collecting is like any other category; the more it is in original condition, the more it is worth. I have this dilemma with antique furniture as well, and from my perspective, it boils down to what you are willing to live with. I own a beautiful sideboard from the Art Deco period that is made with serious quality and craftsmanship, built from solid mahogany. When I bought it years ago, for a song I might add, it had some stains and markings on its top left by some klutz who owned it before me. I do not care how magical the piece, if it looks like it shouldn’t, I’m not going to live with it, so I stripped and refinished it in a New York minute. Actually, I did this twice as I unknowingly stained it darker than I should have the first time, and realizing my mistake, did it again. Is this sideboard not worth as much now as it could be? Absolutely. Am I happier with it now than I would be if I had left it alone? Absolutely.
Unless someone can convince me otherwise, I have a feeling that the moment I receive this plane, it is going to be dunked in pot of Evapo-Rust that Lee Valley sells just for this purpose.