Monday, 21 February 2011

It Only Took 52 Years...

The image posted here shows my humble little sharpening setup.

When an old chisel or plane blade shows up in the mail, I get out a couple of Lee Valley Diamond Stones; one 220x, and the other 650x. I bought these because some of these old blades can eat through a fortune of 120-180x wet/dry sandpaper in a real hurry. I have no idea how they would hold up under normal use, but for my limited sharpening needs, they are the energizer bunny and will probably pay for themselves eventually. A $16.50 option is a plastic stand to hold the stone. It accomplishes a pretty mean feat as it weighs nothing, yet it seems to keep the stones fixed in one spot and as a result, there is very little chasing of the stone around the table.

Even though I cheaped out and bought the short 6" ones, there is enough surface to use my Veritas Mark II Honing Guide. I love this thing. Of all the mechanical honing guides out there, this one wins hands-down, if only for its registering and repeatability. I even purchased the Camber Roller Assembly for it so I can sharpen my No.5 blade. Cool Tool...the Guide, not the No.5.

Once I have whatever I'm sharpening flattened on the Diamond Stones, its on to wet/dry paper water-stuck to a slab of granite. Once you get past 400x, the paper seems to last forever. While the 650x Diamond Stone removes metal fairly quickly, its major drawback is the inconsistent scratches it leaves behind. Reverting back to 400x or 600x emery, depending on how bad it is, will even things out. I then take the edge through 800x, 1000x, 1200x and finally, 1600x, going through these grits on both the angle, and the back. Cutting wet/dry sheets in half gives me enough room to take the Mark II for a cruise.

The big finish is the stropping, and I have two 4" x 5" strop leathers glued to a hunk of 1" by 6" poplar. By butting two together, there is lots of room to run the Mark II on one while the blade gets polished on the other, meaning I don't need to hit the joint between them. I use Veritas' Honing Compound, mainly because it works, but also because I don't know any differently. It is on the strop that I create the micro-bevels as well, which on the Mark II, involves turning the offset dial 180°.

So that is my little metal polishing heaven, at least until I dump the lot in the closet where it will sit until next time. Big deal, eh?

Thankfully, discussing sharpening isn't what this post is about. It is actually about that old Stanley Block Plane that sits centre-stage of the above image. This is the first tool I have taken photos of that has caused me to be thankful I have switched to displaying only black and white images on this blog. It is one butt-assed-ugly plane.

I think this plane is a Stanley No.220, but I'm not sure as it is the stripped down model. It was purchased in 1959. It came with no real support for the blade, so it chatters just looking at the wood, the mouth is fixed and there is no lateral adjustment for the blade. The cap is held down by a thumbscrew and the plane is void of Stanley's "Hand-y" grips. The only gizmo it has on it is what Stanley calls their "adjustable endwise" feature. It is about as basic as any block plane can be, which makes it an unattractive plane to begin with, but then a Stanley "Design-By-Committee" ruled it could be worse, so they had it painted with the ugliest colour of maroon they could find. I don't even know why they call it maroon as it has so much blue in it.

So if I think this little block plane is so bad, what's with the post about it? Well let me tell you...

This is the last remaining tool from a toolbox complete with assorted tools that my old man gave me for Christmas in 1959. This past Saturday was also a big day for this plane because after 52 years, it has finally been brought up to snuff. On top of those two humdingers is the fact that the very next time I use this plane, it will also be the very first time I have really used it.

So let me tell you about this Christmas present...

Each tool was individually wrapped and it just blew me away as my sister passed me present after present to unwrap. When I finally got them all unwrapped, my new tool collection ran from an awl to a tri-square. In-between there was a hammer, a nail set, a pair of pliers, an apron, two screwdrivers, the smallest panel saw you ever saw(ed), a 10" level, an 8' tape measure and the forever ugly; maroon-coloured block. Each and every piece was manufactured by Stanley Tools as those tools were the only ones my father would look at. The pièce de résistance, however, was a beautiful toolbox hand-made by my old man, painted bright orange and decorated with "Billy Mitchell" hand-painted on both ends. My God, that was a beautiful piece of work made even more special in the eye of an nine year old kid.

Sadly, none of it survived except for this one plane.

The first issue was the beautiful toolbox. While the old man did a gorgeous job of it, he forgot who he was designing it for. I think he actually designed it for himself, although he never used it. I do know that he wasn't thinking of a nine-year-old boy when he did come up with the cut list. When I first put those twelve tools in it, the box had such monstrous proportions, they all but disappeared. There was also the fact that I could barely lift the thing, let alone move it around.

The tools also came sans any lessons in using them. I didn't have a clue, and while I worked with the old man often after receiving them, it was always on his power tools and with his extremely high level of ability with those, there was rarely a need for hand tool work. The result was that I never learned how to use them.

As I became a teenager, my old man and I fell out of favour with each other. I'll never know what happened to the toolbox and other tools and in fact, I don't want to know. Most of the toys and things I accumulated as a kid were handed on to my sister's kids, without even an "as-you-please" from my old man to me, so if one of them does have that toolbox, enjoy it. Just don't tell me about it.

I did get this plane in the load of tools I ended up buying from the old man and I have just kept it, but never used it, mainly because I never knew how until lately. When I did start to understand the ins and outs of planing by hand, thanks mainly to Christopher Schwarz, I sharpened up the blade on this thing and took it for a test ride. What a dismal failure. The blade chattered like crazy, it would barely cut and if felt like a piece of poo in my hand. I put it back on the shelf and just let it be a dust collector.

Saturday morning, as I was heading off to Lee Valley, for some reason I picked it up and dropped it in my bag. When I got to the store, I brought it out and asked this great old guy who works there assisting the customers what blade I should get for it. I made sure his suggestion fit and brought it home. It is the 1 5/8" Veritas Blade made specifically for Stanley planes, made of A2 steel and is twice as thick as the original blade, which I have put away for now.

When I got home, I ran the new blade through the sharpening regiment and then ran it across a hunk of oak. My goodness, what a difference 30 bucks can make. The thing cut through that oak like butter without even a hint of chatter. Because of the quality of these Veritas blades, this old lump is now a very usable tool and is ready for future work, despite its lack of bling.

It did, however, take me 52 years to get my act together with it, but like my old man said when we reconciled, its better late than never.