Monday, 10 October 2011

Up Against The Wood Wall...Again...

Chris Schwarz's Lost Art Press ran a series of articles on good ol' Mr. Studley's Tool Chest last week.

I first got turned on to Henry O. Studley's tool chest back in the late 80's when Lee Valley Tools used an image of it for one of their catalogue covers. When I built the house I was living in then, I added one of the major items I had always wanted; a built-in magazine rack and book shelf in the can. That catalogue sat in that rack for over a year and I spent a great deal of time studying that cover while doing...ahem...other things, trying to figure out how Studley did it. Studley's work is beyond amazing.

I believe credit for this image should go to Fine Woodworking magazine,
but I have enhanced it considerably since finding it.

What I didn't know until recently was that Studley built a workbench that matched his tool cabinet. Chris has also written an article about it; a teaser for Don Williams' book about Studley's work.

This is Chris Schwarz's image of Studley's workbench, which he will probably kill me for
because I messed with it; straightening out camera distortion, changing the
lighting a bit and getting rid of the distracting background.

I tried to build a modified version of Studley's tool cabinet with no luck, even after making three attempts to get it right. The biggest problem is that I ended up buying more tools than ol' Henry. Who knew I would enjoy the hunt and the purchase of old tools as much as I enjoy using them? The second problem is that I don't have room for a workbench and a floor-style tool cabinet, and won't have for the foreseeable future. Another major problem was that I kept ending up with odd shaped areas that wasn't large enough to hold anything I owned, or any that I planned to purchase. It was a livable irritation, but an irritation nonetheless. After completing the plant shelving unit I have been working on for 10-months now, I plan to build a combination bench and tool cabinet, sort of like a Melhuish No.100, but one on steroids.

This example of a Melhuish No.1 was sold by David Stanley
Auctions in 2004 for a few cents off of $3000.
Chris' latest entry in this series is in regards to how much flak he has taken for being involved in the Studley project in the first place. I haven't been running up against this situation as long as Schwarz has, but I have probably bounced off of it more often than him. Being one of these guys who questions everything, then has the cajones to actually question the answers, I have run up against the "wood wall" Chris is talking about in this post more times than I care to image. Recently, an example of this just played out, and again, it was instigated by a Chris Schwarz post.

Chris ran an interview with Konrad Sauer from Sauer & Steiner Toolworks regarding his newly designed "K13". This new plane design for Sauer started to sprout legs on some previous thoughts I had on planes, thoughts that I had been forming for a while. In general, these thoughts were directed, overall, to the height of hand placement while using a traditional plane, and specifically, dealing with the high Centre of Gravity those high hand-holds produce.

This is an image of the Sauer & Steiner K13 Panel Plane. Sauer's customer
wanted a plane that oozed speed. Me? I just want one that doesn't
feel like it is going to fall over all the time.

Sauer brought the front knob down considerably and gave the lines more sweep as they moved towards the rear of the plane for an appearance of speed. I'm not interested in a fast looking plane, mainly because I know that saying "speed" and "hand planing" in the same sentence is an oxymoron. I was, however, very interested in that lower front knob. By the time I finished reading the interview, my thoughts had legs that ran as long as the knees. By the time I had finished reading everything that was posted about it on the Sauer & Steiner blog, they had ankles, arches and even toes.

I didn't find one comment about the low knob causing problems during planing anywhere. In fact, all I read was the exact opposite. As a result, I kept asking myself, "why keep the tote and knob so high?"

I "get" that planes have a traditional design and the world of woodworking has been following the basis of that design for centuries. I "get" that a high centre of gravity has been build purposely into the planes by utilizing tall totes and knobs. I "get" that the reason for this is so the user can better gauge the tool's plumb during use. I "get" all that. I also "get" that everyone in the world, for centuries, thought the world was flat, too.

My belief is that, while the high centre of gravity offers a built-in gauge for plumb, this benefit may be outweighed by the possibility that the high centre of gravity adds more to being off plumb than the operator of the tool could manage without it. Plane the edge with a block plane and you stand a far better chance of remaining on plumb than when you plane the same edge with a bench plane, at least for me. I think it is because the high COG forces the plane out of plumb more than the operator does. Please don't tell me about the guiding finger of the forward hand, I already use it. You still have to push the plane with the tote, and that is where the wiggly-wobblies come into play.

I also think the angle of the operator's wrist has a lot to do with getting off plumb too. To plane properly on a proper height bench with a traditional designed plane, you end up with a crook in your wrist that is not conducive to keeping the plane plumb. It is also not conducive to varying the pressure between heavy forward and light downward, and light forward and heavy downward either.

Lowering the tote would cause its angle to reduce, resulting in the operator's wrist being less-cocked. A more natural angle to the wrist means less stress on it, less weight trying to throw it off plumb and easier variance of pressure. At least that's how I see it, although the only way I could prove it is to have one made and try it out, an expensive exercise in experimentation if ever there was one. That is because there isn't anything written about this, and I sure haven't seen a plane made this way. Why? I have no idea. It could be that I am so wet with this, I'm drowning, or it could be that we have all been following this design religiously for so long, going against it would be, for a plane maker, like falling on his float.

I know the most common answer to this question before it is even uttered. "If I learn to use the traditional plane design properly, I will see the high COG as an advantage. Until I do learn how to use it properly, the high COG will always work as a disadvantage. From my perspective, whether I have learned to use a traditional plane properly or not is an irrelevant argument. With enough practice, you can train yourself to overcome pretty much anything, even swinging a golf club in its proper, but unnatural way.

Maybe in time I will be able to put this thought to bed, but in the meantime, I actually was stupid enough to write it all down and send it to a plane maker I know and am considering using. I think my quest for answers wasn't met with the same joy as it saw when written. In other words, I haven't heard from the guy since.

As to Chris' report on meeting the "wood wall". I left the following comment...

"I have come to believe that there isn’t any species of wood out there that is quite as unbending as the average dedicated woodworker’s mind."

Peace,

Mitchell


P.S.: Considering that dropping 4 to 6-grand on one plane is not conducive to my wife's belief that she shouldn't have to hide from our bank manager when she visits the bank, I will be listing some duplicate and "ok, I like it, but I don't love it" tools I am selling very soon. All proceeds from the sale of these tools will be going to the "Infill Plane Payment Foundation". I am just working on the images of the tools included which are:
1 - tack hammer - not so new - not so expensive
8 - Stanley Everlast chisels - conditions from "its ok" to "hey, that's pretty good"
1 - General Angle Divider with its original box
1 - Stanley Speed Drill with most of its original bits
1 - solid wheel Stanley No.624
1 - very good Stanley No.5 Type 11 plane 
1 - never used QTG laser beam level with case and - are you ready for it - original batteries still unused - wow!
I should have these posted before the end of this week.
Peace