Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Meeting Another of Life's Milestones...

Life is full of milestones and I think I hit another one of them this morning. While this post has nothing to do with woodworking, it is about tools. To be specific, it involves the tools shown below being packed up in little boxes, so bare with me as it is an (sniff) emotional moment for me (sniff).

Throughout my life I have been a pretty avid car-nut, a statement collaborated by the fact that my current ride is the 48th car that I have owned. I have had everything from a 56’ Ford; that I shoehorned a Lincoln 430 cu. in. V8 into, to a Jaguar XJ and a BMW 733i, the worst car I ever owned, by the way.

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.

So this summer I woke up to the realizations that there will be no more car builds in my future, my son will probably be moving around often for the foreseeable future, and to own tools is to move them, so now is time to pass on the tools. I know they are going to a good home and my son will treasure and enjoy them, so this has taken a considerable amount of the sting out of giving them up. I do have to admit to getting a bit choked up this morning when I started to pack them up.

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.




Friday, 17 July 2009

A Way to Take the "Screw" Out of Purchasing a Vintage "Screwdriver" Online...

First, let me apologize for the title as this post has nothing to do with screwdrivers. It is meant to touch on the topic of protecting yourself when purchasing vintage tools online, so while no screwdrivers are discussed here, the contents could be applied when and if you ever purchase one. Using the term "Screwdriver", however, allowed me, I hope, to be blunt, without being rude.

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?

One of the ways you can protect yourself from unscrupulous sellers is to take full advantage of the images they provide. An example of this is how I handled the purchase this week of a Stanley No. 72 Chamfer Plane that I ended up buying for, hopefully, a very reasonable price. The jury is still out on whether I did well with it or not as I am currently awaiting its arrival, but I did do all I could to ensure I would be happy with the deal.

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.

I brought the file into Photoshop and after a little manipulation, I felt I had a good rendition of the plane. For those of you that know Photoshop, I added a Curves Adjustment Layer set using three Control Points and applied an Unsharpen Mask. Comparing the image to a known and trusted one, I fully realized that it wasn't in the pristine condition that true collectors like, as well as it being an example of a later production model, which is probably the reasons why the price was below average. How a good collector sorts the good from the not so good, I have no idea. Do they all know Photoshop like I do? The image below is a result of these manipulations.

Unlike the seller for the chisel shown above, this seller was more honest in his description, even though his statement that about 85% of the japanning remained might be a little overstated, as the manipulated image showed otherwise. This is probably not intentional, as I suspect that the value he came up with was based on not knowing which parts of this particular plane were originally japanned when it came from the factory as the No. 72 comes with a lot more of that coating than other Stanley planes. The point here, though, is that having done the research and investigated the images offered as best as I could, I had all the information I needed to make a rational choice whether to purchase the plane or not. As I really wanted an example of this one, but knew it would be one that would end up being a dust collector, I placed a value on it which turned out to be enough to be successful. I ended up purchasing the plane for what I consider to be a reasonable price of $250. I feel it was a fair price for a Stanley No. 72 in this condition and one that I feel could be realized if I choose to sell it later on.

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.



Wednesday, 8 July 2009

All The Gift Giving Days Rolled Into One...

There was a knock on my door yesterday; a sound my wife has come to dread. She has good reason to as it was once again the postman with my latest collection of tool acquisitions. This particular shipment was even more exciting for me because it included not only my latest purchase, but also three other purchases I have made over the past two months.

A couple of months ago I purchased a 14” Disston-Jackson Backsaw on eBay. I came across it while searching for a match to my Jackson 12” dovetail rip. It was one of those strange purchases where you don’t really think about it, you just do it. I placed a bid, if I now remember correctly, one of $27.00, and forgot about it. About four days later I got an email saying I had won the auction and to be honest, I was taken aback by this email, as I truly did not remember bidding on a saw. Finally remembering that I actually did make the bid, I sent off the money and emailed the seller and asked him to ship the saw to Daryl Weir (woodnut4 on eBay), who is located in Illinois, so he could refurbish it before I got my hands on it.

About two weeks after that, I finally came across a new listing on eBay for an open-handled Jackson dovetail saw that I could have made into a crosscut to match the rip I had. I quickly sent off an email to Daryl asking him to look at the listing and make as accurate of judgment on the saw that he could, given the limited information the listing held, and added to by a even more limited answers to my emailed questions I sent off to the seller. Daryl got back to me right away stating that while he couldn’t be sure, the saw did appear in the photos to be workable. I had been searching for this match for the past year and a half and this saw was the first I had come across so I became very determined to own it. It seemed to me to be a long week before the auction finally ended, but I think I ended up paying a whopping $26.00 for it. Again, when I paid the bill, I asked the seller to ship it to Daryl.

A week after that, doing my usual morning cruise through all the vintage tool seller sites looking for more Stanley No. 40 chisels, I came across an older Disston Gent’s saw on the site. While there was very little information about this saw, which is not unusual for this site, I trust the proprietor, so I emailed him and stated that if the saw is straight, bill me and send it to Daryl. Naturally, he billed me $55.00 (AU), and another saw headed off to join Daryl’s ever-increasing workload.

Last Sunday I got an email from Daryl stating that all the work on the saws had been completed and they were being shipped the following morning. Included in the email was the total bill for refurbishing the three saws. I was amazed at how little it cost me, considering the work involved.

The first saw, the Disston – Jackson 14” back, was manufactured between 1910 and 1920. It was not in the best of shape, although the bones were there. Daryl removed the handle and the back. He then cleaned, straightened and re-tensioned the blade, reinstalling the back once the blade was ready for assembly. He cleaned and gave the handle a few coats of boiled linseed oil to preserve the original finish and then reinstalled it. The saw was then jointed and sharpened at 12 ppi. The blade is very thin, at .027”, and as Daryl says, “it is a fast, smooth cutting saw”, one that will work very well in my Stanley No. 150 Miter Box.

The little Jackson Dovetail was in better shape. It only had to be cleaned, jointed and sharpened. As the handle was loose,
Daryl removed it, cleaned it and coated it with boiled linseed oil, reattaching it so it is now tight and secure. For 26 bucks, I didn’t do too badly. While not an exact match to the Jackson I wanted to pair it with, it turned out to be a pretty good little saw. Where my rip is from somewhere around1888, this one is from the1870’s. What was almost disappointing, though, was while my rip is 12”, this one is only 10”. It was in the description. but I had been looking for this match for so long, I didn’t even bother to fully read the description, I just went at it and purchased it. I’ll keep looking for an exact match to the rip, but until then, I’m happier with an almost matching crosscut than I was without one at all.

Here is a shot of my "almost" pair of Jackson Dovetail Saws...

The Disston Gents saw was a steal. The only thing it required was sharpening, and Daryl did that, giving it a crosscut filing. It has seen very little use and has lots of metal beneath the back. The etching on it is faded, but still easily readable. Neither Daryl, Stuart, the seller, or I have any idea when it was manufactured. Daryl put it in the “older model” category because it has the wider back and has a pretty turned handle. I bought it to replace a Dozukime saw I bought at Lee Valley Tools a while ago. Its not that the Dozukime is a bad saw, its not. In fact, it is a very good saw for the price ($49.00 (CAN)). It is just that I can’t get used to cutting on the pull, and I don’t feel I have control of the cut with it as much as I do with a push style of saw. I think using a pull style saw requires a completely different stance than when using a push saw; one that requires you to be further away from the material. With my eyesight, this just doesn’t work for me. I have to be so close to the markings that I could use my nose as a guide to start the saw, so a push style saw is more aligned to my abilities.

I won’t tell you what I ended up paying Daryl for all this work, but when you look at all three saws, it is surprising how very little money I have tied up in them. To date I have purchased four saws from Daryl, had him sharpened two others, and completely refurbish three more. I have nothing but good things to say about this man. Let's face it, I didn’t do anything to get this wonderful set of saws other than pay the bills. While I own them, it was Daryl that made them worth owning. Who, then, should get credit for them; me, because I have a Visa card, or Daryl, who spent a number of hours turning a bunch of sow’s ears into a group of silk purses?

You can get in touch with Daryl Weir at, or you can find him on eBay listed as woodnut4. He usually has one of his refurbished saws for sale each week.

Having thought about it, I am considering upping the anti and buying some true collectible saws now; ones I won’t use, but instead, will just dust and look at. I don’t think the vast majority of my tools will increase in value anytime soon, but some of the higher-end collectable saws and planes might as investors look for new places and things to sink their money into. That is what happened with muscle cars from the 60's and 70's, which only happened very recently. Why couldn't the same happen with tools? With the everyday tools like the ones shown here, I think that my son, who will inherit them, will definitely be in a win-win situation. As "quasi-collectables", he can sell them and probably see what I have invested into them back, with maybe a little more to spare. If he decides to keep them, he will have a wonderful set of hand tools to use. Until then, however, just look at what I get to play with.

Along with the package of saws came a second package. Sorry, this post isn’t done yet.

Two weeks ago I was having a look around the eBay listings in the Tool Collectables section, and came across another tool I had been looking for; a Stanley No. 71 Router Plane. It was being offered by nail1nh55, a seller who turned out to be one of the most honest sellers I have ever dealt with on eBay. What he was offering was one of the “B” models, this particular one being manufactured in 1909, the exact tool built in the exact year that I was looking for.

Sound a little too specific? Let me explain.

The open-toe model that Stanley started producing in about 1890 had a "shoe" added that closes the throat so it can be used on narrow stock in about 1895 or '96. They also added a depth rod at about this same time, modifying the shaft that holds the adjustable shoe so it became a dual-purpose item. Around 1898 or 1899, they stopped producing the plane with a japanned finish and started producing it with a nickel-plated finish. In 1902, the biggest change in the design happened when they added the wheel adjustment to move the blade up and down, a design change that allows for finer adjustments with greater accuracy. In 1909, they added the countersunk holes in the sole so a wider board could be attached to the tool and a few months later, Stanley redesigned the sole casting so the combo depth rod / shoe mount protruded through the throat, which eliminated the need for the second collar that held the cutter blade and the shoe attachment together. Stanley went on to produce this design for the next 64 years with only three changes to the design after 1909. One those changes took place in 1910, when they stopped producing the planes with maple knobs and started producing them with ones painted black, another change was the addition of a third "smoothing" blade in 1917 and the third, in 1939, saw them add an adjustable fence to the sole.

The example that I now proudly own has an open toe, a shoe, a combo shoe holder and depth gauge shaft, it is nickel-plated, has the wheel adjustment, countersunk holes in the sole and maple handles, but it does not have the second mount in the throat. This one came with the original and often lost second collar and also has the original two blades.

As a result of all of this, and the reason I was looking for this exact model, is that this particular example is one of those very rare Stanley products whose manufacturing date can be narrowed down to within one year – six months, actually. Hence, I can pretty much emphatically state that this Stanley 71 B Router Plane was manufactured in the first half of 1909.

How many tools in your cabinet can you date that closely?



Sunday, 5 July 2009

Overcoming, "Use It or Lose It"...

I went online the other day with the intent of purchasing Christopher Schwarz’s, “Building Furniture with Hand Planes”, when I spotted the offer for his latest work, a book entitled, “Handplane Essentials”. Never being one to fight an opportunity to add items to a shopping cart, I clicked on the link to investigate it further. In the post was a link that opened a pdf file which displayed the Table of Contents and Christopher’s introduction for this publication.

Viewing that short document, a few thoughts came to mind.

First was the black and white photography included. Wow. Nice stuff. Al Parrish, the guy behind those photographs, has had me as a fan for quite some time now. He has such an amazing eye for detail and incredible abilities for controlling light. You have probably viewed many pieces created by this talented man before and not known it. Over the years he has done work for just about everyone who is anyone, especially all things F&W. I searched for a site that, hopefully, would display some of Al's personal work as I think it would be amazing stuff to view, but sadly, one couldn't be found.

The next thought was about the layout. If the rest of the book looks as clean and inviting as these few pages, it is definitely something I want to own. Yes, I know, you are thinking who would buy a book because they like the layout? Well, in truth, I would, because I’m really into that kind of thing. The success of presenting anything, including knowledge, is based on its packaging, and if you don’t believe that, consider how you view squirrels and rats. They are very close cousins, you know. It is too bad this excerpt didn’t include a credit for the person who did the layout.

Then there were the quotes used, quotations being something that always fascinate me. I’m fascinated by them because they always make me wonder what the scenario was when they were spoken. Think about someone finding the quote, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” written on a bathroom wall a hundred years from now and, hopefully, you get the idea about what I am talking about here. Schwarz’s first quote by John Gay is something I live by, but never had it put into words before, so it was very cool to come across. His second choice, however, is one I’m not too sure about. He used a quote by Stonehouse (Shan shi), a poet I hadn’t heard of before, which states, “In 20 years on this mountain, I’ve never been cheated by a hoe”. My only thought after reading this one was, “…and what red light district have you been frequenting and how do I get there?”

Finally, there was his Introduction. In this short discourse, Christopher makes his case for hand tools over their power offspring and doesn’t do a bad job of it. Many of his arguments and statements are quite valid and indisputable until I came across the entry, “Power tools have brilliantly eliminated the need for the first-time user to be highly skilled to do basic operations. Even beginning woodworkers can turn out stunning feats of woodworking thanks to the cleverness of the tools themselves.” Oh, boy. Having spent a lifetime working exclusively with power tools, this entry immediately raised the hair on the back of my neck. How dare the man make such a statement.

I didn’t close the file right there and then but, instead, sat there for a while and thought about what the man was saying and considered why I was reading his offering in the first place. I considered why I made the switch to hand tools, which was done solely because I have lost so much of my peripheral vision due to glaucoma and other assorted eye ailments, that I started to share the worry held by those around me that I was going to lose a finger or two one day because I couldn’t see both hands at the same time. I thought about my past, which I have commented about often in this blog, stating I was taught the finer points of power tools at a very early age by my father and related how I constantly upgraded and added to those skills over the next forty years. I thought about how it was a long haul to learn how to properly cut something as basic as a miter joint on a table saw, let alone many of the other more complex tasks some of the other power tools are capable of. I then thought about what would happen if I made the switch back to power tools and came to the realization that while Christopher struck out with this statement, he was in the right ballpark.

From my perspective, having lived in both worlds, there are some very serious differences between using power tools and hand tools. The slope of the learning curve for each, however, isn't one of them. Just learning how to feed a piece of wood through a tablesaw takes considerable practice and knowledge to avoid even the slightest of binding, which, in the worse case scenario, can deliver the piece back to you in a very uninvited manner, or in the least, mar the cut. A tablesaw’s spinning ⅛” wide blade has haunted many of the most experienced craftsmen whom have added many a piece to the woodpile as a result of not allowing for it properly in the setting of the fence. Power tools, like hand tools, have their hidden Achilles Heels, and while they always have a way of finding you in both applications, in the power tool world, they find you faster and are much more apparent then when they appear in a hand tool application.

What power tools have over hand tools, Christopher, is “repeatability”. As I sat there and thought about what you wrote, considering what would happen if I made the switch back to power tools, I realized that I would have no difficulties whatsoever. The beauty of power tools is that once you learn the process, you can repeat it until the cows come home and always achieve the same results. Where I would have a problem is if I made the switch back again because the one thing that hand tools require over power, is hand/eye coordination, the biggest Achilles Heel in the hand tool world. I have written about this unique requirement a number of posts ago, but since mulling over Christopher's statement, it has been in the forefront of my mind every time I pick up a chisel or saw.

Currently, I’m in the process of building a new chisel rack for my tool cabinet. Built in the same manner as the rest of the racks in this ongoing, never-ending project, the frame is dovetailed together and the rack is through mortised to the frame. The last rack I built was finished last November, seven months ago. As I had built one immediately before that, the 8 dovetails and 14 through mortises this particular rack required all came off without a hitch and I was quite pleased with the results. The same can’t be said for this current one. Not having cut a dovetail in 7 months meant that I had serious difficulties in repeating the feat. I knew the processes and followed them, just like I would do if I was using a power tool, but the one thing I no longer had, the one item not required with that power tool, was the hand/eye coordination to pull it off, something that I had developed over the last few racks that I built. As a result, my cuts were not as true as they should have been and my chiseling was inconsistent. In the hand tool world, unlike the power one, "If you don’t use it, you lose it".

Where this latest project has it over the previous one is in the finishing of the surfaces. On the current one, I have used scrapers exclusively, where on the others, while I attempted to use a scraper; I didn’t have the greatest of luck with it and ended up sanding them. Having used scrapers in the past, I am well aware of their abilities, but it is that “use it or lose it” thing.

In my hand tool world, you can “cheat” on just about anything but cutting a dovetail. From what I have seen and read on the web, most agree with me as, according to just about everyone in the hand tool world that I have been exposed to, using a jig to thickness plane a piece of wood with a jointer plane is acceptable, but using one to cut a dovetail is the world’s biggest no-no and something to be scoffed at. While at the heart of it, it really is an irrational attitude, but it is one that I believe in and honour. As a result, while you would have to hold a gun to my head to get me to buy a jig that would hold my saw at the perfect angle to cut a dovetail, I didn’t hesitate to buy Lee Valley’s offering of their "Veritas Scraping Set".

What an amazing set, each piece a perfect example of proper engineering and design.

First, it comes with a multitude of scrapers in different thicknesses, 4 to be precise (A), all “super-hard”, in Rc48-52 steel no less, whatever the hell that means.

Next, it has a Jointer (C) which holds the 8” file (B) that is also included with the set. While any piece of square stock can take the place of this jointer to keep the file square with the scraper, this piece of extruded aluminum is like adding a long handle to a broom head – it is not necessary to get the job done, but it sure makes life a lot more comfortable while you are doing it.

Then, included in the $92.00 (CAN) set is the burnisher (D), the reason I bought this kit, even though all of these pieces are available separately. Burnishing the hook has always been my downfall in the past when it comes to using a scraper. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don't. I can learn how to hold the burnisher to do its job properly, but when I go back to it in a month, or even six months later, that ability has disappeared and I have to start all over again. Because of time constraints, I don’t pick up a tool as often as I would like or as often as it takes to maintain my abilities with it. When I do find those few precious hours in a week, the last thing I want is spend it practicing to regain my abilities with it. I may not take shortcuts when it comes to cutting a dovetail, as that would be sacrilegious, but when it comes to something as mundane as sharpening a scraper, I’m all for anything that helps, and this thing truly helps.

This plastic handle is very comfortable to hold and very easy to maintain a constant pressure with. To overcome the “use it or lose it” thing, you dial in the angle you want and that angle stays consistent across the edge of the scraper. The process is simple. After clamping a scraper in a vice and filing it flat and square with the jointer, you coat it with a minute amount of oil. The instructions that come with the set suggest that you wipe your finger behind your ear and then across the scraper edge as this is about all the oil you need. So far, I have passed on that one and so far have stuck to swiping my finger across a paper towel that has a drop of Norton Sharpening Oil on it. Once oiled, you then set the burnisher’s dial to 0° and slide it over the scraper via the slot in its bottom. With a bit of downward pressure, you pass the burnisher back and forth a couple of times and the result is that you have spread the edge a bit and it is now set up to be rolled. Adjust the dial on the side of the burnisher again, this time to anywhere from 1° to 15°, and again slide it over the scraper, put some downward pressure on it, and pass it back and forth again a few times and you are done.

Combine the ease of use with its accuracy, and this item stands out as one of the best investments in my cabinet.

Popping it out of the package, having a quick read of the instructions, and I was on my way to setting different degrees of hooks on all four of those scrappers in minutes. I didn’t hook the first, the thinnest scraper, but left it after passing the burnisher over it a few times with the dial set to 0°. The next thickness up, I put a hook on it which was 5°, then the next up got a 10° hook, and finally, the thickest in the set got a 15° hook. With this set-up, I start out with the 15° one, which removes material quickly, then I just work my way down the degrees, doing the final passes with the 0° hooked one, which puts a sheen on the beautifully smoothed wood.

To do this, it is a simple matter of changing the blade in the holder (E) that comes with the set. Talk about taking the pressure off, this little gizmo holds the scraper and distorts it at the same time through the use of a centre turn screw that pushes out on the centre of the blade. The only thing I have to do is find the sweet angle to hold the thing at and push or pull, whichever is appropriate. Sweet! I did find two small issues with this tool, however. At only 1 ⅞” high, I find it a little narrower than I would like and because of the way it holds the blades, you can only sharpen one edge, making it necessary to return to the vice more often. Its ability to hold a setting for the bend forever and the stress it takes off your hands overcome these perceived shortcomings in a serious hurry, though, so I doubt I would ever scrap again without using it.

So there you go, Mr. Schwarz, even in the hand tool world there are tools that make woodworking geniuses out of the uninitiated.



P.S.: I continued on to the site's Checkout with my purchases of Christopher's book and DVD but for some reason, maybe it was the web master's way of helping me get even, when I filled out the form and hit "Submit", it came back that it didn't like my address, it was correct but I reentered it again, then it came back that it didn't like my credit card number (now that I write this, maybe it was my wife and not the web master's fault), and after going through that circle three times, I gave up and closed the site, so I still do not have his "Building Furniture with Hand Planes" DVD, which I want. I'll try again another time. (Just to be honest about all of this, I use a Mac with Safari as the browser and despite what Mr. Jobs says, this combo is not always compatible within the internet world.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Moxon Clarified...

Reading the comments left and some emails received regarding my views on Moxon's, "The Art of Joinery", I feel that it is possible that my position regarding this publication were not stated as obviously as I thought they were. To attempt to try to remove any confusion about where I stand with this book, I have added a supplement to the original posting at the end of it, which, hopefully, will clarify my position regarding it.