Thursday, 30 December 2010

Never Take A Coin At Face Value...

The image below is of a pretty beaten up coin that is actually a French 10 Centimes bronze coin from 1855. The unidentifiable imprint on it is an eagle with his head turned to the right while it clutches a quiver of arrows. The inscription, “Empire Francais Dix Centimes” that is embossed around the circumference translates as, “French Empire Ten Cents”.

Based on the condition as seen here, the value of this 145-year-old coin is about a buck.

The value of this coin, however, is based on which side you look at. Flip it over and its value shoots up 10,000% because stamped into the face of this coin is; “Mitchell, Saw Maker, Brighton”.

So what was ol’ Henry up to defacing Emperor Napoleon the III’s coins?

He was creating a “coupon”.

While throughout history, men have been putting one stamp or another in coins, during the latter half of the 19th century, this practice became a very common practice in commerce.

While the basis of offset printing was invented by Gutenberg way back in 1452, it was an extremely labour-intensive process, as was the paper that was printed. These two facts conspired to cause printing for basic advertising to be beyond the financial grasp of the average shop owner. While the Linotype machine was invented in 1886, it did not come into widespread use until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Linotype machine was a pretty fascinating piece of work, for those of you that are interested in machinery.  Using a keyboard, the “Compositor” would punch in the text. The machine would then use that information to assemble a line of text using molds of each letter, called “matrices”, setting them side by side as needed.  The machine would then cast that mold into a “slug”, which was one line of set text. It then assembled the slugs in the “galley”, assembling them in the required order so as to define the story. When the printing was completed, the slugs were melted down and the material used again for the next run.

Added to this labour saver was the cost cutting in the manufacturing of paper, switching from the standard practice of using linen fiber to using wood pulp.

So all of this helped reduce the cost of printing at the beginning of the 20th century, but that didn’t help poor ol’ Henry back in about 1870. In his shop on North Street in Brighton, he was producing everything from ultimate braces to saws, but remember, this was the latter half of the 19th century. One of his complex molding planes with a single blade would sell for less than 75 cents. To bring up his volume so he could purchase stock at better prices, Henry had to advertise.

Like many small businesses at the time, Henry turned to “Counterstamping” coins. Because it was against the law to deface the British currency, Henry brought in hundreds of 10centimes coins from France and beat the hell out of those. He then handed them out as change to put them back into circulation in the hopes that they would find their way to someone in need of a joining tool. When the coins were presented to Henry back at the shop, he would give the bearer credit for the value of the coin, worth about 3 British pennies. By today's standards, given the price of hand-made wood planes, that would equal a $30 to $45 discount, not a value to sneeze at.

I purchased this coin from Rich Hartzog who operates World Exonumia, a dealer in historical coins, medals and tokens. It is purported to have once been a part of Dr. Gregory G. Brunk’s collection, Dr. Bunk being a noted authority on counterstamped coins. Mr. Hartzog has published some of Dr. Brunk’s books on counterstamped coins and is currently assembling the second update of Brunk’s title, “Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins”. From the research I have done, I do not believe there are too many of ol’ Henry’s French francs left.

While there is the acceptance that this coin has two values; one as a French 10centimes coin and the other as a Merchant’s form of advertising, I am hoping there is a third value to it now. Adding it to my small but growing collection of H.E. Mitchell planes and I am hoping it might have just increased the value of the whole lot by more than the value of the coin. That was the rational behind its purchase, but only time will tell if it is a workable one.

Profitable or not, I have spent a number of enjoyable hours this week researching the history of these coins and in doing so, I learned a bit more about ol’ Henry Mitchell. He was obviously a bit of a hustler.



Tuesday, 28 December 2010

My Wife's Christmas Gift...

How many kind, considerate, loving husbands give their wives a plant stand end for Christmas?

I bet not many.

I know. What the hell is a plant stand end?

Its this...

...hey, at least I didn't put a bow on it.

Ok, I didn't get my wife's plant shelving unit done for Christmas. I'll admit that I didn't get as much done as I should have. All right. I'll be honest. I didn't get as much done as I could have, but it is coming together. Honest.

This is my first shot at building a frame and panel piece by hand. As with all the past projects I have done in this manner, I'm shocked at the time and labor that goes into it. Man, hand tools are a lot of work.

I have three plow planes; the Mitchell woodie, a Stanley 50 and a Veritas Small Plow. I didn't bother with the woodie because I don't want to mess it up any more than it is. I tried the Stanley, but found it heavy and difficult to push, so I ended up using the lightest plow out of the bunch, the Veritas. This surprised me because everyone says that the heavier the plane, the better the going, but I didn't find that at all.

I plowed out 1/4" rabbets along the entire length of five 1" by 4" by 6' pieces of oak, the fifth one plowing out both edges. I then cut this last one up into 8 - 4 3/4" and 2 - 13" lengths. Using a rip dovetail saw, because I didn't think I would ever need a tenon saw, I cut the tenons on both ends of these 10 pieces.

I then did something I have never done before. Where the plans call for overlaid trim, I made up poplar spacers. I have always not bothered with secondary woods in builds like this, but I guess the possibility of easier going with the plow made me get cheap with the oak this time. There are three of these fillers along the height of this side piece, one at each end and one at the step where the cupboard section steps back to the shelving section. In truth, the poplar was a tad easier to work with than the oak.

The very bottom panel is a glue-up of three 6" pieces of 1/4" oak and the other three are single pieces. As it turns out, Home Depot sells 4' lengths of oak in multiple thicknesses. At 12 bucks a pop for 6" widths, it ain't cheap, but I'm still not ready to take on dimensioning lumber by hand yet. 

So I have one side complete and the other almost ready for glue-up. All of the shelves are also glued up and ready for beading.

While much slower than I expected, I am getting there and should be ready for assembly by the middle of next week. 

So how was my wife's reaction to just getting an end for Christmas? Well, I don't think she was as happy with it as she was with the mink coat I gave her a few years ago. Then again, these things tend to loose something when you have to explain what it is.



Saturday, 18 December 2010

Having An Imaginary Donnybrook With My Old Man...

If the old man were around today, we would be having one of those discussions that used to cause my mother and sister to hide in the kitchen wringing their hands in anticipation of the inevitable fight.

I was always into building things but my problem was, as I have admitted in the past, I was a rotten little kid who had the focus of a tsetse fly. What limited focus I did have was all used up by the time I figured out how to build whatever it was that I wanted to make. There just wasn’t anything left over when it came time to use the tools properly, or put them away once the task was done. The result was a lot of my old man’s tools got destroyed between the time I was old enough to hold a screwdriver and my teens.

My dad was a walking contradiction, being about as inconsistent as you can get in just about everything he did. When I ruined a tool of his, he would give me a cuff, call me about every expletive you could imagine and threaten to “lock these &$!@? tools up under lock and key and you’ll be an old man with a long white beard before you ever see them again” (just a note; I am not that old right now, but I definitely have a white beard). He never did do what he threatened to do, though. There was never a time in my life when my old man said, “like hell”, when I wanted to use one of this tools. He made that “like hell” statement with just about everything else he owned when it came to me, but never once in regards to his tools. In truth, he encouraged me to use them, explaining when and how to use each one with patience that was quite beyond me.

All of that said, he also never missed an opportunity to remind me of each and every item in his toolbox that got caught in the swath of my destructive ways. If the job at hand required a particular tool that was no longer pristine, or gone altogether, he was very quick to point out the shortcomings of our tool repertoire and notably pointed about why we were short the article in question. Hell, in truth, we didn’t even have to be working on something together for him to bring up the topic.

He was around the age I am now when his health started to seriously nose-dive. I got a call one day telling me to get my butt home as the doctors didn’t think he would make it through the night. I drove the 120 miles in about an hour and spent that night sitting beside him, literally holding his hand so he would know he wasn’t alone. I don’t know if he was in a coma, or drugged stupor, but he only opened his eyes once that night. When his eyes did open, he looked at me, smiled, and quickly drifted back to wherever he was before.

He pulled through that night and was home within the week, but that night changed our relationship. I guess we both finally realized what we meant to each other because not only did we finally become father and son, but we became good friends. Before this I would venture home to visit my mother when I knew he wasn’t around. After, I tried to make it home at least once a week, if not twice, just so I could spend some time with him. In the summer, we would sit out on his front porch drinking a beer or two, talking about whatever came to mind, or not talking at all, both of us understanding our inabilities at making small talk. Sadly, he only lived for another five years after this, but I can’t tell you how thankful I am for those short five years. They made up for a lifetime of mistakes.

There are two reasons for writing this tearjerker tonight. First, it is coming on Christmas and in our house, my father was Christmas. He would start fussing about it at the beginning of November and would go completely overboard in his preparations for his grandchildren, who meant everything to him. Although I married into a Jewish family, it is not my wife’s religion that causes me to no longer celebrate Christmas. I gave it all up a year after the old man died because Christmas just wasn’t Christmas any longer without him.

The second reason for bringing all of this up is because it was during one of these visits with him, one of those afternoons that found us sitting on his porch, beer in hand, that he raised the subject of his Stanley No.150 Miter Box. Remembering this particular conversation this week, I can’t remember what conclusion I came to for him bringing it up after forty years or so. I just don’t know if he was still pissed with me for leaving it out in the rain all that time after the fact, or if he was just using it to give me a “shot”. The old man had a warped sense of humor, something I inherited. He also lacked the filter which removed the contaminants in the thoughts that came out of his brain before they became words escaping his mouth, another trait I possess thanks to that crap shoot we call the gene pool. It took me a lifetime, but back then I had finally learned that these “shots” were his idea of fun and he didn’t voice them with maliciousness in mind. Because of this, I’m not even sure if I even wondered why he brought it up at that time.

Intentional or not, that conversation hit the mark. I was always conscious of running those tools and once I got the hand tool bug, I made a point of replacing each and every one with the best example I could find. Too late for him but at least I know I eventually set the record straight. The Stanley 150 was replaced with new/old stock almost 50 years after the day it got ruined. It started to rain in the middle of a "hotrod" build and I had it together enough to put everything else away, including the back saw, but for some reason, that miter box got left outside for about five or six days, if memory serves me correctly.

That conversation did come up front and center this week, though. That shot at me for buggering up that tool came back to mind like he spoke it only yesterday. So what was the trigger for all of this? That conversation came to mind because I realized this week just what a piece of junk the tool in question really is.

I have been working on a design for a shooting board with a dedicated plane for over a year now. My workload has been horrendous these past few years, so time for woodworking has been very limited. In dribbles and drabs, I finally got to complete a half scale prototype of it last month. There are a number of mechanical metal parts to this design, parts that are not available off the shelf. To ensure their quality and reliability, I approached Raney Nelson of Daed Tool Works last year to see if he would mill the parts, which he agreed to do – if the design worked. The prototype was mainly for him. I say, “was”, because as I was packing it up to ship to him, I realized that what I had produced was just plain embarrassing. Raney is the guy who cuts dovetails in steel for plane parts and assembles them without being able to see a sliver of light between them. What I was about to send him had joints that you could drive a truck through.

I had some issues when I assembled all 18 pieces but I didn’t think it was that bad. I was even pretty proud of it the few times I used it to check its functionality.  Sitting upside down in the packing box, though, it seemed to me that all the crooked joints were actually growing worse the longer I looked at it. I ended up just closing the lid and setting it aside. God, it was pitiful.

Knowing what I had used to cut it, I mounted the Stanley 150 in the vice and started to do some test cuts. What I discovered was that I couldn’t place the teeth of the blade in the same place twice. The pressure plates on the arm that controls the saws vertical angle wouldn’t hold the blade consistently plumb so there was no way in hell it would cut through a board and come out the other side square to the line it started at. That’s when that conversation with my old man on his porch came to mind and I thought, “How the hell could you be upset with me for trashing that piece of crap forty years earlier when all I did was give it exactly what it deserved.” Needless to say, I was giving the old man a what-for for a considerable time afterwards.

I took the entire box apart and consider each and every piece of it. I filed off some cast burrs on a few pieces and reassembled it, paying very close attention to the tolerances. Testing it again, I found it to be better, but still no cigar. The only way I could get it to cut properly was to tighten the plate pressure on the saw blade so much that I could barely pull and push the saw to cut another test piece.

It was during this second test that I discovered another problem with the design; the bed is too short. As you cut through stock, it has a tendency to ride up on the saw blade resulting it the stock shifting one way or another, depending on the side with the greatest overhang. I was having this problem rear its ugly head while I was cutting 2’ pieces. How the hell my old man cut 8’, 10’ and 12’ moldings, I have no idea.

I removed the stock bed and replaced it with a wider and longer hunk of poplar. While I was at it, I also made some feet out of oak so it was lifted off the bench when I clamped it in and would stand a better chance of sitting square if there was some junk on the bench.

The thing is still not perfect but my second shot at cutting up the stock went much better than the first go-round. While cutting up all the pieces is a bit of labor, the worst part of it all is having to re-cut all 38 rabbets. Those are seriously labor intensive.

I’m going to replace this piece of junk with something, although I don’t know what yet. I’m sure I can find some wacky looking thing from the turn of the century that can make this thing blush. Once I do, I’ll put it back to original and put it up on the shelf and let it collect dust. It’s about all it is good for. The thing doesn’t even weigh enough to make it a good dingy anchor.

I know this thing was all the old man had and all money would allow, but damn. He made me feel so guilty for all those years because I destroyed his, but from where I stood, he should have thanked me. I do know that if me mom and sister were in the kitchen listening to me this week, they would have been damned happy the old man wasn't around any longer to hear me. It would have been one hell of a donnybrook.



Article written by Walter W. Jacob about the history of the Stanley 150 Miter Box can be found here.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Introducing a New Site...

While there is not much on it at this point in time, I have started a second blog.

Over the past year I have come to believe that wooden moulding planes are seriously cool. As a result, I have decided to dedicate some time to researching them to find out what they are all about. To this end, I started assembling a bit of a library on the subject a few months ago and leafing through them before I got down to business, I was shocked at the mass of information I'm going to have to digest. It is astonishing how such a simple tool can involve such complex properties. As such, I need a vehicle to correlate and display the information I gather for future referencing. This site is it.

Any and all are welcome to participate in this learning adventure. If you have something you wish to contribute, contribute away. If you have a question you need answered, ask away. This site is a learning site, not a teaching site and hopefully, it will be a two-way street.

Currently, I am working on line drawings that will explain the parts of a moulding plane. The main image is complete and has been posted for no other reason than I was impatient to get something up there. Over the next few days, this graphic will be completed and ready to show all of us what is what.




Friday, 3 December 2010

Hyperkitten Adds More Than Another Plane To My Stash…

It is a strange thing about people who make their living from computers. When they want to take the usual coffee break or whatever, most that I know never leave their monitors. I’m the same way. When I think it is time to take a break and clear my head, I wander off into the woodworking cyber world and check out whose doing what, or who’s selling what.

During these little treks I have often visited I have found many of the projects listed there to be well documented and complete, so it is an interesting site. It was on this site that I discovered an extensive how-to for making a Frame Saw, something I am very keen on making. On a previous visit, I noticed that tool sales had been added to the site’s repertoire, but for some reason, it just didn't connect. After seeing this site mentioned in Chris Schwarz’s column, though, I decided to take a more serious look at his offerings.

I noticed he listed some wood moulding planes, but none included were examples of H.E. Mitchell, the only maker I am collecting now. As I usually do, both to see if there is a possibility the vendor has one that is not listed, plus to check out how they respond to customer inquiries, I sent off an email to the site asking two questions; did he have any examples of ol’ Henry’s planes and could he recommend a blade for the frame saw I am planning to make in the very near future using his instructions.

Knowing that the site was just listed that day in the Popular Woodworking blog, I figured the guy would be swamped with emails as no one makes or breaks a woodworking tool business faster than Schwarz, so I didn’t expect to hear back for a few days. Surprisingly, a few hours later, Josh, the site’s operator replied. Not only was he fast on the button, but he came back with a positive regarding a Mitchell plane and with information regarding the saw blade.

I jumped at the plane, even though I knew I already had one of the same profile. We struck a deal; I sent off the payment and today, the plane arrived.

In actual fact, the plane was not the same as mine, but slightly different. I still haven’t got my head around the different profiles, but both of these are sash planes that include a cove. The difference is, mine is a 1¾” with a ⅝” cove, with the designation “1”… 

…while Hyperkitten’s is designated with a “2”.
They look pretty much the same, but when I turn the images into line drawings and overlap them, the difference starts to become pretty obvious…
When the No. 2 was created, the mother plane was shifted to the left slightly. Whether this is intentional or not, I have no idea, but I am sure someone could clarify it for me.

When I compared them, I read that shifting of the cove to the left as a way of allowing for a shallower cut, giving a slightly smaller cove.  I then assumed that Sash planes came with different sized coves and the number designation was similar to Hollows and Rounds. When I mentioned this to Josh, he quickly set me straight, and I thank him for it.

Josh mentioned that the mouth of the planes should be different, one being larger than the other, and sure enough, the No. 1 plane’s mouth is 3/16” across the width of the blade. The No. 2 is a quarter of an inch across that same area. Every other measurement that I made in all the other areas of the mouths on both planes are exactly the same, and I mean exactly.

As Josh explained it to me, the wider mouth allowed for the blade to be set rank to hog off material. The narrower mouth was so the final finishing passes could be made with thinner cuts. This allowed for faster production while still maintaining quality.

When I put it all together, the No. 2 plane, with the wider mouth, is the first plane to tackle the board and then it is gone over again, once the profile has been pretty much cut, with the No. 1 to clean and smooth things up. Brilliant.

Now those that have read my posts in the past know that I am rather anal about things matching, wanting everything to not only be matched by manufacturer, but by production dates as well, and if things end up in pairs, it is a huge bonus for me.

Well solely by accident, guess what? I have a matched pair of H.E. Mitchell Sash Planes.

Brilliant. Just bloody brilliant.