Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Tale of Two Planes...

Ok, I'm anal. I'll admit it. I will also admit to the fact that the older I get, the more anal I become. I have come to realize that I formed some strange ideas about mechanical things over the past ten years or so. I will also have to admit that I will go to some pretty far extremes to meet those obsessions. Did I mention that I have also realized that many of these concepts I have developed are actually obsessions. No? Well they are. To name but a few, if the manufacturer made something as a set, I want the whole set, not just part of it. If things came in pairs, I won't stop until I have them both. No matter what they are, if they are mechanical, I like them all clean and shiny, and I like them to work like the day they came out of the factory, no matter how old they are. I haven't always been this weird when it comes to these things. Lord knows my old man tried to drum a toned down version of them into my stubborn brain, but only recently did the nickel dropped. The plane that has the staring role in this post is a great example of either how far I have come over the years with these things, or how far I have regressed, depending on how you look at it.

The plane up for discussion is a Stanley No.6, a Type 18. It was part of my "inheritance package" that I bought from my old man 25 years ago. There were three Type 18 planes included in the toolbox that he made his livelihood from over his career as a carpenter; a 9½ block, a No.4 and the No.6. The 9½ was cracked, so I trashed it, but the 4 and 6 were in pretty good shape. At least they were until I got ahold of them full-time.

Up until recently, if a tool's ability wasn't measured in horsepower, I wasn't interested. When I rebuilt a 40' wood boat, I had to replace about 30% of the hull's mahogany planking. You don't know love for something until you spend hours tweaking a grand worth of Honduras Mahogany so each gorgeous plank butts up nice and snug against its equally gorgeously grained sister, then, with the grain just glowing in the sunlight, you paint over it all with a thick copper based gunk so when you through the whole lot into the lake, strange, hairy things won't grow on it. It was with this No.6 that I was able to produce that "tight" hull, thereby keeping those strange, hairy things from growing on the inside of the hull as well. Once the hull was completed, though, that plane was unceremoniously dumped into a cold, damp dockbox and left to rust its way into the ugly mess you will see in the pictures that accompany this post.

When I was forced to let the horses loose and revert to hand tools, this plane was one of my mainstays in just about everything I built. All along I thought it was a No.7. I have no idea why, but I was pretty shocked to discover it was actually a No.6. One would think, with a large "No. 6" cast predominantly into the toe of the bed, I would have noticed it long ago, but like I said, it didn't have a horsepower rating. When I walked away from the power tools, this plane was the first old tool that I stripped and soaked in Evapo-Rust. Man, I scrubbed that sucker until my fingers were raw, but it still looked like hell.

While I came to love this old plane, I hated looking at it as it bugged the hell out of me. I had given it a predominate place in the toolbox and there is sat, day in and day out, taunting me, constantly forcing me to face the results of my disregard for it over the years.

Then, one day while cruising eBay for even more planes, I came across a Stanley No.7 that was reasonably old, but looked brand new. I clicked on the link to see what it was about.

In the description, the eBayer had listed what he had done to this plane:
  • Sole: Grind flat. This means grind only the bottom of the body. Finished, it will be pristine, with a flatness will have no more than .0022” maximum indicator reading.
  • Frog: Fully restore. Grind the face, re-machine the mounting points and match the offset of points to points on plane body, plus clean and rework the blade adjusting knob, thread and ‘Y’ lever, making it better than new.
  • Blade: Grind the sides. Machine grind the edges dead square to the faces and parallel to each other.
  • Blade: Removal of harsh edges and dings. This is a hand operation that rids edge corners of any sharpness left by the original manufacturer or from abusive handling. It allows the blade to seat properly on the frog face and makes for a more ‘friendly’ blade in terms of handling.
  • Blade: Complete grinding of both faces. This is a precision machine operation used to help restore flatness.
  • Blade: Grind cutting edge. The blade's primary bevel is Flat ground at 25 degrees. 
  • Blade: Hone cutting edge. A basic honed cutting edge is applied in order to test the plane. Each restored plane must create .002 inch thick ribbons.
  • Chipbreaker: Optimize. This operatio closes any gaps that exist between the chipbeaker and blade. The chipbreaker is then polished to allow the chips an easier escape.
  • Body: Clean. This operation removes rust and grease that have accumulated over the years.
  • Japanning: Once the plane body is cleaned, a new coat of japanning is applied over the original.
  • Level Cap: Wire brush the lever cap to smooth and clean its surface.
  • Tote and Knob: If the tote and knob have chips, new wood is grafted, then they are stripped and recoated.

What really caught my eye was at the end, where the eBayer stated the following: 
  • Incidentally .... I can also do restoration on your planes if they are in need of it. Email me through the Ebay “contact seller” and I can then furnish you with additional information on the service.
Now I know Chris Schwarz states, and states often, that larger planes do not need to have a dead flat sole. Chris would know better than I about this, as he is the true expert when it comes to all things to do with planes. Even as an pure, raw amateur, though, I can emphatically tell you that no plane requires engraving, but even Chris admits to being very partial to one of his that has his logo of a square engraved on each side.

Needless to say, I contacted the eBayer, sent off my No.6 and I am thrilled that I did. Next up, off goes the No.4.

If you are interested in having one of your planes rebuilt, the man to contact is Steve Nisbett of Wheaton, Illinois. You can contact him through this email address link.

So would the rebuilding of this plane make my old man happy? Nah. Oh, he would look at it with approving eyes and run his hands over the metal and new tote and knob, and then he would ask what the rebuild cost. After I answered him, he would put the plane down and gruffly inform me that if I wasn't such a a butt-head (he would have used stronger wording here) and had taken care of the plane in the first place, the cost of rebuilding it wouldn't have been necessary. As much as it hurts to say so, even now, he would be right, the grumpy old gas-passer (sorry, it was the politest way I could say it).

While I think the fun I have had with these images is obvious, in case some of you
missed it, these are compilations made from images I took before and after Steve
worked his magic on the plane. To clarify, all these images are of the same plane.


Monday, 25 April 2011

Now That's Something I Would Have Done...

I woke up one day with a thing for Stanley 40's. I have no idea where it came from, but I suspect it has to do with nothing more than the shape of their handles. Ever the masochist, I started collecting them individually, instead of simply looking for a good, clean set from the get-go. After assembling almost a complete set, I realized they were not matching. I then decided that the ever-so slight difference in the older version's handles was sexier, so off I went in search of examples with four patent dates. I have one or two left to find, but after four or five years of searching, I'm pretty happy with what I have accomplished.

In truth, though, I have actually over accomplished with this particular collection. I will admit to being a real sucker for these chisels and I will buy up any and all that appear to be a decent length. To ever remind me of this obsession, I have a drawer full of the damned things, many of which I plan to sell in the near future. I doubt getting rid of many will stop me from buying more, though, as my plan of attack now is to complete the set, but times two; one good set for easy chiselling, and one "beater" set.

During one of my many searches through eBay, I came across a 40 that looked like it could have come out of my old man's toolbox. This poor old thing took a real wailing from someone, and I would lay odds it was probably a little schmuck of a kid who probably even looked like me. I felt so sorry for this thing, I bought it for about 25 bucks more than it was worth, which means I paid $20 for it.

It has sat in the drawer for a while now, but this weekend I decided to bring the sad little thing back to life. That rotten little kid had nailed this thing to death, wailing on it so bad that the cap was flattened and mushroomed over the leather washer. While driving the cap down, the wood handle could do nothing but follow suit and eventually the kid had it mushroomed over the shank so badly, it had no choice but to split.

I straightened out the opening as best I could with a chisel, then cut a wedge from some scrap ash, running it over a sheet of sandpaper until I got it to fit as snugly as I could. I filled the gap with glue and hammered the wedge in as far as it would go.

I let it sit for 24 hours, then chiseled away the waste. I couldn't figure out how to bring the handle back into line any other way but to chisel and sand away the mushroomed areas, both at the cap and at the shank. I reshaped the handle to as close to original as I could get it. I then filed the cap down smooth on the sides and revealed as much of the leather as dared. I then gave it eight or nine coats of shellac, rubbing it down with fine steel wool between coats and then four or five coats of Min-Wax Finishing Wax, each coat rubbed in with extra-fine steel wool.

The patch is not a perfect match, but then I don't want it to be. Having been wailed on is part of its history now, and that light wedge-shaped patch will put a smile on my face every time I look at it. It is nice to know I wasn't the first rotten little bugger the world has seen, and I doubt I'll be the last.

Here is the end result above an untouched example so the handles can be compared.

I know I didn't put any value back into this chisel, but I think I gave it back a little of its beauty.



Saturday, 23 April 2011

An Offer You Can't Refuse...Ok, Maybe You Can...

I'm going to try and bring myself to sell off a few tools I have that are either duplicates, unwanted or unloved. Let me stress, I am not going into the old tool business, but instead, just swapping out some unwanted tools for cash to contribute towards buying some more tools that I do want.

I figured if I was going to do this, I'd give you folks a shot at it first. The following is the listing I came up with to post with the item on eBay. I'll leave it posted here for a few days and if it doesn't sell, I'll move it over to eBay.

This Jointer Fence has been sold.
Thank you for your interest.

I am NOT taking bids on this item.
The first one that emails me saying they want it - get it.

The price listed here is the same as the opening bid if the item is moved over to eBay.

All of the details regarding the item, payment and shipping are listed below.

Once you go through the listing you may have one question, so I'll answer it here before you ask it...

Yes, I have found that eBay descriptions that are long-winded attempts at humour get more hits and higher bids than the short, blunt, in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it style that is the usual for the "hide-behind-the-monitor" sellers common to eBay these days.


The selling price for this item is $17.50 plus shipping

This auction listing is for a Veritas Jointer Fence and is probably the longest description ever used for a simple piece of aluminum extrusion and a couple of magnets.

Rather than mumbling on about what this amazing little item is all about, I will quote Lee Valley…

Planing a square edge on a board requires a jointer fence, whether you are using an electric jointer or a hand plane.

The Veritas® jointer fence allows you to shoot accurate and consistent square or bevelled edges with most iron or steel bench planes. The integral rare-earth magnets make it quick and easy to attach or remove the 11" long anodized aluminum fence from either side of all sizes of bench planes, from a smooth plane (#4) to a jointer (#8).

As supplied, the 2" tall guiding face can be used to plane edges perfectly square to the face of your workpiece. It can also be used to shoot angles less than 90° when a bevelled wooden guide is attached to the inside face of the fence.

Lee Valley added an exclusion regarding this fence, stating it does not mount to the Veritas bevel-up jointer and smoother planes (see the list of planes I have used it on below).

This particular listed item is used and does have some small nicks and dings, although none major or glaring. Make sure you have a close look at the photos so you know what you are getting. The reason it does have those nicks and dings is because the darned thing actually works. Because of that, it was actually used.

The rare earth magnets still hold with the same strength as the day it was purchased.

I used this fence often, shooting pine, oak and walnut, to name a few. I shot square and beveled with it and found it was excellent at doing what Veritas designed and produced it to do.

I have used this fence attached to a 15” Veritas Low-Angle Jack Plane, a Stanley No.6 and a Stanley No.8. It worked very well on all of them.

My wife bought me a Stanley No.386 as a gift. This Veritas is less hassle than the 386, but if you are married, you will understand why I am selling it.

The listed Canadian price for this fence on the Lee Valley website is $44.50.

I only accept payment through PayPal.

Payment is expected within three days of emailing me to tell me you want it. The dog ate my wallet is no excuse for being tardy.

I ship only by mail and charge only what the Post Office asks for.

I ship worldwide.

All shipments mailed using "Expedited Parcel", a trackable service that includes up to $100 in insurance.

Item weighs 10.5 ounces (plus packaging)

Shipping Time-Frame:
The fence is shipped the following working day after receiving payment.

If the fence I send you is not the fence displayed in the listing’s photographs, I’ll refund your purchase price. Other than that, there isn’t any return on this item.  

If you wish to purchase this fence, please click here and let me know by email.



Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tried To Get My Feet Wet And Drowned...

I recently tried to run with the big boys. Scary stuff!

If you cruise the web looking for information on vintage tools you have probably come across David Stanley Auctions. It is probably one of the premiere auction sites for vintage tools out there. The tools they consign for auction are notably far and above the average. Their recent auction included both private and museum collections which meant some pretty amazing stuff. I got hooked on this company and signed up for a years worth of their catalogues. 

Their last auction was held on March 26th and on the 24th I received their catalogue in the mail. Thinking, "In for a penny, in for a pound" (little did I know), I figured I would give them a go. Not knowing how all this worked, I picked three lesser valued items to start; a 5" Brass Protractor, a Marples 15" Square and a Pair of Dowel Rounders.

The Protractor was listed as, "A 5" combination brass protractor and scale rule G++ (30-50)". The image supplied in both their printed and online catalogues showed a nice looking example so I listed my maximum bid on their Absentee Bidding Form as 50₤. It sold for 60₤.

The Square was listed as, "A 15" brass faced rosewood handled try square by Marples with bench stop G+ (15-25)". Knowing that their grading system was as high or higher than those The Best Things uses, I felt confident placing a bid for it at 30₤. It sold for 32₤.

Finally, the Dowel Rounders were listed as, "A pair of handled beech dowel rounders G++ (30-50)". I placed a top bid of 50₤, which is exactly what they sold for.

Here is what my single winning bid got me...

They are really a nice pair of cutters which look as though they didn't cut very many dowels over their lifetime. They are stamped with a previous owners name, "J. Harvey". They also have size stampings; one stamped "8" (¾") and the other "9" (1"). The "MES Howarth, Warrant Cast Steel, Sheffield" blades are probably very close to their original length, based on the very little amount of play below the mounting screws when the blade is set. As a result of all of this, I have no complaints about the tools purchased.

Now lets have a look-see what these tools actually cost me.

The invoice I received had the listed lot and selling price of 50₤.

There was then the "Premium", which I expected, of 7.50₤

Following this was a Credit Card charge of 1.98₤. I didn't see this one coming.

Then the shipping charges were added, the 17.58₤ charge being one thing, but added to that is a VAT charge of 3.52₤.

Insurance was additional, which was 0.50₤, and again the VAT charge reared its ugly head to ding me for another 0.10₤.

Now I'm not blaming David Stanley Auctions in any way for these charges. Other than the Credit Card charge, I was well aware of them before placing my bids. In actual fact, David Stanley Auctions didn't charge me the 3₤ handling charge they were supposed to, according to their literature, so they treated me more than fair.

All told, though, my 50₤ ($78.50 CAN) bid for these two Dowel Cutters ended up costing me 81.18₤ ($128.00 CAN), which means landing the tools on my desk cost more than 60% of their purchase price.

I should have expected this. When I was in London, England a few years ago, my first purchase was from a chip vendor on the street, and was just a can of Coke. When he asked me for 5₤, I didn't think twice, and just handed it to him. As I popped the tab on that can walking away, though, it hit me that I was about to drink an $11 can of pop.

England. You have to love it, but I guess only the big boys can afford to live there.



As an aside, I will mention that while David Stanley Auctions is a spectacular company that deals in better than the best in vintage wares, they are a tad lacking when it comes to communications. Two emails that I have sent them asking for clarifications have been left hanging. As an international company dealing on the Internet, I was quite surprised at this revelation.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Tools of the Trade Show...

The Tools of the Trade Show took place today in Pickering, Ontario. This is one of the very few vintage tool shows that happen in Canada, so few in fact, the promoters are able to run it twice a year; a spring show in April and a fall show in October.

In the past two years I have found that the dealers had more tools on their tables than there were potential customers to buy them. This year I felt this ratio was in reverse. I think some of the dealers were gun-shy, so they cut back on their inventories and displayed less. As a sign the economy is possibly turning around, I think the buying numbers swelled this year but faced a lesser number of choices. It is possible that I also overheard more haggling over price this year than I have heard in the recent past. As an example of this, I returned to one dealer to talk price about a plane I saw about 75 minutes previous only to find that the plane gone, along with about 90% of the rest of his inventory. I mentioned that it looked like he did quite well that morning and he answered that he thought his customers made out much better than he did. Signs that displayed, "Prices are negotiable" were commonplace.

Doug Orr, the writer of all things vintage in the Lee Valley Tools' Newsletters, had his booth up and running, crammed full of wood moulding planes (sadly, no H.E. Mitchell's) and other tools of quality. We discussed a beautiful, but unmarked, ¾" steel shoulder plane with what I think was a walnut infill that I picked up off his table. This thing was amazingly built with a price of $155. He told me that it had an $85 blade in it, which barely poked out of the finest mouth I have ever seen on any plane. The mouth was so fine in fact, that I reluctantly put it back on the table. Looking at the mouth of that plane, I knew that with my limited plane abilities at this point, I was looking at buying $155 worth of pure frustration. Maybe one day, when my skills with these things improve, I won't be so quick to put things down that intimidate me, but today wasn't that day.

Doug Orr's booth is always loaded with crates of
wood moulding planes in every profile imaginable.
Doug also has a number of feature planes and other tools
displayed across his shelves and tables. They are easier
to see, but you really feel like you "scored" when you
find a needed one while routing through the bins.  

As with every show, Martin J. Donnelly Tool Auctions was front and centre. Personally, I really appreciate this company being present as it gives this show the vintage tool trades "Stamp of Approval". Too often we Canadians are treated as distant relatives by our American cousin's, and it is good to see we are worthy of Martin making the long drive up here (do you hear that you eBayers that won't ship to Canada). While here, Martin also takes on the job as speaker at the meeting held before the show by The Tool Group of Canada. Maybe there is enough of us up here to convince companies like Jim Bode Tools to share the driving chores with Martin in the fall.

I also got to hold my first Stanley No.1 Bench Plane this morning, which was quite an event, I can assure you. I saw this little plane sitting on a rack in Dave (ToolRush) Carriere's big booth. The bed was unmarked, the lever-cap was smooth with the key-hole mount, the blade had the Victory Stanley logo and the adjustment wheel was the older solid-filled style. I thought it might have been a miniature model of a No.4 or a salesman's sample, so I held it up and asked Dave what it was. When he answered, "Stanley No.1; $1300", it blew me away. I had read a number of articles on this plane and had pretty much decided I would never own one because of its size. Being able to hold an almost perfect example of one in the palm of my hand this morning, I thought to myself, "Yup. Mitchell, you will never own one of these things". Its cute, I'll give it that, but if the only way you can describe something like this is to use the word, "cute", it ain't no tool I want to own. Even though I had confirmed my suspicions about this plane, the whole experience did leave me feeling a little foolish. Some tool collector, eh? I didn't even recognize the infamous Stanley No.1.

This Stanley No. 1 caught my eye, big time,
mainly because I couldn't figure out what
the hell it was.

Dave (ToolRush) Carriere's booth displays
a smorgasbord of woodworking delights.

As if the Stanley No.1 introduction didn't make me feel foolish enough, I had to add to it at the Sauer & Steiner Toolworks booth. This world renowned plane making firm is also present at every one of the Tools of the Trade shows. Each time I passed them my eye was drawn to a mitre plane they had on display, one that appeared to be about 10" in length by about 2¼" in width. Finally, during the forth go-round I stopped to have a look. I have been thinking for over a year now of making a dedicated shoot board plane, but first I have to finish the actual shooting board. I slapped together a temporary shoot to use while I was still playing with the final one's design and use my Veritas 15" Low-Angle Jack Plane with it. I love this plane but it is just too damned light to use for shooting. What I want is a hernia-inducing slug of metal that won't deflect off the end grain like the Veritas does. When I picked up this Sauer & Steiner, it immediately just felt right for the job. I had been all over this company's website a few times and have read much about their products, which are beautifully built, by the way, so I already had a rough idea what the cost of the plane was, but hoping a miracle had happened and the prices had fallen, I asked. I don't know if it was monsieur Sauer or monsieur Steiner that answered, but whichever it was, the answer was, "About 5". That answer didn't register with the number I had in my head for some reason, and I blurted out, "Hundred?" Either not wanting to embarrass me further, or not wanting to telegraph it throughout the hall, the conveyor of the information mouthed the word, "Thousand", as he smiled and shook his head. The thing is, I was thinking $6k when I walked up to the table, but still ended up walking away red-faced and embarrassed. I can get myself into these predicaments, I tell ya.

So what did I end up carrying home after four hours of frenzy feeding on vintage tool delights?

I arrived at the show looking for three specific items and walked out with one of them. I went in looking for the bullnose attachment for my Stanley No.72 Chamfer, a Stanley No.20 square, something longer than 16", and, of course, any tool stamped "H.E. Mitchell". I left with the square.

Long Stanley No.20 squares are a rarity, indeed. Not only did I find a long one, I found the longest one made. Not only that, I found it at an excellent price. While they rarely show up, the few that I have seen for sale have sold  for anywhere from $95 on eBay for a very poor example, to $165 on a dealers' online store for a good example. I picked up this one for $75 and I think it may clean up quite nicely.

I came home with this 20" Stanley No.20 with the arm hanger still
attached, all for a cool seventy-five bucks. The image has the blade
looking waved, but that is a result of lighting and dirt, The blade
is actually dead-straight.
The Tools of the Trade Show may not be near the size and depth of some of the larger American and British versions, but for our little corner of the world, it is a little bit of tool heaven.



While I am sure not many of you are asking yourselves, "why does Canada have such limited (and hidden) vintage tool sources?", I will answer it anyway.
Canada basically, when it comes to retailers with narrow and shallow
Here are some stats for you to consider...
United States - 311 million (ranks 3rd)
Canada - 34.4 million (ranks 36th)
Land Mass
Canada - 3.86 million square miles
United States - 3.7 million square miles
Population Density
United States - 31.6 people per square mile
Canada - 3.3 people per square mile
Building an average 50-mile stretch of highway in Canada and the United States...
Average cost per mile - $500,000
50-mile stretch - $25 million to complete
Density along one mile of highway
United States - 316 people
Canada - 33 people

While developing a profitable retail business is more difficult in Canada than it is in the United States, we do have more and larger natural spaces for us to go to and lick our wounds after the bailiff has done his job and we have more time on our hands :o)
            All values taken from results of Internet searches and may or may not be accurate.