Thursday, October 20, 2016

Part time plane restorer & maker

Pirate Plane Co is looking to hire a part-time assistant plane restorer and builder, we're growing and would like others to join us in that process. Due to the part time nature of the position we understand there are other work requirements and are willing to accommodate off-hours schedules. This could be used to augment current income, evenings and weekends are fine. We are currently offering 10-12 hours per week and as we grow additional there will be additional work that would increase our needs to around 25 hours per week.

Previous experience with restoring hand planes is a plus but any previous metal/tool restoration work can satisfy our requirements. Given the business we're in we understand there aren't many people out there with this experience so we are willing to teach the plane process to a dedicated individual.

Basic qualifications & experience are:

  • Metalworking
    • Media blasting
    • Paint stripping
    • Japanning & painting
    • Tap & die work
    • Basic metal cutting, filing, sanding and grinding
    • Hardening & tempering tool steel (O1)
    • Sharpening & honing tool blades
    • Vertical mill experience, CNC is a plus but not required
  • Woodworking
    • Turning
    • Band saw use
    • Planing, both electric and manual
    • Table saw use, rip and crosscut
    • Creating mortises by hand using chisels
  • General & soft skills
    • Prompt and punctual
    • Detail oriented
    • Customer focused
    • Willingness and ability to quickly learn new skills
    • Comfortable in a small home shop environment
This would be a great opportunity for someone to learn or grow their restoration skills and over time learn how to hand make wood planes. Pay is commensurate to experience but will be in the $15-$20/hr range to start. 

Must be willing to sign an NDA and 3 year post-employment non-compete agreement. The position is in our Willow Springs location, my garage shop.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Plane parts for sale

Here's a list of the various plane parts I have for sale. Contact me if interested.

041601Stanley no 8C bottom (sole). Type 8-9. Refinished condition with new paint. each$40Available
041614Stanley Bailey No 4 plane bottom (body). Type 9-10. 2 patent dates, MAR-25-02 and AUG-19-02. 10% japanning. No pitting.$7Available
041615Stanley Bailey No 4 plane bottom (body). Type 9-10. 2 patent dates, MAR-25-02 and AUG-19-02. 5% japanning. No pitting.$7Available
041616Stanley Bailey No 4 plane bottom (body). Type 15+. 10% japanning. No pitting. U casting.$7Available
041617Stanley Bailey No 4 plane bottom (body). Type 15+. 10% japanning. No pitting.$7Available
041604Stanley no 5-8 depth adjustment yoke with pin. Like new. Each.$5Available
041622Stanley frog screws, all Bailey/Bedrock planes. Fair condition. Pair.$3Available
041608Stanley tote front screw. All Bailey/Bedrock planes, no 5-8/605-608. Each.$3Available
041607Stanley cap iron screw. All Stanley planes. Fair. Light rust, no pitting. Each.$3Available
041609Stanley lever cap screw. All Stanley planes. Fair. Light rust, no pitting. Each.$3Available
041613Stanley no 5-8 tote, broken wing, no other cracks. each$6Available
041620Stanley no 8 lever cap. early type without logo. S casting. good condition, no rust or pitting. each$10Available
041639Stanley no 5-8 knob, early short type, fair condition. no finish remaining. each$5Available
041637Stanley lever cap screw. All Stanley planes. Fair. Light rust, no pitting. Each.$3Available
041636Stanley frog screws, all Bailey/Bedrock planes. Fair condition. Pair.$3Available
041634Stanley tote front screw. All Bailey/Bedrock planes, no 5-8/605-608. Each.$3Available
041623Stanley no 8 frog, type 8-9, broken lateral adjustment lever otherwise good condition. Includes yoke. Each.$15Available
041611Stanley no 8 frog, type 8-9, broken lateral adjustment lever otherwise good condition. Each.$10Available
0416198-32 brace ginble bit, new old stock. ea$8Available
0416248-32 brace ginble bit, new old stock. ea$8Available
0416258-32 brace ginble bit, new old stock. ea$8Available
0416308-32 brace ginble bit, new old stock. ea$8Available
041641Craftsman combination plow plane, similar to Stanley 45. Good condition, no rust or pitting. Includes 1/8" cutter.$35Sold
041612Stanley no 5-8 knob, early short type, good condition. each$7Sold
041618Stanley no 8C bottom (sole). Type 8-9. Refinished condition with new paint. S casting. each$40Sold
041627Stanley no 8 lever cap. early type without logo. S casting. good condition, lever operates freely, light rust or pitting. each$10Sold
041605Stanley brass depth adjustment knob, early 1" size. Good condition, threads work. Each.$5Sold
041610Stanley tote bolt. 4" Good condition. Very light rust, no pitting. Each.$3Sold
041603Stanley knob bolt. 2" Good condition. Very light rust, no pitting. Each.$3Sold
041606Stanley knob/tote screw, early brass type. All early Stanley planes. Good condition, threads work. Each$5Sold
041629Stanley brass depth adjustment knob, early 1" size. Good condition, threads work. Each.$5Sold
041602Stanley no 8 iron, 2 5/8" wide, 1" of useable steel. No rust, light pitting. each.$10Sold

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Plane Makers Float Review

Plane Makers Floats

I have been meaning to write this review for quite some time but just haven't gotten around to it. I'll view it as more time that I had to use the tools so it'll make for a higher quality review, you believe that right?

At this point in time I own around 13 floats, have invested somewhere around $1000 in them and have made dozens of planes with them. I believe this experience means that I am almost good enough to wipe the shoes of an 18th century plane makers' apprentice. In our modern day that translates to "I'm a blog writing expert on the subject".

In all honesty, I have used them enough to get a good feel for which ones I prefer, how comfortable they are to use and what my purchase experience was like with the company that makes (or distributes) them. I'll also throw in a bit at the end on which ones you should buy if you mean to start making planes.

Listed in the order they appear in the image above are the ones I'll be reviewing (and the cost):
  1. Liogier side floats, push and pull - $45 ea.
  2. Liogier 1/4" (6mm) mortise floats, push and pull - $45 ea.
  3. Mazzaglia Tools mortise float, pull - $85 ea.
  4. Iwasaki side float, only available in push - $45 ea.
  5. Iwasaki edge float, only available in push - $45 ea.
  6. Philly planes edge floats, push and pull - $70 ea.
  7. Lie Nielsen edge floats, push and pull - $50 ea.
  8. Lie Nielsen small cheek floats, push and pull - $60 ea.

Floats I hope to acquire and review in the future (with their total cost):
  • Liogier straight (bed) floats, push and pull - $90
  • Liogier 3/8" (10mm) mortise floats, push and pull - $90
  • Liogier 1/2" (13mm) mortise floats, push and pull - $90
  • Mazzaglia Tools edge float, only available in push - $85
  • Mazzaglia Tools side float, only available in push - $85
  • Philly Planes skewed 4mm float, push and pull - $140
  • Lie Nielsen 1/8" bed floats, push and pull - $120
  • Lie Nielsen side floats, push and pull - $120
  • Lie Nielsen large cheek floats, push and pull - $120
  • Lie Nielsen 1/4" mortise float, only available in push - $60
  • Lie Nielsen 1/2" mortise float, only available in push - $60

Note that if I acquire all of the floats in this list I will own what I believe are every float professionally made today, not counting individual craftsman in their own shop.

But first, what is a float? The best way to describe it is a cross between a file and a thick kerf saw. It's quite useful for cutting and shaping material in difficult to reach places, notably the mortise in a molding plane. They have been around for at least two centuries and the best we can tell is that they're really an offshoot of a file and have really been specific to plane makers and gunsmiths over that time, which came first is anyones guess. They have also been adopted by cabinetmakers and luthiers and other professions as they proved most useful for refining joints and hard to reach places in traditional woodworking but more on that some other time. As a result of being related to a saw they also have similar tooth geometries such as rake, fleam, slope and pitch. An in depth discussion of those properties will be reserved for a future article but for now you should know that they are *closely* related to a saw, perhaps more so than a file. Or maybe not?

In addition to that many (most?) of them come in two flavors: push or pull which means just that, do they cut on the push or pull stroke. Think of the difference between a western and eastern saw, same thing. Really? They're not related to a saw? I don't believe there is much of a functional difference in the two, for me it comes down to preference and the job at hand. In some cases you don't have room to push through so you need to have a pull cut, in other cases it's the opposite. For me at least, since I grew up on western style push saws, I took to the push floats on my first use. It took a little bit of time for me to adjust to the pull float. Of note, I STILL can't use a Japanese pull saw.

Here are the general attributes I'll rate each one on:

  • Handle material, workmanship and feel.
  • Blade, quality of steel, hardening, quality of the teeth, sharpness and ease of sharpening.
  • Quality of cut in various materials.
  • Cost. Sensitive subject, I know.
  • Company. How were they to deal with and ship the products.
And without further a do, here go the reviews.


1. Liogier Side Float

These floats are all hand made in France by Liogier and have to be some of the finest tools I own. I really can't say enough about the quality of them, I own several of their hand stitched rasps and these match their quality.
  • Handle: They handle feels fantastic in the hands, it's made of a quality material (not sure what) and is shaped in a manner that is easy to use for an extended period of time. Thus far the blade has stayed secured in mine over the course of around 6 months. No complaints on this part.
  • Blade: The business end is made of high quality O1 tool steel and is hardened, by my best guess, to around RC60. That makes them quite durable yet easy enough to sharpen on your own. The teeth were well formed and have a rake (angle of attack) that works well for general purpose use. One key piece of this blade is that is has some flex to it unlike the others. It's just enough so when you're working the flat side of the inside mortise you can bend it slightly up to reach smaller spots. That's really quite handy and now I see why even more flex could be beneficial.
  • Finish: The quality of the cut and finish from them is first class, what you're left with needs 0 work to complete.
  • Cost: These did have to come from France to get to me and at the time shipping was a bit on the costly side. Since then they have introduced a flat shipping rate, I believe $14, which solves that problem. The price for the tool itself is extremely competitive.
  • Company: Great people to deal with my only complaint is that these took around 3 months to arrive and there wasn't much communication about the status during that period. After a month of not hearing anything I had to email them to find out what was going on. I suppose if you order from them regularly you'll know these take time to make and receive but as a new customer I didn't.
  • The overall rating for them is a solid A, you won't go wrong with one of these.
    • Handle: A
    • Blade: A
    • Finish: A
    • Cost: B+
    • Company: B+

2. Liogier Mortise Float

These floats nearly mirror my experience with the side floats so I'll just say, they get the same grade. That, and to be honest, I haven't needed to use them all that much.


3. Mazzaglia Tools Mortise Float

This review is currently in process, more to come later...


    4. Iwasaki Side and Edge Floats

    I am going to include two floats in this section for Iwasaki, both the side and edge. These floats are made by Iwasaki and distributed by a number of vendors, I purchased mine from Lee Valley. They also appear a bit different than what I think a "traditional" float would look like, these are almost closer to a file and are smaller. But, don't let size fool you, these are in fact full featured floats and can very well compete with the big boys.
    • Handle: The handle is smaller and thinner than other floats but does generally feel comfortable in the hand. They are covered in a sort of polymer that has a slightly rough surface which prevents the float from slipping out of the hands. The only real downside to the handle is that it can be uncomfortable to use for extended periods of time, especially if you have large hands like I do. 
    • Blade: The blade is smaller than the others but certainly does the same work, in fact in some ways this float might be better than others. I'm not sure what type of steel they're made out of but it is quite hard, the only downside I see is that there is no way of sharpening it on your own. But, based on how hard it is and the level of sharpness, I don't see it needing to be sharpened for quite some time. And given the price point I would simply buy a new one.
    • Finish: This is where these floats truly shine, the finish they leave is like that of 400 grit sandpaper. And they do that without feeling like you're not removing material, you can see it coming off.
    • Cost: These are slightly lower than the others.
    • Company: What can I say, Lee Valley has always been exceptional to me. The price is good, shipping cost is reasonable and things arrive on time and in great shape.
    • The overall rating for these is somewhere around a B/B+ due to the extended use of the handle issue and the inability to sharpen the blade. If you're just touching things up, this might be the one for you. I use them to finish nearly every surface of the escapement, they are the last float that touches the plane and they excel at this task.
      • Handle: B
      • Blade: B
      • Finish: A+
      • Cost: A
      • Company: A


    6. Philly Planes Edge Floats

    These are made in the UK by Phillip Edwards and are available here. I ordered them via his web site and when they arrived I must say I was truly impressed. I might even go so far as "in awe" because I didn't know a human could make this high quality of what is a "utilitarian" tool. They came with a hand written note from Phil and were the sharpest floats I've ever received out of the box. They are so well made I was literally inspired to go make a plane using them.
    • Handle: Bar none these handles are the finest and most comfortable to use, you can tell these are made by a plane maker. I can use these for hours on end without the slightest bit of discomfort or fatigue. The handles are made form mahogany and are simply beautiful to look at. As I design the logo for my company I am going to use these floats on it, they exemplify plane making and are a tribute to the craft.
    • Blade: I would imagine these are made from O1 tool steel and were hardened/tempered quite well. The teeth are made to be fairly aggressive but not too much so depending on how you use them you can go from rough work to fine finish work easily, remember, floats require finesse. As I said before, these were the sharpest ones I've ever received and they are at a hardness level that balances edge retention with ease of sharpening. In fact, since receiving them I have only sharpened them once and I have used them on at least 6 pairs of hollows and rounds.
    • Finish: I would say these are comparable to the other edge floats with the exception of the Iwasaki ones (which are finer), they leave a really nice surface that doesn't require much touch up work.
    • Cost: Higher than the others but that also depends greatly on the exchange rate. Brexit should help us out here a bit. Are they expensive enough to be considered a guilty pleasure? They're perhaps on the edge but still firmly on the side of affordable. Come to think of it, maybe I should buy that skew float now that it's down to 1.2:1.... Oh Phil!
    • Company: Phil was in contact with me several times throughout the process letting me know what was going on with my order. It wasn't an automated message, it was Phil himself talking to me. That combined with the hand written note results in him being a truly class act. I can't say enough good about him and his product. Couple that with the fact that he's a fellow plane maker and I would have to tell everyone to buy from him regardless of cost. Come on, help support a fellow bespoke maker!
    • The overall rating for these is somewhere around an A- and the only reason why is due to the cost. These are some of the most expensive floats I own but based on the quality of the work they are absolutely worth every pound and pence. Buy some now. Really. Now.
      • Handle: A+
      • Blade: A
      • Finish: A
      • Cost: B-
      • Company: A+


    7. Lie Nielsen Edge Floats

    Lie Nielsen, for a while now, has offered several floats and other accessories for building your own molding planes. These floats are the design of Larry Williams of Old Street Tool, whose DVD is available from LN on how to make planes (I highly recommend it). When I first started making planes, these were the first floats I purchased.
    • Handle: As you can see in the first picture, the handles on these are perhaps the largest of all of the floats I have tested here. At first glance I thought the square shape would be uncomfortable to use but after months of having them in my hands I can say they're just fine. The material and finish isn't the same quality as Liogier or Philly but for a utilitarian tool it is just fine.
    • Blade: I had read somewhere, or perhaps Larry told me, that LN doesn't use O1 for these but I have yet to find that in writing anywhere. Despite the material, they are well made, the teeth are spaced for both rough and fine work and they are sharp out of the box. They're not the sharpest of all of the floats straight from LN but sharp enough. The hardness is a decent balance of edge retention vs. ease of sharpening but these are the one float that I have to sharpen more. Now, it could be because I use the edge float quite a bit but they seem to dull slightly faster than the Philly floats. Also of note is the color, their hardening/tempering process leaves the blade a dull black color. It certainly doesn't affect performance, it's just not pretty. Personally, I'm not the kind of guy that's into pretty tools but I do know some people are.
    • Finish: These, like the Philly floats, leave a good finish behind.
    • Cost: Just slightly higher than the Iwasaki but still quite affordable, especially as a first float.
    • Company: LN does a fantastic job with ordering and shipping, my single complaint has always been the shipping cost.
    • The overall rating for these is a good solid B, it's above average but compared to the Philly one.. Well, there's no comparison to that float. If you're just starting out making planes by all means consider this one as your first float, it's a really good, down to earth, well made basic float.
      • Handle: B
      • Blade: B
      • Finish: A
      • Cost: A
      • Company: B


    8. Lie Nielsen Cheek Floats

    So, I combined the Iwasaki floats so why did I break out the LN cheek ones? Well, because functionally they're quite different than any other float I use so they deserve their own section. These aren't one of the first floats you'd need to make planes but, to me at least, they have become an indispensable tool. These are perhaps the most aggressive floats I own and can open up the mortise faster than any other float. The downside is they finish they leave behind can be a bit rough but that's easy enough to clean up with another float. This is also the BEST float to use to open up the mouth on a molding plane.
    • Handle: The handle is exactly the same as the other LN. Of note though is that the push and pull handles of mine are slightly different lengths. I'm not sure if this was done on purpose or if a less than perfect blank was used on one or the other. No matter, they work they same but I'm surprised given how LN is known for their extreme quality control before shipping.
    • Blade: Same as the other LN with the exception that it's super fast to sharpen since there's just not much metal to it.
    • Finish: These can leave a fairly coarse surface behind, especially across the grain. But, on the inside of a mortise that you are initially opening up this really doesn't matter.
    • Cost: Same as the other LN but a tad higher.
    • Company: Same same. Please lower your shipping cost. Please...
    • The overall rating for these is a solid B, it's above average but compared to the Philly one.. Well, there's no comparison to that float. After an edge and side float this should be the next one you buy.
      • Handle: B
      • Blade: B
      • Finish: A
      • Cost: A
      • Company: B


    Starting Out

    Earlier in the article I said I would tell you what floats you should go with if you're going to start making your own planes. First, this is for traditionally made planes, if you're making Krenov style laminated ones you won't need floats.

    Keeping cost in mind I would start with 2 floats: an LN side and edge. I didn't get a chance to review their side float as it was perpetually out of stock. But, I can likely assume it would work as well as their others. If you want a slight upgrade in quality buy the Liogier side float instead of the LN one, it's well worth the wait. Now, if you want the BEST edge float you can get your hands on, buy the Philly. But that's only if cost is not a question for you as it is nearly double the price however it's SO worth it. Buy these 2 in the pull flavor to start with and after you know how to use these buy both of them in a push style at which point you would have (4) floats: side push, side pull, edge push and edge pull. This will get you 90% of what you need with side escapement planes. After this I would purchase the LN small cheek float and again first in push then in pull.

    And that's about it, if you have any questions let me know in the comments.

    Friday, June 17, 2016

    SOLD: Stanley Bedrock 607C, freshly restored...

    Stanley Bedrock 607C
    Type 6 (1910-1921)

    Up for auction is a Stanley Bedrock 607C, type 6 (1912-1921), 2 patent dates and small depth knob. Ground up refurb and tuneup, it's ready to go to work out of the box. This is a restore done by a hand tool woodworker for hand tool woodworkers.

    So what is a Bedrock plane versus a Bailey one? I’m glad you asked...Introduced in the early 20th century Stanley decided that they needed a new, higher end, line of planes where they could introduce newer more “high end features”. The majority of innovation of bench planes at Stanley was occurring around the Bedrock series. One of the first additions was from a patent that introduced the world to that middle frog adjustment screw, the one just below the iron depth adjustment knob on Bailey planes. While offered in the Bedrock series it was then added to all of the Bailey planes as well and survives to this day on modern Stanley and other makers planes.

    The other, perhaps more controversial, addition introduced in 1911 (on the type 5)  was from another patent which would allow the frog to be loosened up without removing the lever cap and iron. On a Bailey plane, you need to remove those pieces so you can access the screws that hold the frog in place. On a Bedrock you simply loosen 2 screws on the rear of the frog, right beside the other new frog adjustment screw, and move the frog back and forth without removing the lever cap and iron. These are my favorite Bedrock planes and represent the majority of the ones I restore and sell and are widely considered the finest planes ever made by humankind.

    Fast forward to modern times… When Thomas Lie-Nielsen was designing his new bench planes, he didn’t have to look any further than the Bedrock series for inspiration. They were, and still are, considered the last great plane to come from the Stanley company. LN took modern steels, tooling and other materials and turned what was a great plane into the world’s finest. By purchasing this Bedrock you are getting a piece of woodworking history.

    The nitty gritty details

    The base was blasted and received replacement Japanning. The japanning is my recipe and is a near carbon copy replacement for Stanley’s circa 1900-1930. It was applied in several coats then baked at progressively higher temps, an hour at a time. After this it's allowed to cure for 30 days. This finish will last longer than engine enamel and looks nearly identical to a plane coming out of the Stanley factory. The only apology on the base is very slight pitting on one side, I do not remove that because it would cause the side to be too thin. It will not affect performance

    The frog was torn apart, blasted and received the same japanning as the base. After curing all mating surfaces were flattened. There are no apologies on it.

    The knob and tote are new and are hand made out of cocobolo by me. To allow the natural beauty of the material to show through they received 2 coats of teak oil (so they're UV protected), were buffed out then had a coat of Renaissance Wax applied. If ren wax is good enough for the British Museum, it's ok in my books. I've added one of Bill Rittner's beautiful brass tote screws, it's a Bedrock and deserves a little bling.

    The only apology top side is slight pitting on the lever cap and has no affect on performance. The lever cap is the type correct one that has the word "BEDROCK" cast into it, NOT the word "Stanley" as that is incorrect for a type 6 plane.

    It will come with a type correct iron that has been flattened and sharpened to 8000. Some pitting on the top of the iron and lever cap but none in the area that matters. The cap iron was tuned and mated to fit the iron correctly.

    It's taking shavings that range from thin .002 to thicker .010, all are pictured.

    This is one fine plane, it's beautiful and works very well. For all intents and purposes, this is a almost brand new 100 year old plane that, if taken care of properly, will last at least another 100 years.

    Contact me if you're interested.

    Some additional pics

    Tuesday, June 7, 2016

    Books on japanning

    Over the past couple years I've spent quite a bit of time researching the history, and making of, the finish commonly called "japanning". The link to Wikipedia describes what japanning is decently but here goes...

    Japanese woodworkers used to use the sap from a particular tree, which was quite gummy, to cover their steel tools with so they didn't rust. After drying this finish would have a dark brown, almost black, color and a nearly semi-gloss sheen. Western tradesman saw this finish on tools brought to them from the far east, recreated it using western ingredients and dubbed it "japanning". This process of finishing, especially steel tools, has been in use by westerners since at least the 17th century and became very popular in the 18th century. All sorts of steel implements were covered in japanning from hand planes and chisels all the way to sewing machines and cast iron stoves.

    A common misconception is that japanning is only available in black but that's certainly not the case. Asphaltum, and more so lamp black, was widely available in the 18th and 19th centuries and definitely were the most common pigments used. Lamp black especially so since it was readily available as a by product of the lamps used to light everything in everyday life. However, there are examples of many other colors such as white, yellow, blue, brown and even red being created. It's all about what pigment is used to grant a certain color profile to the liquid.

    At some point in the 19th century, tool makers, notably hand plane manufacturers such as Stanley and Union, used various recipes for japanning to cover the steel portions of their tools to prevent them from rusting. They used this type of finish up until around World War II when the more modern enamel finishes, like we use today, were introduced and became cost effective. At some point, somewhere in the 1950's and 1960's it seems, the original japanning fell out of favor by these manufacturers and ever decreasing qualities of enamel paint replaced it. By the 1970's it seems the finish these companies were using wasn't even a decent quality enamel but just plain ole oil based paint.

    In my plane restoration endeavors I have tried to reproduce something that is similar to the recipe Stanley used circa 1910-1930. I chose that era to reproduce as that was the heyday of plane making here in the U.S. and the finish they achieved was quite excellent. During this development I discovered a few old books on the subject and wanted to share them with others. If you're interested in making your own japanning, these are a good place to start.

    My three favorites are:


    Thursday, June 2, 2016

    Grain Direction for Wooden Planes

    I am about to (re)start making a no 10 round molding plane and thought I'd take this opportunity to post how you should align the grain on the wood for these types of planes.

    I learned how to lay out wooden plane grain direction from the excellent book "Wooden Planes And How To Make Them by David G Perch and Robert S. Lee", one of the first chapters is making a wood smoother and the first page of that is grain alignment. If you are even the slightest bit interested in making wood planes I highly recommend obtaining this book. And if you like the content I produce on this blog, by all means purchase it using the link above as it passes me the referral credit with Amazon. Gotta pay for lumber and tools somehow right?

    If you're not familiar with the parts of a wood plane I'll be using terminology you might not understand, here's a reference image with the various pieces. While this isn't a molding plane, nearly all of the parts are named the same as a smoother/jack/try plane.

    Parts of a wooden plane

    Anyways, here's a shot of that page of the book showing the proper orientation of grain in a wood plane (reproduced with the author's permission).

    Grain direction in a wooden plane.

    You want the growth rings that are furthest from the heartwood to be the sole of the plane and the closest to the heartwood, typically the larger growth rings, to be the top of the plane. The shortcut to remembering this is "bark side down" so write that on a Post-It note and stick it somewhere you'll see it while making planes. If you're unfamiliar with heartwood, sapwood, quarter sawn and plain sawn, here's a quick review

    Parts of timber and cut types

    There's a distinct look to this on the front and back of the plane, if the material was perfectly quarter sawn you it won't be as noticeable but if there's a slight curvature to the grain the concave side of the curve will be facing the top of the plane.

    Toe view of grain direction

    The other critical aspect is the direction of the grain, you want that to run toe to heel, top to bottom. This allows the short grains to work in your favor when opening the mouth of the plane.

    Grain direction
    As you can see in the image, the direction in which the grain runs is quite discernible, to the left is the toe and to the right is the heel.

    That's about it for this post, hope it helps when you start making your own planes and as always, if you have any questions feel free to comment here or find us on Facebook.

    Thursday, February 18, 2016

    Quarter sawn beech and why it's used for planes

    I've been asked many times what material to use for planes and I usually respond with "beech, boxwood, hard maple and white oak (maybe hornbeam as well) in that order all of which should be quarter sawn". And of course the next question is "why"?

    Let's get this out of the way first, it doesn't have to be the hardest wood on the Janka scale. In fact, there are tons of species far more Janka(-y) than beech and hard maple so why not use them? The first choice is a simple one: what's available in your region and what's close enough that shipping isn't going to bankrupt you? For me that's beech and hard maple, the latter being very (very) local and the former being quite affordably shippable to my shop. Sugar maple trees are all over my street second only to oak, heck the street I live on is Oak St.

    To help bolster my recommendation, I think Mr. Sellers sums up the material choice quite well here. But it boils down to this: you want a material that is dense grained, stable when it dries and perhaps most importantly, has consistent grain density throughout the material. The hardness needs to be uniform so it wears evenly so you don't get pieces of the sole with hills and valleys. Sure, you can add boxing to ease wear in the most crucial of spots but you first have to start with a solid and stable material (note I didn't say hard).

    Caleb James pushes beech even more so than I do, almost to the point of saying don't bother with anything else. My issue is when you need wide pieces for large moulding planes, say chunks that need to be close to 3" wide to accommodate an iron that's 2 1/2" wide. Every lumber yard that I know of who sells quarter sawn beech doesn't carry 16/4 or even 12/4 rough quarter sawn beech. They say when it's that thickness it cracks too much during the drying process. The only way around that I know of, due to the way the grain needs to run, is to glue up a few pieces (laminate) and use that for the blanks. Now, people do say this is a no no but I'm not sure what the alternative is given how our forefathers chopped down all the big ole beech tree here in the U.S.

    Ok, so why quarter sawn? First do you know what quarter sawn is? If not please start here. I think Caleb James explains it pretty darn well, and again to boil it down: it's less prone to movement long term, i.e. "stronger". Will flat sawn work? Absolutely yes but don't plan on it staying true for years to come and if you're gong to take the time to make a plane, make it right the first time.

    Which brings me to the last recommendation, white oak. I'm in agreement with others that it should be the last choice, even in quarter sawn form. While it's less porous than its red brother it's still far more porous than beech or hard maple. Those open pores are just going to cause problems so I'll again concur with Mr. James here as well.

    Another .02 from me to you.