Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Making Try-Squares for Woodworking (by Rex Krueger) Why bother?

Good question.  A high-quality square is only a mouse-click away, so why build your own?  For one thing, building is cheap.  Really good squares from a company like Starrett are breathtakingly expensive.   More affordable squares are often a bit out of square and once you get involved in a draw-filing and calibrating your brand new square, you might as well just build the damn thing.
Also, all-wood squares are a joy in the hand.  They’re weightless.  Seriously; you might forget you’re holding one.  This is hard to believe if you’re used to clunky commercial squares, especially ones with cast metal stocks, but these are heavy, clumsy tools covered in sharp corners and angles that will ding your work.  A wooden square will give you no such trouble.

But wait, can something made of wood really be accurate enough?  Sure.  I wouldn’t try to do machining with wooden layout tools, but they’re great for woodwork.  Do they drift out of true over time?  Yeah, but only a tiny bit and they’re very easy to square up again.  And if you’re still not sold, knocking together a few squares is a fine little skill-builder, and if you use scraps it’s pretty much free.

The wood.

This part matters, but it’s nothing to obsess over.  Pick some straight-grained, dry hardwood; something that’s been in your shop for a long time.  The traditional wood is mahogany, but I’ve got better things to do with such expensive timber.  I recently made a large square from poplar and a smaller one from walnut and maple.  The long part of your square (often called the “blade,” “rule,” or “tongue”) is ideally made from quarter-sawn stock, but I wouldn’t obsess over that, either.

The rule is generally about ¼ inch thick.  Thinner is also fine, but anything thicker is likely to be clumsy.  I usually find something a bit thicker than the width of my ¼” chisel and then plane it down until the two match exactly.  The stock should be about three times as thick as the blade.  For length, the ratio of blade to stock is usually 3:2.  So a 15 inch blade would be paired with a 10 inch stock.

The joint.

Like everything else in woodworking, there are many ways to skin this cat.  To join the stock and the blade, you might use a half-lap, a tiny mortise-and-tenon, or the joint Chris Schwarz demonstrated on The Woodwright’s Shop: an elegant little mortise combined with an open bridal joint.  This last one is surely the most secure option, but it’s also difficult to execute.  For my own work, I prefer a simple bridal joint stabilized with pins.  For my larger square, I cut a small notch into the blade that could register into the stock below the bridal joint.  This notch adds bearing surface and stability while also giving you a surface that you can easily trim while tweaking the square for…squareness.

Cutting the joint is straightforward.  Set a mortise gauge to the width of your chisel, center it on your stock, and run your lines.  Saw down close to the baseline with a back saw and then chop out the waste with the chisel.  Stay away from your baseline during the chopping phase and then trim down to it carefully.  Depending on how good your sawing is, you may need to clean up the inside walls with a paring chisel.  While making my last square, I did quite a bit of chiseling.  It still came out nicely.

If you’d like an even more basic approach, you can take a large piece of thin stock, cut it into four pieces, and then laminate them together to mimic the hand-cut bridal joint.  If you don’t feel skilled enough to accurately cut such a small joint and you prefer to go the laminated approach, don’t feel bad.  This is a totally legitimate way to make a square.

However you make your square, I suggest pinning the joint for stability.  For my larger, poplar square, I used bits of bamboo chopstick, which were free, perfectly round, and extremely strong.  For my smaller and fancier square, I used some ¼” brass rod I had laying around.  Brass and walnut go extraordinary well together, but any old wooden dowel will get the job done.

Truing Up

If you already own a reasonably accurate square (even a cheap speed-square), then I suggest gluing up your shop-made squares around this reference surface.  If you’ve already got a good 90° angle sitting around, then there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.  A nice shelf-corner or bit of sheet-goods with factory edges will work just as well.

Once your square is out of the clamps, place the beam against a known, true edge and strike a line along one side of the beam.  Flip the square 180°, line it up with the mark you just made, and strike another line.  These two lines should be exactly parallel to one another.  If you’re very lucky, they will look like one line.  If not, then you’ll easily be able to see which direction your beam is leaning.  You can generally correct the offending edge by planing or chiseling away a tiny bit of material at one end and then blending the whole edge together with a file or sandpaper on a block.  Make sure to repeat this process with both the edges of your beam.

Once you’ve finished, scrape or sand the whole thing and apply a film finish.  I used shellac, but polyurethane and lacquer are also good choices.  A hard finish will keep for square looking clean and will limit seasonal movement.

Will my square stay true forever?

Nope.  But neither will your commercial squares.  I stopped using my vintage try-squares when I tested them using the above method and found that all five of them were off (and not by a little bit, either).  All squares move over time.  At least the ones you make yourself are quick and easy to fix.

For more information on shop-made squares, check out my Youtube video and the free Tip Sheet.  I also have plans for two shop-made squares available on my website.

Large Try Square

I need a large try square. I really like the look of the try square Chris Schwarz built based on the try squares from Benjamin Seaton. He wrote an article for Popular Woodworking that you can buy with how he did it, but I thought I could figure it out and put my own touches on it.
Here's the finished square.
I realized I needed a bigger square when I went to cut a panel down to size that is about 16" x 12". My little six inch combination square just wasn't accurate enough.
This is the only square I have here.
I started to think of Jonas, and the fact that he doesn't think you should build a tool in order to finish a project. (He later told me he probably would have just used a piece of paper as a square.)

By and large I agree with him, but I figured if I made an accurate tool that looked nice, I would probably be able to keep it and use it for years to come.

I recently pulled an awful lot of awesome wood out of the Golden Dumpster. More than 100 linear meters of  flat, 3/8" sapelle boards that are 3 1/2" wide and about six and a half feet long. Perfect for the blade of this square. The only problem being that one side is covered in white paint. I used paint stripper and then a card scraper to clean up the wood, and wound up with a blade about 5/16" thick, 3 1/4" wide and 17" long. For some reason this stuff is extremely difficult to plane, so I just left it at that, skipping the original tapered blade detail from Benjamin Seaton's squares.

The stock I chose was from an abandoned project of a plane build. Maybe I'll get back to that build someday. I have plenty more wood. This blank was already squared up and measured 1 1/4" x 2 1/4" x 11" or so. The only defect being that I had used a marking knife to lay out the angles for the plane I was working on before. I decided to leave those marks on the plane to remind me of where this wood came from. Oh, by the way, before it was going to be a plane, it was a stair rail that I found in the Golden Dumpster last year.

I didn't use any specialty tools for this build, except perhaps my new Veritas skew rabbet block plane that I got from Goerge. That plane wasn't necessary. One could use any old plane for the chamfers, but it's new, I have it, and it worked great.

I don't have a 5/16" mortise chisel here, so I decided to hog the waste out with an 8mm drill bit in my eggbeater drill. I marked where I was going to drill on each side, drilled three holes about half way, flipped the board over and drilled the rest of the way.
Starting the mortise.
Once that's done, I just went at the rest of the waste with a 3/4" bench chisel until I was all the way through.
I started in the middle, and worked my way out.
Pretty soon I had a decent looking Domino hole.
Still needs some tweaking.
I used the 3/4" chisel and a 1/4" chisel to clean up the shoulders.

I used my Dick saw (Ryoba) to cut the bridle joint on the top. This was way easier than I imagined it would be. Careful layout defined where to cut, then I just dropped the saw down to my mark. To get the waste out, I just chopped straight down to sever the fibers, then went in from the end to split out the waste, little by little.
Nibbling away the bridle joint.
Next I routed out a small bit with a chisel to connect the two joints. This is not critical, but it should make for a cleaner look. The cut away part on the blade will sink below the level of the stock so there is no chance to see a gap.
This part doesn't have to be deep. I think this is somewhere between 1/8" and 1/4"
Now comes the fiddly part. I think a sloppy joint here would be easier, and it would hold just fine, but I wanted the visible part on the back to look really clean. It basically took me a whole day of fettling, but I finally got the blade to slide in without too much force.
Halfway there.
Strangely enough, even when I got the blade to seat all the way, I had to continue fiddling with it. Every little hang up in this mortise is an opportunity for the joint to through the blade out of square.
Perfect fit.
One shouldn't use the inside of a wooden square because it is difficult to true up. I, however, wanted the inside to be as close to square as I could get it on the glue up. All that time fettling the joint paid off, as once there were no tight spots, the inside corner was dead-nuts on 90 degrees. And, it stayed put during the glue up.

Before I glued it up, I cleaned up all the surfaces, added some nice chamfers to the non-precision areas, and put a roundover that I laid out with a five Euro cent coin. Once I was happy, I glued it up with hide glue and added a c-clamp to the bridle joint.

After it set, I removed the clamp, cleaned up the squeeze out, planed the back flat and added a couple of cosmetic wedges to make the joints look better.

Linseed oil and soft wax was applied, and I was almost done.
I'm pretty proud of these joints.
All that is left is to tune the square. I mentioned that the inside corner wound up perfectly, but I think I'll not rely on that angle except for double checking and rough layout. The outside edge can be tuned to a very high tolerance.

It's easy.
Checking for square.
Just draw a line with the square, flip the square over and check how close the square is to the line. This square wound up being a little off. I suspect the joint caused the wood to move a little, throwing that outer edge out of square.

No biggie, a few swipes with a plane and check it again. I soon had an edge that is very, very close to perfect.

I look forward to using this try square. It makes me happy to look at it. It should last me many years. If it goes out of square, it is a simple thing to tune it again like I did this first time.

Here's some detail shots:
That little rabbet made this joint look very tight.

I wanted to practice this round over for a plane build.
What a fun little square to make. Let me know if you make one, I'd love to see it.

Next up: a famous celebrity will make a guest post about squares. You'll love it!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Box for a New Oil Stone

I recently bought a new natural oil stone that I really like. I thought it might be good to make a box to keep it in.
Oil stone box.
After a little searching on the old YouTube, I came across a video with Bill Carter making a traditional box for an oil stone. It's a brilliant little series of short videos, and he made it look easy enough for me to do.

I had the perfect leftover cutoff of golden dumpster wood: a section a little less than two feet long. In a previous life it was a handrail from a stairwell. I liberated as much of the handrails as I could along with a bunch of the stair treads. It's weird to me that this kind of thing winds  up in a dumpster, but good for me. I suspect this wood is sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum), but I don't really know.
Golden Dumpster wood.
I planed the board until all the finish was removed, except the stuff on the round overs which will disappear once I chamfer everything at the end. Once it was uniform width and thickness along the whole length, I measured and cut it in the middle to get the largest pieces I could: in this case 11 1/8 inches in length.
I planed the board down until the groove disappeared.

My new Stay-Set 4 1/2 did a fine job with this.
I laid the stone on the board to mark the cavity. This stone, like most natural stones, was not uniform in width and thickness. It is close, but once it's done the stone will only go in the box one way.

Bill used a big mortise chisel in his video to excavate the sides of his cavity. This worked well for him. I found that a regular bench chisel doesn't really do that job as well, so I went with a 10mm brad point bit in my tiny little eggbeater drill instead. This seemed to work just fine.
I used a piece of blue tape as a depth stop.

I used the 10mm bit to drill holes all around the periphery of the cavity.
To hog the rest out, I used a gouge. I like the gouge for purposes like this because it removes a lot of wood fast just like a scrub plane. It works with or perpendicular to the grain, and does it giving you a lot of control.
I started at one end and moved back.
Once I got close to the bottom, I pulled out my router plane. This tool provided a quick way to smooth the bottom and get to the correct depth.

I found using the front shoe on this open mouthed router plane to be critical for this job. The Lie-Nielsen #71 doesn't have one. A #71 1/2 with the closed throat would do a fine job, too.
Easy peasy as long as the front shoe is level with the sole of the plane.
Incidentally, I used half the thickness of the stone to be the correct depth. I had briefly considered just leaving 1/4" or so sticking out at the top, but that will just necessitate having to make another box in twenty years or so. This one should last a lifetime with this stone.
Same thing for the top. Except I didn't feel like drilling so many holes.
With a little care, this worked just as well.
It was necessary to use a chisel and a mallet to clean up the sides. I focused on those first, and left the ends until the stone sat firmly in the cavity and the lid went on properly.
The stone fits.
The extra space at the ends is for some end-grain wood blocks. Mine wound up being 13/16", but I think a full inch would have been better. These blocks allow you to use the whole length of the stone. They are like little extenders.

Sharpening Stone Aside:

 I have found that 8" x 2" is a common size for natural oil stones. I have been using stones of this size for the last couple of years, and find that they work just fine. I really liked my waterstones in 3" x 10" sizes, but oilstones in those sizes can be very expensive. The longer sizes of stone really help when using a honing guide, but you only wind up using five inches or so of the stone.

While using my oilstones, I have taken to freehand sharpening. I like to use a honing guide once to set up the angles on a blade, but after that I find it a pretty quick thing to touch it up freehand.

Being able to use slightly smaller stones is a big advantage to the prohibitive cost of some really great stones.

Aside Over.

Once everything fit in the box nicely, I moved to the outside of the box to make it pretty. To plane the bevel on the lid evenly, I marked it out with a pencil and put a board under one half of the box lid. This way I could just plane a flat to get close to the line with my jack plane, then use a smoothing plane (I have plenty to choose from) to finish it off.
Making the beveled lid.
Once all the chamfers were done, I slathered on a coat of my linseed oil. Once that was wiped off, I put three coats of shellac on it. I used a gray scratchy pad to rub it down after each coat dried. Finally, I added a coat of my soft wax and buffed it with a paper towel.
The finish came out stunning.
My thought in spending so much time finishing it was a hope that the dirty oil slurry will wipe off and clean up easily when I'm done using the stone. Time will tell if that plan works.

Alternatively I could have left it unfinished and allowed years of patina to work itself in. For now, I like the shellac finish.
I bought the stone on eBay in the UK. The seller said it is Welsh purple slate, and I am happy with it as a finishing stone before stropping. With this stone, I'll retire my Dan's black Arkansas stone to kitchen knife duty.

As far as this box goes, it was a very satisfying project. I would recommend it even if your stone is already in a box. The wooden spacers let you get to the very end of the stone when sharpening. I bet if one of them was even longer, it would make using an eight inch stone a lot better with a honing guide, too.

Bill Carter's videos were a big help with this project, and I highly recommend you watch them.

Let me know if you make one, I'd love to see it.

Monday, May 6, 2019

No. 4 Plane Review: Part IV - Record Stay-Set 04 1⁄2

While this one isn't technically a No. 4, it does have a number four in it's name, so we'll go with it.
Record Stay-Set No. 041⁄2
This beautiful old plane came to me by everyone's favorite auction site in England again. It really wasn't in too bad of shape when I got it.
Before I "rehabbed" it.
There was one glaring issue that kept the price on this one down from what many collectible Stay-Set planes are going for these days:
Not pretty.
The seller mentioned in the description there was a chip on the sole that didn't affect the plane's use. I decided to take a gamble since the price was low.

The chip is pretty big, but it really doesn't affect the plane in use that I can find. Likely it is the result of a casting error that wasn't seen until much later when the plane was already in someone's hands.

From what I can tell, the only difference between a Stay-Set Record plane and a regular Record plane is the "SS" cast into the lever cap, and the two-part Stay-Set chip breaker. I hadn't ever seen a Stay-Set chip breaker up close, so I was looking forward to this one.
Stay-Set 2-piece chip breaker.
Theoretically the advantage of this chip breaker is the possibility to leave the upper part of the chip breaker firmly set on the iron, and the lower part can be removed. Thus once it is sharpened, the front of the lever cap can be replaced and the blade assembly is ready to go again with no adjustment required.

I think the idea is a little silly, given the way I work. Re-attaching a chip breaker to a freshly sharpened iron is really not hard. In fact, I would say it takes just about as much effort to attach a regular chip breaker as attaching the second piece of the Stay-Set chip breaker to the blade assembly.

In my opinion the real benefit of this chip breaker is in the increased mass of the chip breaker. I've long thought that the single best upgrade you can make to a vintage Bailey type plane is to add a heavier chip breaker. This one definitely has more mass.

There are some other differences between this plane and the previous Record No. 04 that I reviewed. Let's take a closer look:
The new to me Stay-Set No. 041⁄2 next to my other Record 04.
This Stay-Set No. 041⁄2 comes from an earlier vintage than the 04. From what I found, it was manufactured between 1935 and 1939, which puts it in the more desirable pre-war class.
A close up of the cap iron.
The fit and finish of the plane (other than the giant hork in the sole) are much finer than in the later model, which I date at late 1960s or early 1970s.
Much better attention to detail on the older plane.
It also has a nice, flat frog. Something which many people really like, but I have come to think doesn't really make a difference in the functioning of the plane.

I went a bit wild with the rehab of this plane. I don't really like to "brand-new-ify" really old or somewhat collectible planes, but this one isn't particularly rare, and it also has a giant defect in the casting that will never allow this plane to fetch top dollar. 

Brand-new-ifying it is.
As good as new.
I chose to take the rusty bits on this one to a gentle wire wheel to clean, then I lapped the frog and the casting on 80 grit sandpaper on a glass plate.
Before and after.
I'm surprised how much I liked this. It was quick and easy, and stripped everything back to brand-new. It even stripped the rust off of the lever cap while leaving the nickel plating that was stable where it was.

The knob and tote on this older plane were rosewood. I stripped them with a scraper and gently sanded them back. I finished them with some of my linseed oil followed by a coat of shellac and some paste wax.
I can fit it in my honing guide this way. Why? Because I can. That's why!
Once everything was fettled and tuned to my satisfaction, I turned my attention to the blade. I was pleased to see that the blade was practically brand new. In fact, I was able to lap the back like I would a brand-new blade. There was no need for the ruler trick on this one. Usually I just skip lapping and go right to the ruler trick because I don't like hours upon hours of lapping a blade flat.

The most difficult part was the chip breaker. It's usually a pretty simple thing to sharpen the underside of the leading edge to ensure a tight fit, but with this short cap iron, I found it difficult to hold for that purpose. I'll have to think about this and try something else. I did the best I could, but it isn't perfect.

Luckily, it seems to work just fine.
Beautiful wispy shavings.
The plane cleaned up and seems to work beautifully. I've never used a plane this size before, and I look forward to getting to know it.

My first impression is that I now know why many people really love the 41⁄2. It is a little longer than the No. 4, and has the same width as a No. 7. I think my favorite part about it is the extra mass in this plane. It feels very solid. I think it weighs about a pound more than the others:

Type 12:  1632 grams
Record 04: 1670 grams
English Stanley:  1680 grams
Record Stay-Set  041⁄2:  2272 grams

The extra weight is both a blessing and a curse. It's a nice, big, beefy plane that I'm sure will make you tired faster after a lot of use than a regular No. 4.

As far as the blade goes, I didn't get the same warm-fuzzy feeling with this steel that I got with the later Record blade. Perhaps I need to use it a bit more to get used to it. It's good, but not as fantastic as the one that is on my later model.

That's all pretty subjective. In the end, it seems to work just as perfectly on the wood as the others.
I think it is a beautiful plane.
So far I haven't run across a plane in my testing that isn't worth buying if you can do a little cleaning up to them. I'm thinking that much of the mysticism regarding Bailey style smoothing planes mostly runs down to personal preference.

Peter Schickele, the voice of P.D.Q. Bach said about music, "If it sounds good, it is good."

Perhaps we could change this saying a bit to suit smoothing planes:

If it works, it works.

Part I Type 11 Stanley
Part II English Stanley
Part III Record

More to come... (Sigh)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Charles Hayward's Tea Tray

I recently built this tea tray from Charles Hayward's writings in the Lost Art Press' printing of his works, The Woodworker, Vol. III.
Tea tray in sycamore and scots pine.
I've made a quick slideshow that shows the entire build:
This build was a lot of fun. I don't often build strictly to a plan. Usually I substitute joints for ones I think would work better either for the design or for my tool set. Sometimes I build a piece on the fly, and design as I go with a general idea of what I want to do in my head. For this project, I decided to stay as close to the printed instructions as I could, just to see how it would work.

Most of the work for me was in milling the lumber on hand into thicknesses equal to what Charles Hayward used. I resawed some laminated pine I had for the main panel from 18mm down to 1/2". I also had some sycamore two inch posts that I cut down to 5/8" widths.

I did run in to a few problems with this build. Just in case you would like to build one, perhaps this info will help you.

First up, I re-did the cut list because there was an error in quantities. It was also listed in feet and inches. Iprefer than just inches.
Edited cut list in inches and millimeters.
Next I cut the pins on a board in the wrong spot. Notice the long pieces are a different width than the short pieces. This facilitates rounding over the top edges of the tray without having to figure out how to deal with the roundover where the dovetails meet.

I chose to repair this goof rather than cut it off and make the tray a little shorter. I wanted to see if it could be repaired with a decent looking patch. I think next time I do this I'll do a better job, but it looks good enough for now.

After that was a giant goof-up on my part. There aren't many pictures in the article, and I was mistaken in what I thought it said to glue up. For some reason, I didn't even question it in my head. I glued the base to the upper part rather than screw it from below, as stated in the instructions.
Don't do this.

The problem with gluing the base is you are locking the panel in the base to a specific width, without allowing for the fact that the panel will expand and contract over time. I have no doubt that it won't take too long before I get this tray back with a cracked base or some other catastrophic failure. When that happens, I'll fix it by doing it the correct way: no glue, screwed from the bottom with the clearance holes in the base a little oblong so the wood can move past the screws.

I might have even just nailed the bottom on if I had been thinking.

I might get lucky, because pine can be a pretty stable wood once it has fully cured. Time will tell.

Last, I had a difficult time understanding what I was looking at in this picture:
It looks like the handle rests on top of the tab.
I thought it was a bit odd that Charles Hayward was going to trust a small, cross-grain glue joint to hold the tray, a hot pot of tea and who knows what else without the tray crashing to the floor. I wrote this concern off because I figured if Charles Hayward thought glue alone was enough to hold it, then it must be fine.

I came up with making these parts in 1/8" sycamore:
What I realized later is that CH said to make a slanted rabbet which would give this part a bit more support:
This is one piece of wood, not the support with the handle on top of it, like I thought.
I've made a couple drawings to better illustrate what I mean:
Looking at it from the side, this is the shape of the piece I made.
This is the shape the piece should be.
The dotted line represents the rabbet.
I think if I were to do this again, I would make this piece out of 1/4" stock, so I would have a full 1/8" for the rabbet. I probably also would sink a dowel through the support and into the endgrain of the handle in case the glue joint fails.

Once I figured out my way wasn't going to hold, I had to come up with a way to fix it. I decided to use bamboo skewers as dowels to reinforce the joint at a 45 degree angle.
They can only be seen if the tray is turned upside down, and you can hardly feel them when the tray is grasped.
I kind of like the look of this joint.
After I did this I realized an easier fix would have been to use another piece with a square top to laminate to the side of the tab. This would indeed be a valid way to make the piece from the beginning, bypassing the fiddly job of making such a small, angled rabbet.

In the end, I decided all the faults of this tray did not detract from it enough to prevent giving it to the intended recipient. She was thrilled, and thought it looked very nice.

I just told her if the base starts to rock or if it cracks, to bring it back and I'll fix it.

At least I used hide glue, which is reversible.