Author:
• Thursday, October 31st, 2019
long grain shooting

Long grain shooting does not get the attention this valuable technique deserves. A cousin to end grain shooting, it is just as simple in principle but more so in practice. 

We are simply planing straight and square along the long grain edge of a board by laying it flat, elevating it, and using the plane on its side, which must be accurately square to the sole.

In general, this is most useful for workpieces about two feet long or less. This stock is often fairly thin, and may also be narrow. A good example is preparing quartersawn pieces to glue up for small to medium drawer bottoms.

It is difficult to balance a plane on the edge of a workpiece thinner than about 1/2″ held in the front vise. Shooting is a much more stable setup, and still allows a good sense of the nuances along the edge – straight or cambered. (An alternative is to plane two or more boards at once in the front vise.)

All you really have to do is lay the board flat on a support board with the long edge of the workpiece slightly overhanging the edge of the support piece. The sole of the plane is therefore riding only on the work piece, unlike with end grain shooting. In fact, a minimalist setup could be to just place a support board underneath the workpiece, and clamp the pair to the workbench, upon which the side of the plane will ride.

I use a dedicated long grain shooting board (below) that accommodates work up to about 24″ long. (Long time readers may recognize that it has been modified from its former role in end grain shooting.)

shooting board for long grain

This arrangement allows me to reach over the workpiece and plane the edge that is facing away from me, which creates similar body mechanics to the usual way of pushing a plane. The PSA-backed UHMW slick plastic installed on the plane track makes the work easier.

long grain shooting

The workpiece (the curly maple in the above photo) must be controlled in all directions. For lateral control along the length, I use an ad hoc arrangement with a scrap board clamped to the near side of the shooting board. Alternatively, you could make a more elaborate jig with a wider, permanent, adjustable, screw-mounted lateral-control board on the side away from you, and plane the edge facing you. This seems awkward to me.

The end of the workpiece meets the front stop. Ideally, this is a square meeting but that is not essential. Mild downward pressure on the workpiece is supplied by you. You may be able to get away without using the clamp and lateral stop board for small pieces. I find the grippy glove (top photo) makes the work easier for all setups, small or large, clamped or not.

There is no reason to over-complicate this technique. Keep it simple and use it often. 

Next: planes for end grain and long grain shooting.

Category: Techniques  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Sunday, October 20th, 2019
woodshop shoes

Have you given much consideration to your footwear in the shop?

The power input and the control of your tools originate from your stance. If it’s not well placed and reliable, your performance will suffer. You will also fatigue sooner.

Dependable footing is also essential to safety, especially with machine work. There, you cannot afford to compromise.

Our shop floors are usually littered with sawdust and shavings even with a good dust collection system gathering most of the waste from machine work. No matter what type of floor is in your shop, these make it potentially slippery. 

That said, sure, I’ve been known to get a few things done in my jammies and slippers in my home shop. But for serious work, I like low-cut hikers or at least trail-running shoes. Lately, my favorites are these sturdy Red Head Blue Ridge Low Hiking shoes from Bass Pro Shops. They have good support, wonderful grip, and a beefy toe cover. And the camo accents look kinda cool, don’t ya think?

[I have no affiliation with Bass Pro.]

Category: Tools and Shop  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, October 19th, 2019
Tormek with felt wheel

For a long time, I have not liked the leather honing wheel on the Tormek. I never used it for general sharpening because I prefer stones, but even for knives, gouges, and an occasional touch up of other edges, I find it fragments easily and does not hold the honing compound as well as I would like.

I finally got around to setting up the wheel with felt. It was easy to remove the leather and scrape clean the plastic base of the wheel. 

I got the felt from McMaster. I first tried PSA-backed felt just for the convenience of applying it to the wheel. The hardest available in this style was “Firm” F1. A 3/16″-thick strip proved to be still too soft.

The harderHard” felt is available only in sheets without the PSA backing. I cut the 1/8″-thick, 12″ x 12″ sheets into strips and applied them with 3M General Purpose 45 spray adhesive using simple butt joints to make a continuous layer around the wheel. The S2-20 (durometer 50A) works best. The S2-32 (durometer 80A) is nominally about half as compressible as the S2-20 but the difference does not seem to matter for this purpose. I prefer the texture of the S2-20 as it seems to grab the honing compound better.

Because I use the wheel for fine finishing, I charged it with 0.5 micron diamond. Mineral oil-based paste and water-based spray will both work but I think the paste is better. They cut fast but can get expensive over time. An economical alternative is a stick of Formax “green micro fine honing compound,” which I surmise is also about 0.5 micron, available from Woodcraft. Of course, it cannot cut as fast as diamond but with patience it can still produce an excellent edge. 

My preference is mineral oil-based synthetic diamond paste from Beta Diamond Products. It cuts fast and consistently, and a little bit goes a long way. I find the jar easier to deal with than the syringe. 

Bottom line: the felt replacement works very nicely; I like it a lot better than the leather wheel. It is especially helpful for knives, gouges, and is even handy for quick touch ups of plane blades and chisels. I keep these touch ups very light because I don’t want to round the edge too much, which would interfere the next time I work the edge on stones.

Author:
• Monday, September 30th, 2019
sharpness tests

Knife Grinders is one very serious bunch of sharpening experts. Located in New South Wales, Down Under, their website is full of interesting information. What particularly caught my interest is their detailed list of sharpening tests that can be done with simple equipment, notably hair. 

I recently posted about the sharpness tests that I use, but these guys have refined things to an ethereal level. Caution here, it bears repeating: the only fully meaningful tests of a sharpened edge are its performance and endurance in its assigned task. We also must consider appropriate edge geometry and endurance.

But check out the Knife Grinder’s list. I like the arm hair shaving gradations on page 1. The hanging hair tests (pages 4-5) are intense. 

Maybe you think this is fetishizing sharpening beyond practical woodworking. OK, maybe it is, but it is nice to know that there are convenient, fairly standardized ways to test how your sharpening procedures are performing. To get scientific, one could get a BESS tester from Edge On Up

You probably have your own sharpness tests but I suggest taking a look at that list. It’s pretty cool. 

Category: Techniques  | Leave a Comment
Author:
• Saturday, September 28th, 2019
compression wood

Being a woodworker, and thus appropriately obsessed with wood in all its variety, I could not resist grabbing a sample slice of a mildly leaning hemlock tree that was recently taken down on my property. 

On the left side of the slice, which was the underside of the leaning tree, note the darker, wider latewood in the enlarged growth rings. That is “reaction wood,” specifically called “compression wood” in softwood species. 

compression wood

How does this relate to shopping for wood? A board with end grain as outlined in the photo would show signs of trouble:

  • The deduced location of the pith is off-center even with an equal number of annual rings on each side of it.  
  • The width of the annual rings is asymmetric on opposite sides of the pith.
  • The wide annual rings contain that odd looking latewood. This will probably also be noticeable on the face of the board.

The compression wood is abnormally brittle and weak. It also shrinks a lot along its length, whereas normal wood has essentially no such shrinkage. This can result in splits, crooks, and finishing problems. This is a board that you do not want.

These boards are definitely out there lurking in stacks of softwood lumber (hardwoods have their version of reaction wood known as “tension wood”) and they’re just waiting to give you trouble. Leave them behind.

Category: Wood  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, September 28th, 2019
tablesaw

Oops, I had a SawStop “event.” But it was not my flesh that met the blade. Rather, I foolishly forgot to reset the miter gauge fence when setting up an angled crosscut, and ran the aluminum fence into the blade, and . . . boomp! So, I had to send out the damaged blade for repair along with my spare blade that was damaged 14 years ago when I was setting up the new saw. This, plus buying a new SawStop brake, made for an expensive goof up. All told I’ve lost use of the tablesaw for four weeks.

But, I’m doing just fine, thank you. In fact, the episode has reinforced my longstanding conviction and advice that the tablesaw is not the key machine in the furniture maker’s shop. In my view, that distinction belongs to the bandsaw, especially when it teams up with a good thickness planer, or better yet, a wide jointer-planer combination machine. 

Far from being a hand tool purist, I was happy ripping on the bandsaw with surprisingly little clean up required with a handplane. I also cleaned up lots of 15/16″-thick, 3″/3 1/2″-wide pieces by standing them on edge going through the DW735 planer with the Shelix cutterhead. I made sure the rollers and bed stayed clean, and it went well.

bandsaw

“What about crosscutting,” you say, “that’s not likely to go well on the bandsaw.” Well, using the little miter gauge that came with my bandsaw, the crosscuts are pretty accurate and not too rough even with my all-purpose 3-tpi blade.

Which brings me to another longstanding conviction and advice. And that is the importance of shooting. It was a pleasure to clean up the bandsawn crosscuts cleaner and more accurately than even the tablesaw could do. Shooting is so critical to accurate furniture making that I suggest sparing no effort and tools to set up good systems for end grain and long grain shooting. (I’ll describe my current long grain setup and have some tips in an upcoming post.)

I won’t be selling my tablesaw – it does a lot of tasks efficiently and well. However, I do want to reinforce this advice regarding machines, especially for woodworkers setting up or upgrading their shops:

  • The first machine to buy is a good portable thickness planer. The DW735 has no peer.
  • As soon as you can, buy the best bandsaw you can. Steel frame style, at least 12″ resaw height, preferably something close to 2.5 HP or more.
  • Get a 12″ jointer if you can.
  • And sometime, yes, you’ll probably want a tablesaw. 

Most important, no matter what tools you have, build things.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 10 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

There has to be a certain level of energy to carry you through a project. You need a good spark to start things off and enough fire to make it through the inevitable difficulties that come along. 

Where do you get this energy to build? Well, there may be secondary motivators – maybe you need to get it built for the money, to fulfill a promise, or you just need the item for its practical use.

At best however, “love and need are one” and sheer creative joy is driving you to build. Maybe it’s the design, and you feel you’re onto to something powerful. Maybe you’re eager for the challenge of a new or refined technique. Maybe the wood itself is so compelling that you can’t wait to build with it. 

In any case, you have a real problem if the fire is not truly there: if you sense the design is only so-so, or the materials are not compelling, and building will be grunt work that you don’t strongly care about. And you lack even secondary motivators. 

Well, in that case, I think it’s best to do something else! 

Make a decision. There’s no point in kidding yourself by further pursuing a project without The Energy. Try a different project. You’ll think of something. It might be better to just buy that bookcase that you were going to build, and instead build a table that you’re excited about. 

I’ve been down this road more times than I care to admit. I’ve found it best to be honest and tough with myself even if that means junking a project in which I’ve already invested considerable hours. Drawings get torn up and wood gets sacrificed. 

If the energy is not in you, it won’t be there in the final piece, and you’ll know it for always. And those who see and use the piece will know it too.

Category: Ideas  | 8 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, July 31st, 2019
bevel-up planes

A few more points on this topic:

1. If you had a BU jack plane with a 20° bed, could you still use it on end grain? Sure. My Lie-Nielsen #9 “iron miter plane” has a bed of 20° and it works wonderfully on end grain, and so does my L-N shoulder plane with a bed of 18°. Perhaps this is so because resistance is indeed determined solely by the attack angle and not by the sharpening angle per se. 

2. This is not about block planes, which, of course, also happen to be bevel-up. It is about BU smoothing planes and, to a lesser extent BU jack planes. Incidentally, I suspect one reason for the popularity of 12°-bed block planes over 20°-bed models is that the former are more compact and thus easier to manipulate with one hand. 

3. This is not just a theoretical discussion. BU planes with 20-22° beds have been designed and are available from distinguished planemakers. Take a look at Karl Holtey’s #98 Smoother. Philip Marcou offers bevel-up smoothing and jack planes with 15° and 20° bed angles. [Drool, drool . . .] Though not it’s intended to be used as a smoothing plane, I’ve experimented with setting up my L-N #9 (20° bed) as a high-attack smoother. It works. 

So, what’s the point of these four posts? It is simply this: a good addition to the Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen product lines would be, at the least, the option of a bevel-up smoothing plane with a 20-22° bed. (22° would suit me just fine.)

Author:
• Tuesday, July 30th, 2019
bevel-up smoothing plane

To create higher attack angles, such as 55°, to reduce tearout with a bevel-up smoothing plane, here are more advantages to a 20-22° bed angle versus the commonly produced 12° bed angle. 

1. A higher bed angle requires less camber in the edge to achieve a given “functional camber.” Please see my post that defines the terms I am using and explains the simple math, and this post that shows the effect of bed angle. A blade placed in a 12° bed requires about 75% more “observed camber” to achieve the same functional camber as when placed in a 22° bed. For example: you must grind .014″ camber to achieve .003″ functional camber in a 12° bed, but only have to grind .008″ to achieve the same .003″ functional camber in a 22° bed. 

Putting camber in the blade edge takes time and it’s easier to do if there’s less of it.

2. As the wear bevel develops on the lower (flat) side of the blade, an adequate clearance angle is maintained longer when the bed angle is greater. Again, I reference Terry Gordon’s article in Furniture and Cabinetmaking magazine (November 2018, Issue 276, pp. 48-50) and Brent Beach’s website.

Here are two more possible advantages to a 20-22° bed versus a 12° bed, but these are speculative.

1. For a given attack angle, the narrower sharpening angle (as would be used with the higher bed angle) may produce less resistance in the cut. I’m not sure. Maybe resistance is instead determined only by the attack angle, as has been suggested to me by a planemaker. I do not have a way in my shop of making an apples-to-apples comparison. I’d need two planes, identical except for bed angle, then make the same attack angle in each – for example, one with a 22° bed and a 33° blade (=55°) and the other with a 12° bed and a 43° blade (=55°).  

2. Perhaps the steeper 20-22° bed is an advantage in design and manufacturing in that it is sturdier and less likely than a 12° bed to deflect downward. I don’t make planes, so I don’t know.

Coming up: just a few more points.

Author:
• Monday, July 22nd, 2019
bevel-up plane blades

In the previous post, I discussed how a 20-22° bed in a bevel-up smoothing plane can produce a wider range of useful attack angles without resorting to excessively high sharpening angles. The use of narrower sharpening angles has, in turn, several advantages:

1. Sharpening is easier. It is simply more difficult to get a good, sharp edge at, for example, 43° than 33°. It is also awkward to work at the higher angles, and the feedback from the surface of the stone is not as good. I think this is readily evident but some may disagree.  

2. Based on my experience, and I think most woodworkers would agree, a blade with a very steep secondary bevel dulls faster than one with a more usual, narrower bevel, all else being equal. 

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Sidebar: how an edge dulls

The profile of the sharp edge of the blade ideally starts out as two straight surfaces meeting at a clean, sharp point. As the edge wears, steel is abraded away from the surfaces near the edge, and the original point becomes rounded over. The worn surfaces of the blade that approach the blunted edge can be thought of as “wear bevels.” Thanks to Brent Beach and Steve Elliot for their development and detailed study of these concepts.

For both bevel-up and bevel-down planes, the wear bevel on the top side of the blade (the side facing away from the wood) is wider than that on the bottom side, because it is the top (front) of the blade that bears the brunt of the collision with the wood. The bottom-side wear bevel, which is on the flat side of the blade in a BU plane, is nonetheless important.

Brent Beach explains the value of removing the lower wear bevel when sharpening to regain a truly sharp edge, to maintain proper clearance of the blade edge from the wood, and to avoid the need to apply undue pressure when planing. David Charlesworth’s Ruler Trick is thus particularly helpful for bevel-up plane blades.

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3. A functionally sharp edge is preserved longer when the blade is sharpened at a narrower angle. This is consistent with point #2. Australian planemaker Terry Gordon explains this nicely in a recent article in Furniture and Cabinetmaking magazine (November 2018, Issue 276, pp. 48-50). It is best understood diagrammatically but the gist is that a skinnier edge retains useful sharpness longer by remaining narrow longer.

In summary, there are important advantages in sharpening and edge endurance when using the narrower sharpening angles permitted by a higher bed angle in bevel-up smoothing planes.

For example, if you want a 55° attack in your BU smoother, you’re better off being able to sharpen at 33° with a 22° bed (=55°) than having to sharpen at 43° with the 12° bed (=55°) in currently offered stock planes.

Coming up: still more issues. Can you tell that I’m building a case that I think L-N and L-V should hear?