Archive for ◊ June, 2010 ◊

• Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Bevel-up, low-angle smoothing, jack, and jointer planes made by Lie-Nielsen and Lee Valley have 12 degree beds for their blades. This style of plane is simple to set up and especially versatile. The use of a thick blade, 3/16″ or more, supported very close to its cutting edge, and an easily adjustable throat opening contribute to effective planing.

One of the most important advantages of these planes is their ability to employ blades sharpened at different angles to manage a range of woods. With the 12 degree bed, a blade sharpened with a 33 or 38 degree bevel (secondary bevel) results in a 45 or 50 degree cutting angle, respectively. Either would be a reasonable choice for general work.

To get a 60 degree cutting angle for difficult figured woods, the blade needs a 48 degree bevel. The result is effective but this makes the blade more difficult to sharpen to a keen edge. Furthermore, this is a large wedge to drive through the wood. I believe this creates more resistance at the cutting edge, making the tool cut less cleanly and harder to push, even aside from the effects of the higher cutting angle.

If the blade bed was 20 degrees, it would require a more manageable 40 degree blade bevel to achieve the 60 degree cutting angle. A 25 degree (perhaps in O-1 steel) or 30 degree blade bevel (giving a 45 or 50 degree cutting angle, respectively) could be used for tamer woods. Another point, minor but helpful, is that a blade bedded at 20 degrees does not require as much actual camber to achieve the same functional camber as does one bedded at 12 degrees. Explanation here.

I imagine a 20 degree bed would also make the sole of the plane less prone to distortion from the pressure of the lever cap. Supporting this idea, I have not found distortion to be a problem with Lie-Nielsen’s shoulder planes with their 18 degree beds, but Lee Valley’s shoulder planes with their 15 degree beds have been a problem for me, even with rather gentle tightening of the lever cap. The 3 degrees seems to make a difference.

Considering other bevel-up planes, the fabulous Lie-Nielsen #9 “iron miter plane,” which I use for shooting end grain as well as long grain, has a 20 degree bed. Block planes come in 12 and 20 degree beds. The 20 degree tools seem to work just fine on long grain. Karl Holtey’s #98 Smoother has a 22.5 degree bed, and Philip Marcou’s S20A, which is designed to use standard Veritas blades, has a 20 degree bed. I’ve never used the Holtey or Marcou but I can’t imagine they are anything less than wonderful.

I also do not think cutting end grain is good justification for the 12 degree beds on the smoothing, jack, and jointer planes. I do not think end grain requires a 12 degree blade bed and I am skeptical of even an advantage over a 20 degree bed. Indeed, my Lie-Nielsen shoulder plane at 18 degrees works beautifully on end grain.

I own the Veritas bevel-up, low angle smoother and jack and have used the Lie-Nielsen bevel up planes. While their features differ, both makers produce superb planes. It is the 12 degree bed that I question.

I am a plane user, not a plane maker, and certainly have room to learn more. I wonder if any of these makers would care to comment on this issue.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 9 Comments
• Friday, June 25th, 2010

Thoughts arising while sweeping the shop floor, waiting for boards to come out the back end of the thickness planer, or putting away tools . . .

A principle known as Occam’s Razor holds that the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is usually the best among reasonable, verifiable, non-simplistic possibilities. In other words, eliminate the burden of the unnecessary. I propose the Woodworker’s Edge: let this principle apply to woodworking jigs. The simplest jig that gets the job done quickly and well is the best jig. The idea is to make woodworking projects, not elaborate jigs. Simple, effective jigs are cool jigs.

I wish someone would manufacture a 12″ jointer with about a 55″ bed. I mean just the jointer, not a jointer-planer combination and not an aircraft carrier monstrosity. I could use it along with my DW735 portable thickness planer. I imagine it would save a large share of the cost of a combination machine, not to mention changeover hassles, while retaining the advantages of the 12″ width. 

I wish Lie-Nielsen would make a 55 degree frog for their #4 smoothing plane (2″ blade width) as they do for their #4 ½ (2 3/8″ blade width). 45 and 50 degree frogs are available for both planes. I’ve used the #4 bronze nearly since it was first produced, and later replaced its 45 degree frog when the 50 became available. It is my all-round smoother and I’ve never used the 45 frog since. It seems the 55 would make even more sense for difficult woods in a #4 than in a #4 ½ since the narrower plane would reduce the pushing force required.

Speaking of planes, the rear handles on Veritas bench planes are . . . well, if you use them you know . . . not exactly agreeable to human hands, at least not to mine. I do understand that they are fixed with two bolts instead of the usual one and the straighter profile accommodates this. I have two of their low angle planes and otherwise like them very much. Lee Valley is a wonderful company. But the handles, please, guys, can you do something?

I wish more wood was sawn into different thicknesses within one flitch. That way table legs, aprons, and tops could be made from consistent wood taken from one flitch without having to resaw the dried lumber. I guess this would be a lot of trouble for the sawmill and maybe just too impractical, but it would be nice to have such lumber widely available. Using 8/4 lumber for all the parts of a table requires a lot of resawing.  There is always a bit of a gamble, certainly considerable waste, and more work in resawing 8/4 lumber to get 3/4″ finished stock.

I don’t think techniques need to be advertised as they so often are in woodworking publications: “foolproof, super-easy, super-quick, perfect every time,” etc. Woodworking is wonderfully accessible, but it is not that easy, not that quick, nothing works out perfectly every time, and techniques do not need to be foolproof because woodworkers are not fools. I guess the following is less marketable: “Here’s a clear, sensible procedure that works for me, and, after some practice, will give you excellent results as long as you are careful, patient, and use the proper tools.”

I’d buy that.

Category: Ideas  | 6 Comments
• Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

The bandsaw holds a truly special place among woodworking machines because the woodworker interacts with it differently. I steadfastly contend that developing skill with a quality bandsaw can have greater effect on a craftsman’s development than with any other machine.

In use, the bandsaw feels to me more like a motorized hand tool. In contrast to operating a table saw, where the idea is to make the outcome of the cut a done-deal as much as possible beforehand, cutting at the bandsaw usually has an aspect of freedom. With the exception of resawing, I much more often cut to a line by eye than by using a fence, using it as a mostly non-jigged power tool. As evidence of the creativity fostered by the bandsaw, I use it almost exclusively in sawing pieces for mock ups. I can also feel the bandsaw’s cutting action – much like a hand tool – much more than with a table saw or router.

The bandsaw also allows us to use wood in ways no other power tool can. Resawing, cutting curves in thick stock, and cutting non-parallel to the edge of a board are tasks at the heart of how I build with wood. True, I could do those jobs with hand saws, but I prefer the bandsaw the great majority of the time. For woodworkers doing other types of work, such as turning, chairmaking, shop-made veneering, boatbuilding, and musical instrument making, the bandsaw is pivotal in getting the most from nature’s bounty of wood.

Consider what is involved with setting up and tuning a bandsaw compared with other machines. When setting up a jointer, it is a fairly clear-cut, though hardly easy, task: tables flat and parallel, all knife edges parallel to the tables, fence square to the table, etc. Lots of imperatives, not many decisions.

The bandsaw, on the other hand, leaves more room for personal preferences within a range of reasonable options. Do you like the wheels flat or crowned? What style of blade guides do you prefer? Where do you like to set the thrust bearing? How much tension on the blade? On these and many other bandsaw tuning issues, reasonable people can disagree. Though only two different blades cover almost all of my needs, it took me considerable research and trial and error to refine those choices from the myriad available, leaving aside many other good ones.

This is another way of saying that the bandsaw allows for personalization. In fact, it really demands that a skilled user exercise his preferences more than with other machines.

So, while I might sound like a bandsaw salesman, my real purpose in this post is to encourage woodworkers who are building their tool set, and who might be, ahem, on the fence, to put the bandsaw– and bandsaw skills – high on the list. It has the versatility and freedom of a hand tool, with a machine’s muscle.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 6 Comments