Rest in Peace Steve LaMantia (Mr. Scary Sharp)

Long before social media became commonplace, there were list servers on the internet. These were text-only email lists that you had to subscribe to. Everyone that subscribed had the ability to post to the list so that everyone on the list could see their post. It was a great way to get to know other like-minded folks that shared a common interest.

One such listserv was OldTools. As a matter of fact, it’s still around and very active.

I learned a lot off of that mailing list and got to know a lot of good folks. It’s a tremendous resource. But over the years, I’ve had to back off simply due to the sheer volume of emails and the time required to read them.

Continue reading “Rest in Peace Steve LaMantia (Mr. Scary Sharp)”

Restoring Old Hand Tools — Seminar Links

Below is a list of supplies referenced during a seminar at the Woodsmith Store on October 17.

Materials, Supplies, and Links for Restoring Old Hand Tools

Sharpening Auger Bits

Auger File

Valve Grinding Compound

Lapping Grits

Sharpening Hand Saws

Saw Sharpening Files

Veritas Saw File Holder

Veritas Jointer/Edger

Italian Needle Files

Braces, Bits, and Yankee Drills & Drivers

Garrett Wade

Hex Bit Adapter

Screwdriver Bits

Spiral Ratcheting Drivers

General Cleaning Supplies

Wire Wheels

Safety Goggles

Dust Mask

Lacquer Thinner

Mineral Spirits


Wash Bottles

Lightweight Oil (3-in-1)

Old Toothbrush

Cleaning Brushes (Lee Valley)

Cleaning Brushes (Woodcraft)

Dropper Bottles

Needles & Syringes (for oil)

6″ Cotton Swabs

Shop Rags

ProtecTool Wax (Lee Valley)

Restoring Hand Planes

Wet/Dry Sandpaper

Non-Woven Abrasives

Plane Tote (Handle) Templates (Lee Valley)

Veritas Replacement Blades

Pinnacle (Woodcraft) Replacement Blades

Tools for Working Wood (must search for “Stanley Replacement Blades”)

Hock Tools

Interesting Links Worth a Look


Trimming Edging with Hand Planes

Stanley 100 & 101 - 1898 Stanley CatalogThe shadow box I’m making out of cherry plywood needed some hardwood edging to hide the ugly plywood edges. I ripped strips of cherry about 1/8″ thick. They were slightly wider than the thickness of the plywood. This way, you don’t have to worry about having the edging perfectly flush as you glue it to the edges of the plywood.

After the glue was dry, I pulled out my Stanley 101. It’s a small plane a little longer than 3″. It’s a cute little thing. But it comes in handy for light tasks like this. Lee Valley sells squirrel tail palm planes (like the Stanley 100) and a “Little Victor” plane that would do the job. They also have the Kunz version of the Stanley 100.

Why didn’t I use a standard block plane, or for that matter, a bench plane? Well, I actually started to, but they felt too heavy and clunky for this light trimming task. And the block planes have a lower blade angle that was causing some tearout.

Back to my little Stanley 101. Notice that there’s no blade adjuster on this tiny plane. I set the blade by inserting it until it bottoms out on the workpiece then tighten the cap. See that little nubbin on the back end? I don’t know this for a fact but I believe that’s there to allow you to retract the blade with a light tap of a hammer. The nubbin protects the edge of the casting from being damaged. To advance the blade, lightly tap the front end of the plane. It sure beats loosening the cap and trying to make minute adjustments by hand and eye. That’s an exercise in frustration.

The technique I use to trim the edging is to keep most of the plane riding on the plywood with the blade engaging the edging. This way, as the edging is trimmed, the plane kind of “self levels” the edging. Just keep an eye on the edging and use your fingers to gauge when it’s flush before you cut into the plywood veneer. There’s a fine line (a shaving’s thickness) between flush and too far.

After trimming both sides of the edging flush, I needed to smooth the face of the edging. It still had saw marks on it from ripping it to thickness. I clamped each piece in my face vise and used my No. 3 smoother. I quickly discovered I had difficulty keeping the plane level. I have a tendency to lean the plane to port side, leaving a surface that’s not square to the face. To help me keep the plane square, I used a Veritas Jointer Fence. It attaches to the cheek (side) of the plane with strong magnets. It’s offset so that the entire width of the blade can engage the workpiece. You can make a jointer fence by rabbeting a straight-grained piece or hardwood or you can use a dense plywood like Baltic birch. The idea is to provide a bearing surface that rides along the face of the workpiece keeping the plane square to the face. It works like a charm. A few swipes and the edging was nice and smooth.



How a Hand Plane Works

Hock Blade & ChipbreakerI thought about titling this post “The Physics of Hand Planes” but that sounded too much like a high school or college class title.

I’ve always been intrigued by why some hand planes seem to work better than others. My criteria is what type of shaving it produces. For me, if I can produce a thin, full-width shaving with a smoothing plane, I consider that plane well-tuned.

Of course, there are a number of factors involved: The sharpness of the iron (or blade), the cutting angle, whether or not a chip breaker is used, the mouth opening, and so on.

What got me to thinking about this was using my old No. 3 Stanley plane. I had installed a new Hock blade and chip breaker. I was using it to smooth the edge of a board prior to glue-up for a larger panel. It’s a sweet plane. The evidence is in the photo.

But it turns out there are a lot of woodworkers that are also interested in how a well-tuned plane really works. Check out the links and videos below.

And if I ever have a large shop making a lot of money, I’m going to have one of these:

4 Traditional Hand Planes and Their Uses

Most everyone that knows me is aware that I have a slight obsession with hand planes. One of the questions I’m often asked is what the different types of planes are used for. In other words, what’s a “jack” plane? Or a “try” plane?

Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, Massachusetts has a short, informative video about the uses of traditional hand planes in the 18th century.

To recap, the Jack plane was used to remove surface roughness left by the saw mill. Jack planes range from 14″ to 16″ long. That would be a No. 5 Stanley plane.

The “Try” plane was a little longer. This enabled it to create a smoother surface than the jack plane. The blade of the jack plane typically has a slight “crown,” or radius which left shallow undulations, or valleys, after planing. The Stanley equivalent would probably be a No. 6 or No. 7.

A Jointer plane was, and is, the longest plane ranging from 22″ to 24″ or longer. Its primary purpose was to straighten the edges of boards in preparation for glue-up and assembly. The idea is that the longer length skims off the high spots and leaves a straight, square edge.

The smoothing plane is usually the last plane to touch the wood. Its shorter length (7″ to 9″) makes it ideal for getting a glass-smooth surface. It’s also used for fine-tuning joinery. No other tool can accurately remove ultra-thin shavings for a perfect fit.

With today’s modern woodworking equipment like surface planers and jointers, the need for Jack and Try planes is somewhat obsolete. However, in my small shop, I don’t own a power jointer. So I use my No. 7 or No. 8 Stanley on a regular basis. But my go-to plane of choice is a No. 3 smoothing plane. It’s the perfect size for most of the projects I work on and it fits my hand perfectly. It touches almost every workpiece before final assembly of the project.

New 2013 Stanley Hand Plane Patents

Stanley Plane Patent 2013You can learn a lot by reading patents. As I mentioned in this post, I enjoy looking at patent drawings. I was perusing some patents on hand planes and noticed this European patent granted to Stanley Black & Decker on April 24, 2013. And this same U.S. version of  April 23, 2013. And this older U.S. patent of June 23, 2011. Primarily, they have to do with a “plane blade adjustment improvement.”

I find this interesting for a number of reasons. First, if we look at the history of Stanley planes in general, we find that after World War II, their quality and availability has suffered (in my opinion). The manufacturing was outsourced overseas and the fit and finish of the machining was and is pretty rough.

In the woodworking sector, and for the serious hobbyists and professionals, quality hand planes are as much a part of the wood shop as a table saw and electric router. At least they should be. But you need good ones.

The problem was that unless you could find a good, used pre-WWII Stanley or Bailey hand plane, you had to settle for poorly-made imports. Thomas Lie-Nielsen and Veritas stepped up to the plate many years ago to manufacture high-quality planes that rival the best Stanley ever made and will last for generations.

More recently, Stanley introduced a “new” line of hand planes. It almost seemed as if someone in marketing suddenly realized they were missing out on the woodworking market. They tried to capitalize on the “Sweetheart” name known by collectors of old Stanley/Bailey planes. Stanley’s redesigned planes have a more modern look. The problem is, they still suffer from the same quality-of-manufacturing issues they’ve had for the last 40 years. I’ve had them in my hands and was not impressed.

Well, perhaps the folks at Stanley Black & Decker recognize that they need to come out with something new/better/different if they want to compete with the likes of Lie-Nielsen and Veritas. So let’s analyze these patents and see what they’ve got up their sleeves.

The present invention provides a plane with an improved construction for enabling longitudinal and lateral adjustment of the plane blade.

At first glance of the patent drawings, it appears that they’re using a design similar to the Norris-style lateral adjustment that Veritas now uses. Nothing revolutionary there. I happen to like that style of adjuster. But these patents appear to be addressing another issue.Stanley Lateral Locking

If you look at the drawing on the right, you’ll see a curious little knob on the back side of the frog. The pivot bushing for the lateral adjustment is threaded and protrudes through the back of the frog. This is unlike the Norris-style adjusters where the pivot pushing simply rests in a counterbored recess on the front face of the frog.

The knob (372) shown in the Stanley patent drawing engages the threaded bushing and is used to apply friction to the lateral movement of the adjuster/blade assembly without affecting the ability to adjust the depth of the blade. I can’t decide if this is a worthwhile feature or not. I suppose there have been times when I’ve accidentally knocked the blade out of alignment. And I have a few old planes that have some difficulty maintaining their adjustment. The problem is, if you tighten the screw that holds the lever cap in place to apply more pressure to the blade, you also restrict the ability to adjust the depth. So perhaps there is some merit to this patent.

With the knob in the Stanley patent, you can torque it down enough to prevent any lateral movement of the blade. In other words, the tighter the knob, the more friction you apply to the lateral adjuster. What’s unclear to me is how this still allows depth adjustment. The cross-section views of the patent drawings are a little difficult for me to decipher. The relevant text portions explaining the mechanism are buried about halfway into the document.

If you’re a glutton for technical jargon, I encourage you to read the patents. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait and see if Stanley incorporates this feature into their planes.

Let’s hope they work on improving the quality, fit, and finish of the rest of the plane while they’re at it.


Sharpening a Blade for a Scraper Plane

Scraper PlaneAs a part of rehabbing my newly-acquired but used Lie-Nielsen scraper plane, I needed to sharpen the blade. If you’re not familiar with how a scraper plane works, it’s quite a bit different than a standard bench plane like a smoothing plane. If you’ve ever used and sharpened a card scraper, you’re familiar with how they work. A slight burr is formed on the edge. It’s the burr that performs the cutting action.

The Lie-Nielsen scraper plane comes with a thick blade. And their web site has complete instructions on how to sharpen it for use. The first thing I did was flatten the back and remove the existing burr on a series of diamond stones. Then I proceed to hone the bevel. Finally, I clamped the blade upright in my face vice and started to form a burr with my Veritas burnisher. (I’ve also used the shank of an old screwdriver as a burnisher.) I used two hands to apply firm pressure making a few strokes starting at about 45° then working toward 90°. (Because I had the camera in one hand, you won’t see both of my hands on the burnisher.)

I installed the blade in the plane. I just let it drop to the surface of the workpiece the plane was sitting on. By adjusting the angle of the blade, the burr will eventually “bite” into the workpiece and form thin shavings.

This is a great tool to use for smoothing large worksurfaces that might have unpredictable grain prone to tearout with a standard smoothing plane. The scraper plane doesn’t care about the direction of the grain. It will create a glass-smooth surface.

Cleaning a Scraper Plane

I acquired a nice Lie-Nielsen scraper plane in a tool swap. I’m the 3rd or 4th owner. It was in great shape except for a little surface rust. While I was in the shop doing a little cleanup from the last several projects, I decided to spend a half hour cleaning it up and getting it ready for use.

The photos below explain the basic process I went through. First, I went about removing the rust with 100-grit sandpaper. I took some care to keep the scratch pattern straight and consistent with the original pattern from the factory’s grinding machines. Then I moved up to 120-grit, finishing up with 400-grit and then a final polish with a green non-woven abrasive cloth, again keeping the scratch pattern consistent. While I was at it, I used the 400-grit paper to polish up the smooth portions of the blade holder.

To clean the accumulation of dust and grime from the inside, painted bed, I removed the tote and knob then used an old toothbrush to get rid of most of the dirt. Where I couldn’t reach with the brush, I used a long cotton swab — you know, the kind you see in jars in doctor’s offices. You can buy a pack of 100 from Grainger (formerly Lab Safety Supply) for about $5 or 1,000 for about $25. I use them a lot. After most of the dirt was brushed away, I wiped out the bed with a rag dampened with WD-40 then re-installed the tote and knob.

For the rougher portions of the brass castings on the blade holder, I scrubbed them with a brass-bristle brush. This removed the grime from the shallow recesses of the castings.

Before installing the blade, I applied a coat of clear paste wax to the bare steel and brass to hopefully stall any more rusting.

Kunkel & Son a Hidden Treasure in Nashville

Kunkel & Son Mahogany Door CarvingWhile I was visiting Fort Houston, I was wandering through the old factory/warehouse building and stumbled upon a room that felt like I had stepped back in time about 100 years. Like the wardrobe in “Narnia,” I was in another world. It was a huge wood shop with benches and hand tools all along two walls. The wood floor was covered in sawdust, shavings from hand planes, and chips from carving. There were all sorts of projects in various states of completion from gothic church carvings to modern benches with aluminum butterfly keys.

As I stood there taking in the site of benches and walls loaded with carving and hand tools, an older gentleman steps out from the shadows in the back and asks, “Can I help you?” It was apparent he wasn’t used to visitors in this back corner of a warehouse. I told him I had just stumbled into the room and was admiring his work and tool collection. He immediately pointed out a few of his tools that had belonged to his great grandfather. After asking his permission to snap some photos, we struck up a lively conversation and he proceeded to show me some of his unique projects.

One project was the bench that had been made by his father and carved with his name. Then he stoops down and grabs an odd-looking wood box with a large hole in the top. Turns out it’s a vacuum-assisted carving vise. He picked up an old bowling ball that had a short piece of pipe with a wood block stuck in it. He places the ball on the box, hooks up a vacuum, and clamps his carving to the pipe stem. The vacuum creates a tenacious hold on the bowling ball yet it can be pivoted to any position. Ingenious. Next he had to show me the carving vise he made from an old dentist’s chair. He can elevate the work with a foot pedal. Brilliant.

His son soon came out of the back room and they told me about some of the work they have done, some nationwide for retail stores. Their website shows you some of the more interesting projects they’ve done.

Diamond Stones are the Cat’s Meow

The first time I used a really, really sharp chisel and plane iron, I immediately became aware of how sharp tools can make or break craftsmanship. With a sharp tool, fine-tuning a joint or smoothing the surface of a workpiece becomes effortless and precise.

When I first got serious about woodworking, all I knew about sharpening was that you were supposed to use a bench grinder. At least that’s what I grew up seeing my dad use. Oil stones were reserved for pocket knives.

Combination waterstone

Then along came the Internet. I soon learned about the “scary sharp” method using wet/dry sandpaper. I was hooked. The tools for this method require nothing more than sheets of sandpaper and a flat surface. For years I used a polished wall tile I picked up at one of the big-box stores. It’s a 12″ x 12″ tile that’s perfect for holding a sheet of sandpaper. For touching up my chisels and plane irons, I’d start at about 400-grit and work my way up through 2000-grit. It’s a quick and relatively inexpensive method for sharpening edge tools.

Then came the fad of using waterstones (oilstones are so messy and so “old school”). So I put away my “scary sharp” method in favor of a combination waterstone. I used it for a few years but soon discovered one drawback: Waterstones become dished out with use and require flattening. You can buy dedicated flattening stones, but I used 80-grit sandpaper on my 12″ x 12″ wall tile. It worked great, but can be messy.

DMT DuoSharp Bench StonesThen a friend of mine told me about the wonders of diamond stones, specifically the DMT DuoSharp dual-sided combination stones. Once I tried them, I was hooked. I rarely use any other sharpening method. I have the WM8CX and WM8EF models. This gives me a good range of grits from coarse to fine that serve the majority of my sharpening needs. Yes, they’re a little pricey, but well worth the investment.

Here’s what I like about the DuoSharp stones. They’re flat and they stay flat. No need to mess with flattening them periodically.

The steel plates that are coated with diamond grit are perforated. This means that when you spritz the stones with a little water before sharpening, the swarf doesn’t clog the stone. All it takes to clean the stones is a wipe with a cloth or running them under the tap and drying them thoroughly.

The best thing I like about diamond stones is how quickly they cut. It doesn’t take much to get an edge. I proved this when I was chiseling out a lock mortise for a door jamb and hit a nail. After gritting my teeth in frustration at ruining a good chisel edge with a sizable ding, I drug out the diamond stones. I started with the coarsest grit and worked my way up through the finest grit. It took my all of about 10 minutes to get back to a “scary sharp” edge.

If you’re one of those that has to work toward a mirror polish on your tools, you can invest in DMT DiaSharp Bench Stones. They’re available in grits as fine as 3 microns.

You can view a chart of the available DMT grits by clicking here.

So how do I know when a tool is sharp enough? My first test is to see if it will “catch” on my thumbnail as I try to drag it across. But the final test is to take a piece of basswood or soft pine and see if I can make thin shavings of the end grain. If I can’t, it’s back to the sharpening stones. If a tool is anything less than sharp, the fibers of the soft wood will crush rather than be severed cleanly.

Happy sharpening.