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.

Nowadays, I subscribe to several Facebook groups where posts show up in my Facebook feed.

It was on the OldTools mailing list that I first read about the “Scary Sharp” method of sharpening tools using sandpaper. It’s a method I used for decades. I bought a 12″x12″ granite tile from The Home Depot and used various grits of wet/dry sandpaper to sharpen chisels and plane irons.

The originator of the “Scary Sharp” method was Steve LaMantia. He recently passed away.

John Johnston posted the following on the Facebook group “Unplugged Woodworkers.”

“Derek Cohen just reported on the Old Tools listserve that Steve LaMantia had recently passed away. For those newbies out there, Steve was the one who came up with “Scary Sharp” back in 1995, writing on the Old Tools listserve. Derek also thoughtfully posted a copy of Steve’s original post, and I thought I’d share it with Unplugged Woodworkers as there are many here who use the ‘Scary Sharp’ approach. Steve was a man of humor, so I think you’ll enjoy his original post.”


The D&S Scary Sharp(TM) System

[No, you can’t sharpen sandpaper. And please don’t ask me how I know that.]

[Required warnings:]

[If you don’t like sharpening tales, or sandpaper, or handplanes, or any deviation from simple declarative sentences, please don’t read this post. Also, it’s a process gloat, and it’s windbaggy, so be forewarned.]

[And if you prefer one-clause synopses, here: “I sharpened a plane blade with sandpaper.” Now move along now.] For anyone else:

I recently emailed a few folks about some attempts I made at sharpening a plane iron with sandpaper. Some suggested I post my story to the group.

So here it is.

Let’s see. Who’s left? Oh.

Dear Mom,

I’ve recently been experimenting with using sandpaper for honing. I had been getting tired out with the oilstones getting unflat and glazed and needing to be lapped all the time, tired of oil all over the place and on my hands so I couldn’t even scratch, tired of having to clean the stones after each use, tired of having to keep a conscious effort going to distribute wear on the stones evenly. So tired of all of this.

So I started thinking about abrasives and abrasive action in general, and read up a bit, and asked around, and found out that there’s nothing different, in principle, between sandpaper and an oilstone. Silicon carbide sandpaper (i.e., wet-or-dry) goes up to 600 grit in the hardware and woodworking stores, but up to 2000 grit in the automotive finishing stores, as I learned from David Opincarne, a local rec.woodworker and admitted metalhead who works right here at the school and who sent me some 1200-and 2000-grit samples and who’s recently been helping me greatly to understand the secrets of metal. For example, did you know that to produce high-carbon steel, crushed bone from the skull of an infidel is an excellent carburizing agent? Me, neither. Or that hardening the steel in cutting blades is achieved by the sudden and even cooling of the blade, and that the best known way to achieve these dual goals is to quench the blade in the still-living body of an enemy warrior? Same here; I had no idea. David’s been teaching me a lot.

Me and him and some other wreck.the.woodwork folks had been talking lately about this abrasive business, and it got onto sandpaper somehow, and so I decided to test something out. For the sharpening-with-sandpaper experiment, I used a slightly-pitted 2″ wide jack plane blade that came with an old beat-up Stanley Bedrock #605 I bought last year at a tool swap. The bevel on the plane iron had been somehow ground *concave* by the previous owner (or else it just wore that way), so I first straightened the edge out on the grinding wheel, grinding in straight at first so as not to create a thin edge that would burn, and then grinding in a bevel but stopping a bit short of a real edge, again to prevent burning. Because of this care not to burn the steel, this grinding goes slow and light, but it’s time well spent. Time now to lap the back behind the cutting bevel. I took a page out of the plane-sole lapping book — figuratively speaking of course, you should never tear pages out of a book — and used very light coatings of 3M “77” spray adhesive to temporarily glue small 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ rectangular pieces of sandpaper along the edge of a sheet of 1/4″ plate-glass. The paper I used was Aluminum Oxide in grits 50, 80, and 100, and Silicon Carbide (wet-or-dry to you lay people) in grits of 150, 180, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1200, and 2000. The plate glass was placed with its edge flush to the edge of the workbench.

I lapped the end one inch of the back of the iron on each grit in turn. I didn’t use any water; I just went at it dry. So as I lapped — can you call it lapping if it’s dry? — anyway, about every ten seconds or so I’d stop and brush off the sandpaper with a whisk broom and wipe the blade off on my shirt. (On the coarser grits, I found that a dustbuster vacuum actually cleaned up the paper quite thoroughly, much better than sweeping it off, but this sucking advantage disappeared at around 220 grit.) Since I progressed through the grits so gradually, I found I had to spend only about a minute or so on each grit, including the suck-down and sweep-off and shirt-wipe time.

One trick to efficiency is knowing when you’ve lapped the back sufficiently on each progressive grit. I had previously had trouble gauging this, and didn’t know how to tell when enough is enough. Thanks to a clever suggestion from Jeff Gorman, I tried a trick that seemed to work wonderfully. I have a cheapie Radio Shack 30-power hand microscope — “microscope” sounds impressive, but it’s only $10, although I forget where I got it from — and used that to tell when the striations from the new grit had replaced all the striations from the previous grit, and when they had, I stopped there and moved on to the next grit.

About ten minutes after starting, I had gone from 50 grit on up to 2000, and there was a mirror finish on the back of that iron the likes of which must be seen. The back of the iron became so shiny I could count my nose hairs in it; 98 on the left, 79 on the right, but 109 and 85 if you count the white ones.

I then jigged the blade in a Veritas honing jig — which, by the way, Mr. Lee, should be called a honing fixture, not a jig, since a jig’s for holding a tool and a fixture’s for holding a workpiece and in the sharpening operation the plane iron, while usually thought of as a tool, or as a part of one, is actually in this instance the workpiece — man, near-terminal digression there, almost lost it for good; Boy, snap out of it! — I clamped the blade down in the Veritas blade-holder device, taking care to have the hollow-ground bevel resting on the glass perfectly along both edges of the hollow grind. I then adjusted the microbevel cam on the jig up to its full two-degree microbevel setting — Robin, tell your uncle that Steve said “way to go, old dude” — and honed away on the 2000-grit. Even though I had not ground a sharp edge on the primary bevel with the bench grinder, even on that little slip of fine 2000 grit it still took only about another couple of minutes before I had a nice sharp little 1/64″ microbevel gleaming back at me.

I flipped the blade over on the sandpaper several times, hone and lap, hone and lap, each time gentler and gentler, to remove the little bit of wire edge. (Which, by the way, as a result of using such a fine grit must have been so tiny that it was very hard to see or feel, so pretty much just from my awareness of the process I assumed it was there.) The resulting little thin secondary bevel was shiny. I mean *clean* shiny, like nothing I’d ever seen before. Unlike the secondary bevels I’d previously coaxed out of my hard white Arkansas stone, this one was unbelievably Shiny with a capital S. I mean *clean* shiny, like nothing I’d ever seen before. Oh, I said that already. Okay, it’s hard to describe; about the best I can do is to say that it looked almost *liquid* when you catch the light on it just right. I mean, it was so darn clean and shiny that it takes ten lines just to say it was so shiny it’s hard to describe.

Of course, shine is not the ultimate goal. But sharpness *is*. Still, they equate. The more shiny, the more uniform the surface is microscopically, and the closer to the geometric ideal of a *line* is the edge, and hence the sharper it is. Cool. I mean *COOL*!!! I was trembling in my Mickey Mouse boots in anticipation. Hell, this cutting edge looked downright *dangerous*! I didn’t dare touch it. But yet, there was still something I just *had* to try.

I removed the blade from the jig, and anxiously tried the old cliché “cut a finger off before you can notice and bleed all over your screaming wife in the car on the way to the hospital” test. Oops; no, wait. Sorry, that’s the wrong test, for those other kinds of tools. Sorry. For the Neanderthals, it’s the “shave some arm hairs off” test. Now I’ve done this test before, on other blades sharpened up on white Arkansas, and while these other blades would pop *some* hairs off the back of my wrist, many other hairs would just bend on over down under the blade’s edge (probably from the sheer weight of four prepositions in a row), and those hairs that *did* pop off would do so quite painfully, as though the blade was more grabbing the hairs and *ripping* them out, and I could feel every one of them offering their stubborn and vengeful resistance. Not much fun, and nothing to be doing voluntarily in front of others.

But the edge on this blade was something else! Not only did it cut off every little hair in its path with total ease, but it didn’t hurt at all. In fact, I couldn’t feel a thing; for all I could tell, there were no hairs there in its path to begin with. But of course there were many, since I’m Italian and also since I could see the fallen hairs all over the back of the blade. And my arm where I had shaved it was a smooth as a non-Italian baby’s butt.

Again, man, this had gotten downright *frightening*.

But of course, the ultimate test of a plane iron’s sharpness is what it does on wood. So I put the blade back into the plane, that old early-model Bedrock jack, which I’ve not yet tuned in any way. I tried it on the edge of a piece of pine, and as I adjusted the blade for the finest cut possible, it glided through the wood with no effort. None whatsoever. In fact, it almost seemed like the plane was pulling itself along, or that the wood was *wanting* to be planed and was throwing itself into the blade — no, I’ve not read Krenov — it took that little effort.

I ended up getting a shaving that was so darn thin I could read newsprint through it easily. Unbelievably easily. So easily, in fact, that I thought for a moment about taking the iron back on out of the plane and putting the shaving over the shiny part of its back and counting my nose hairs again, but by this time I had grown weary of counting nose hairs, and of my concerned wife repeatedly asking me why I was doing that.

I thought, no way, this can’t be! So skeptic that I am — I’m so skeptical, that I can’t be fully sure that I’m really that much of a skeptic — I put a micrometer to the shaving, and get this: it measured .0004 thick! Four ten-thousandths of an inch! (Or, as my eternally-pestered but forever-patient metalmentor David Opincarne showed me, “four-tenths” in machinist talk.) No, I read the mike right. Less than one half way to the very first line after zero.

Man! That’s a cubic hair less than one-half of a thousandth of an inch! Incredible! Amazing!

And it just gets better. For a while there, I actually thought I had taken off another shaving that was even thinner, one so thin in fact that it was invisible and of no measurable mass. I’m pretty sure I did, actually, but I’m having a hard time trying to think of a way to check this out, or even to find the spot on the ceiling that it floated up to.

And what about the planed wood itself? Well, the surface the plane iron left on the wood in indescribable! It’s like glass! No, it’s like glass wet down with water and a tad of liquid soap added and then some Slick-50 and then frozen and polished. And this is on pine, a softwood! Not only that, but I then gave it the torture test: end grain. I put the same piece of wood in my shooting board, and had a go at the endgrain. Man oh man, I’ve never seen such a smooth surface on *endgrain* in my life. And again, this is on *pine*! The endgrain was almost as smooth as the edgegrain!

This has gotten good! Still, having exclaimed all this, I’m making no claims to the throne of King of the Neanderthals. I’m the first to admit that this was kind of like when I was a kid and one year I batted a thousand in the Kiwanis Grasshoppers when I was really four years too young to actually play in the league but it was the last game of the year and Dad the team manager put me up in a losing game as the last batter just for the novelty of it and to stop my pestering — he figured I’d get beaned and would shut up for a while — and the opposing pitcher Terry Crowley the hotshot star started laughing at me because I was so scrawny and tiny and he taunted me who’s this, Mickey Mantle or something, and he threw a pitch at my crutch and I just shut my eyes and said a curse and swung and slammed a hard grounder right down the line and under the legs of the first baseman 20 some odd years before Bill Buckner got his chance and I got a hit. I know it was kind of like that, because this shaving wasn’t the minimum three feet long as per the Rules for the Contest to Become the King of the Neanderthals, so it shouldn’t qualify. But it still feels just as nice. One more good thing is that in the process of taking this plane iron from misshapen funkiness to terrifying sharpness I used up all of about 25 cents worth of sandpaper, and probably about 3 cents worth of spray glue, and about fifteen or so minutes of my time, twenty if you stop for a nosehair count.

When it was all done, I peeled the sandpaper from the glass and threw it away — well, actually I could have but in truth I stick them together back-to- back and save them in a “used-sandpaper” box for odd tasks that never come up. I then scraped the little bit of residual adhesive from the glass with a razor blade, a quick wipedown with acetone on a piece of paper towel, and the cleanup was done in a minute. No oil, no water, no mess, no glaze or flatness problems to worry about, and a cutting edge that is Scary-Sharp (TM).

I think I’ll still keep my stones, though; they can sit atop the packets of sandpaper to help keep them flat.

— Steve LaMantia [I’m talking about my oilstones.]

Seattle, WA


Rest in peace, Steve. Your method has helped many of us sharpen our tools. May your tools always be “Scary Sharp.”

5 Principles for Any Woodworking Shop

I ran across an article by Steve Maxwell in the Ottawa Citizen a while back (unfortunately the link has expired). He wrote about 5 basic principles that apply to anyone in a shop. It’s well worth the read and I have to agree with him. Here’s my summary of what he said:

1. Sharpening Skills. Practice, practice, practice. Whatever sharpening method you use that gives you good results, become a master at it. I talked here about how much I like my diamond stones. Steve recommends a buffing wheel for honing. I’ve used a buffing wheel for sharpening my carving tools, but haven’t made myself convert to using it for chisels and plane irons. A buffing wheel works fast and gives you a polished edge.

2. Proper Sanding. How many of us hate sanding? I do. But we need to slow down and do it right if we want the best surface for a finish. And that means working through the grits. Steve starts with a belt sander. Belt sanders scare me because it’s too easy to get distracted and the next thing you know you’re rounding over an edge, gouging the workpiece, or sanding through veneer. I follow the advice of starting with 100- or 120-grit paper, but a random orbit sander is usually all I need. Then I work my way up to 180-grit. I usually don’t go any finer than that if I’m applying an oil finish. That recommendation comes from General Finishes when using their Arm-R-Seal product.

3. Know Your Tools. What I mean is, know intimately how they work and how to fine-tune them for the best performance. That goes for hand tools as well as power tools. Maintain and tune-up your table saw periodically. Make sure all of your chisels and planes are set up, sharp, and ready to put to use. Having to stop in the middle of a project to sharpen or fuss with a tool is a distraction you don’t need.

4. Invest in Your Tools. In other words, buy the best tool you can afford. And if you can’t afford it right now, save up until you can. I’ve learned my lessons on buying tools just because the price was right. It’s when you come to rely on the tool that it disappoints you. Steve’s comments on this topic are so good I have to repeat them here:

Choosing tools and gear successfully is a lot like hitting someone with a snowball as they’re running. Unless you aim way ahead, you’ll always miss. The tools and gear you need tomorrow will almost always be more than you need now, especially if you’re a beginner.

That’s why you should always buy better than you think you need. My only tool regrets have come when my snowball fell way behind the results I was aiming at. You need to buy for the ultimate woodworker you want to become, not the woodworker you are now.

Also — and this is crucial — always let actual needs guide your tool investments. Struggle for a while with a process or situation, then use the insights you gain to invest in gear that actually meets the needs you face. You’ll buy smarter.

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm. As Steve says, being motivated to get out in the shop and be productive is one thing. But being in a hurry and taking shortcuts (like not properly sanding, or assuming that the glue will fill the gaps in an ill-fitting joint) are another thing. So the key is not to be impatient. I have to talk myself into slowing down and “doing it right.” (Yes, I talk to myself often when I’m in the shop.) To quote Steve:

“The pursuit of quality is much more important and enduring. “

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

WD-40

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

http://logancabinetshoppe.com/blog/2012/01/sharpening-auger-bits/

http://www.fine-tools.com/G-augerbitfile.html

http://www.vintagesaws.com/library/primer/sharp.html

http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/store/item/AQ-1019V.XX

http://www.norsewoodsmith.com/content/sharpening-hand-saws

http://logancabinetshoppe.com/blog/2010/12/quick-tip-7/

http://toolemera.com/

http://www.wkfinetools.com/

http://www.vintagesaws.com/

http://www.norsewoodsmith.com/

 

Walter Meier Sells Off Tool Division

Walter Meier, the parent company of Jet, Powermatic, and Wilton tools is selling off their tool division. Seems like the large Swiss conglomerate has other, more profitable core businesses to focus on.

As announced in The Tennessean:

A La Vergne-based tool subsidiary of the Swiss conglomerate Walter Meier AG will be acquired by the New York private-equity firm Tenex Capital Management, the two entities announced Tuesday.

With about 200 employees worldwide, Walter Meier Manufacturing Inc. makes and markets the Wilton, Jet and Powermatic tool brands through more than 3,000 outlets in about 30 markets. It has been part of Walter Meier AG, whose main business is climate-control and humidification equipment.

No purchase price has been divulged yet as the deal is still being finalized, said Bob Varzino, the tool company’s senior vice president for marketing at the La Vergne headquarters and distribution center, which has 126 employees.

But the sale is “very good news for us,” Varzino said.

“It was some time in the coming,” he said. “This company has been growing and has become a very profitable division for Walter Meier. This will capitalize the company so it can grow to its next level of evolution. Tenex focuses on industrial brands and will be a really good partner for us. This is its biggest acquisition.”

The tool division’s total sales will approach $200 million this year, Varzino said.

In an announcement on its global website, Walter Meier AG said it was divesting itself of the tools business to continue with its “strategy of focusing on the core business (of) climate technology.”

Tenex won the right to buy the tool division through an auction, and the closing of the deal “is subject to various conditions, including contracts to be signed with financial lenders,” Walter Meier AG said. The sale is expected to be completed by Oct. 31.

Tools sold by the division are used in professional woodworking, metalworking, fabrication and industrial maintenance shops. The tool company has operations in seven countries, including Germany, Taiwan, Switzerland, Russia and France.

The company’s products are made in factories in Chicago, Mexico and Asia, Varzino said.

“In Walter Meier tools, we have acquired a strong company with great brands and a growing market share in each of its segments,” Tenex Chief Executive Officer Michael Green said in a statement. “The well-recognized brands of Jet, Wilton and Powermatic define the resilience and durability of the products. We look forward to supporting the company and its management team in executing its continuing growth initiatives.”

Well, according to this and what I heard in Nashville in August, it appears that Jet and Powermatic won’t be going away soon. In fact, keep looking for new and improved woodworking tools from them.

When Routers Make You Swear

Back in the 1980’s I was newly married and setting up a workshop in the basement of our first home, a 1930’s Montgomery Ward kit house. Back then, the only place to purchase power tools near the small town where we lived was a Sears store in a shopping mall about a half hour’s drive away. I owned a Craftsman contractor’s saw, a Craftsman router, and a few other power tools from Sears.

I was too young to know much about routers but eager to learn. I really put it to the test while I was building a stereo cabinet as a gift for my brother-in-law. It was made of plywood edged with hardwood. The shelves fit into dadoes in the cabinet sides. So I got out the Craftsman router and chucked up a 3/4″ straight bit. As a matter of fact, it was probably a bit made from high speed steel (HSS). Carbide wasn’t that common yet for home woodworkers and if it was, it was too pricey for my newlywed budget.

The idea was to rout a 3/4″-wide dado about 3/8″ deep across the cabinet sides to house the shelves. So I clamped a straightedge across the cabinet side to guide the cut. I set the bit depth and started routing. The first dado went fine. So I moved the straightedge to complete a second dado across the panel. I started the second cut and noticed that the pitch of the router motor changed as I made my way across the panel. Then I noticed it became difficult to pull through the cut. It wasn’t until this point I realized something was terribly wrong.

I stopped the router, cleared out the dust and chips from the dado, and discovered what the problem was. The dado was progressively deeper. So deep that when I had stopped the router, it had routed all the way through the panel for a few inches. I was furious. And puzzled. I scratched my head trying to figure out what had happened. Then I looked at the router. The bit had crept out of the collet. I understand now why some people call them “Crapsman” tools.

I was so disgusted at what had happened and upset because I really couldn’t afford to buy more plywood. So I turned out the shop light and went to bed.

They say you’re most creative when your lying down. As I lay in bed thinking about my dilemma, it occurred to me to try to make a matching plug to repair the hole the router left in the cabinet side. The next evening, that’s what I did. I found a scrap piece of plywood that had similar color and grain to the area surrounding the hole. I cut a plug to size, carefully rounding the end to match the radius of the router bit. After gluing it in, I finished routing the dado, making darned sure I had the collet super tight. After the cabinet was finished, only I knew where it had been repaired.

Fast forward to 2013. I’m making a shadowbox out of cherry plywood. A 1/4″ groove routed in the box sides holds a glass panel. I have an old Porter-Cable 690 single-speed router mounted in my Kreg router table. So I set it up with a 1/4″ spiral upcut bit to rout the groove. I had a “déjà vu” moment as I was routing the second piece. All of a sudden I saw the bit pop through the opposite side and plow a really nice-looking slot. I probably said a few words I shouldn’t have. So I shut off the router, turned out the lights, and went inside.

After a nap and a couple cups of coffee, I was in a better frame of mind. So I went back into the shop to try again. Fortunately, I had some plywood to cut some extra workpieces. And I made darned sure I had the collet super tight.

So the question for me is what causes this to happen? I had been suspecting the that bearings in my P/C 690 are on the verge of failing. It’s been a little noisy lately. Can the additional vibration work the bit out of the collet? A dirty collet could be the culprit, so I made sure it was clean and free of sawdust. And of course, a dull bit doesn’t help matters. Perhaps in both cases, the bits had reached the end of their useful lives.

And that brings me to my next decision: Should I try to install new bearings in my router, pay to have someone rebuild it, or just go buy a Bosch router kit I’ve had my eye on?

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.

http://planetuning.infillplane.com/html/chipbreaker_study.html

http://www.woodcentral.com/woodworking/forum/archives_handtools.pl/bid/3001/md/read/id/447551/sbj/i-m-struggling-to-figure-out/

http://www.woodcentral.com/woodworking/forum/archives_handtools.pl/bid/3001/md/read/id/447363

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.