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.

 

Dovetailed Drawers are Overrated

Glen Huey is a friend of mine. We happened to meet at a media event right after he was hired to write for Popular Woodworking magazine…the first time. He had taken some time off to work on a large commission project and recently returned full time to PopWood.

Glen and I share a common-sense approach to woodworking. Except that he has a lot more skill and knowledge than I do, especially when it comes to building reproductions of 18th-century period furniture. He is a master craftsman.

So it was refreshing and encouraging to me when I read this post by Glen about building drawers for his workbench. No fancy dovetail joinery. He used what he calls “dado and rabbet” joinery, or what I call tongue and dado. A tongue on each end of the drawer fronts and backs fits into dadoes cut into the drawer sides. It’s a simple joint to make and, as Glen explains, once you get the setup tweaked on the table saw, you can cut perfect-fitting joints quickly.

For most furniture projects I build, this is the joint I use for drawer joinery. Why? Because it’s strong and easy to make. Why don’t I use dovetail joinery? Because I think it’s overrated. Granted, if I were building period furniture reproductions as Glen does, I’d use dovetail joinery for the drawers. But only because it’s reproducing the type of construction of the period piece. Not because it’s any “better” or “stronger.” Besides, the one and only dovetail jig I ever owned I have long since pitched. It was fussy to set up. I routed dovetails on every drawer of a kitchen full of cabinets in my first house. But looking back, I think it was silly. Nobody cares. I could have done the job in half the time and had drawers that functioned just as well if I had used tongue and dado joinery. I think the only reason I did it back then was so I could pull out a drawer when friends and family came over and say, “Look! Dovetails!”Tongue and Dado Joint

They didn’t care.

Not long ago I was in Amana, Iowa and saw a pair of apothecary cabinets in an antique store. These cabinets were about 3-ft. wide by 6-ft. tall. They were full of drawers that were only a couple inches high. I pulled one of the drawers out, and guess what joinery they used? Tongue and dado. And here’s the clincher (pun intended): They used finish nails to reinforce the joints. I thought perhaps this had been done later as a repair but every single drawer was built this way. Imagine that! Craftsmen using nails in a fine piece. This inspired me so much I had to write an article about nails for ShopNotes No. 131 (page 12).

So, when I build drawers, I’ll more than likely use tongue and dado joinery. And nail them in addition to gluing them. Who besides me is going to notice?

Two Shops. Two Stools. Two Cups of Coffee.

CoffeeI am fortunate to have a friend (we’ll call him “Jim”) that shares a passion for woodworking, especially hand tools. We’re both tool junkies. We can’t pass up bargains for old tools at yard sales (they call them “garage” sales here in Iowa).

Jim and I often get together for a cup of coffee. No agenda. No purpose. Just to chat about our day and what we’re doing or would like to be doing in our shops. We’ll often meet at a local coffee shop. (We’ve just about tried them all — the baristas know us by our first names.) Sometimes we’ll meet in each other’s workshop.

Both of our shops have a pair of bench stools. And we each have ready access to a cup of coffee. So, you can find us just sitting in the shop with a coffee mug in our hands talking tools, our latest project, grandkids, or whatever else strikes our fancy. We talk about the latest techniques we used or learned on our latest project. Sometimes we’ll help each other build projects. Other times we’ll just sit there, look around, and talk about how we could better organize our shops or make them more efficient. Sometimes, we swap tools. And lies. Or talk about what we’re reading on our Kindles. Or be brutally honest with one another about some struggle in our lives.

I often spend time in my shop alone. It’s my therapy. Sometimes I’m not even working on a project. I’ll just spend time cleaning off my workbench. Or sweeping the floor. Or clamping a board in my bench vise and making shavings with a hand plane. Or just sit on my stool with a cup of coffee in my hand and think. It’s my time to contemplate. Refocus. Recharge. Relax.

But when Jim stops by, the other stool comes out, we refill our coffee cups, and chat. Just two old friends.

El Salvador Trip 2013 – Part 2

El Buen GustoMy wife and I have developed the tradition of going out on a date most every Friday evening. Sometimes it’s nothing more than getting an ice cream cone and taking a walk in the park. It’s our chance to reconnect after a busy week and something we really look forward to.

This latest Friday night, we had no particular place to go, so we just got in the car and started driving. Since my decision to travel to El Salvador with Tools for Opportunity, we had a lot to talk about as we drove. About 45 minutes later, we ended up in Perry, Iowa. We needed to fill up with gasoline, so I stopped at a local station. I asked a woman whether or not the town had any good restaurants. She recommended a Mexican place a couple blocks away. Turns out, there was a car show downtown so navigating was a challenge. We asked a young couple how to get there and found a place to park. As I got out of the car, I noticed what looked like a Mexican restaurant. But it wasn’t in the middle of the block as I had been told. So I strolled down the street. I found the Mexican restaurant. But I was intrigued by this other restaurant near our parking spot: El Buen Gusto. Restaurante Tipico Salvadoreno. Authentic Salvadoran Restaurant. What are the odds?

We walked in and had a seat in this cozy café. Our server, Melissa, was a native of El Salvador and was great in helping us decide what to order. For appetizers, we had pupusas with curtido and empanadas. Wikipedia says Salvadorans often use the term empanada to mean an appetizer or dessert made of plantains stuffed with sweet cream. The plantains are then lightly fried and served warm with a sprinkle of sugar. They also sometimes include red fried beans. We had both. They were quite tasty.Torta de Lenqua

For my main dish, I chose the Torta de Lengua. It’s basically a sandwich with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, radish slices, and mayo. Your choice of meat is chicken, pork, or…tongue. Yep. Beef tongue. And that’s what I ordered. The tongue had the texture and taste of roast beef. It was cooked in small cubes and was quite tender.

For dessert, we wandered through the cars on display downtown then stopped at Firehouse Ice Cream for a chocolate/vanilla twist.

What does this have to do with woodworking? Not a darn thing. Except that it’s one of many steps toward a venture to El Salvador to spend time with woodworkers.

Good Rules for Safety

As I was walking through the facilities at Fort Houston, I came across a sign posted on the doorway to the wood shop. My photo didn’t come out very clear, but here’s what it said:

NOTICE

As per the the Metro Fire Marshall, this space must maintain a level of cleanliness to ensure the safety and well being of those occupying this facility. Given the severity of the situation, the following wood shop policies will be enacted and enforced:

  • All work areas must be maintained and free of dust upon completion of task
  • For your convenience a shop vacuum and brooms will be provided
  • Tools must be cleaned after use
  • No wood shall remain in the wood shop
  • Any wood left in the wood shop for more than 24 hours will be disposed of without question
  • If found abusing equipment or not maintaining the shop upon completion of tasks, one is subject to suspension of shop privileges

Now if I can just make myself follow these rules in my own shop. Right now I’m looking at a suspension of shop priveleges.

Ready Safety Posters or You Might Be Missing Something

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.

Fort Houston Offers Creative Resources for Artisans

Earlier in August 2013, I had a chance to travel to Nashville, Tennessee. Somewhere about a half hour away from the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway, buried in an old warehouse district of Nashville, is a place called Fort Houston.

Fort Houston gets its name from its location in the Wedgewood-Houston district of Nashville. The old brick building they call their home used to be a hosiery factory.

Fort Houston was started by a couple of 20-something guys looking for ways to work on projects but lacking the proper equipment to do so. So they started a member-based organization that offers a wide variety of classes and resources for artisans with specific skills. And if you’re an artist willing to teach a class, you get a discount on your monthly membership fee. I was so very impressed with the collaboration and cooperative learning among artists of varying interests.

Here are two of several of the artists I met:

Jonathan Malphrus 

Michael Jones

JET Tools was so impressed with the work going on at Fort Houston, they donated a shop full of tools. Fort Houston also has a print shop and a wide open space for artisans to work on their projects at benches and tables. I can’t do it justice in trying to describe all that Fort Houston is and does. Their website provides a sketchy overview, but I recommend you “like” their facebook page to get a feel for the organization. I wish there were something like this in every city.

 

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.

Fixing Mistakes of an Inexperienced Woodworker

Some time ago I was asked to build a couple of tile-top end tables for a customer. She wanted them made from alder she had stored in her garage. I had never worked with alder, but I have to say, it’s a dream to work with hand tools.

After building the two tables and grouting the ceramic tiles for the tops, I applied several coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal to the base and top frame. I’m not one for staining or dyeing a finish unless the project warrants it or it’s figured wood.

This customer also had a tile-top coffee table that someone else had built for her. After she saw the beauty of the clear oil finish, she decided she’d like to have her coffee table refinished. This table was built by someone who was apparently new to woodworking. I’ll let the photos below tell the story. Check out the fit of the tenons in the mortises. And the uneven finish with runs and drips. The gap around the drawer front was large enough to drive a car through (can’t do much to fix that). The drawer box was so shabbily built that I’ll have to build a new one (I’ll use Baltic birch plywood).

I decided it would be quicker and easier to disassemble the table by cutting the aprons off, planing the finish off, then re-assembling the table.

JET Tools Targeting a Younger Audience

I had an opportunity recently to visit with JET/Powermatic in Nashville, Tennessee. They introduced a few new tools: Powermatic PM1000 Table SawJET 14″ Steel Frame Band Saw, and soon to come, a 10″ low-speed bench grinder and a couple of new midi lathes.

But what was most interesting was a chat I had with their engineer, Barry. He said that from a design perspective, they’re really paying attention to details and a potential buyer’s first impressions. He reiterated what others in the product design industry have noted: Your decision to buy or not to buy a product is really made within the first few seconds of seeing it.

JET tools are made overseas in Taiwan. Most manufacturers are content to paint the castings their company color right out of the foundry and call it “done.” JET is raising the bar by really paying attention to detail and aesthetics of their products. For example, he said that by simply spending $5 more for a quality metal knob instead of a cheap plastic knob can increase the perceived value of a tool by $100. That’s pretty impressive.

They’re also looking at the overall design and visual appeal of the tools in addition to their function and features. The 14″ band saw pictured here is one example. There are no exposed fasteners as you look at the front of the saw. The doors have pleasing curves rather than the bland square features of other saws. They’re little things but I have to agree that they leave a positive impression of the quality of the tool.

And JET isn’t forgetting about how well the tool works and functions. They’re paying attention to details that make a difference in how the tool performs. One striking example is as simple as the location of the dust ports on the new band saw. They’re located to catch the majority of sawdust before gumming up the tires on the wheels.

Finally, I learned that JET will be targeting a younger audience with its upbeat advertisements. They’re also tweaking the design of the JET logo and will be experimenting with the trademark white paint color. All in all, JET/Powermatic is investing heavily in the woodworking market and I’m very interested to see how they revamp their product lines in the coming months and years.