Ploughing ahead with the Veritas Small Plow Plane

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While in Toronto recently I scored a neat left handed plough* plane at the ridiculously well stocked Lee Valley store on South King Street (yes I am left handed so sue me…). It’s a sweet little thing the Veritas small Plough plane and comes standard with one blade, which is ¼” wide. There are four optional blades available that range from 1/8” through 3/8”, either individually or as a set. Alternatively you can have a set of blades in 1 mm increments from 4 mm to 10 mm (which was the set I went for).  The blades are constructed from A2 steel, hollow ground at 35° and I found them incredibly easy to bring to razor sharpness in just a few minutes with each on the 1000 grit them 6000 grit Toishi Ohishi water stones and Richard Kell jig that are my staple sharpening setup for small blades.

The small plough plane weighs in at 860 g (or 1 lb 14 oz in old money). The body and fence appear to be cast steel with all adjustment knobs being in knurled brass. What appears to be a black enamelled finish on the cast parts really makes the machined surfaces and the brass parts pop out visually. Rounding the look out is a nicely shaped bubinga (Guibourtia demeussi) handle. It’s a pretty little thing then.

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Setting this wee beastie up means adjusting the depth stop, the projection of the blade, and alignment of the blade with the outside wall of the skate. Setting the depth gauge, the fence and the depth of cut is straightforward. Each is adjusted with chunky, knurled knobs (ooh Matron…).The depth gauge mechanism uses a wave washer to provide a spring pressure against the stop when making adjustments. Despite some reviewers claiming the depth stop can be defeated, I found that it remained in position when challenged and is, therefore, able to be adjusted accurately: It tightens down securely. On the fence, one of the nice design features is the chamfered leading and trailing edges, which ensures that it does not catch on anything as you cut and return.

Veritas recommend a depth of cut between .005” – .020” depending on the hardness of the wood but in practice it is much more a case of taking a few test cuts and dropping the blade until a shaving is taken. I had this little plane taking up to 0.4 mm (0.015″) thick shavings quite quickly in some American Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) using zee beeg 10 mm blade. Nice.

One thing to note is that the plane throws the shavings toward your hand.  This drives some people nuts but I did notice that if you use the plane as intended: i.e. for a full, non stopped groove and you go fully to the end of that groove each time, the shaving detaches at the end of the groove and often falls into the gap between the blade and your off hand.

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 It is one thing to have a tasty bit of kit but using it well is quite another so these are my thoughts on how to get the best out of this little machine:

 – One: make sure all of your cutters are sharp. Just like any other hand tool, plow planes benefit from a sharp edge.

 – Two: set up the plane correctly so that you are taking a light cut without masses of effort.

 – Three: if there’s provision for it, fit a deeper fence face (the fence has two screw holes for just this purpose. It stops the plane tilting of vertical. If you are OCD make one from bubinga…

 – Four: wax the bottom of the skate and the inside edge of the fence (you have to take every little advantage you can). I have not seen this advice anywhere else for a plough plane but it made a definite difference to the amount of effort I was putting into each cut.

 – Five: hold and push it correctly: As I am left-handed, that hand does all the pushing. Take a tip from saw technique and point your forefinger (resting it on the blade stop adjuster); it naturally guides you straight and helps keep things vertical. Use you off-hand to keep the fence tight against the work. It is key you maintain this division of labour: Preferred hand pushes forward, off-hand keeps the fence hard against the edge of the work.

Finally, when using a plough plane, Sheryl Crow had it wrong; the first cut is certainly not the deepest.  Take the lightest, most careful cut you can, starting a short groove at the far end of the work then taking cuts roughly 3cm further back each time to extend its length. Why? Well, that very first 3 cm cut is the one that establishes your crisp shoulder – and you do know I like a crisp shoulder!

The only other thing to mention to achieve success with a plough plane is something that is actually nothing to do with the plane itself: choose the straightest grain timber you can: it saves fighting grain direction changes and much frustration.  This little plane can be made to work well even against the grain but why make life hard on yourself?

No more nasty electric spinning things to cut grooves for me then, just the soft swish of the plane along the groove.  Lee Valley have produced a great little plane: it is easy to use, produces great results with a little effort and looks great. Hog heaven.

– Paul Mayon

* As this is New English Workshop and not ‘The Woodwright’s Shop’ it’s a plough plane not a ‘plow’ plane OK?

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Metric Tool Chests

Chris Schwarz has posted the cutting lists for the Anarchist’s Tool Chest, the Travelling Tool Chest on his blog in imperial.  He has also published a cutting list in imperial for the Small Dutch Tool chest in the October 2013 edition of Popular Woodworking.  I don’t recall him ever putting out the dimensions in metric however.

For those of you on this side of the Atlantic who prefer to work in metric I have done the hard yards and converted all of the imperial sizes quoted to metric below. The conversions are exact but I would’t take any of the numbers beyond the decimal point too seriously: cut your parts to exact width but make the majority over length so that you can cut them to fit when you need to.

Just click on the image of the table below to obtain a full size version. If you are not attending one of New English Workshop’s courses with Chris this summer we hope you find the conversion below useful.

Now back to ripping some walnut.

– Paul Mayon

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Men At Work

…and so it begins…

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A couple of days ago a curtain-sider full of our material rocked up at Warwickshire College.  The students did an outstanding job of unloading two full pallet-loads of yellow pine which will in just a few weeks be turned into 18 Anarchist’s Tool Chests and 18 Dutch Tool Chests.

Thanks to all at the college who pitched in to help. That is a serious amount of timber to have to shift.

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Schuweet.

 

– Paul Mayon

The Baddest Axe…

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Time waits for no man and it is just five weeks before the first New English Workshop Course begins at Warwickshire College with Chris Schwarz. We are proud that Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works has donated one of his finest sash saws to the Anarchist’s tool chest that Chris will make and will be auctioned off by David Stanley Auctions with proceeds going to the college.

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We spoke with Mark who explained: ‘Excellence is not optional at Bad Axe. When you purchase one of our saws, you’ll take delivery on a traditional, hammer-set saw tailored to your personal aesthetic and tuned in conformance with your woodworking style. When nothing but the very best will do–we deliver’.

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From looking at and taking a few test cuts with this beautiful sash saw it bears out every word of what Mark says. Just check out the gallery…then visit Bad Axe Tool Works to check out their fabulous range.

– Paul Mayon

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Finishing

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Question: What is the one thing we could (and should) all do that would make us all better woodworkers?

It isn’t greater knowledge:  The world (and the especially the virtual world) are chock full of knowledge that is easier to access than ever before.

It isn’t planning: For sure planning is important.  Planning makes sure you place your cross cuts on a board so that the grain wraps around the carcass when you are making a case piece. Planning ensures you have the right tools and it stops you picking projects beyond your skill level. But it doesn’t make your technique one iota better.

It isn’t necessarily practice either: Often people practice skills that simply reinforce bad habits, poor posture and sloppy skills. Practice alone won’t do it for you (but we should all practice good technique and create ‘practice’ pieces).

No; If I could point to one single thing that will make a difference to your skill level it would not be any of those things.  I bet all of us plan what we are going to do (how long is your ‘to do’ list?). All of us without exception seek out knowledge by doing research on the web, reading magazines, books and articles.  We all spend moons looking at the latest and greatest shiny tools (go on – tell me you don’t with a straight face)…

The one thing that will make each and every one of us a better woodworker is consistent execution. Not planning, not reading (not even this blog!), but cutting, planing, sanding, oiling and painting piece after piece after piece….

if you want to be better at this craft (as we all do). Add up how many things you completed last year.  it will give you a great idea of how far you progressed your skills.

– Paul Mayon

 

‘Campaign Furniture’ – by Chris Schwarz

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I am fortunate enough to live about ten miles from Christopher Clarke Antiques which is one of the very few dealers in proper, original campaign furniture in the world. I can regularly be found leaving nose marks on the windows there whilst looking at the gorgeous pieces he has for sale. In short; I am a fan of campaign furniture so when I see that Lost Art Press has published a book and it is written by Chris Schwarz on campaign furniture it ticks all of the boxes.

Chris is one of the very few authors writing on any element of woodworking who does the ‘hard yards’ due diligence of proper, detailed research on his subject: His latest book; ‘Campaign Furniture’ is no exception and Chris has once again shone a penetrating light into an area of the craft that has, undeservedly, received almost no attention in recent years. Schwarz travelled extensively in search of first-hand source material for this book (including at least one transatlantic trip to Chris Clarke’s). The effort shows: The result is that ‘Campaign Furniture’ is crammed full of high quality content that shows serious scholarship.

I obtained my copy a few weeks ago and, due to my crazy schedule, was not able to sit down and read it properly until now. I wish I had. Why? Because my first thought when I read it was ‘Why hasn’t anyone written a book like this before?’

Whether you intend to make any campaign furniture or not, once you have read this book you will begin to see campaign furniture in a whole new light. The style is abundant, influential, robust in the extreme, looks great in almost any setting, modular and is relatively easy for less skilled woodworkers to make. Once you realise this you will probably find yourself asking ‘Why don’t I have any campaign furniture in my home?’

Chris takes us on a concise tour of the origin and development of the style which sets the scene nicely for what is the real core of the book and Schwarz doing what he does best: walking you through the bones of an an old or forgotten style and translating it into something relevant and new that you want to start building right now.

Once we have been whisked through the history of the style Schwarz takes us through a selection of timbers it was made from (including the epic quantities of mahogany that were used up whenever The British Empire tooled up for a tussle overseas). A surprising range was used however including still-non-endangered species such as Oak, Walnut and (occasionally) Birch which show up in the historical record.

The book covers the anatomy of chests, secretaries, camp stools, chairs, trunks, desks, (intentionally!) collapsible bookshelves and travelling bookcases. In fact, I defy anyone who reads this book not to find a piece that they would not personally find useful somewhere in their home. These dissections are invaluable in enabling interested parties to make pieces themselves.

The book’s core strength is Schwarz’ translation of what the record shows of the form and techniques used to build these pieces into explanations of how to build in this style and pointing out the pitfalls before we arrive at them during a build. I was particularly impressed with Chris’s explanation of the hardware that is the signature of the case pieces of this style. He goes to great trouble to explain the various ways in which it was made originally and the many ways in which it is made now (cast, pressed and extruded are all included). Given that Schwarz is not an engineer by trade he does a creditable job of getting the details of hardware manufacturing right. Usefully, we get several variations on how to successfully fit various types of hardware using hand and power tools.

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All of this scholarly effort would be for nothing if it were dull to read but Schwarz’ prose is always a pleasure to read: the high quality content is there for sure, the style is easy (though he sometimes challenges the way you think about making) and he is, on occasion, laugh-out-loud funny (read p61-62 on extruded hardware to see why).

The book is beautifully illustrated throughout with both black & white and colour images. It has a thorough index, a source list for hardware and a well-chosen list of further reading. The book is Smyth-sewn and cloth bound in the traditional Lost Art Press style; the only adornment being gold blocking on the cover which echoes campaign hardware.

The best compliment that I can pay Chris and the team at Lost Art Press is that it set me in motion on a campaign build of my own and I’d like to thank them for that. This book needed to be written – thank goodness it was Chris Schwarz and Lost Art Press who did it.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

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I thought of titling this post ‘Why you don’t need a planer thicknesser or a gym membership’ but it didn’t seem quite as snappy. I spent the majority of the day getting stock to thickness traversing boards with my trusty L-N 5 1/2 jack.  No sane professional would do this as sane professionals own a planer-thicknesser and have a gym membership.  Do I need to workout? Nope.  Traversing with my jack and then taking passes lengthways using the freight train that is my L-N No.8 Jointer (weighing in at 4.54 kg or 10 lbs for those of an imperial persuasion) is workout enough for a couple of hours.

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I blame myself: I insisted on buying rough sawn stock from the affable David and Andy at Interesting Timbers in Radstock near Bath.  I first broke it down last weekend with my big, nasty Disston D8 (note: no beard, no check shirt…).  I had picked up the Cherry for this box and had also spied some really lovely Elm lying unloved at the bottom of a stack. It is worth the trip as David really does always have something worth having.  I just don’t drive a truck big enough…

Back to the box: taking the sides to size was reasonable enough (as you have sen these are already completed) as I was going from 25 mm (1″) thick stock down to 19 mm (3/4″) but, the top and bottom of the box needed to be much thinner: 10 mm for the bottom, 9 mm for the top.

I set my jack for a very heavy cut across the board and this was the result: really chunky shavings. The board thickness came down very quickly thanks to the blade setting and by keeping the sole well waxed (you do wax your sole don’t you?).  I made sure to use my little block plane to keep a chamfer on the long edges to prevent spelching and to regularly rotate the board as it is easy to take more of the far edge than the near one.

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Next I will be cutting the grooves for the lid and the base to sit in. Back to making some goulash with Debrenecer sausage…

– Paul Mayon