30 December 2013

The quality of cheap

Where expensive planes are to be used as such,  really cheap planes or worn antiques are more open to more drastic interventions.  In this case I look at sole flatness.

When I look at the definition of the relief angle of a plane blade (in this case drawn by Ron Hock, angle d), I may search how far I want to extend the relief. More with a thick Hock blade of course,  but is 2" even better? That's because if I consider planing over a knot,  the harder knot will push the plane up after being cut, reducing the pressure on the mouth and create a shadow zone behind the knot where I expect planing to be less perfect.
Looking at a Leonard Lee drawing about lapping,  he seems to accept an extension of the relief up to the heel of the plane. As only three small zones: at the toe,  the mouth and the heel need to be included in lapping
The idea of unflattened soles can be found back in discussions about the sole geometry of high performance Japanese planes.  The advantage is also that less downward force is needed to maintain the same amount of pressure on the mouth.

That's the theory, for the practice Caspar Labarre from Amsterdam did a few posts on the subject on woodworking.nl
Looking at his pictures one can see that he files away a minimal amount of aproximately 0.1mm (4 thou) on 50% of the sole,   in between the toe and the mouth and by extending the relief up to halfway the heel.  The picture shows, what I think is, a set of cheap Anant planes fine tuned to be on par with the best planes.
After filing the planes are carefully lapped.  As half the sole is already removed this goes faster and that is good for the precision.  He proposes to lap on a narrow band of sandpaper as wide as the sole.  By this the sandpaper has an even wear over its full width and that makes a perfectly flat sole more likely.

27 November 2013

Building a Tardis

With the fiftieth anniversary of the Dr Who series the Tardis has still full attention.

Having been in Great Britain, even before I understood English, I remember my first tea party on a cold stormy day in Plymouth bay (upon checking on Google maps I see it's a estuary. That explains the strong tidal currents). It must have been in 1973 as we could see the newly launched Golden Hint. We started from Drake Island with our kayaks on a high sea,  luckily covered by the bay so the top of the waves were not breaking.  After paddling for some time, and me and others being nervous as the kayaks were flat bottomed and did not keep their direction, we stopped on a beach for what I thought was a meal,  but no they started a stove as it was tea time. The meal came a few hours later as corned beef on sliced bread and some orange colored water.

That's the tea aspect in English life back then. So it is surprising for me to see people in the current Dr Who series act more like adrenaline junkies.  The project is therefore not so much a Tardis thing but rather a Mackenzie Trench-style police box project. I see police boxes mainly as tea houses,  something allowing to put a Bobby a full day on the streets by offering him a place to have tea breaks.

Mackenzie Trench-style police box is interesting as architecture and through its style,  it remembers me for example the house of my grandfather.  I also see some similitudes with old 17th century Dutch tea houses even if they are a little bigger and mostly circular. Seeing a similitude probably shows that human imagination is boundless

The project
Just a Mackenzie Trench-style police box, but simpler, smaller and no concrete and as it is an inside project half of it to become a closed bookshelf. I am not going to put anything on paper beforehand, so I plan to make it piece by piece:
- start with the two side columns
- add the sides
- the top?
- the doors (similar to the sides but hinged)
- the interior
- the base and fitting (that should be the Tardis part of the project)

By absence of plans anything that doesn't fit will be eliminated.

11 November 2013


I visited Diksmuide this summer with the kids.  The western front is nearing it's hundred anniversary so it is getting more attention.  In Ypres the daily Last Post bugle call gets nowadays flooded by tourists as if it was the change of the guard at Buckingham palace.  It's not for the show,  it's for the dead. So promised I 'll stay away until 2019.  Just the 1770 Ferraris map,  showing wet moats,  bastions,  and all that, also the kind of sight that attracts French kings for their summer vacation with the support of 20.000 man, ... got it Louis XIV in April 1678.  These are more the improvements made by Vauban afterwards.

I made two panoramic pictures of the view of Diksmuide.  The first is a panoramic painting of how it looked like in 1918, with its very close trenches,  the other the same thing today.  It looked wet,  and it was done on purpose as these are polders and the sluices were used the wrong way around during the war.  The idea of sea level is different in Belgium and Netherlands.  Where here it is the average low tide (everything that gets dry) en in the Netherlands it was the average high tide in Amsterdam (everything that gets wet) AP, setting the polders deeper there.  Over the years the sea has raised and the land lowered (dryer land shrinks and stops being a mire, making it lose its top layer) setting the NAP marking just under the average sea level now.

I found some older woodworking pictures showing all the woodworking present during the war.  Nowadays the wood is gone and the sandbags replaced by, more sturdy but military inappropriate, concrete bags. A pair of then and now pictures taken at de dodengang trenches, it translates in death row but there must be a more appropriate term,  it had a high mortality rate due to the extreme closeness of the opposing forces.  The trenches themselves show a succession of fall back positions.  The enemy coming most likely from the flank.

If I had a picture of the beachhouse of S.M. le Roi in a previous post.  This time a picture of him and his wife during a visit to the trenches.  I didn't remember her being that small when I saw her,  but hen I was at best six year old.

Dug out
The English covered their positions with dug outs,  many of them still exist. Dug Outs are large and deep shelters and for what I could see made mainly out of 2x4s. They allow troops to shelter from heavy artillery fire prior to an attack.  A dug out has been recreated in the museum,  but recent research for the real thing can be found on youtube. As these are polders,  there was much pumping involved.

I backdated the post to the armistice,  thinking it is more appropriate than 30 November.

01 October 2013


After choosing the title to stay close to the previous scythe post, I more or less checked in a dictionary,  it's ok.  After being scythed, I scythed the grass,  staying away of a part held by wasps. The result is certainly bested by anything I saw on youtube. 

For the rest moles had already attacked the grass from the underside making me dig earth time and again.

I therefore took more sharpening stops than normal. As I only nail-tested the blade after sharpening, I am still uncertain if that many stops were needed. But hey, it's a rest and while sharpening you make more noise than working.
The whole idea of letting the grass grow during the summer is to increase the biodiversity and to offer a natural habitat to moles, rabbits, mice, ants and even wasps.
Oh yes, oaks!  In the process I did not only cut grass, but downed a dozen of young oaks. I nearly felt like the Valiant Little Tailor.  I have no intention to let oaks reconquer their early medieval habitat. So as much as letting grass grow, cutting meadows maintains biodiversity.

30 September 2013

Frame saw

If I had a series about the tool hoarder cave,  this would be part of it.

It all started with Paul Sellers workbench height call. He favors heigh benches and he has a point.  But then I looked at Roubo and I found a height of around 2 1/2 French feet,  or better le haut des cuisses, the top of the thighs. Roubo has probably a point too. One, le haut des cuisses is just under the protruding hip bone,  and if you have a tendency to lean against the workbench it's maybe a good idea.  Two, in Roubo's days sawing is done by hand, and talking of furniture makers he says that it is their only expertise,  so for them a workbench is mainly a frame saw bench.  The bench probably needs to be a saw length high, that can be 28", but nothing more.  Making frame saws in Europe is today mainly a German business but to my regret no blog or youtube bothers to promote the frame saw tradition.  All I can find is some old French and Swedish archives.

The next step was to look elsewhere like China. In 1982 FWW published an article by Jason Beebe about the successful  'search of one of the three or four remaining masters of traditional Chinese woodworking' in Thailand and talking saws 'I had heard that such saws could perform faster than a bandsaw, and I found that to be true except for large-scale 90° production cuts.'

As the magic is apparently Chinese the next step was, short of traveling to China, to buy one of these Chinese saws.  I found one of 40cm (16") under the Mujingfang brand .

I only know ECE frame saws, compared to these the saw is more elegant but less clever in concept and finish,  the bolts were for example slipping on the wood when tensioning.  The blade is a different story,  it cuts like nothing I have seen before. I got in crosscut 1" out of every stroke on a 7/8" thick oak board, same for ripcut. As far as I can see it is made of blue spring steel of 0.4mm thick, that's half the thickness of my ryoba. The problem was that it cuts to the left.  As I couldn't see any set, I started by setting the saw.  To see something on the dark steel I painted every other tooth white and gave it a minimal set.  I had to add a little more set on the right side to make the saw cut straight.

Now that the teeth are set the saw feels more aggressive,  as if the number of teeth has been halved by setting. A less aggressive resharpening is maybe necessary. For now it is a saw for champions and unusable by me for precise work.   A frame saw has its own character as the center of the blade is the least stable. When sawing it is best to not linger in the center and to go for a full stroke.

Galoot-tools.com has a small section about Chinese woodworkers.  Two pictures include battered Chinese workbenches.  Those benches are low and have sides covered by sawmarks.  Low benches are here maybe for the saw but it could be chosen for axwork or to solve clamping-holding problems.

27 September 2013


Where usualy buying online means getting the package even before I have time to regret my consumerism,  this time the whole procedure took a month or two.  The grass didn't wait and looks more like a felt structure than something mowable and I am  now the puzzled owner of a long scythe blade.

A scythe is not only a blade but also a snath (shaft).  Internet offers a few possibilities. The Eastern European traditional snath, with like for the traditional drummer grip one hand down and one up.  Still the most used scythe.  The Central European snath, with a longer central grip used two hands down, the scythe of the youtube champions. And then here local variations, although the curved snath, similar in use to the previous model, seem to dominate on internet.

But nothing on youtube or the internet about the snath of my short bladed scythe.  It's a three point grip scythe like the one pictured right (Zeis en Sikkel '79) by Gerrit Noordzij.  I don't see any reason to switch so that's the one I used. The only point of attention is the need of a high angle between snath and blade.
A three point grip just looks like a poorly mounted Central European snath,  with the wooden elbow rest at the top as sole difference. Maybe it is just that and the whole concept was created out of ignorance.

To put the scythe to work it has to be sharpened.  It's a two step process where the edge of the blade is hardened (cold forged) with a hammer and then sharpened with a stone. For hammering I have to choose again, as I found a few options:  A narrow hammer and large anvil,  a narrow anvil and normal hammer,  a dedicated side punch or some modernist rolling mechanism

My short blade scythe after seeing some rough action, trimming a disregarded medieval garden, earlier this month. I hammered a few dents back in line afterwards.  

The garden 'after', when it's done it's too late for the 'before' picture. The oversized tree is in the center of a circle, surrounded by four sections covered by grass, possibly representing the four seasons.  When it comes to medieval symbolism I am an analphabet. Ora et labora, build as a place to pray and work.

29 August 2013

Who's that man?

Last week I was in Italy.  Looking, from the St.Peter square, to the apostle statues on the facade I saw St.Andrew.  At that distance one of the few saints easily identifiable by a large X cross.  For the rest ... St.Thomas holding a lance, that's the second or third  on the right hand side?
But where is St Peter?  He normally holds keys. He should have been there,  so maybe the early Benchcrafted Criss Cross description gets things right, a X cross is a St Peter's cross and he's there standing on the left (?) hand side.

Once I got back to the real thing (that's on-line) I was able to sort things out.  I found the site of the place: It's St.Andrew.

As for St.Peter he's standing in front of the building with St.Paul. The statue of St. Peter is 5.55m in height, on a pedestal 4.91m high.  That's 35 feet high and I missed it.  I should have made the effort to cross the square.

My favorite part of Rome are the 7 Egyptian obelisks.  The one on the square (1835 BC, moved to Rome in 37 BC) is in some ways the least impressive as it is devoid of hieroglyphs.  Taking a closer look at my picture of the obelisk, the statue of St.Peter is visible on top of the black screen more to the right.

01 August 2013

How did Roubo do

After letting Roubo outsource his massive mortises to carpenters in the previous post,  I discovered a different idea reading the Lostartpress blog.  Chris Schwarz drilled then saw his mortises with a jigsaw and finished with a chisel.

Jigsaw joinery can be fun, fast and sometimes appropriate. For example used in exterior structures like guardrails. The tenons are in this case best cut on the spot and mortises come where tenons end. I made a test piece a few years back while developing my technique, from right to left.
  1. first try with a circular saw and chisel but the tenon is all jigsaw as it involves upwards diagonal cuts
  2. drilled through with jigsaw 
  3. stopped with a short jigsaw sawblade and drawbored
  4. No. 3 is ok, more of that
  5. angled 
Back to Roubo,  I don't expect that he used a jigsaw but a frame saw is a good idea for a through mortise.  Looking at plate 12 fig.5,13,14 we can see a scie à tourner a frame saw with a 1/2" blade.  After drilling a hole it is quite easy for a trained professional to cut out the mortise to the line.  If the Vagnmakeri på Söder movie from 1932 is an indication (at 15:00) it will take only a few minutes to do the sawing .

Nowadays it is uncommon to find through mortises in a bench top. Probably with reason as seeing for example tenons come and go through the top with seasonal changes offers little added value.  Up to now I have two reasons to do it: It is sturdier,  Roubo for example wedges the tenons at the top.  It is easier to make,  by lack of a chain mortiser or something similar through mortises are sometimes simpler.

31 July 2013


After seeing on the web the making of a number of Roubo inspired benches,  I was curious to know how they were made in Roubo's days.  So I took a look in a book about charpentiers, those who deliver the heavy timber work.  The next two pictures are from an old french book Le théatre de l'art de charpenterie by Mathurin Jousse.  The text is from the 1607 edition,  the picture from a later revised 1702 edition.

Listed are the mortising tools
  • 7. La bezague: to cut and straighten tenons and mortises
  • 8. La jauge: gauge to draw the mortise
  • 9. La tariere: to drill the mortises, 13 or 14 lines wide.  The line is 1/12 of a pouce, close to 1/11 of a 1959-inch.  
  • 10. Les lacerets: smaller 8 lines drills for smaller mortises or to fix by drawboring standard tenons.
  • 11. Ciseaux:  Chisels to start the mortises.
The bezague is called bisaiguë nowadays and has probably a Latin root bisacutus - although the idea of a two sided spear would have been Greek for them.  It was apparently the main tool to cut mortises as chisels are only used to start and once a reference surface is created the rest of the mortice is parred-hacked away. The one on the picture is a long over the shoulder model, weights 4.5kg (10#) with a paring chisel of 50mm (2") on one side and a mortise chisel of 15mm on the other.

The picture of Juliette Caron shows that shorter models were used over the elbow.

The halved version is a demi-bisaiguë; stossaxt, stichaxt ... in German and more common and cheaper than his bigger brother.  I see it as a slick with a twist,  as the handle is not only useful for pushing but also to twist when hacking away wood.

So a carpenters bisaiguë for Roubo's bench?  Maybe,  the workshop of plate 11 with it's high ceiling is clearly made by carpenters,  did they stop there?  The workbench is described as traditional, and shows not much variation over the trades. Roubo's improvement is to put a shoulder to the back of the leg to avoid that the legs pass over time too easily through the bench top.  Talking about resawing he proposes to avoid it, as resawers are three times faster than other woodworker trades in sawing, it's possible he thinks the same about carpenters and that they are also able to make a bench three times faster than most woodworkers do.

18 July 2013

Roubo: établir le bois

Looking at Roubo's planche 5  I could see a number of cabalistic signs used to mark pieces of wood.  Marking is called by Roubo établir le bois, it's also in the Littré, a landmark 1870 dictionary.

A is for side styles where B,C, D, E is for rails and is in usage close to the classic triangle marking. H is a cut line and I is a corrected cut line.  As I have some problems with understanding F and G,  I looked at a more recent French work of the sixties by René Rombauts who describes them as signes d'établissement.  The same markings are used but this time in context,  showing that it's a mix of a triangle and an arrow.

The markings I learned during a course are different, the style markings are the other way around, the arrow has a bottom more like in Roubo but no center line.