Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life.

Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life. Sunset at Telegraph Point.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Joys of Old Tools

Following the Lazarus-like re-birth of the old Sorby paring chisel, I would like to follow up with a couple of other gems that have crossed my path in recent weeks.

One of the most useful hand tools in the workshop is the jack plane - usually represented by a cast iron version of Stanley's number 5 bench plane.  These were made in their thousands by numerous manufacturers from Sargent to Record, Millers Falls and Turner, to name a few.

The traditional jack plane has a generous mouth, rugged construction  and a radiused blade to shave off thick shavings.  Once set up, it can quickly dimension timber without dust or noise.

Here is a perfect example of what is highly desirable in a plane of this sort.  Made by Carter Australia, it has a thick casting, solid frog, thick blade and tough hardwood handles.  The picture above shows it as found, before it was cleaned and fettled.

One of the best kept secrets of Australian made hand planes, is the quality of the blades made by Carter. Thicker than the equivalent Stanley blade, and of excellent steel, this blade is a great partner for the plane that will wield it.  Re-ground with a bevel that has a 10 inch radius, and then honed sharp, the blade is ready for work.

Here it has been used to shape a wide chamfer - quicker than setting up and cutting on a table saw.
Too many new number 5 hand planes are not the workhorses that they should be, because they are too expensive and too full of bling.  For this reason they are often treated as the princesses of the workshop, instead of the tradesmen that they are.
Carter handplanes - primadonnas they are not.

The other workhorses of carpentry and cabinetry are hand saws.
Because of the availability of cheap power tools over the last ten years, few woodworkers now reach for a hand saw.  Further to this, there is a general ignorance of handsaws among casual woodworkers, to the point that all handsaws look the same.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are two old hand saws that are  similar to those seen frequently on Ebay and at Sunday markets.
The indicators that these are not just any old saws are staring us in the face.  It starts with the handles.
The first is an Atkins Perfection saw - indicated by the embossed handle.  This was the top of the Atkins range of saws and a masterpiece of the sawmakers art.

The second has no branding except Warranted Superior on the medallion.  The handle says it is a quality saw from one of the premier saw makers.  The smooth curves, the lack of flatness in the sides of the handle and the wheat carving on the timber which looks like fruitwood (maybe apple) - all point to a superior product.  This one resembles a Simonds 10-1/2 skew back.

These two saws deserve a fresh opportunity to do what they do best - cut timber in the hand of someone who cares.

The blades are most in need of attention.

These are very hard steel and won't be affected by the abrasive action of a wire brush.

It is a much better choice than sandpaper, which scores the surface of the sawplate.

All of the rust and scale need to be removed so that the saw can pass cleanly through timber without jagging.

Once cleaned and oiled to prevent further rusting, both of these saws need sharpening and setting.

The Atkins is a 7 point cross cut saw, while the Simonds is an 11 point panel saw, filed cross cut as well.

The handles have had a thin coat of boiled linseed oil - to prevent the timber from drying out and cracking.

Both have tapered blades -  something done to the shaping of the best quality hand saws - and of which, manufacturers were most proud.

The Warranted Superior / Simonds Saw has no etch.  The Atkins Perfection saw has a clear etch - still visible after cleaning from under all that crud.
Hand saws generally are the poor cousins of used tools in the market place, as there is such a small demand for them.  Hence they are often sold cheaply.
Woodworkers should jump at the opportunity to snap up these beautiful old masterpieces, before everyone realises how valuable they really are.

Learning to use and care for hand tools is one of life's great pleasures, and it adds immeasurably to the joy of woodworking.

Happy woodworking to all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy Australia Day

January 26 is our national day, and is a day for citizenship ceremonies, and for reflecting on what a wonderful country we have, and are a part of. We have a population from many diverse backgrounds and ethnic origins, and we all do our best to thank and honour the way that these are shaping our national consciousness.
As I look back on the changes that I have seen in my life, I am pleased with some - and yet I have a tinge of regret about other things that we have lost along the way.
If we take woodworking as one simple example - we have almost lost the self sufficiency of manufacturing, that was such a big part of post World War Two re-construction.

This is a small sampling from my own workshop of tools that were made during that period.  It was tools such as these that built Australia during the 1940's, 50's and 60's.

Here are a pair of planes made by Carter Tools Pty Ltd of NSW - a number 5 jack plane and a C1 rebate plane.  These are rugged old workhorses that are well made and have excellent blades. They serve me well.

Wooden plane manufacturing occurred for a time - and in NSW, Bergs Tools Aust used local hardwoods to produce a range of traditional European handplane designs.

We still have one quality wooden handplane maker in Alstonville NSW.  Terry Gordon has been hand making beautiful planes like this smoother for many years, and his planes are highly sought after.

I pay tribute to Terry Gordon on Australia Day in 2013.
One aspect of both planemakers is the quality of the steel used in the blades.

Bergs - at least mine anyway - show no branding (and Terry does not brand his either) but are excellent steel and hold a sharp edge well.

The Silex brand was marketed by Howard F Hudson Pty Ltd of NSW, and included many cast iron and steel handtools such as these.

These were everyday builders' and carpenters' hand tools, and there would have been very few tool boxes that didn't have at least one Silex product in them.

Here are a sliding bevel, a square and a dowelling jig.

Another indispensable tool that every builder treated with the care shown to cut glass crystal, was his builders level.  This is one of the most common - the Cowley Automatic Level.
It came with its own tripod, measuring staff and sighting crossbar.  Measurement was in feet and inches of course.  I have built two homes and done dozens of renovations with this one.

Of course, it wasn't long before Stanley began manufacturing in Australia as well.   True to their  proven formula of buying out their opposition, they soon acquired many of the smaller Australian hand tool manufacturers.

As well, they manufactured their own products in country.

This was my very first hand drill.  All I had until my first electric drill - a venerable Lightburn - also made in Australia.

One of the great success stories of Australian tool manufacturing was the The Titan Manufacturing Co Pty Ltd of Tasmania.  Titan chisels are highly sought after today by both craftsmen and collectors alike, and they hold their own very well against the current crop of manufactured tools from around the world.

Registered firmer chisels are not very popular these days, as bevelled edge chisels have largely supplanted them as the most versatile bench chisel style.  Nonetheless, they are still manufactured by Trent Powrie under the Harold and Saxon label.  I think that he was inspired in one of his designs by these traditional Titan firmers.

 While not strictly woodworking tools, spanners and socket sets made by Siddons were a byword for the highest quality in automotive tools.  Sidchrome tools found their way into almost every Holden or Falcon owner's toolkit.
These days we have access to high quality hand tools from around the world, but I know that lots of Australian woodworkers still use those tools that were made back in the good old days.

Thanks for walking this little tour of amnesia lane with me.
Have a very happy Australia Day

...and happy woodworking to all.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

That Chisel ......

The blade is finished and needs a handle.

White mahogany is an Australian eucalypt species that grows around these parts, and I think that this is a piece from one of these neighbourhood natives.

Roughing down to a cylinder on the lathe isn't terribly exciting, but the transformation to useful handle certainly is.

This is a large blade and will require an appropriately large handle.

I really must invest in a longer tool rest one of these days

I've made this handle longer than what is usual for most bench chisel handles, as I want the extra length for finer control at the blade end when using it for paring.

I have a brass ferrule that will fit the tang end to prevent any possible splitting. The hardwood handle is strong enough to take mallet blows when necessary.

A coat of bees wax and a quick polish with a handful of shavings, and the shape is complete.

Here is the finished article:

A good test of any chisel's degree of sharpness - is in the paring of endgrain.
This one isn't too bad at all:

It may not be pretty, but it is no longer the near reject that it first appeared to be.

Happy woodworking to all.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pre-Owned and Pre-Loved

Since my last post, I have been asked many times where did I find the pre-loved tools that I use.  I would love to be able to say that they were passed down through my father.  Sadly, I only have his hand saw - a Warranted Superior 26 inch 8 point cross cut. It is very much like a D-8 and was probably made by Disston.  And I love using it.

Others, I have found in all sorts of places.  Garage and boot sales, Sunday Markets,  second hand and bric-a-brac stores, online and other auctions - to name a few.

It helps enormously to have a working knowledge of hand tools before looking.  Familiar names of quality tool makers, and the styles of their construction are a walk up start.  Often you can recognise a quality nameless tool because of its obvious parentage.

Here is a little gem that I found today - pre-owned but definitely not pre-loved.

Sad, isn't it.  If you saw it on the street you would probably step over it.  But .......  made by Robert Sorby, and in a useful and rare size 1-3/4 inches wide, this chisel was worth trying to save.

First step was to get rid of the rust and scale, and see what damage to the steel lurked beneath.

Hmmm ... lots of pitting to both sides.  Pitting on the top is ugly and deep - but is only cosmetic, pitting on the bottom is a real problem.  At this stage, the back is so bad that only the bottom half will be given help, as this is where all the cutting action will take place.


The pitting is quite deep here, and to hand flatten this would take days.  I used an electric linisher with quite coarse grit to begin the flattening, keeping the blade cool during the process so as not to affect the temper of the steel.

Here is the back of the blade after  introducing it to the linisher.  A big improvement, but the scoring from the coarse grit now needs to be removed. Also, the cutting edge has been radiused in the past for some reason and has a distinct roundness.  I don't want this rounding, and will grind the edge back to square.  This will necessitate re-grinding the bevel as well.                                                Many modern woodworkers now approach the back flattening, by working their way through four, five or even six ever-finer grits.
I don't believe that this would have been the practice for craftsmen in the era of these tools.  It simply would have taken too long, and I'm not even sure that such a range of grinding grits was available to them in any case.

 I am using only two stones.  The first is a commonly available at any hardware store combination oil stone - coarse/fine.  First, the coarse side.  This is used to begin removing the linisher lines and also to shape the bevel.

 Next, the finer of the two sides of the stone.  To lubricate, I use a kerosene/oil mix of around 5/1. Works well for me, and doesn't clog the stone.  

Once again I work on the back and the bevel, but this time I add a micro bevel. I have become accustomed to the position of my hand and wrist relative to the stone when doing this, and I do it now from muscle memory without checking.  I guess this is the benefit from hand sharpening a few thousand times over the last forty years.  It would be an advantage to anyone starting out to use a bevel guide.

Finally, I use a very fine white arkansas stone that was passed down to me from my wife's father.  It is very hard and very fine.  Same lubrication as before.
And that's it.  The blade is good enough to use and will cut well.

Of course the chisel needs a handle, and this piece of local Eucalypt will be suitable.  I don't know what species - maybe white mahogany, but it is sturdy timber and I know it will turn well.   I'll have to leave that until another day.  

This same process can be followed in resurrecting all chisels.  Saws and planes are another matter, and I'll address those in the near future.

Happy woodworking to all.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Some Old Things Are Lovely .............

One of the great realisations in woodworking, is knowing that we stand on the shoulders of giants as we ply our craft.

Centuries of practice in the application of woodworking principles, and the selection of the tools developed for this purpose, are there for us to utilise.

It is one thing to go through the motions with the tools and the techniques, it is quite another to feel, and be, part of the tradition as we work.  We could say that the process is as important as the product - but it is more than that, it is as though we become part of something more than ourselves by participating.

Now, before you think I've completely flipped, look at it from one simple perspective (- there are many).

Take a hand-tool and perform a task - say a hand saw - and the task is to rip a piece of timber to the width you want.  Once you are cutting, and the rhythm of the saw stroke is underway, you can physically, mentally and emotionally be in the zone.
Nothing matters at that moment, as the cadence of the work takes over.  Like a runner and the road - It is, to run!
- It is, to saw!

This is a task that has been repeated thousands - if not millions of times - before you picked up the saw.

Let's add another ingredient.  What if the saw you are using is one that has performed the task many times before - by you and by whoever owned the saw before you - your father, grandfather, some other craftsman.

 You are physically in touch with those people through their sweat, and the grime of use in the handle.  Yours is added to it. The saw stores all of this as a part of its story.  You are simply the latest chapter.

The same thing happens with your use of any hand tool.  It is what makes using old hand tools such an epiphany.

Here is a quite old hand plane.  It has no maker's mark. It has little value to collectors because of this.  If it were a Mathieson, or a Preston, a Malloch, a Bailey or a Norris - it would be highly desirable to acquire and display.  But it's not.  Yet, to me, this plane has more of the essence of what it is to be a craftsman, because it was made by the one who first used it.  It not only has acquired some of the owner's perspiration, it owes its very existence to the creativity of that unknown man. And he built upon the ideas of others as he fashioned it.

He constructed a roughing plane from a single block of timber, and added a front horn and rear handle.  Maybe as an apprentice, he bought the blade and built the plane around it - a common enough occurrence.

 It has a generous mouth, a single iron radiused blade, and a comfortable handle for ease of use.

While I'm not sure what it is, the timber is quite lovely.

The blade was made by Pearson of Sheffield, and co-incidentally a laminated iron by Henry Boker of Germany also fits it well.

Now, when I use this plane, everything just comes together - the tempo of planing, the sounds and smells of the the timber giving up its shavings, the smoothness of the surface and the pulse of the planing action through the body.  Of course there's more  - it's as though there is a collective presence in the act of planing, of which I am a part. In a sense - we plane!

 I don't know if any other woodworkers experience it as I do.  Perhaps it is my practice of using pre-owned and pre-loved hand tools that triggers these thoughts, perhaps I'm just a little loopy.
What I do know is the joy of woodworking.

D.H. Lawrence
“Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.”
D.H. Lawrence

What if Yoda did woodwork  ....................

....... the Force - use the Force, you must!

Happy woodworking to all.