Worked me some wood

As I mentioned in a previous post, the toolworks has been shut down for a couple of weeks now. This is a nice break, as it allows me to catch up on a LOT of things that have been pushed aside for the last year or so. One of those, for instance, is updating this blog (lucky, lucky you, dear reader). Another one is that I finally managed to squeeze in some time for my first love – bona fide furnituremaking. Specifically, I finally managed to finish a piece that I designed and started work on almost a year ago, and which has been at the top of my ‘yeah – I’ll get right on that’ list ever since.

The backstory is that last year about this time, my friend (and moulding planemaker extraordinaire) Matt Bickford and I decided to share a booth at the Northeast Woodworker’s Association show in Saratoga Springs. He also mentioned that his friends Don and Chris Boule had issued a challenge to him to build a piece for the show. When he told me this, I immediately jumped at the excuse to make some furniture.

To make a long story short, Matt decided to make a Queen Anne table, and I decided to work out a small cabinet with kumiko pattern sliding doors. We were both really excited and pleased at the prospect of stealing some time away from toolmaking to get back to building a little furniture. Ahh, the folly of youth.

Three months later, when we arrived at the show, Matt had finished something like two of the legs for his table, and I had finished one of the two doors for my cabinet. Here are some links to the absolutely stunning (and fully completed) pieces that Don Boule and Chris Boule brought.

So yes – it was a slightly extended build. But I do take consolation from having actually finished it in (just barely) under a year. So I got that going for me. As for Matt’s table… well, you’ll have to ask him about that.

As a side note – for those of you interested in this sort of decorative kumiko work, I cannot recommend Des King’s outstanding website highly enough. Des trained in traditional methods for shoji and kumiko in Japan and has since returned to his native Australia and set up shop. His website is an amazing source of information and inspiration, and provides a unique English-language picture of just how intricate and beautiful this sort of work can be.

Turn On the News (z.e.n. arcana)

Daed Toolworks CS-T coffin smoother

Daddy – your plane looks pretty, but if you want to make it really good you need to paint a unicorn on it. I can help if you don’t know how.
— zoe eden nelson (age 5)

Two weeks ago, I finished the last plane I’ll make in Daed Toolworks Lab v1.0; I’ve shut down planemaking here to get everything ready for our impending move to the Indianapolis area. We’ve been planning this move for a very very long time now, and while I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the shop where I started this little thing, I’ll console myself with the fact that the new toolworks Lab will have an order of magnitude more space. I’ll post some information about the new shop in the future, but for now I’ll just comment that it’s (very) big, but lends itself to organizing, and that I’m pleased with it in much the same way my dog would be pleased with 35 pounds of raw bacon.

So there’s the explanation for the interminable silence of the blog for the past few months. It’s been a mad rush to get a bit ahead on orders before shutting everything down for what I anticipate will probably be most of the remainder of 2011. In the midst of all the mayhem, though, I have managed to squeeze in some prototype work on a few new planes, two of which will be regular offerings, and one of which will not. As part of that prototyping, I have also been working with a new infill species which I’m now quite confident is stable and beautiful enough that I’m adding it to the list of available infill woods.

bronze CS3 with ceylon satinwood infill

The first new plane I’m introducing is one that I actually built about six months ago, but I couldn’t introduce it until now. It is the largest of the unhandled coffins – the CS3 – which uses a 2-inch wide blade, and comes in at just about 8-inches long. The reason it needed to ‘age’ before introduction is that the prototype plane was the first test platform for the new infill material offering: Ceylon Satinwood. To the best of my knowledge, this beautiful species has never before been used in an infill plane. It’s a bit more subtle than some of the other woods I use, and is extremely difficult to photograph adequately; in good lighting, though, it has a degree of chatoyance that I’ve never seen in another wood species. The surface glimmers and shifts with movement like the hologram on my driver’s license. While the bronze sidewalls are a much riskier stylistic choice than steel, I wanted to see how the combination looked over time. It’s an unusual look, and certainly isn’t for everyone, but overall I’m quite taken with it — and so far I like it better and better the longer the bronze has to patinate.

The next plane I made, which was finished at the end of the summer, is one that I’m not going to be replicating again. It’s a thumb plane, about five inches long, in bronze sidewalls and some beautiful kingwood infills.

Bronze/Kingwood thumb plane

I made the plane because I have never used a thumb plane before, and I’ve always been quite taken with the thumb planes Brian Buckner makes. I did redesign the sidewalls and infills to reflect my own sensibilities, though I did incorporate a stepped chamfer at the rear of the plane as an homage to Brian. This is a detail based on one from a damascus rabbeting block plane he made several years ago, and his execution of it is one of the most beautiful details on a plane that I’ve ever seen. I didn’t pull it off nearly as elegantly as he did, but it’s still a detail I appreciate.

In the end, while I do quite like the plane, I really don’t think it fits with the rest of the planes I’m offering. To be honest, if I saw a photo of it online I would think it was another maker’s plane. It just doesn’t look like ‘me’ to me. So even though I like the plane aesthetically, it’s going to be a one-off. I’ll probably revisit the thumb plane at some point — it really is a great configuration for a small plane — but not until I work out a design that reflects my personality better.

And finally, the other new introduction is a plane I’ve been working out in my head for months now. I humbly introduce the Daed Toolworks CS-T handled coffin smoother. I worked with Ceylon Satinwood on this plane as well as the CS3, so I could get a view of the wood with steel sidewalls as well. I think this combination is much more universal, and is a great option for those who prefer a somewhat more subtle aesthetic than many of the rosewoods I use.

There are one or two small details I’ll likely adjust for ‘production’ versions, but the only noticeable change will be just behind the bed, in the profile where the side infills separate from the tote:

In the prototype, the profile is an ogee shape that, in hindsight, is a little ornate for the otherwise sparse design. In subsequent planes, I’ll be using an increasing radius cove profile at this point, which I think will match just a little better with the rest of the design. Other than that, though, I’m quite happy with the smoother, which is a pleasure to use. I can’t wait to make one in African Blackwood!

More ramblings on WIA, the state of handtool toolmaking, and details of Daed Toolworks Lab v2.0 will appear in these pages over the following weeks.

All you need to know about Woodworking in America

I can summarize the carnival smorgasbord of woodworking fury known as Woodworking in America with four words:

Raney Lost his Voice.

Those of you who know him will understand.

Because of his condition, he asked me to post this entry. In a rather hysterical bit of mimery, he’s also asked I convey that he’s sorry to have been so delinquent in blog updates, and that he’ll be rectifying that in the next couple of days with lots of news from the Lab. Either that, or he’s choked on an ostrich bone.


FJ Abraham, man-servant to the DAED household

It’s the little stuff…

Last week I wrapped up the revised panel plane prototype just in time to bring it with me to the Northeast Woodworking Association’s 20th Annual Fine Woodworking Show in Saratoga Springs. The show itself, by the way, was a real treat — great presenters (including Peter Follansbee and Chris Schwarz) and a wealth of great furniture to take in.

I made a number of adjustments to the earlier prototype design discussed previously, though the only really substantial change was in the profile of the sidewalls at the bed and throat opening. Other alterations were essentially all a matter of degree and size of elements – a subtle radius change here, a sixteenth of an inch there… It’s an endless fascination to me just how profound an effect such small changes can have on the overall ‘feel’ of a design. The images below make for a convenient comparison (though it would be even better if they used the same type of infill timber.) First is the initial prototype again, and the revised plane, each in profile.

Other than the (by now) obvious center section profile, the front bun height was increased by about 3/16″; the rear tote horn was shortened and thinned out to reduce its impact, and the entire tote was raised about 1/8″ to provide a small reveal between tote and the foundation… Other than a few subtle refinements to the long curves, that’s essentially the total list of alterations.

Much as I like makin’ me some stuff, for me the greatest reward comes from bringing a new design to fruition. When design and execution come together well, it’s a form of magic that only man, out of all the creatures in the world, can accomplish or appreciate — and if that ain’t at least as cool as opposable thumbs, then I don’t know what is.

Got game?

The latest issue of Popular Woodworking has been arriving in mailboxes for the past week or so, and mine arrived on saturday. This issue is one of the strongest in recent memory, but the most enjoyable part of it for me was my friend Jameel Abraham’s first published article, which details a comprehensive and remarkably precise set of hand-powered techniques he developed for parquetry that he uses in his instrument and furniture making.

Jameel is one of the most talented artists I’ve met, and is an accomplished iconographer, carver, luthier, bench and tool maker, and furniture maker. And if that’s not enough, there has also been unconfirmed speculation regarding Abraham’s striking resemblance to Cedar Rapids breakdance impresario Jam Master J – whose true identity has been a mystery for years.

But I digress…

One piece of my interest in this article is that much of the work in it was performed with one of the first Daed Toolworks planes ever to leave my shop. In fact, this plane – which was developed in large part thanks to Jameel’s suggestions, input, and feedback – was the basis for all of the miter planes I make now.As you can see, Jameel and his brother Fr. John Abraham (who’s responsible for the magnificent photography here, as well as all the ‘good’ photography on the DTW website) managed to not-so-surreptitiously include that plane into almost every shot of the board (thanks guys).

Beyond my selfish interests, however, I was immensely impressed with the article’s content, and I’m looking to start incorporating Jameel’s techniques into my own work. The article makes this work accessible to anyone who’s interested in taking their woodworking to the next level, and the possibilities for embellishment are nearly infinite.

One thing that I found unfortunate, however, is that article didn’t include any overall photos of the backgammon board Jameel built for it – all the images of the board were closeups of the inlay work. So in order to rectify that, here are some overall pictures of the board.

Great article, Jameel – and beautiful work as always!

Evolution #9

History is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake…

But at least it’s better than geometry!
– Lil’ Stevie Daedalus

I’ve been doing a lot of work on design lately, and a lot of thinking about the design process as well. So I’d like to get back to the planemaking part of this blog with some discussions about that process, and how I approach designing planes. If you’re not the sort of person to appreciate such discussions, please feel free to skip the words and just have a look at the pictures. I won’t be offended. Having said that, though, I do think some readers might find it interesting, and perhaps it will spark some comments on design, or even inspire some thought about your own process of designing projects.

Here we go:

I should begin by saying that my general preferences in infill planes tends toward the traditional designs. My favorite antique planes are the Spiers and Mathieson models of the late 19th century. If you look at panel planes specifically, there is a typical sidewall profile that was established by Spiers, and later adopted almost wholesale by nearly every major infill maker since. I take this as proof that it’s just that good a design. I’ve yet to see a variation that even ‘works’ especially well, much less improves upon it — and this includes my own attempts.

As a starting point, I’ve borrowed a couple of images from Australian goldsmith/jeweler/planemaker and old tool collector Peter McBride. (Peter’s website is highly recommended, by the way. It’s loaded with a wealth of information and photography of his collection of tools, as well as excellent writeups of his own excellent planemaking.)

Here they are:

Spiers Panel Plane

Mathieson Panel Plane

Using these two photos, we can see the prototypical sidewall profile. This basic design is remarkable for just how ubiquitous it is for infill panel planes; other than the craftsman-made traditions (particularly in Scotland), the vast majority of panel planes adhere pretty closely to it. First, the major elements: starting from the blade and moving forward, there is a rather iconic double-sine-wave curve traversing the throat area. This curve terminates in a concave upswing, where it meets the front infill just ahead of the throat. From that point, the sidewall drops in a subtle concave curve to a fairly low height at the front of the plane. Moving backward from the blade, there is first a convex slope that shifts to concavity as it meets the rear tote, and then continues in an elongated, graceful curve all the way to the heel of the plane, mirroring of the front termination.

There is a degree flexibility here – such as the final sidewall termination (note the curved ramp on the Spiers plane vs. the perpendicular drop on the Mathieson). Overall, though, there is not a tremendous amount of room for radical innovation – at least not that I’ve managed to find yet. What interests me so much about that even with all these ‘constraints’, if one pays attention to infill planes, it’s still relatively easy to identify the major makers’ designs from across a room.

Anyway – pressing on now (no going backwards – you have to go forward to go back.)

I have been sketching ideas and designs, both radical and relatively traditional, off and on for a couple years now, and have built four or five panel planes with varying degrees of success. Over the past couple of months, I’ve settled down into a range of designs that I’m rather keen on. So a few weeks back, I settled on a design that I thought had enough possibilities to merit a prototype – which is the only real test of the viability of a design. Here is the AI drawing I worked from for this plane:

There are a couple of aspects here that are relatively significant departures — most especially in the addition of an additional peak at the rear tote, and in the transition at the bed between the rear of the plane and the throat. The overall effect of these changes is a plane that looks, to my eye, fairly modern, and which had some nice echoes of my smoothing planes. Some of the features were a bit ‘risky’, but at the end of the day the only way to know where I’d overshot and what worked was to have a plane in front of me. The finished prototype is pictured at the top of this entry, and also below:

In general, one of the rules of thumb I use is that really good designs look better and better to the eye with each viewing; bad designs may look pleasing at first, but they tend to become tedious and less pleasing over time. So, having spent some time looking at the plane, and discussing it with a couple of very design-heavy friends, there were some parts of this design that I liked , and some that I decidedly did not. The ‘nots’ in this case were significant enough that the design on the whole doesn’t work for me. My friend Konrad expressed the problem perfectly with the comment that the profile looks more like a series of strung-together curves than a unified design. While most of the individual parts of the profile might be fine in isolation, the ‘flow’ of the overall profile is severely interrupted in a couple of places, and the profile ends up with a somewhat disjointed and jarring ‘feel’. In this case, there were two major issues. Not surprisingly, they were also the two major deviations from the traditional design.

First, the arris at the rear tote: while I did like the way it sort of mirrors the front of the tote, it’s too tight a curve. In the end, I decided to keep the feature, but to soften it somewhat, hoping it blends into the entirety of the plane better.

Second is the throat area of the sidewall, especially the transition at the blade. The more I looked at it, the more it gave me a headache – never a good sign. I tried some subtle changes, but at the end of the day I think it simply does not work. In this case, I ended up scrapping that part of the profile and reverting to a much more typical version of the traditional design. As I’ve mentioned before, I do think there is plenty of room in that design for the designer to express themselves, and I tried to stay toward the more modern end of the spectrum than either Spiers or Mathieson’s designs (at least those above) — which is part of the ‘signature’ I like to shoot for in my planes.

Here is the revised drawing:

Overall, having spent several days with the redesign, I have a fairly good ‘feeling’ about it. So tonight I’ll move back into the Lab with the templates and get to work. I’m hopeful that I’ll be happier with the redesign – but it will be another week or so until I can be sure.

It is worth noting that this particular process is quite typical for me – my first pass at a finished plane tends to be two steps away from the traditional designs, and the next one takes one step back toward convention. I’ve become quite comfortable with this pattern, and it generally works well for me. For the first design, I try to push the envelope as far as I think is possible without overstepping, and then I execute it to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. From there, I almost always end up revising back toward the traditional design, and usually end up with a plane that I’m happy with — one treads the line between the canonical design and a more updated and modern one. Knowing this as ‘my’ process is immensely helpful to me, as it gives me a pretty good framework to understand when I can stretch, and when I should be conservative… where my instincts tend to be on, and when they tend to overstep their bounds. It also means

I’ll post more on this plane in a couple of weeks, when I’ve made some significant headway on the next plane.

Until then, please consider the possibility that Iggy, now well into his 60s, apparently laps a lot of planes:

Got me some website

Wake up sissyboy! A planemakers got to be READY! All day, all hellfire night.
Planemaker quits peining at midnight, and wakes up with a file in his teeth at 2 AM!
Planemaker hardens blades barehanded, and quenches ‘em with his steely gaze! Then he laps a batch of jointers on the gravel at the front lines of armageddon! In the dark! In the snow! Before Breakfast – which he doesn’t bother to eat because he’s too tough!
When the pirates come stealin rosewood, planemaker brings a Ninja!

               … that’s why there ain’t a planemaker I know that don’t do speed

- the disembodied spectre of Stewart Spiers, as seen in my subconscious

Yes – that’s right. I am occasionally visited in my sleep by long-dead infill makers (a shocking number of whom look, oddly enough, like some bizarro-world Deneb Puchalski…) Anybody got something to say about that? You think there’s any witty remark you’ll make that my wife hasn’t already gotten off? Hey – give it a shot if you’re so inclined. I’ll wait.

Ready to press on?
um…’ you reply.
Good, says I.

Which brings us to other news of a more pertinent variety.

This week – finally – I managed to get the bulk of my ‘proper’ website into place over at I’m pretty pleased with the stable as it sits now, and when the panel plane on the drawing board now gets hammered out, I’ll be able to take a bit of a break from prototyping for a while.

The miter planes I worked out for WIA in the fall are up on the site:

as are the new DTW coffin smoothers — fresh off the bench, so to speak:

I’m quite pleased overall with both series of planes, but I’m particularly happy to have settled on a design for the smoothers. In designing planes, I work quite a bit to make sure they will reflect my own ‘voice’, if you will — to tread the line of sticking within traditional styles, but still carrying their own distinctive personality. The unhandled coffin is one of the hardest designs to work with, in this respect, as it’s a remarkably simple plane, stylistically. There is very little ornamentation to work with, and there are some fairly tight and well-established design parameters that were basically hashed out by Spiers a couple of centuries ago. In the end, though, I’m pleased with the result of all the drawing and prototyping work. At some point, I’ll add some toted smoothers that run a bit larger, but that’s going to be a bit into the future.

Now that the heavy lifting part of the web-presence is finally done, I’m also going to start updating this blog more regularly again. Up Next: your humble narrator photoshops riverdance outfits onto the entire popular woodworking staff!

WIA 2010: Here Comes My Chinese Rug!

“Midway through this life’s journey,
I found myself deep in the rough wood,
for the straight grain was lost.

So I opened up a can of infill on that mutha
and taught it what’s what!”
- Dante Jones

This week, Daed Toolworks is undergoing a rather significant transformation, shifting from my own personal little spare-time devouring hobby into a full-fledged spare-time devouring commercial enterprise.

“How’s that?” you say… well I’m glad you asked.

Because, this week, I’ll be bringing a handful of planes, a spankin-new traveling workbench, and my grossly underperforming personal wit to the 2010 Woodworking in America conference in Cincinnati (well – almost Cincinnati) at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. I’ll be setting up shop in a booth with Matt Bickford of M.S. Bickford, maker of fine 18th c. molding planes.

Technically, this is the point where I should probably  hold forth with the entire ‘David Copperfield’ rundown, including all the details of my complicated personal history, what got me started making hand tools, what led me to consider such a professional shift, and why it’s so much More Fulfilling than What I Used to Do. From there,  I would segue into a grand description of the cultural significance of the Woodworking in America conference, wax eloquent about how great it is that hand tool woodworking has come so far in the last decade, and generally indulge in a full-on love-fest of flowery rhetoric designed to make all us handtool guys (and girls) feel like members of a Great and Honorable Fraternity (or – um – sorority).

But I’ve got a rather serious Dr. Phil allergy, so…

how about some pictures of planes instead?

Also, there have been a few questions about the name “Daed Toolworks”.  So for the record: it is pronounced ‘dead’, as in ‘dead accurate’, ‘dead to rights’, or Hamlet  Act V scene ii.

This, however, inevitably begs the question: “why, then, is it spelled d-A-E-d?”  Well -

How about a workbench photo?

And speaking of the workbench – for those of you playing along at home, it’s basically the lovechild of a Benchcrafted split-top Roubo and the Schwarzian Holtzapffel workbench. The important part, though, is that it can be set up or broken down in just over five minutes at a leisurely pace, and it takes up a ridiculously small amount of cargo room.

The best part of the bench is that it took under 20 hours to build, thanks primarily to my friend Justin, who has the power tool workshop I dream of.  It’s astonishing how much you can get done with a 12-inch jointer, 15-inch Shelix-head planer, and a Unisaw.  Total stock prep for the bench (excluding mortises) took the two of us just over two hours.  Needless to say, my next shop will most definitely have three-phase power.

So if you’re going to WIA, please stop by and introduce yourself.  Until then, allow me to close by exploiting my oldest daughter, seen below as a princess with a fluffy shaving.

Rumors of my demise…

OK, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat:   I have been neither the victim of kidnapping by Somali pirates, nor have I been in cryogenic suspension.  Other things I have not been doing during the past six months include:

-striking intriguing poses
-playing ’16.4 billion bottles of beer on the wall’
-alphabetizing my collection of disco-era smiley face memorabilia
-sleeping peacefully
-hand copying “Remembrance of Things Past”
-developing a reality TV show called (tentatively) “I Ate WHAT?”
-switching to decaf
-suffering from empty nest syndrome
-playing ‘six degrees of Lindsay Lohan’
-under-employing the CAPS LOCK key  in the comments section of major news media
-updating this blog

At this point, perhaps you are wondering what, then, I HAVE been doing with my time.  Well, here are a few things:

-putting off dealing with BLOGGER’s decision to terminate FTP  support
-becoming overly familiar with DJ Lance Rock (e.g.  slow intellectual suicide-by-toddler)
-finally finishing the nagging to-do list of upgrades and repairs to our home

-plotting our relocation to sunny Wisconsin (brrrrr……)
-occasionally blackmailing canadian planemakers with photos from their mullet-sporting days
-kicking myself for not having followed through on my idea for bridal diapers
-spending as much time as possible getting to know my young children before they’re old enough to realize I’m a hopeless embarrassment, and that I’m ruining their lives.

So there it is – for better or worse, these are my excuses for not having lavished more attention on this blog.

Now – back to the topic at hand (tool).  In the eye of the hurricane that is my home, I have also been  in the lab (with a pen and a pad) working on some planes.  I’ll try to sneak some details of a couple of new designs, and perhaps a prototype or three as well, into the blog in the coming weeks, but by way of a ‘teaser’ I offer these humble images of  recently-completed and nearly-done planes from the workbench here. busy busy busy…

Towell Miter update – infills and edge treatments

Before I pein the shell of the miter, there are a few more things that need to be done. The first is to fit the front and rear infill blocks, which are much simpler to refine to shape before the sole and sidewalls are joined.

I’ve covered most of what I have to offer on shaping the infill blocks in a previous entry, so I’m not going to go into much detail here, other offering a small point regarding the pitch of the infill bed – ideally this should be an exact match for the pitch of the metal ramp it’s going to meet. In practice, though, it is vital to understand the tolerances for ‘exact’ in this application.  In short, if the infill bedding angle is even a tiny bid  lower than the ramp’s, the plane will work poorly if at all; A slightly higher pitch on the wooden bed, however, is not only acceptable, it’s even advantageous. In this situation, there will be a very slight gap under the blade at the junction of metal and wood, with the blade very solidly seated at the top of the bed and the mouth.  This way, when the wedge is set,  the blade will be very tightly ‘sprung’ in place, with extremely good registration at the mouth — which is by far the most critical point. I shoot for a very slightly steeper bed than ramp angle – and by slightly, I mean 15-30 minutes (1/4 -1/2 of a degree).

One feature of the Towell plane that I really like is the shape of the front infill escapement. It rises from the plane’s throat in a gentle ogee, which is fairly common, but just below the top there is a single bead which forms a perfect surface for your thumb in use.

Here are the infill sections after sanding (no escaping abrasives in planemaking, unfortunately) and the first coat of french polish.

The other operation I need to address before peining is the final finishing of the front and rear sections of the plane, which will be much much harder to work on once the plane is assembled.  I flatten and sand the front plate and rear curvature at this point, proceeding through 320 grit. 
I also cut the front and rear sole radii, and finish the front and rear top surfaces as well ‘. The sides of the plane will be lapped and cleaned up after peining the shell and pinning the infills in place. I also take the opportunity to draw file and sand the subtle radius along the top edge of the plane.
Here’s the shell, ready for peining:
And with the infills in place:
Finally, I shape and grind the blade blank to get a better picture of the final appearance.
From here, there is nothing left to do but continue building french polish on the infills and get ready to pein the shell.
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