As one might gather from my blog, I am somewhat fond of good tools as well as quality woodworking. It is worth noting that the two do not necessarily go hand in hand – one can certainly appreciate the work or the tools without much caring for the other – but a keen affinity for both is a common malady. There are two recent additions to the Daed toolworks shop that I felt were worth noting here. One is large, one small, but in the end, I think both constitute noteworthy contributions.
The first is a piece of machinery that I hinted briefly at in my last post – astute viewers may have guessed that the T-slot table I used was part of a larger assembly… in this case a Johansson mill:
My best guess is that the mill dates from sometime in the 1950s; for those who aren’t familiar with Johansson, they were the company who made the venerable 8520 and 8530 knee mills for Clausing. Clausing later bought the company outright, but this mill is essentially identical to the earlier production 8520 mills. What’s notable about these mills is that they’re the smallest ‘serious’ knee mills I am aware of — they’re the basis for most of the small 6×26 knee mills made in Asia for the past couple of decades.
With a footprint of just about 36″ square, including all adjustments and movements, these mills are very popular in space-challenged shops like mine, and generally command a healthy premium for that reason – so I was extremely pleased when this one popped up at a very reasonable asking price near me. I’d given serious consideration to one of the better mill-drill setups, in particular the Industrial Hobbies version of the RF45 mill platform, but at heart I had always hoped to find an older knee mill I could adopt. The waiting paid off.
Until I find room for a Bridgeport, I anticipate this will serve all of my needs just fine. While I’ve been quite satisfied with the results that can be had making infills by hand with hacksaw and files, the truth is that it gets very physically demanding. The mill should help to ameliorate that somewhat, hopefully helping to keep the tendonitis that’s started plaguing my right wrist at bay…
The second addition is a generous gift from my friend Jameel Abraham, one of the most talented artists and craftsmen I know. Jameel had noticed the Shinwa bevel gauge I often use in some of my photos, and asked me how I liked it. We talked for a while about the dismal performance of, well, basically all bevel gauges — they’re essentially disposable tools for the most part, and while some are a slight improvement over others, in truth they pretty much all just suck. They don’t hold their settings worth a darn, no matter what the mechanism, and I’ve yet to use one that didn’t annoy me to some degree or another.
There is one reputed exception to the above lament – which both Jameel and I had seen briefly at the first WIA conference in Berea Kentucky: the Vesper Tools sliding bevel design. These are serious pieces of craftsmanship, and my brief handling of one at Berea left me feeling pretty impressed. I’d had a purchase of one on my ‘one of these days’ list, but as you might guess Jameel beat me to it. Within a week of our conversation, this showed up on my doorstep:
Chris Vesper’s new engraved 4″ sliding bevel. This may seem like a relatively small addition to the toolworks, but it’s not – for a few reasons. First, because I use a bevel a LOT in laying out planes; second because it’s a phenomenal piece of craftsmanship – something I very well appreciate; and third, because it is a constant reminder that there is a right and wrong way to make everything. This tool stands out because I believe it’s the only ‘rightly-made’ bevel I’ve ever used – every other one is simply wrong-headed in its design, and its execution, by comparison.
In short, Vesper has taken what I considered an entirely unsatisfactory category of tool, and made it a work of art both in terms of function and appearance. You can read some interesting information about the design he uses to make these, but let me just say that a simple twist of the precisely knurled locking knob at the base of the tool locks down the blade, and it stays. I mean it stays where it’s set no matter what. I believe I could probably stand on it and get some movement, but there is nothing I can imagine ever happening in my shop that would affect the setting I put in this bevel. There is a lot more that I could say about it – it’s balanced very well, extremely well thought-out, such that there is no way for any part of it to interfere with its efficiency at marking out work – but at its heart, its job is to hold a setting and make it easy to transfer from one place to another. From that standpoint, and any other I can think of, it is as close to ‘perfect’ as I think one runs across in the tool world.
I am well aware that I’m talking about a ‘simple’ sliding bevel, but a tour-de-force is a tour de force, whether it’s a space shuttle or a shoelace – and this is a tour de force. It really is one of the most compelling examples of pure, functional craftsmanship I have run across. And that is something I think is worth mentioning.