• My 21st Century Workbench
  • Dry Erase Pen Holders
  • Roubo iPad Stands
  • Beer Stein Cabinet
  • York Pitched Krenovian Handplane

I don’t know why I caught the bug, but I did.  I think the flame had kindled when I started wanting a set of molding planes.  The big name that I’ve seen is Matt Bickford – a set of his planes is in the ballpark of $3000.  I honestly don’t have that kind of money laying around… yet.  So I put the idea on the back burner for a bit.  Then, while I was daydreaming (which consists of Google searches on the subject) about molding planes, I came across a guy (over at Toolerable) that is attempting to build a set himself.  Then I started researching that Matt Bickford had started the same way – he didn’t have the money to get a ton of molding planes, so he researched and built himself a set.  Perhaps this is the path I should take?

One post back on Toolerable, and Brian created this beautiful maple jointer plane.  At this point, I’m inspired.  So I went on over to David Finck’s site (who explains how to make these Krenovian-style wooden planes) and bought the book and DVD.  I figured a standard hand plane is a good way to start learning how to build one before I venture into specialty planes, like ones for moldings.

I had bought some smaller figured Bubinga boards for use on small projects… perhaps for making one of those Roubo iPad stands or a dry erase pen holder.  I did both of those with one of the two boards I bought.  And then it dawned on me: I think the other board, once cut and laminated up, would make a beautiful plane!

Figured Bubinga board

Since I already have a large, heavy jointer plane, I think I’m gonna shoot for the jack of all trades: a Jack Plane.  Now, I already have one (from the beginner’s package I had bought from Lie-Nielsen), but it’s a low-angle Jack Plane; the one I want to build will be at a York pitch of 50°.  Why the York?  Because so far, all of the work I’ve done and want to continue to do, has been on hardwoods: Beech, Elm, Walnut and Mahogany.

A brief explanation of what certain angles of blade (ie, the pitch) buy you:

  • Low Angle – 40° or less: low angle pitchthis acts more as a knife slicing through the fibers of the wood.  Therefore, this is particularly good for trimming and slicing through the finicky end-grain.  Most planes with a low-angle pitch have a bevel-up setup, so if you add the bed angle (usually 10-15°) and the blade hone/bevel angle (usually ~25°), you get about a ~40° total pitch.  The advantage is the razor-sharp knife slice that allows the trimming of the end-grain; the downfall is that the blade is much more prone to lose it’s razor-sharp edge quicker (or even chip in some cases)
  • Common Pitch – 45°: 45 degree pitchapparently, most planes are set to this because it’s the best trade-off of slicing the wood and maintaining your sharp edge.  Hundreds of years of plane use have shown that this is the most optimum angle for softwoods and straight-grained hardwoods.  Consider this giving the most versatile options in planing.  The bevel is down from here on as the angles increase, so the bed angle is the pitch angle.
  • York Pitch – 50°: 50 deg pitchOptimum for hardwoods and especially figured hardwoods.
  • Middle Pitch – 55°: Mostly found in molding planes designed for softwoods.
  • Half Pitch – 60°: Mostly found in molding planes designed for hardwoods.
  • 70°+: Used mainly in more specialized planes such as snipes and some rabbet planes.

So, from the book and everything I’ve researched, it seems like it’s ok to laminate up a blank or  use a whole log… hell, I’ve even read to where the direction of the grain (where it will expand or contract perpendicular to the growth rings) isn’t that big of deal… but the one thing that I’ve seen that you must absolutely follow is to ensure the slope of the grain runs down toward the back of the blank (or eventually, the plane).  Here’s my 15″-long blank, with the super-imposed grain run.  Really though, in my case the majority of the grain runs this way, but the grain in this wavy Bubinga is all over the place…

Bubinga Plane Blank with Grain runNext is to get this block exactly square… and then truthfully, it will probably sit until after I move (T minus 5 weeks) and get to it – I still have to order a blade.  I’m going to get a 1¾” blade with a chip breaker – but now I’m trying to decide if I should order a blade from David Finck or get one from Lie-Nielsen… To be continued.

I’m left-handed… in fact, I’m so left-handed that I’d probably be burned at the stake not 4-500 years ago.  A quick side-fact: “Left” in Italian is “sinistra” – sounds a lot like sinister.  Don’t believe my left-handedness?  I (obviously) write with my left hand.  In my house, the computer mouse is always on the left side of the keyboard.  My wife got sick of moving it back all the time, so she puts up with it.  I throw balls with my left hand.  I open cans and use scissors with my left hand.  Up until I started flying jets, I even flew predominantly with my left hand.  Then I started flying a jet where the controls were against the right side of the cockpit – so the force adjustment was automatic.  Believe it or not though, it was easy to pick up because I could fly it no other way.

Like that same ground-up training that I experienced in a “right-handed” jet, I find that it’s easy to switch between hands in my infancy of hand-tool work because I haven’t built any habits yet.  Though I feel more comfortable using my left hand over my right hand in woodworking, I haven’t noticed too much degradation in switching from left to right.  It’s not like trying to write with my right hand (in which case my 4-year-old would be more legible), or eat with my right hand (in which case I’d starve, but my pants and the floor certainly wouldn’t go hungry).

I built my workbench off of Bob Lang’s 21st Century Workbench design with the intent of making it a “left hand” bench.  After reading Chris Schwarz’s book on workbenches, it took me a little bit to figure out and understand what the difference was between a “left hand” bench and a “right hand” one.  All I knew is that, since I’m a die-hard south paw, I wanted a “left handed” bench!  I started building my bench.  Prior to mounting the top onto the base, I drilled 2 holes to mount the tail vice… and then when I test mounted the top, I realized I drilled the holes on the wrong side making it what Chris described as a “right hand” bench in his book.  I was horrified and faced with 3 courses of action: 1) I could attempt to cut out really thick dowel blanks to plug the holes and redrill on the other side, 2) I could just chop where I drilled, sacrificing maybe 6″ in table length, and drill on the other side, or 3) I could just press and have a right-hand configured bench.  I didn’t want to shorten it nor mar the bench top this early with plugs; I went with COA 3.

So what’s the difference between a right-handed and left-handed bench?  It’s only where you put the vices. Ultimately, you want to be pushing into the vice holding your piece (like the image on the right).  In this, you are pushing into the friction rather than trying to pull the piece from the friction. If I plane left-handed from my twin-screw vice, I’m essentially pulling the board (via friction) from the vice (like the image on the left).

Left vs Right Hand Vice Configuration

I’ve now been using my “right-handed” bench for over a year.  My horrified vice misplacement was a farce; to this day I have absolutely zero regrets in choosing COA 3, rather than reconfiguring it to be left-handed.  First, I’ve not found that planing opposite the vice (as in the left picture) pulls the piece from the vice – the twin screw vice actually holds the pieces pretty well, especially if you use the entire length of the vice to grip the piece.  Second, I’ve found that it’s quite natural to swap from planing left-handed to planing right-handed when I do face problems.  In fact, my sawing is more true with my off-hand (right, in my case) than it is with my accustomed hand because my off hand allows the saw to do more work with less interference (whereas my dominant hand, I think, subconsciously tries to over-guide the saw).

Perhaps, for the first time in my life, I’m giving up championing my left hand and advocating for an ambidextrous stance.  I’ve only been hand-tooling-it-up for about a year now, so part of it is because I haven’t had time to form strong muscle-memory in woodworking.  But I’m hoping I can keep up the ambidextrousity.

And now for the bottom line: Don’t be set or intimidated on left or right hand tools or styles.  Your body will learn to use what you present it with (especially if you are early in the hobby).

A table can essentially be broken down (and built) as two separate parts: the base and the top.  I’m going to start building the base first.

Part of what consummated the decision of building a replacement table (told here) was the fact that a bump into the table would cause it to sway like a tree in a storm.  To construct a rock-solid table, the joint of choice is the mortise and tenon.  I’ve never done these by hand yet.  What makes this particular table build intimidating is that I want it to be in the Arts & Crafts form as the original was… which, in going beyond the mortise and tenon, means through mortise and tenons.  Fake through mortise and tenonThese are intimidating because they showcase your work: you want the mortise (the hole) to show no space as the tenon (the peg) is fit into it and protrudes out the other side (which is the part people see).  The original table that I’m replicating has through tenons… through fake tenons (pictured at right)… they’re really just little rectangular pieces of wood (caps) glued opposite the beams to look like through tenons.  I won’t do that; I’m a firm believer that if you do a job, do it right.  True through mortise and tenons are what I will be using.

I used mortise and tenon joinery for my workbench (showcased at the top of the Blog), but at that time I used a mortiser machine.  I hated that machine.  In the light of not doing practice cuts, you had to set it up just perfectly to stay in your lines, and then drill out little by little as you’d move the machine back and forth.  As the bit rotated around, it would sometimes go deeper or shallower, or even run and rip out some wood a little past the line.  It was sloppy joinery on my part, but for the bench, it was tight enough (since I cleaned it with a chisel and cut the tenons to match it afterward).  Because of this experience, I was pretty weary of hand-chopping 16 mortises with their tenon counterparts, of which half of those (8) will be through mortises with exposed, visible tenons.

Mortise and Tenon by Frank KlauszSo, the obvious warm up is to start with the stub mortises (the ones that don’t go all the way through).  I bought a mortise video by Frank Klausz that actually went a long way to help me prepare and understand how to do this, as well as beefed up on Roy Underhill’s Panel Door show (which primarily used mortise and tenon).  Watch it by clicking the link if you wish.

Hand chiseling the mortiseMy first practice mortise was the real thing… on the upper leg of my elm table.  I found it to be easier than using a mortiser!  Marking everything with a straight-edge and marking knife probably took 2 or 3 hours, but that was fine.  After marking everything, I decided to go with ½” wide mortises for the legs.  As long as the chisel is as wide as the mortise is, you only really need to mark one side of the cut (which makes it nice), because the width of the chisel will automatically form the opposing wall.  In Elm, it only took 3 sweeps of chopping (back, forth, back) to get the mortise to the desired depth: about ⅔ of the way through the 2½” legs.

A pointer: stand in line with the mortise that you are chopping (like your point of view in the picture at right), rather than beside it (at the front of the bench from the picture at right), to ensure the chisel is perfectly square to the walls of the mortise.

I chopped the first two mortises, cut the tenons, and gave it a test fit: perfect… and way more pleasurable than using a mortiser, though my back was getting a little achy from constantly standing on the tile floor and bending over the mortise.  I tried a few chops from sitting down and it just doesn’t work; you don’t get the same point of view to maintain good chisel control.

One leg joined up

Next was the through tenons at the bottom of the table.  I thought of doing this in two ways: 1) I can chop the mortises, then taper the legs or 2) I can taper the legs first and then chop the mortises.  I went with option 2 because, with through tenons, you see the final product… my chops may have been a little sloppy under the surface, and I didn’t want to taper the legs and find that out.  So off to taper the legs.

I don’t know what angle I tapered them to… I wasn’t using power tools, so it really didn’t matter.  I just went to the bottom of the leg, marked ½” in, and drew a line connecting that mark with the outside of the leg at the top.  I used a saw (sloppily) to get rid of as much waste as I could outside my mark line, then turned to my Jointer Plane to bring the taper down to the line.  After doing this 16 times (4 legs, 4 sides per leg), my triceps were pretty damn tired.

Tapering a leg by hand

Now for the tricky part: marking out through-mortises on tapered legs. Since none of the surfaces are square, I had to devise a way to make accurate marks. What I ended up doing was using a straight scrap board (that was squared up) and setting it next to the leg: the top of the leg and the board were clamped together, and as the leg tapered down to the foot, there was more and more space between the leg and the board. From there, I made my marks using a square referenced against the scrap board.

I cut the mortises more or less the same, but since they’re through mortises, it requires a few extra steps. I started from the outside or “show” side (where people will see the tenon coming through the hole). Staying about ¼” from each end, I chopped about ¼ through the leg.

Chopping a Tapered Mortise

I flipped it over to the “shoulder” side and chopped all the way through to meet the hole from the other side. In two of the legs, the two holes (from each side) weren’t exactly aligned – I would pare out the wall as required to align them from the current side I was working on (the shoulder side). The reason? Yes, this wouldn’t be “the perfect” joint, but the shoulder of the tenon would cover up any spaces caused by widening the wall to meet the opposite side’s wall. Once I made this correction, I’d do the final two chops to bring the mortise (length-wise) to the line on the shoulder side, then flip the leg and make the final two chops on the show side. It worked pretty well.

Through mortise and tenon table base

So, here’s where we stand now… 12 mortises down, 4 to go (the 4 mortises that will go through the table top surface to connect the top to the base).

The Table so Far

I still need to shape the bottom rails and mount the bottom shelf to them… but I think I’ll move onto the table top next.

As one gains familiarity and experience with the craft, you begin to examine other furniture with a much more critical eye.  What’s even worse (and my wife will attest)  is I get the “I can build that!” syndrome.  And truthfully, I think I can do a better job at it.  In today’s consumer society, everything is made out of particle board with veneer and screwed together.  The bad thing about my syndrome is that time is one of my most rarest resources… so I don’t get around to building everything I claim I can build better.

delaminationA long time ago, we’d bought some living room tables from Lazy Boy.  At the time, I thought they were really nice pieces and Pam loved them because they were in an Arts & Crafts style (which we both like).  Keep in mind, this is when I was in the Lowe’s-pre-dimensioned-Oak-with-butt-joints-and-frame-nails stage of woodworking.  And then we had kids.  The tables have seen two moves and have been spilled on and mistreated.  And one day, the nice Oak finish started to delaminate, exposing a cardboard-like material underneath – yuck.  That was the straw that broke the camel’s back; what I failed to mention (leading up to this) is that if you bump the table at all, it sways like a tree in the wind due to the butt-and-screw joinery.

So, with pressure to do something about it from the wife, I am now putting my “I can build that! (and better)” hypothesis to the test.  Even better, I am going to make this my first project done entirely by hand (no power tools… except for maybe sanding/finishing).

The gameplan is to replicate it dimensionally so that I can scalp the glass panels for use in the new table.  As I’ve worked on pieces in the past, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t like Oak too much – most of the boards I’ve seen are too uniform.  If I’m going to build something, I like to see unique irregularities in it to make it one-of-a-kind, otherwise known as knots and figure.  My go-to’s for this are Elm and Walnut.  I have a some Elm left over from my Beer Cabinet build, so it looks like the table will be done with solid Elm.

Table Rebuild

We move in about 2 months, so I better get building.


rough-cut elm boardsIt’s funny – projects for me are typically easy to start: I buy some rough-cut boards, start planing them down and squaring them up, and rip or re-saw them into rough dimensions.  It’s about that time that I see the real beauty and potential of the boards I’ve bought.  I start to make plans for my project: I want this knot to show on this part and this figure to be divided up amongst these parts… and then everything comes to a screeching halt.  I’ve arrived at my main hurdle.

This hurdle was very prevalent with power tools and machine woodworking: cutting just a little too much off as it shot through the table saw or a router bit biting a little outside the line or creating a ton of irrepairable tear-out.

The hurdle is the fear of failing.  It’s the fear of ruining a board with awesome figure that I’ll never get back.  This fear in woodworking is not something I can just push past without thought.  I have to conscientiously trudge forward in order to conquer and surpass it.  But usually not without a day’s pause and a lot of daydreaming about the finished product.

Here’s what multiplies this hurdle: I’m lazy…  Or you could call it that I like to be efficient.  The way to build that perfect project with power tools is to spend half a day doing test cuts on scrap pieces of the same dimensions as your final piece (like dovetailing with a router and jig, for example).  I hate this.  I always feel that my time is wasted whenever I’m not working directly on the project – and cutting into scrap pieces or spending a ton of time building jigs, to me, is not working directly on the project.  So, as you can probably predict, there’s a lot of room for improvement for my dovetails and mortise/tenons using power tools.  Truthfully, if the figure of the wood is too beautiful to chance a “first-time run” then I will take test cuts to ensure a better product… but I still hate doing it because I feel like I’m treading water rather than swimming forward.

In using hand tools, I arrive at the same hurdle but without that multiplier.  Why?  Because with hand tools, there is no need for test cuts to ensure the jig or spacing is perfect.  You just mark where the cut needs to be (without using numbers to measure), and cut.  I like that.  I feel like I’m making progress on my project.  Sure, in the end, it may take longer than with power tools, but consider this: total up the time you spend setting up a dovetail jig, making test cuts, adjusting, making more test cuts, then cutting your piece… Unless you are mass producing dovetails (say more than 20 total), I’d be willing to bet I’d finish hand-dovetailing around the same.  I guess it’s like the Tortoise and the Hare race (power tools being the Hare and hand tools being the Tortoise).  Regardless – because I’m constantly inching forward on the actual piece of my project, I feel that my time is validated.

Even better, I find that as I continue to do more and more projects purely by hand, this fear of failure is almost eliminated altogether:

  1. First off, because hand tools don’t zip through the wood (like a table saw or router), there’s time to tell that your cut is starting to deviate from where you want it.  In my experience with power tools, I usually find that the realization comes after you’re well past the point of correction.
  2. Even if the cuts deviate slightly, it’s way easier to salvage the situation.  All you need to do is adjust fire on the mating piece (the piece that you’re joining to the salvaging piece) and the problem is usually solved.  In power tools, you would spend another half a day readjusting your jig to compensate and then starting over with another piece of wood.  I’ve not once had to scrap a piece of wood with great figure because of some sloppy handwork.  In fact, I’m almost finding that handwork can be more accurate than machines in some cases.

All in all, I still take a pause of paralysis when I get to the point of joining and shaping, but then I am comforted by the hand-tool mitigation and can put one foot in front of the other and continue to trudge on.