Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Man Behind The Camera (or in front?)

As everyone one could probably guess, my name is Caleb. But what you probably didn't know is where I started from and how I got into woodworking.  Recently a short documentary was made about my work and who I am. I didn't plan to make it. It just happened.

It all hinges around a magazine article that was written up about me and my chairs from when I lived back out west. So check it out and let me know what you think and don't laugh too hard, please.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Making Of A Traditional Wooden Moulding / Molding Plane

I was having a little fun with a new app on my phone that allows me to take a time lapse video. So, I decided to do a video of me making a moulding plane. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough memory on my phone to do the whole process. Didn't realize this until I was completely done.

Anyhow, this is a little time lapse video of me making the plane from the point of the blank being roughed out to the initial fitting of the wedge. This is probably about 1/6th of the plane making process not including the time to cut the tree, process the log and dry the wood. Nor does it account for iron work or the heat treating process. So in other words it is a snippet of the process but gives you a taste of what is involved.

As you can see, lots of hand work is involved. I would estimate that about 95% of the making of these planes is with hand tools. I use a chainsaw to process the log into manageable sections from the log and then to the bandsaw to take it down to smaller blanks. Then to the kiln for slow drying.

Once it is dried I size the blank on the table saw and cut the shoulder there as well. The wedge is roughed out at the table saw as well on a jig. One of only two jigs for the entire process. Everything after that is done with hand tools all the way to the finish.

All surfaces are left straight from a cutting tool. Either plane, chisel or card scraper. The only exception is truing the final profile with sandpaper to tune it.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Planemaking And Chairmaking Classes In The Works! *PLUS* Surprise Visitors To The Shop!

So, yesterday I had a nice surprise. If you keep up with chairmaker Glen Rundell then you know he has been touring the Eastern half of the United States over the past few weeks. Mostly hanging with Pete and the gang up in Massachusetts, doing the Lie-Nielsen open house (which I missed, ugh!) and things like that. Glen hails from down under in Melbourne. He has come a long way to get some fresh inspiration to take back home with him.

Anyway, Glen was in Virginia taking a class with Jeff Lefkowitz, who teaches the chairmaking courses for Brian Boggs and after the class they loaded up and came down for a visit to the shop. It was a very pleasant surprise.

Left to right; Claire, Caleb, Jeff, Glen

Truthfully, he gave me a day or so notice, so I had good motivation to clean up the shop. I am in the middle of paneling the walls. More on that later. And my wife made some enchiladas verdes as a special treat for lunch. Handmade corn tortillas, umm. She's a Canadian that cooks some good Tex-Mex. Got to love it! (I am really getting off track here)

As I filled them in on the goings on around here I realized I haven't been blogging much lately. I am not one for fluff or filler on the blog but I think maybe I should share with everyone else as well. As I was telling Glen and Jeff, I am planning on taking one half of my shop and dedicating it to a classroom and am almost halfway there. I get pushed by just about every craftsman I know, that I should be teaching classes. I get requests on an ongoing basis as well. I am finally coming around to the idea.

I am looking at, of course, teaching some planemaking classes. Possibly a four day class on making a pair of hollows and rounds and a rabbet plane. I may split these up as two different classes. These would be a really good start and you can make the majority of planes based on those two formats.

The other classes would be some introductory classes on chairmaking. One will be on making a Danish modern stool which will include lathe work, joinery and danish cord weaving. A two or three day class depending on size. The other will be a three leg windsor stool that will have lathe work, hand drilling, reaming and seat carving. Probably a three day class as well depending on size.

I am up in the air about prices as of yet. It has a lot to do with class size and demand. I have room for about six students at a time though I would tend to want the class sizes a bit smaller. We will see.

Send me any suggestions or classes you would prefer to see available so that I can plan accordingly. I am not asking for a commitment but if you are a reader of this blog and see a class here or something related to what I do that you would like to take at some point, then let me know. Your feedback will make a difference.

Thanks and I hope you are enjoying your summer!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Moulding Planes at Woodworking In America 2014

I guess it is about time to officially announce that I will be at Woodworking In America 2014. I decided not to tag along with Peter Galbert this year. We though about recreating the fantastic four crew of 2013 but seeing as another person is going to be in the bunch then I decided to not be a fifth wheel. Sorry Pete! There always has to be that one guy that leaves the band and messes everything up. :) One good album and its all over after that... never to be heard from again. Lets hope that last parts doesn't happen.

Oh, I will have my booth right next to Pete's though. Haha!

Ok, down to business. I will have a 1/2 set of hollows and rounds on hand for your perusal and a number of bench planes but especially a panel raiser along with a couple complex profile planes and side beads. It should be fun so come over and try making some profiles or watch me if you prefer.

If you are really into wooden planes then you might have extra motivation to come since you will find Matt Bickford there as well. He will be one of the speakers also. I've never met Matt so it should be fun to converse with another modern maker.

You might find it odd that I would promote another planemaker but there is enough work to go around for everyone and I must say that I appreciate his book on moulding plane use. It needed to be written. In fact I was hesitating moving into making planes for others until I saw that he was writing it. Its hard to sell a product to the general masses when nearly everyone with the exception of a few don't know where to begin with them. I wrote a review on his book when it came out if you aren't familiar with it. Thanks Matt for writing it and thanks to Lost Art Press for making the publishing of such a book possible in the first place.

OK lets wrap this up. Come on out to Woodworking in America 2014 in Winston-Salem, NC between September 12-14. Its going to be a blast!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Riving Beech For Wooden Planes

So, I am reluctant to admit that I haven't had success riving beech. Why am I reluctant? I really can't say why. I guess I love the idea and frankly the crazy efficiency of riving wood. To those that haven't tried it then it is just mind blowing how quickly you can go form log to working wood. Add to that the way perfectly straight grain wood works has no comparison. You'll wonder why you have been wasting your time with all the sawn stuff. Anyways I love riven wood, OBVIOUSLY. But unfortunately I have not been so fortunate with the beech that I have produced planes from.

Let me explain with a photo. I think it says it all.

I really wish I could find the picture of me trying to split the log this came from. It was like 40" in diameter and had about 10 wedges in it when I gave up and went to rent the biggest chain saw I could get my hands on with a 24" blade. 

If you look closely the fibers follow all the contours. The wood really had that much curl. The distance between the curls is about 7-1/2". That is the biggest curl I have ever seen. 

Anyways, I know that there must be some American beech out there somewhere that is good riving wood. I have yet to find it. It appears the European stuff is much more cooperative from what I read. Until I find some that cooperates with my wedges and froe then I will have to stick with my saw. I still follow the fibers as straight as I can. 

There has been one advantage that seems clear to me and that is the billets that come out of this wood are practically indestructible. I have put some real pressure on thin mortise walls just to test them. They are so tough and that applies to the wedges as well. 

Let me know your experience if you have light to shed on the subject.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Drilling The Mortise On A Moulding Plane Accurately & Efficiently By Hand

I am really excited to be sharing this method of drilling. I know I started this subject a while back on drilling by hand with a bit and brace but I never followed up on the rest of the process. The reason is, frankly, I have struggled a bit with doing this part with absolute confidence every time I approached it. Now though I have been using a new approach that has changed all that. Heres how it goes. Warning- This is a bit of a long post but it is worth it.

First off, out with the bit brace and in with the cordless drill. I know, I know but once you see the results, and I guarantee they are worth it, then you can try this with a bit brace if you want. I love my bit brace but until I find some bits that are long enough, thin enough and don't break then I am going to stick with my new method.

In fact what prompted this new method is that one of the tiny Japanese auger bits I used to drill the mortises broke. I order these from a German supplier and shipping, etc. is a real pain in the wallet. I wanted something simpler.

So then, you will need some long thin drill bits. More on where to source these at the end of the post. Lets get to the process.

The key to making this who process so simple and elegant is a drilling jig. Trust me this isn't cheesy. Whats cool is that you likely already have this jig if you make moulding planes. It is the saw guide jig. This guides your saw as you cut the bed and breast angles. Below is the jig on the plane billet. (Billet has been sawn and waste from escapement chopped away already)

Moulding plane saw guide in place

So this is how it began... I came down to the shop on one weekend before getting ready to do a big order and as I had just broken a tiny auger bit recently I was pondering a new way to get the job done. I was even considering doing the efficient approach Matt Bickford uses with the drill press. Nothing wrong with this method at all. In fact, I had already ordered some long thin drill bits just for giving this method a try. However, If you know me though, I hate to set up any kind of machine or jig. I use them only when it is the most efficient method and only when any other way is just frustrating. As I have said before, I am just too lazy to set up a jig if I don't really really have too. I promise this is not a purist notion it really is just me being lazy.

So, I was thinking about how to make the jigs work on my drill press when my new method just jumped out at me. I though, why not just flip the saw guide around to the top of the billet and then use it as a drilling guide. All that was missing was the other angle for the "lean" of the blade in the plane. 

In practice you will align the jig with your drilling location so that you can just rest your drill lightly against the jig to maintain the correct angle. This takes care of the bed and breast angles.

I figured that the "lean" angle could simply be drawn on the end of the jig and I could just approximate the angle by judging the gap between my drill bit and the drawn line. 

Use the same process on both the bed and breast angles. Then, depending on the # size of plane you are drilling, you will do as many as one or two additional holes between the bed and breast holes.

These above ones are #2s and the ones below are #4s. I always do four holes for the #2 and three holes for the #4. The center holes are just approximated but I still use the lean angles on the jig to keep that on track. 

You will want to start with some very shallow pilot holes. Just deep enough to get the bit started at a steep angle. I do this before placing the jig on the billet. Start the drill bit at 90˚ to the top and then swinging the dill to the approximate drilling angle. It helps to place the billet in the tail vise with the mortise being vertical. It is easier to approximate vertical then any other random angle. I don't try to actually apply any down pressure but just attempt to get the hole started in the right direction. You can see a "pilot" hole on the #4 plane below.

Once all of the holes are drilled then you are ready to remove the very little waste remaining. Before you start this next part it is a good idea to go back and carefully "redrill" the holes to pull any shavings out. Be careful since you can easily drill into the bed or breast. 

Now, Start at the top and just nibble your way down until you can't remove any more waste. Take little bites and clear every little nibble out so that it doesn't remain in the mortise. Hand pressure is all you need here.

Once you can't remove anymore waste then you are ready to mortise straight down the bed and breast angle. Again, take light blows and alternate from bed to breast until you are through. As long as you can get a float into the mortise and start clearing things out you are done. It is easy to get really stuck so do as little as is needed in this position.

By the way if you have never made a plane then the video from Old Street Tools is the one to get. It will make this post more understandable. Larry Williams and Lie-Nielsen did a fantastic job on explaining how to make a pair of hollow and round moulding planes. Get it if you don't have it.

The crucial tool to make this possible is the long thin drill bits. You will need to special order these very likely. I want to mention that Bill Anderson who teaches at The Woodwrights School emailed me a while back and turned me on to this source. Thanks Bill! 

Above is a photo of the list of drill bits I own from McMaster-Carr just for drilling these holes. I primarily use the smaller bits since those are the hardest to find that are long enough.

You will still need to grind these into a brad point bit. It isn't really hard but it is intimidating if you have never done it.  Peter Galbert taught me this method and he has two great posts on his blog from years ago on how to do it. Post #1 & #2. If I where you, I would practice on some used up bits you have lying around. Don't be intimidated. Give it a try and you will feel empowered and surprised at what a little know how can do for you. No need to buy those expensive HSS brad points when you can grind your own. 

After all is said and done I just like how so many people can have an effect on how we personally reach an efficient and accurate way to our work. 

Keep sharing!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Follow My Micro Blog On Instagram @CalebJamesBlog

I've mentioned it before but I am really good at taking quick snap shots on my cell phone camera but not following up and posting about it. As you can imagine at the end of the day I am tired and I convince myself that I will make a proper post about whatever it is that I snapped a picture of at some later point. Needless to say it just doesn't quite make it here on the blog so many times.

So, that is why I decided to post some of those regular photos on Instagram. Some of you know what that is, some of you don't. It is basically a place that you can share photos and add a comment. I have been using this app on my phone for about a year now to quickly share photos with my family around the world. It is great. I think it will be a great platform to share some of my shop notes in a digital form.

If you want to follow what happens then the best way is to download the app for your smart phone and follow the user name CalebJamesBlog. You can go here as well to see whats happening on your PC or Mac.

If you see this profile picture you got the right account.

I look forward to your feedback as I get to posting shop life.

Take care!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why Use A Wooden Rabbet Plane & How To Guide Them By Hand

Rabbet planes so quickly get overlooked when it comes to making moulding. It is kinda crazy really. Because once you get into making moulding by hand you realize the rabbet plane is used for probably 90% of the cuts. Yeah no kidding.

We like to dream about all those shapely hollows & rounds and forget that they just do the final few passes and make all the hard work of the rabbet look pretty. I guess it is like how Stevie Ray Vaughan plays such awesome riffs you forget about Double Trouble. They are ONLY THE REST OF THE BAND! Its too easy to forget that without those really fat bass lines and super tight drum lines that Stevie would sound pretty lonely.

But seriously, the rabbet plane is not just an old version of a metal shoulder plane. Though it looks like its primitive cousin its function is for a totally different purpose all together. Shoulder planes are designed to remove relatively small amounts of end grain material. That is why it has a low angle of attack, around 38˚.

On the other hand rabbet planes are bedded like a typical bench plane with the  intent of removing large amounts of face grain material and quickly. No playing around here. Try and do that with a heavily set shoulder plane and it will just jam full of shavings in a hurry and feel pretty weak while doing it.

So here to remind you of the power of the rabbet plane I present two more sad low-budget videos. I know, what a let down. You might find the second video more useful though. It demonstrates how to start and guide a rabbet plane by hand (sans fence).

As always Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Install A Handle In A Wooden Body Plane

Welcome back to the low budget video series all about wooden planemaking. You know the drill. I work in the shop and at random pull out my camera and shoot a short segment of what I am doing at that moment. Then you try and decipher what I showed and how to apply it. Your welcome.

Maybe someday I will get a proper camera and set aside two weeks to make and edit a complete series on how to make an entire plane like a rabbet or panel raiser or whatever. But until I do a Kickstarter or someone drops a paycheck in my lap for those two weeks this is probably about the best I can muster at the moment. I really do hope they are of some value. Anyhow, on to the handle instillation.

When making the mortise for the handle this is one of those places that I count on machine work to make a precision slot. I use my slot mortiser to make the slot and then I square up the corners with a corner chisel. I do this so that the joint makes the best glue up as possible. 

Also, I don't want just the sides of the handle to adhere to the mortise but the bottom of the handle should make contact in the mortise as well. Usually in a typical furniture joint this would be end grain and wouldn't need to be glued but in this case we can take full advantage of the long grain surfaces coming together. This adds nearly a third more glueing surface to the joint. 

When fitting the handle make the mortise first. Then with the handle left slightly oversized you can plane it down to make a perfect fit to the joint. I make some criss cross cuts about two thirds of the way up around the bottom of the handle to let the surfaces stay tight but slip together. This also lets any heavy build up of glue have a place to escape to rather than resisting instillation of a really tight joint.

The gap at the front of the handle is filled with a wedge. I actually undercut the back of the mortise ever so slightly and match the back of the handle with the same angle. Therefore once the front of the handle is wedged in place it locks the handle in place. It is a little thing but I figure why not.

One of the things I have seen "messed up" on a number of planes is the instillation of the handle. Often times it is a lot to do with the orientation of the wood. It might seem wrong at first but note that the handle wood is oriented in exactly the same way as the body of the plane. Quarter sawn and grain running front to back not up and down. If you glue in a handle with the grain up and down, the cross grain orientation of the two pieces with break the glue line within a few moisture cycles for sure.

Other than the wood orientation you need a good tight fit between the glue surfaces. That is what I show in the video and you really must use hide glue. Liquid hide glue is fine. I prefer the Old Brown glue brand but will use the Titebond brand as well. The Old Brown brand is nice and stinky like the glue pot version. I actually love the smell but then again I am sort of weird like that. You'll still need to heat the liquid version though. I would have shown the glue up but I didn't have anyone to hold the camera.

Again, don't use the yellow glue (PVA). When the joints are really tight the glue grabs when you are putting the joints together and it is a real pain. I only use the stuff for edge gluing joints. This is just the chairmaker in me coming out. Us guys never use the PVA stuff unless we feel like crying. Use what you want, you've been warned.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Plans For Wooden Planes Are Available Again!

I started getting plenty of emails a few days ago when Dropbox disabled all my links along with probably thousands of other Dropbox users. It appears they had a security issue.

Anyhow it took them several days to make it possible to reactivate the links. If you have been searching for the wooden plane plans I offer then here they are back up and running. The dropbox download pages look different but the plans are there.

3/4" Rabbit Plane 

7/8" Ogee Moulding Plane

15" Fore/Jack Plane

1/2" Side Round Plane Pair

Coffin Shaped Smoother