Thursday, November 19, 2015

Now Taking Pre-Orders on Panel Raisers

So, I've been toying with different versions of panel raisers since this time about two years ago. I have had a lot of questions on the subject. When am I finally going to offer them for sale? Well the bench plane version has hit some road blocks. Getting the proper size stock is not easy in any reasonable quantity. As many of you know, I dry my own stock for that reason. I do have some air drying right now but it will be quite some time before it is ready. Then the irons that I specify for the design is another issue altogether.

Recently I decided to take another look at the panel raiser in a side escapement format and have developed a plane that I am quite happy with. It does all the things I want it to. And, I have enough stock on hand to produce a decent size run of this plane with irons that are available from Lie-Nielsen. I can finally offer a panel raiser!

This plane is, as I said, a side escapement plane like other moulding planes. It has a skewed iron for making cross grain cuts that are smooth. It is bedded at 50˚ for hardwoods. It will make a nice clean fillet in hardwoods without a nicker.

The width of the profile is 1-1/4" with a depth of cut of 5/16". This is sized for furniture panels. With that in mind, if you typically use a groove in your panel frame of 1/4" then your panel would be anywhere from 9/16" thick and up. I would typically raise the panel on the front and then flip it to the back and use the same plane to cut down only as far as needed to cut the tongue thickness to match the frame groove. You can, of course, decrease your tongue thickness to say 3/16" and the panel could be 1/2" thick. This size gives you some flexibility rather than being sized for only 3/4" thick panels.

Here is a video of it in action. I'm getting a bit fancier with my editing. Now you don't have to watch all the boring parts and both the cross grain cuts and the long grain cuts are all in one video. 

If you would like to place a preorder then follow this link to my shop. I am limiting the production run so if the quantity says 0 then you can shoot me an email to get on the waiting list for the next round. I will be offering alternate profiles in the future. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Want to Donate and Help Others In a Time of Need? Here's How

As I sit here this morning thinking about all the work that needs to be done to recover from last week's storm here in South Carolina I remember back to when I had more time to volunteer to help others in times of need. I have very fond memories from June 2001 when, after my wife and I had been married for only two weeks, tropical storm Allison hit Houston, TX where we lived. It was a terrible disaster from all the flooding. We lived in a part of town that was spared, so what were we to do but jump in with both feet and start helping? We volunteered nearly every weekend for 9 months straight. We were part of a crew of great volunteers that helped repair about 800 homes in that time. It was a mammoth effort but just a small part of all the work that went on that year and the next.

Then came hurricane Katrina in '05 and all the refugees that fled to Houston for relief. Right on the heels of that came hurricane Rita that hit south east Texas. There we were, my brother and I and our wives, sleeping in tents and cutting and removing downed trees all day so that crews could come behind us to put tarps up to keep the rain out of already seriously damaged homes. The look of relief on the homeowner's faces - knowing that they weren't in it alone - was priceless. Those were some great days.

Next came hurricane Ike in '08. I had a box truck for my business that happened to have a refrigerated cab on it. I never used it for refrigeration, but it came in handy when my brother and I delivered ice, water and other perishable food to those in need. Others donated the supplies, we donated our time and fuel. It was definitely a team effort.

It was great being a part of those things and I really miss it. As I sit here knowing that there are so many that need a helping hand right now, I recall a woman that, when she saw us just a day or two after a hurricane damaged her home, she said, "I was ready to lay down and die until I saw you all coming to help." It's amazing that we can have that impact on others just by our presence. We hadn't even lifted a finger yet. Money is one thing, but being there is much more.

I am writing this because right now I seem to be out of the loop of those volunteering and I also have family responsibilities that prevent me from dropping everything to go see where I can start working and helping. I know I will catch wind of it in the coming days and I hope to see what I can do then but, for now, I want to encourage those of you that see a need and can do something to jump right in. It's probably one of the most fulfilling things you can do to express your humanity and the bonds you form with others while doing this will last a lifetime, I promise you.

In view of the situation I am going to donate 100% of my sales on some select planes that I recently completed after filling back orders. Here's the deal - you pledge to volunteer your time to help somewhere, anywhere, and, in exchange, you can purchase one of these planes for $250 (reg. $345) - all of which I will be donating. If you aren't able to give time, then please donate to an organization that helps others in need. I will leave it up to you to decide how much time or money you wish to donate - just do something! Please visit my shop to purchase the qualifying items and help me do something too!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Modern Vs. Traditional Spoke Shaves

As many of you already know, I began my woodworking career as a furniture maker and quickly went to making chairs almost exclusively. As you can imagine, that let to a lot of time using a spoke shave. I have formed a few opinions on what makes a great shave and have been interested in exploring what makes a really great traditional spoke shave.

Back in May of this year, while hosting a windsor chairmaking class by Peter Galbert, I got poking around his shave collection and quickly settled on one that I have had a deep interest in making for quite some time. It was a traditional shave in boxwood with a blade that is fitted with bent tapered tangs. You probably know the style. They were made by the thousands in the 19th century but any you find today are usually quite worn out from use.

I wanted to take a moment and describe the difference between these spoke shaves and modern ones. I think great examples of a modern spoke shave are the Brain Boggs designed ones that Lie-Nielsen sell. They are so well known that I need not say much. They function much like a plane and are intuitive in how they are used and set up to anyone that has used a hand plane. They're great on long grain wood fibers and for making final finish cuts.

Now there are the traditional spoke shaves that are not intuitive to use for the novice. Explaining their function is not simple to do in words. I have a video demonstration below.  Essentially the blade has one setting. However, the depth of cut is determined by where you apply pressure on the toe of the sole in front of the blade. The toe is slightly rounded so if you rock further forward you will be taking a lighter cut while if you rock further back toward the blade you will take a deeper cut. Much like a travisher. This functionality makes these shaves incredibly versatile. You can go from a cut that is hogging off material straight into a finish cut, all done by feel. These may feel a bit awkward to use initially because of this versatility but you will quickly realize how great these shaves are. They really excel on end grain shaping such as on the front of a windsor chair seat.

One of the drawbacks I wanted to address in this design was how quickly all wood spoke shaves tend to wear unevenly on the sole. Some try to address this with a brass sole but I wanted to keep that all wood feel and avoid adding the clunky appearance and feel that brass on wood seems to do. I added an end grain boxing insert to the sole like you would see on a wooden plane. This takes more work than slapping a piece of brass on but I am really happy with the results. This is a prototype shave, by the way, so I promise the production ones will have a centered blade and boxing. :)

Boxing insert to minimize wear
After several months of exploration I developed what I think captures the feel and function of a traditional shave while also capturing the look of one, as well. Here is a short video describing the function of my traditional style spoke shave versus a modern one.

Stay tuned for more on the production of this spoke shave. In the meantime you can email me at calebjames(at)me(dot)com if you would like to get on the wait list. I am aiming for December 2015 to start on these and possibly completion in January. The price will be $185 + shipping.


Monday, September 21, 2015

How to Cut a Thumbnail Profile on a Tabletop

Recently I was finishing up another short run of ogee planes and decided to make a few thumbnail planes that I have had on my "to do" list, as well. It also gave me a chance to explain how this plane can be used. I shot a short video to show the general process.

This thumbnail plane is technically a "Roman" profile and not really "Grecian". That is to say that the arch of the curved profile is not elliptical. However because of the way the arch is laid out on the plane, changing the spring angle can give you an elliptical appearance to the profile. Holding the plane at about 30˚ will give you a more true Roman profile while holding the plane at about 25˚ will result in more of a Grecian or elliptical appearance. It may not seem obvious but if you held the plane and used it you would see the results and why you can achieve this with a simple change.

Here is the video below. I think the only thing I might add to this video that I didn't mention is that you may want to back up the cross grain cuts if you experence exaggerated blow out on the lower portion of the profile. If it is large blow out then it may not get planed away when making the long grain cuts. If that's the case, just place a block of wood equal in thickness to support the wood behind the cut and you will be fine.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where to Buy Quarter Sawn American Beech for Planes - UPDATE

I have some pretty great news for all you out there that have been hunting down quarter sawn beech for planemaking. Usually if you can even find QS beech it is usually sold in large quantities at some random sawyer that has no clue what you are wanting to do with it. When you tell you him you don't want 500-1000 bf of it in the green you can hear him rolling his eyes over the phone. He's too nice to just hang up but he's ready to get off the phone and get back to trying to make some money. 

I know your pain. I spent a lot of time and energy getting what I work with. Maybe someday we'll all have a simpler source than practically going and cutting the tree down ourselves and drying it. Well that someday just got a little closer. Isaac Smith over at Blackburn Tools has just acquired a large section of QS beech that looks fantastic in the photos I've seen. He is guaranteeing the quality of the wood which is a plus. I consider his prices quite fair considering it is cut to rough size and you can purchase in such a small quantity. (as of 8/27/15)

On behalf of all the aspiring planemakers out there Isaac I say "thank you." Very nice to see you offering this and I hope you keep doing so. Spread the word so that Isaac makes this worth his time and will keep it up!

Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Heat Treat Tool Steel for the Hobbyist Tool Maker

As I finish up an article for Popular Woodworking on making Roubo's Hollows and Rounds, one of the things I realized I would like to have more room to talk about is heat treating. The volume of material on the subject can make it seem like an overwhelming obstacle when it comes to making your own tools. But, trust me, it is not as challenging as it seems.

Heat treating O1 tool steel, in principle, is quite simple. Hardening the steel is not much more than bringing it to critical temperature (1450˚-1500˚), quenching it in vegetable oil followed by tempering in a 400° oven for one hour. The real challenge lies in minimizing warpage.

The key to success is heating your steel evenly. Creating an enclosure with something such as fire brick will help you achieve this. The enclosure will act to both block the wind and keep the heat more evenly distributed around the steel. You want the heat from the torch to really envelope the steel, so that means smaller is probably better.

For your heat source, a simple MAPP gas torch will work for most hobbyist applications. This will heat treat 1/8" x 1/2" sizes quite well. It will work on larger pieces if you use careful manipulation of the steel in the flame, from my experience. MAPP gas can heat the steel very quickly - but that is not what you want to do! Remember that even heating of the steel will minimize warpage - so take it slow. If one side is hotter than the other when you quench it in the oil, it will warp. So, again, heat slowly

There are a few methods that will help you determine when you have reached critical temperature. Avoid relying on color to determine temperature since ambient light will affect what color you see. Just like a flashlight appears brighter at night than in daylight, so too color alone in changing light conditions can be deceptive. The simplest way to check that you have reached critical temperature is to use a magnet since O1 tool steel looses its magnetism at approximately this temperature. Below is a short video on how to do this.

Another option is to watch the surface quality of the steel. It will change when critical temperature is reached because the carbon begins to flow within the steel and some decarburization takes place at the surface, thus changing how it looks. It can be described as the steel “sweating” or having a “flushed” appearance. This can take practice to train your eye to see this. The extent to which it occurs also depends on how clean the surface of the steel is and how much oxygen is present. Its best to start with the magnet method and then once you learn what it should look like then you can switch to just doing it by eye. Larry Williams of Old Street Tools has a great video showing what this looks like.

Just as even heating is critical to minimizing warpage, even quenching is essential. Once critical temperature is reached, quench the steel in oil by plunging the blade straight down vertically, not leaning to one side or the other. Plunging down with the blade leaning will cause one side to cool more quickly than the other and warpage will occur. Don't swirl it in the oil, either. That will also cause one side to cool more quickly than the other. Just plunge straight down. 

WARNING: Do not put your hand directly above the oil when you quench your blade. The heat of the steel may cause a small flare up of the oil, burning whatever is in it's path. It is always best to do this outside, well away from any wood shavings, and have a fire extinguisher on hand. Better safe than sorry.

After quenching immediately move the blade to your oven to temper for one hour at 400˚. This will leave you with a hardness of around 62Rc. Plenty good for any woodworking application.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Peter Galbert Demonstrates How to Refine a Windsor Chair Seat Using a Claire Minihan Travisher

This is probably my favorite video of the the series I have posted on carving a windsor chair seat. It is just great to see the process and learn so much so quickly. Here Peter refines the shape of the seat. He has already adzed the bulk of the material away and followed it with an inshave/scorp as was shown in the previous video posts.

Warning! This video sounds like a paid advertisement for Claire Minihan's travisher. Sorry about that but they are really that good. If you happen to want one you can contact her at or visit her site here. I of course don't make a dime off any sales she makes. 


Monday, July 6, 2015

How to Carve a Windsor Chair Seat with an Inshave or Scorp

Here is the next step to the process of shaping and carving a windsor chair seat. This follows up the adze work in the last video I posted. This was taken while Peter Galbert was teaching how to make the chairs from his book at my shop a few months back. Peter here makes the process look easy as always. This is a watch and learn kinda video. Not too long but you get the gist. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Windsor Chair Seat Carving Video with Peter Galbert - How to Use an Adze - Part 1

I promised to post video of Peter giving instruction on carving a seat during the class we had back in May. As you'll see, it all starts with the adze. Peter and Tim Manney collaborated to develop an adze specifically for carving seats (although it would also work just fine for bowls, etc.). I highly recommend it. I already owned an old school adze, but after giving Tim's a go I had to have one. It is so light and effective. I don't think his wait list is super long right now so if you need one it might be a good time to contact him.

Anyway, Peter does a nice job of explaining the function and use of an adze in this video. Enjoy!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Roubo's Irons Don't Taper??!!!

I am flabbergasted. What is up with this? Roubo's irons don't taper?!!!

There I was, just flipping through the several pages of planes in The Book of Plates that LAP produced - as I do just about every day, it seems. (I tell ya, this book is worth its weight in gold to me.) So, this particular day, I was meticulously studying the plane irons because I am delving further into making planes that are based on Roubo's drawings. I'll actually be contributing an article to  Popular Woodworking in the near future on this subject. I promise that all of you aspiring planemakers out there will love it. It doesn't require any specialized tools and they are very simple to make.

Roubo style plane based on the Book of Plates

Anyway, I have been trying to decide how I wanted to go about making the irons. I just assumed that his irons were tapered from thick at the cutting edge to thinner at the opposite end. Then I just happened to flip to some pages showing some of his earlier drawings and BAM! there it was - a side view of the irons clearly showing both the bench plane and the side escapement plane with parallel thickness irons! No taper!

I know what you are thinking, "He just didn't draw the subtle taper of the irons." This is possible, but he clearly knew how to draw a tapered iron because the plow plane irons on plate 16 are clearly tapered. However, the irons shown on plate 13 are not tapered even the slightest.

Roubo - Plate 13

This sort of rocked everything that I assumed about antique irons. Most of those I know who think on this subject believe that the irons were tapered to save metal. So what is going on here? Could it be that the tapered irons of the British and American planes were made that way because it, in fact, added functional value? I believe this is the case. I think this actually gives reason to believe that the added functional value of tapered irons wasn't just an unintended benefit of a frugal planemaker. Maybe it was an accidental discovery, but continuation of the practice was surely intentional. After all, if the reason was only to save metal, then why would the planes Roubo knew of have even-thickness irons from toe to heel? Wouldn't they be interested in saving iron too? Wasn't it just as expensive for them at the time? And, wouldn't it be more difficult for a blacksmith to make an even-thickness iron? Lots of unanswered questions here, but I wanted to share my findings with you all. I personally hate to speculate too much, but it is interesting, nonetheless.

One thing is answered, though: I have wondered why there was a sneck on his irons. This explains it! I am still sold on tapered irons, but this gives some food for thought.