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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Evolution of the Panel Raising Plane, à la Caleb James

I have been enamored by the panel raising plane ever since I watched Roy Underhill use one in The Woodwright's Shop episode entitled Raising Panel-Zona. I saw that plane and decided I had to make one. So I did. If you were a reader back in October 2013, you may remember the post in which I talked about that first one I made. Ironically, Bill Anderson came out with an article on making a raised panel plane in Popular Woodworking magazine about 3 days later. Bill is a great resource for restoring vintage planes.

The version I made turned out pretty well, but the profile was based on what you would see on a router bit common today. As it turns out, modern router bits don't really reflect the profiles found on antique furniture. This is no surprise, really, seeing as modern day bits are made for architectural work like kitchen cabinets, shutters, full size doors or the like. The scale is a bit large. I could tell  something wasn't quite right about it for furniture, and so the plane never went to production. I had to get the profile proportions just right first.

About a year later I visited Winterthur and was able to look at a couple of pieces there. I could see that the scale was, in fact, smaller on those planes and it helped me nail down the proportions that look correct for a furniture piece.

About 6 months later I ran into Roy Underhill at a Lie-Nielsen hand tool event where I was demonstrating some of my planes. I showed Roy the updated panel raiser that he inspired me to make and, the next day, he brought the actual ones from the show. It was a real treat! The proportions and skew from the two planes he brought were different, but not completely. Interestingly, my plane's profile and skew proportions were nearly an average of the two. Needless to say, I felt I was on the right track after that.

But, I wanted to take it a step further. Why not make it even more authentic with a blacksmith-forged, laminated iron? I think most would agree that there are few people who know how that iron should be made better than Peter Ross. He did, after all, study the tool chest of Benjamin Seaton 1797 and all the iron work in it. Here is an iron that he made for me. It is just wonderful.

Unfinished Blacksmith Forged Laminated Iron (left) O1 Tool Steel Iron (right)
This plane has been a long time coming. So, I'll be talking more about this panel raising plane in posts to come and will eventually take pre-orders on them, as well. In the meantime, you can see a little clip of the plane in action in this Instagram post. I'll put up the full video soon.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Now Taking Pre-Orders on Side Beading Planes!

UPDATE: As of 6/8/15 -9:20 est- no more new pre-orders on this plane until next time. As always, THANK YOU for your enthusiasm! UPDATE

Its official, I am taking orders on side bead planes again! I am limiting it initially to the most versatile and used size for furniture, the 3/16" size. If you are interested in the 1/8" or 1/4" shoot me an email. I will then see what I can do to work those sizes into the production schedule based on demand. I'll close pre-orders shortly so place your order in the shop now. I begin production in two weeks and will be shipped upon completion there after. First shipments estimated week of July 13th.

For the sake of new readers... My planes are made from stock that I cut, dry and season. It is American beech and the planes are made in a traditional 18th century style and construction. These are not four piece planes glued together here. They are solid one piece construction that will last a couple hundred years if you and your grandchildren store them properly. Once the stock is roughed out on the table saw, the making process is 99% completed with hand tools. The blades are Lie-Nielsen tapered moulding blanks that I profile and heat treat in house.

Here is a short video of the 3/16" side bead plane in use.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Riving and Steam Bending Videos With Peter Galbert + Book Review

Peter and I had a great time with the class that was in the shop recently. I took the time to shoot a few videos and will be posting them up here in time. These aren't exactly instructional videos but you can sure learn a lot from these short clips. Pair this with his new book and you are not far off from making a chair.

Oh, by the way, here is an excerpt from my review of his new book from Lost Art Press.

"If green woodworking knowledge were money then Peter Galbert would be a millionaire and if you said to him "show me d'a money" he would show you this book"

I think that was one of the excerpts found on the inside first few pages of the book. So honored to be included in that list along with other well know reviewers. So humbled.

I really liked what Disney said, "An instant classic"

Along with A. J. Roubo who said, "Un homme après mon propre cœur"

Enough out of me just watch the videos and enjoy!

If you like this and want to see more then stay tuned. I'll get a few more up, hopefully, sooner rather than later. Then again I could just quote Peter after six days of instruction and say "Its all in the book" :)

Friday, May 29, 2015

What is a Mother Plane?

I get asked all the time at events where I demonstrate my planes - "How do you cut the profiles on the sole?"

The answer is easy...well, sort of. :) I start by making a plane that is exactly like I want my final production plane to be. I call this my prototype plane. I cut that profile with hollows and rounds along with rabbets and/or plow planes. However, I don't want to do that for every plane I want to make in the future because it would be tedious and take a really long time. Therefore, I use this prototype plane to make a mother plane which is essentially a "negative" of the profile I want.

I can then cut multiple plane soles with this mother plane, all of them being virtually identical. These planes that are made from the mother are then called daughter planes. It is a good process but it is tricky to make a good mother plane. It involves making planes with multiple irons in order to cut these mucho complex profiles.

I have been making these mother planes for quite some time now, and was thrilled to discuss them with Bill Anderson recently. He is in the process of studying a very large collection of antique mother planes and he told me that the original makers would typically combine multiple dedicated planes to make complex profiles rather than putting multiple irons in a single plane. I can see some advantage to this, but also some disadvantage. I may try this in the future for some other profiles, and look forward to seeing more from his research down the road.

Anyway, I put together some videos of the process. The first is a time lapse of the process and the others are the full, comparatively slow process. I hope you enjoy seeing how this is done.

Also there are a few of these Ogee and reverse Ogee planes left in the shop.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ogee And Reverse Ogee Moulding Planes Up for Pre-Sale

Hey all! I am sure you've been wondering where I have been off to for so long. Yep, you guessed it - making a load of 1/2" ogee and reverse ogee moulding planes.

If you have been wanting one, here is your chance. It has been a long haul on this run of planes and I am almost done with them. I am doing something different this time around. This time, instead of taking pre-orders before I even start and making you wait for months, you can place your order just a couple weeks before they are ready to go. There are limited quantities. (Do I even need to say that?)

You can place your pre-orders here in the shop on my new website (...that is only partially completed, Sorry!). If you are on my wait list for a specialty wood ogee plane I will be emailing you directly.

Ogee Moulding Plane

I should tell you that quite a lot of research has gone into these planes. First off, I had to establish what is and was traditionally the most used size of ogee plane. Consulting with the likes of Chris Schwarz helped me zero in on my size choices based on his knowledge of tool inventories from probate records. Then I spent time with Bill Anderson crawling through his collection of Ogee planes to find some beautiful examples. Thanks you two! I appreciate how this community shares its knowledge. Lots of givers out there.

Oh and here's an interesting factoid: All of these planes (and many to come) were made from a stash of quarter sawn beech that I purchased from Tom Lie-Nielsen. Story is he, at one time, was going to make moulding planes. Plans changed and I scored some wood that had seasoned for many years.

Reverse Ogee Moulding Plane

I also researched the plethora of ogee and reverse ogee plane profiles offered over the many years that they were made to settle on the proportion, angle, degrees of a circle for the cyma, etc. for just the right profile for furniture work.   

In short, I didn't want to make this plane until I felt completely comfortable that it was going to be really sweet. I feel good about these planes and I hope you do too.

Here is a peek at the planes in use in these YouTube videos. Enjoy!