I utilize many traditional forms of joinery in constructing furniture or cabinetry. Many of these joints are made more repeatable using the advantages of modern machines and the accuracy they yield. It is important though, to pay attention to every joint's "fit" and be able to fine-tune each with a hand tool, if necessary. The accuracy to which mating parts fit together, determines the longevity of a wood joint.
Of the many hand planes for sale, you'll pay top dollar to get one as good as you can make from wood. While quality cast iron is heavier and stays flat over seasonal changes, a well tuned wooden handplane is the most sensitive instrument in the shop. Its lighter weight and personalized shape fit comfortably in the hands, allowing you the versatility to push or pull each stroke.
A wooden plane can be constructed to suit specific work, perhaps with a steep bed angle for stubborn grain or a curved bottom for concave shapes, as pictured here. A variety of woods are suitable for the body, especially those known to react little with humidity. A good plane will stay reasonably flat, have proper adjustability of the iron, and feel true to the hands.
Knives and Chisels
Preparing joinery often calls for specialty cutters to clean up tight corners or reach difficult areas in which other tools won't fit. Here are some knives and chisels modified to accomplish these specific tasks.
The quality of steel is another consideration in edge tools, however subjective. Western and Japanese style blades each have their merits. I use both. The structure of Western steel is homogeneous throughout, whereas Japanese metallurgy utilizes a layer of extremely hard steel at the cutting edge which I find holds up longer. Western made steels take a keen edge but typically wear faster, in turn, making them more forgiving to sharpen.
There exists a world of older machines that are still in their prime after 40 or 50 years of use. The saying "they don't make them like they used to" is mostly true, since these tools remain solid and reliable, able to produce consistent cuts time and again. When precious materials are at stake, I have come to rely on these machines for their unwavering performance.
I took a bronze-casting class and created this little rabbet plane. It's based on a Lie-Nielson design using a wedge system to hold the iron in place. Instead, this one has a cam type hold-down which allows easy adjustment. The body is cast bronze, housing a custom iron made by Ron Hock, who manufactures irons for wooden-planes as well.
The Merits of Sharpening
These days, power sanders and routers have largely replaced the tools our fore bearers used, such as hand planes, chisels, spoke-shaves, etc. Sharpening the steel of traditional tools is something fewer and fewer craftspeople undertake. The reasons stem from a lack of education and also the rise in tool markets that constantly push 'new and better' tools, none of which requires this skill. Modern woodworkers often claim that sharpening is a waste of time, never having experienced the benefits or results. Abrasive technologies have taken the worry out of shaping wood by eliminating the threat of tear-out so commonly associated with edge tools. The clear difference between cutting and sanding is apparent in the surface quality produced in the end. Sandpaper is made of rocks, producing details that are undefined, even monotonous. Wood that has been cut or shaved by a sharp iron articulates crisp details. All in all, traditional hand tools offer a craftsman control and finesse in bringing creations to life.
Until learning how to sharpen well, I struggled with hand tools, not trusting them. It seems there's nothing worse than gouging the grain of an almost finished part because a blade was not sharp. This becomes less of a concern when edge tools are maintained, even on stubborn grain. After machining parts to size, the mill marks are easily erased by handplaning with minimal loss in dimension, leaving a surface that is polished and ready for finish.
© 2011, Down to Earth Woodworks, LLC. All rights reserved.
© 2005-2006 Based on a design by Andreas Viklund.