Category Archives: Tool Reviews

Reviews of tools both new and old

Organic Buttery Spread and Hide Glue

When I am out in the workshop and I need to glue something up quickly using hide glue or need only a small amount of hide glue where it is not worth the time and trouble to mix up some traditional hide glue from the pellets, I place a bottle of Old Brown Glue  (OBG) in my electric glue pot and let it warm up in the water. (When not in use that bottle lives in the workshop refrigerator to extend it’s life).

Old Brown Glue in my electric glue pot
Old Brown Glue in my electric glue pot

Once heated up the glue flows a lot better. The one thing I don’t like about the OBG bottle after heating is that it has a tendency to flow quickly and can quickly release way too much glue onto a given surface. Also after pouring out some glue, when you return the bottle to an upright position the air in the bottle has a tendency to shoot a blob of molten glue which can land on your project, your face, your cat, your wife — basically anywhere except the glue joint.

Hot hide glue ready to be used
Hot hide glue ready to be used

To combat this I normally pour some glue out onto the TOP of the lid of a plastic container. Usually Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread (which is a surprisingly good butter substitute) or the lid to a container of Breakstone’s Sour Cream work well as they both have a depression in the center that keeps the glue on the lid. You want a lid that is made of a flexible plastic and one that has a logo that will not come off.  If the glue gets cold I can add some more warm glue and reinvigorate some of the glue that gelled on the lid but eventually the lid can get covered with glue that has cooled down.

The dried glue is easily removed from the lid
The dried glue is easily removed from the lid

At the end of the day whatever is left on the lid will sit until it hardens. In a day or so I can bend the plastic lid and peel off the glue as a big disc. If the glue is still fairly fresh you can reheat it in a glue pot and use it again or if it is old or contaminated by dust or other foreign materials you can toss it and start over.

I’ve been a big fan of hide glue in recent years — for its reversibility, workability, compatibility with finishes and historical accuracy. If you’d like to learn more about hide glue and its many properties and uses check out the book “Hide Glue: Historical and Practical Applications” by my friend Stephen A. Shepherd via his blog here.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. The woodworking community was sad to learn that Stephen A. Shepherd recently had a serious stroke. He is in our thoughts and prayers and we all wish him a speedy and full recovery.

Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works

One of the lessons I learned while I was a student at the North Bennet Street School was an appreciation for quality hand tools and the superior work they can help produce. A hand tool that works well and feels good in the hand can be a joy to use — and all the better if that fine tool is also easy on the eyes.

NBSS America's First Trade School
NBSS America’s First Trade School

Many hand tools on the market today mimic or improve upon the designs of earlier tools. I love my Lie-Nielsen planes and chisels which take advantage of newer materials and manufacturing techniques and produce traditional tools that look great and work even better. A few makers have been a bit bolder with their designs and use of manufacturing technology — some of the new Veritas planes like the side rabbet or custom planes, Knew concepts coping saw and Woodpecker’s line of one time tools among others.

When I think about tools that are pushing the envelope in terms of design, use, manufacturing quality, and aesthetic appeal, John Economaki’s work is at the top of my list. If you are not familiar with John or his work, he founded Bridge City Tool Works in 1983 and like a fine micro-brewer has been making small batch runs of incredible tools ever since. Given the small production runs  these ultra premium tools have been a the higher end of the market and are popular with woodworkers and collectors. I’d love to buy every tool he makes if I had the budget to buy them all, but even one or two in your tool chest will be a delight to look at and use on a regular basis.

NBSS Edition Bridge City Try Square
NBSS Edition Bridge City Try Square

Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works

If you live in the Pacific Northwest you can see some of John’s toolmaking prowess and furniture making skill at the “Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works” exhibit which is currently at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue Washington. The exhibit will run through February 1, 2015. (The exhibit was curated by Nicole Nathan in collaboration with Economaki and formerly seen at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon) and is a celebration of John’s work and dedication to quality.

If you are like me and live in the Northeast, do not despair — this exhibition will also be making its way to Boston in the new year. I am happy to report that the North Bennet Street School in Boston will be hosting this exhibition the late spring of 2015.

You can learn more about the exhibit at NBSS and tool here along with a personal appeal from NBSS President Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez here. Admission to the exhibit will be free and it will surely be a inspirational experience for both craftsmen and patrons of the arts.

Old North Bennet Street Industrial School Sign
Old North Bennet Street Industrial School Sign

“I am a huge fan of North Bennet Street School and can’t think of a more relevant venue on the East Coast for the exhibit – it is really quite an honor.” — John Economaki

Now here is the part where NBSS needs your help. Exhibitions are costly and, as a non-profit, the school has to raise $20,000 in funds to cover the installation, travel expenses and insurance. To help underwrite the costs, John Economaki designed a limited edition TS-1 Try Square (see photo above and below). The tool is 6.5” long, just under 4” in height and features a stainless steel blade with an 8:1 internal cutout for laying out dovetails. The innovative handle design interjects a fun combination of colors giving it a unique voice in the tool world. Individuals who contribute $250 or more, receive the NBSS square. For contributions of more than $400, supporters receive both the tool and a copy of the exhibit book.

Bridge City Book and Try Square
Bridge City Exhibit Book and Try Square

If you’d like to help support this worthwhile exhibit you can make your donation here.

Donations over $75 are tax deductible and if you work for a larger corporation you may want to see if they have a donation matching program. At my current day job, and my last job as well, they will match any donations I made thus effectively doubling my contributions. I encourage you to do the same if possible. I’ve already made my donation and eagerly await my new tool and book. I also look forward to seeing you at the exhibition.

Take care,
-Bill

Real Men Wear Aprons

Throughout history many craftsmen (and craftswomen) have worn aprons as they ply their trade. A good workshop apron will help to keep some dust and dirt off of your clothes, keep your pencil(s), block plane and other essentials close at hand. It’s also an item you will spend a LOT of time wearing, so you better get something you like and make sure if fits comfortably.

Real Men Wear Aprons
Real Men Wear Aprons

For the past ten years or so my main apron has been the standard canvas apron from Lee Valley (seen below). Made in Canada this apron met all the basic criteria — covered by torso, had a pocket with a cover, has a pocket for my pencils etc. Over the years the pencil pocket has worn out at the top edges, saw dust finds its way into the pockets (and I empty it every so often), it has survived many a washing though the chest is becoming a bit on the thin side. All in all I have been very happy with this apron.

My old Lee Valley Apron
My trusty old Lee Valley Apron

Since that time I also bought a Rockler apron that goes over the shoulder instead of around your neck, and a nice festool apron that wears a bit more like a vest. The Rockler apron was a pain to get on sometimes (the shoulder straps often got messed up, though I liked the idea of not having weight around my neck) and the Festool apron while nice didn’t cover as much and so I hardly ever wore these aprons and preferred to keep adding miles to the old Lee Valley apron.  (Plus it was a Christmas present from my Dad).

Carhartt Shop Apron
Carhartt Shop Apron

I wear a lot of Carhartt gear — I find it is made better and lasts a lot longer than other brands I’ve had in the past. (I’m looking at you Lee Carpenter Jeans that wore out way too fast…). Where I live we have one of the few Carhartt owned retail stores which caries most of the lines Carhartt makes and sells. While much of the stuff they make is made overseas — they do still make a line of Made In the USA garments and accessories and whenever possible I try to buy from this line.

According to Carhartt’s web page, less than 2% of all the clothing sold in America is actually made in America — that is a very scary number. The only way more clothing is going to be made in the USA is customers seek out and buy more of the clothing made in this country. (I also like American Apparel and Red Wing who also still make clothing products in the USA) You can learn more about Carhartt’s Made in the USA line here along with an interesting video talking about how and why they still make some products in the USA.

During my most recent visit I saw they had a table full of Carhartt 125th Anniversary gear and accessories including the workshop apron above.

Carhartt Made in the USA Line
Carhartt Made in the USA Line

Also from the tag above that came with the apron some portion of the sale will help support Carhartt’s $25,000 donation to SkillsUSA which helps train students for careers in technical, skilled and service occupations while fostering “total quality at work — high ethical standards, superior work skills, lifelong education, and pride in the dignity of work” and promoting community service.

125th Anniversary Made In The USA Line
125th Anniversary Made In The USA Line

So far I am very happy with this new apron. (It was $34.99 — about the same price as my old Lee Valley apron which goes for $38 today) It is well made from Carhartt’s famous heavy duck canvas with rivet reinforced pockets. The fabric is noticeably thicker than my old apron and much longer though it does not seem to get in the way of my movements.

Riveted Top Pocket With Buttons
Riveted Top Pocket With Buttons

A nice wide (and soft) adjustable strap that goes around your neck along with a loop for hanging it up

Hook for hanging
Hook for hanging

Reinforced pockets (double layer of fabric) to help keep sharp objects from poking through the bottom.

Reinforced Pocket Bottoms
Reinforced Pocket Bottoms

A pocket much like that on my carpenter jeans — great for cell phone, utility knife or similar.

Carpenter's Pocket -- Like on my jeans
Carpenter’s Pocket — Like on my jeans

Along with my favorite feature — a loop for holding my combination square.

Apron pocket for holding a combo square
Apron pocket for holding a combo square

The apron ties in the back much as you see on other traditional aprons. I may get a set of plastic side release buckles as that was what I was used to, or maybe an Apron Hook but so far tying the apron behind my back has not been bad.

If you are in the market for a reasonably priced, Made In The USA workshop apron I would suggest checking this apron out before they stop making it — seems like it will be a limited run item.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S.  They also seem to make a line of tool rolls and tool pouches out of the same materials. If you’d like to learn about making some of your own tools rolls and similar items for the shop check out these earlier posts.

P.P.S. Not related to woodworking at all, but Carhartt also made a nice Made in the USA duck canvas blanket that is sherpa lined and is my new favorite couch accessory.

Carhartt Made in the USA Blanket
Carhartt Made in the USA Blanket

Stanley H-104 — The Little Plane That Could

Some tools have an interesting story to tell. The little known Stanley H104 is one of those tools. Below is another guest post by my good friend James A. Clarke who shared with me a detailed write-up on this 1960s Stanley bench plane with disposable cutters that worked much the way a Gillette shaving razor cartridge works today. The content below is mildly edited from Jim’s original text to better suit delivery via a blog post, but I tried to capture the essence of his message and included some additional images. I hope that you will enjoy learning about the Stanley H104 plane — “The Little Plane That Could!”

The Stanley “Handyman” H-104 Plane
by James A. Clarke

Introduction to “The Little Plane That Could!”
This post is about the Stanley Tool Company’s “Handyman” Bench Plane Model H-104 offered in 1962 as a low cost alternative to their many other higher priced offerings. The so-called “do-it-yourself” movement was well underway following WWII through the 50’s and early 60’s, but by this time demand for higher priced planes was significantly reduced and thus gave rise to the need for manufacturers to appeal to budget-minded buyers with low-cost alternatives. It was also apparent that do-it-yourselfers and the “handyman” didn’t require the top-end line of tools for household tasks.

Stanley H104 Dis-assembled (Photo by James A. Clarke 2004)
Stanley H104 Dis-assembled  (Photo by James A. Clarke 2004)

At this point it needs to be mentioned that Clarence Blanchard in his excellent publication “Fine Tool Journal”, Vol 53, No.2 Fall ’03, had a rather thorough coverage of this plane from the standpoint of how Stanley progressed the development from inception to production based on an actual production folder containing drawings and correspondence between various departments withing Stanley. This is recommended reading and can be found here: Stanley H104 Bench Plane Article by Clarence Blanchard.

Of interest, it seems that the plan began as a Model No. 140, but then was changed to the Model No. H104. (It is believed that it started out as a higher-end offering!) What is clear, however, is that the H104 had a relatively short lifespan (4-5 years) when Stanley discontinued it on June 13, 1967 due to poor sales. (< 20,000 were likely ever made). This plane is ‘collectible’ and the most sought after Stanley “Handyman” low cost plane due to its low production numbers and unique features.

H-104 Features:

  • Polished side-rails, painted (blue) based, knob and tote, red lever cap
  • About the same size as the standard Stanley No. 4 with cast-in non-movable frog
  • Distinctive low side rails (lower cost!)
  • Body 10″ long, 2 1/2″ wide, with 2″ cutter
  • Low cost alternative to Sears 4 sided throw-away cutter line of planes
  • Lever (Screw) cap — knurled 1/4-20 screw to tighten
  • Depth of cut adjustment with shouldered/knurled 1/4-20 screw (this was a poor choice as it had too much slack)
  • Tote & Front Knob Screws #12-24 threads

Author’s appraisal — this is a very nice low-cost plane for casual (“Handyman”) service. The disposable blades can be sharpened or replaced as intended.

Figure 1: Stanley H104 as drawn by James A. Clarke
Figure 1: Stanley H104 as drawn by James A. Clarke

Description:

This description is accompanied by the hand drawn sketch above labeled as ‘Figure 1: Stanley H104’

To make these planes easier to use and maintain, Stanley revived the disposable blade concept, at a reasonable price and called it the “Handyman ‘Ready-Edge’ Bench Plane.” How many were actually made is unknown (From Blanchard — Less than 20,000) since not everyone was of the “disposable” cutter ilk, although it did have its merits and thus more than likely had a serious following. The real appeal of this little brother to the “standard” line (maybe not so little at 10″ long) is the various design solutions used for cutter height and lateral adjustments — the nicely executing castings and machined parts. For a so-called low-cost tool, this was a keeper! The H104 is about the same size as the other No. 4 planes in Stanley’s many-fold lines, although slightly longer but much lighter in weight at 2 1/2 pounds versus 3 3/4+/-.

The Frog

The H104 doesn’t have the traditional frog arrangement as used widely on Stanley and competitive bench planes. The fixed frog (making it a bit more like a block plane) is narrow, slanted (40 degree) “tower” cast as part of the base with two (1/4-20) tapped holes to accept the lever cap, the cap iron knurled blade adjustment knob. In this configuration there are three 1/4-20 screws:

  1. Pan head screw to hold the lever cap in place
  2. Special shouldered/knurled screw for adjustment of the cap iron/blade assembly
  3. Knurled screw to tighten the lever cap against the cap iron/blade and thus against the frog at its top

This simple design was also effective. One of the quarrels I have with this configuration is the use of 1/4-20 threads which are not normally closely machined resulting in considerable slack (“backlash”) which is not appropriate for this type of application wherein adjustments are made frequently. (Especially when Stanley used a finer #12-24 thread for the tote and front knob screws where it doesn’t matter!)

The Blade/Cutter Cap Iron Assembly

Chatter must have been an issue with this plane as the uppermost tip (an area of about 1/8″ x 1/2″) of the slanted “tower” frog is the only part of the frog that comes into contact with the cap iron/blade assembly. This arrangement is only slightly stiffened by the attachment of the “Ready-Edge” blade to the cap iron that doubles as lateral adjuster and facilitates setting the depth of cut. It should also be noted that the cap iron is about the size of a credit card and only about twice as thick which is not a lot considering the minimal support provided for it.

H104 Blade/Cutter
H104 Blade/Cutter (Photo is from from this ebay listing: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Stanley-H104-Plane-Replacement-Iron-Blade-Cutter-2-Smooth-Plane-Vtg-/320981752114 )

The disposable “standard” 25 degree bevel-angled “Ready-Edge” blade has two sharpened edges allowing it to be rotated and re-installed into position via two small (#6-40) pan head screws. This arrangement provides a narrow semi-adjustable cutting edge (reveal) between the cutter edge and the chip breaker (~1/32″-1/16″) and thus satisfactory for fine, medium or coarse shavings. When new the plane came with an extra blade in the box and additional blades could be purchased — similar to a shaving razor. A limited amount of sharpening was possible although apparently not expected by the “Handyman” population.

Lateral adjustment was a simple to the point solution (compared to what was used on Bailey, Traut and Shade designs) utilizing a slot in the cap iron engaged by a shouldered machine screw.

An interesting refinement is the key-hole slot in the lever cap — this shouldered/countersunk recess traps the head of the pan head screws to prevent creep/movement of the lever cap when the cutter depth adjustment is being made. Stanley originally used a ‘key-hole’ design on their top of the line bench plane offerings, but then “patented” a new kidney shaped design around 1933 intended to eliminate creep. While none of these designs effectively eliminated creep the H104 design was pretty much fool-proof — when the lever cap was locked into place it could not move.

The Knob and Tote

The hardwood front knob and rear tote were painted dark blue to blend in with the painted base (not the usual Japanning) with “STANLEY HANDYMAN H104” embossed/stenciled in red or white on the tote and “MADE IN USA” in the bottom casting. The rear tote is somewhat awkward to the feel and definitely not of the caliber of top of the line Stanleys.

Another interesting refinement can be found under the the front knob — three little spurs cast in at 120 degrees apart around the perimeter of the indented knob seat — presumably to prevent the knob from rotating. This was an unusual detail usually reserved for higher end planes and backs up Blanchard’s allusion to this plane possibly being developed as a higher end plane and then being downgraded to the Handyman line.

Stanley H104 (Photo by James A. Clarke 2004)
Stanley H104 (Photo by James A. Clarke 2004)

The Casting

The bottom casting is an excellent example of integral-base-casting and Frog “pillar” or “tower”with a raised boss around the tote and lateral brace ribs near the mouth that extend from side to side. The base side wall profile has a more modernistic look with rounded corners unlike the traditional curves you see on other planes. (This was likely a cost saving measure). The toe of the casting has the usual shallow curvature, but the heel has a blunted, almost squared off edge. Behind the frog a letter ‘U’ is cast and a ‘2’ is cast near the throat — presumably foundry casting numbers. The H104, although shorter, in profile looks vaguely like the Stanley No. 62 low angle plane, except for the side wall treatment and different bed angle — 40 vs 12 degrees.

H104 In Use

After sharpening and honing the blade at 25 degrees with a micro bevel at 30 degrees we were ready to make a few trial shavings. The plane was applied to pieces of 3/4″ x 6″ x 12″ of Pine, Butternut, Hard Maple, Soft Maple, White Oak, Red Oak, Ash and Cherry with honing taking place frequently but not for each wood sample. Skewing the plane was always necessary! Planing was done on two faces — the two long grain edges and finally the two end-grain edges. Planing effort was handicapped without the ability to vary the mouth opening — it is fixed, thus fine shavings were difficult to achieve. A variable mouth opening and more mass would be a significant improvements.

Stanley H104 in Ad From 1962
Stanley H104 in Ad From October 1962 (Seen in common publications such as Popular Mechanics)

The Verdict

The plane performed as expected — adequate but not exceptional. It would be satisfactory for “Handyman” tasks (via sharpening or extra blades) but unacceptable for serious woodworking/cabinetmaking. The plane cannot compare to a finely tuned vintage Stanley Bailey or modern premium plane (Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Clifton etc)

Conclusions

Taking into account all of the opposing forces in play as this plane was developed it seems like a great deal of engineering design and manufacturing-engineering went into this presumably low end, and unfortunately low volume plane. It seems that parallel developments inside of Stanley and economic forces from outside forced them to release this plane into the “Handyman” line even if it was originally intended to be a higher end offering. Nonetheless this plane inherited some subtle levels of engineering excellence that often go overlooked when compared to its higher end brethren.

It’s unfortunate that the times (economic and technological change — moving to power equipment) lead to an early demise for this tool — in another time it may have seen a lot more use and wider adoption.

Approximate value — $75-$150 (Higher if in excellent condition and with box).

 

Acknowledgements from James A. Clarke:

I would like to thank fellow member of the WNYATCA Club (Wester New York Antique Tool Collector’s Association) Tim Rhubart for bringing this little ‘gem’ to the light of day. If it wasn’t for that, this author might never have known or become interested in the H104 since it’s not on everyone’s radar as a need to have collectible. Tim agreed to sell it to me for a reasonable price, and with some preliminary observations it appeared to have a story that needed to be told, and thus here in this post.

This writeup is dedicated to Tim, my “favorite tool dealer” and friend for bringing it to my attention and the “giants” of research — Roger K. Smith, Alvin Sellens, John Walter, Clarence Blanchard, Patrick Leach, Bob Kaune, David Heckel and several others — although they are not all necessarily students of the “Handyman” line, their methods and approach to research on the study of planes has greatly influenced this author’s modest efforts.

Acknowledgements from Bill Rainford:

A big thank you to my friend James A. Clarke for sharing this material with me and allowing me to share it with everyone online via the post. Also a big thank you to Clarence Blanchard for giving me permission to share a copy of his article on the Stanley No. 140/H104 Bench Plane from “Fine Tool Journal”, Vol 53, No.2 Fall ’03 here.

Take care,
-Bill

 

Nashua Tool Show Sept 2014

I’m generally not a morning person, but twice a year for the Live Free or Die Tool Show and Auction in Nashua, NH I seem to have no trouble getting up at 5am. The night before is more or less what Christmas Eve was like for me as a kid — not sleeping much and excited about what the next day will bring.

First aisle of tools on Thursday morning
First aisle of tools on Thursday morning

At this point I don’t need much by way of tools, but you never know what you will find in Nashua and the show is literally on my way to work. So I have been going on Thursday and Friday mornings. Thursday to shop, Friday to see friends from NBSS and see if I missed anything.

Tool chests for sale
Tool chests for sale

I always enjoy snapping a few pictures of tool chests and tills. (Including the nice H.O. Studley inspired cabinets here).

Student sized workbench
Student sized workbench

And examining the benches that make their way to the show.

Metal lined chest
Metal lined chest

This very utilitarian chest was largely made of heavy metal sheets.

Outside of metal lined and reinforced chest
Outside of metal lined and reinforced chest

And for the tool collector who has everything, why not pick up some giant metal shell casing, or a paint mill. The latter I did kind of want…

Everything from massive shell casings to paint mills
Everything from massive shell casings to paint mills

Or maybe a carved golden goose?

The golden goose?
The golden goose?

Friday morning with the auction in full swing you’ll find and even wider array of vendors selling their wares.

Friday morning, even more vendors
Friday morning, even more vendors

Along with some of the lots that are coming out of the auction.

Tool chests and levels
Tool chests and levels

This year wooden levels seemed to pop up a lot.

My finds
My finds

And of course, what did I come home with this year? I did pretty good this year, got some nice items and didn’t spend too much. I bought a nice  full set of Irwin auger bits — we’ll see how they compare to the Russell Jennings pattern bits I bought last year. A nice in the package Marples blue chip chisel set (The ones that were still made in the UK by Record) — they’ll make a nice set of travel chisels and/or for the classroom. A few old books including Charles Hayward’s ‘Furniture Repair’, and ‘Staining and Polishing’, Wood Turning with Richard Raffan, and an interesting book from the 1940s with a Sloyd-ish feel called ‘Visualized Projects in Woodworking’ by J.I. Sowers. A nice Stanley English 4 ratcheting jaw bit brace. A nice big redirect block to use with my gin pole. A pair of machinists 1-2-3 blocks. A Nicholson Saw Display. Pair of Starrett Dividers. Pair of Ulmia Bench Dogs. A real nice E.C.E. Coffin/Smoothing plane. And a nice 5″ deep 28″ long Atkins mitre box saw to go with the Stanley mitre box I bought in April — at the time it came with a 6″ deep Disston saw that worked fine by was a bit too tall for my liking, so this was a better fit.

Time to get all this stuff out into the shop before my wife kills me and get back to work on finishing a crib I owe a certain newborn.

Take care,
-Bill

Studley Inspired Tool Cabinets

At the bi-annual Live Free or Die Tool Show and Auction in Nashua NH one of my favorite activities is look at all the unusual stuff folks have for sale. This year some of the most interesting items were not for sale. Behind a table of tools for sale and a framed photo of the Studley Tool Cabinet, Bill Garrett of Sparrowbush NY had a trio of tool cabinets each carefully fitted to hold a variety of unusual tools. From talking to Bill, he started with some regular tool cabinets and fitted them out to hold a variety of interesting tools from his collection. Clearly inspired by H.O. Studley’s work, Bill incorporated piano keys, tools racks, tills, unusual hardware and period details to fit in an impressive number of tools into a modest space. From carved ivory whales and fists, to highly detailed miniatures, to piano keys, small brass locks, an 1804 coin, period photos and advertisements the cabinets are a unique creation. I had a great time talking to Bill and poking around in all three cabinets. Please check out the photo gallery below and you might also find some inspiration for some hidden compartments in your own tool cabinet.

Take care,
-Bill

The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Get The Worm…

Every year the tool show gets earlier and earlier. I’m referring to the semi-annual ‘Live Free or Die Tool Show and Auction’ in Nashua New Hampshire which occurs every April and September. On Friday and Saturday the highlight for most folks is normally the tool auction at the Nashua Holiday Inn. Outside in the parking lot vendors setup to sell or swap tools — many fresh from the auction. That is where I spend my time and money — I’m into nice user tools.

Nice inlaid tool chest
Nice inlaid tool chest

Folks would get there earlier and earlier on Friday. Vendors started getting there on Thursday to be ready. Eventually those folks figured — well if I am already at the hotel on Thursday I might as well setup and sell what I can. This process repeated itself and now some folks are dealing tools on Wednesday afternoon.

Nice selection of sea chests, cabinets and small chests
Nice selection of sea chests, cabinets and small chests

This year I went on Thursday morning again and about 80% of the usual vendors I like to buy from were there and I figured I’d have an edge in getting whatever tool I was hunting for or whatever new treasure I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. Unfortunately the early bird did not get the worm this year — I only bought a couple of small items and only saw a few friends from NBSS. Normally the tool show is one of my favorite days of the years but the meager haul left me wanting more —  so I decided to go on Friday morning to see a lot of my friends from NBSS and meet some more of the new students.

Interesting painted tool chest lid
Interesting painted tool chest lid

Friday was a much better day — less wind and a little sunnier. It was great to see lots of old friends and the rest of the vendors I normally frequent.  I also found a couple of great items that made my day. Throughout this post you can see a sampling of some of the more interesting tool chests and cabinets at the show. It is interesting to see what has survived and how folks laid out their tills and decorated their tool chests.

Sloyd style youth workbench -- though not a Larsson bench
Sloyd style youth workbench — though not a Larsson bench

Directly above you can see an interesting workbench. Designed for manual training or a similar classroom setting, this bench looks like it was a competitor to the Larsson Improved workbench I wrote about here.

Great selection of molding and bench planes
Great selection of molding and bench planes

This year there were more vendors compared to recent years and there was a particularly great selection of molding planes and bench planes.

Classic tool tote
Classic tool tote

The iconic tool tote above looks like it had a long service life — hopefully it went to a new home where it will see some use.

Nice clean modern tool chest with finger joints
Nice clean modern tool chest with finger joints

The tool chest above with simple finger joints and nice hardware looks pretty new, but I am glad to see some more recent projects circulating around.

Incredible telescoping tool chest (for sale by Patrick Leach)
Incredible telescoping tool chest (for sale by Patrick Leach)

The chest above which I believe was being offered by Patrick Leach was an incredible piece. With multiple levels of till, some on hinges and some with telescoping elements this chest looked quite heavy even without any tools in it. It clearly showed off the skill and the massive tool set of its original owner.

Interesting hand drill
Interesting hand drill

I was drawn to this interesting hand drill with a nice turned handle and unusual machined elements.

Cooper's planes
Cooper’s planes

Shown above are a nice selection of cooper’s planes — used to plane down staves — the plane is fixed and the stave is moved along the sole of the plane to make a shaving.

Nice plumb level
Nice plumb level

My friend Billy McMillen (Of Eastfield Village,  Historic Richmond Town, EAIA and CW Tinsmithing fame) had this nice plumb level for sale. The plumb bob and string is a age old way of determining level that dates back to ancient Egypt or earlier times.

One of two Hammacher Schlemmer tool cabinets for sale this year
One of two Hammacher Schlemmer tool cabinets for sale this year

A larger cousin to the Sloyd Tool Cabinet — this Hammacher Schlemmer tool cabinet was home to a large set of tools targeting a high end home user market. I was surprised to see two of them for sale. One model was joined via finger joints and the other was held together via rabbets and nails. The cabinets had an austere look and did not seem to make good use of the space in the cabinets. I spent some time examining the hooks and clips that once held the tools in place, but most of of the clips and hooks were pretty simple and straightforward.

My finds this year -- Stanley 358 Miter Box _ Disston Saw, Carpenter and Joiner's Union Sign, Starret Rules and Dividers, Mini Framing Square, ECE Frame Saw, Heavy Duty Snatch Block, Auger Bit Handle
My finds this year — Stanley 358 Miter Box _ Disston Saw, Carpenter and Joiner’s Union Sign, Starret Rules and Dividers, Mini Framing Square, ECE Frame Saw, Heavy Duty Snatch Block, Auger Bit Handle

And now on to the big finale — what did I get this year? I got some nice items off the nice to have tools list in my head. I’m particularly excited about the large and complete Stanley 358 Miter Box and large Disston saw to use with it — I’ve wanted one of these boxes for a while. Once I clean it up and tune it, I’ll post about it. In the back of the photo you can see a round sign for the ‘United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners’ that will look nice hanging in my shop. On the left side of the photo you’ll see a large and heavy duty snatch block that will come in handy when moving heavy timbers and the like around in the yard. On the miter box you’ll see a Stanley mini-framing square, a handle for square tanged auger bits, a Starret 12″ Satin Rule and a 12″ Starrett Rule that is metric on one site and 1/10ths of an inch on the other. In the foreground is a nice pair of Starrett loose leg dividers. On the right is an ECE/Ulmia frame saw — I seem to be going through a frame saw phase, and given I have more frame saw blades than frame saws I figured, what the heck. All in all, it was a good show. I look forward to putting these new tools to use in the shop. Now it’s time to start saving for the September show.

Take care,
-Bill

The Frame Saws of Colonial Williamsburg

Back in December 2013, I topped off the Mr. Fusion, warmed up the Flux Capacitor and headed back to the 1780s for our annual pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg Virginia. During this visit I wanted to check out some of the frame saws my friends are using and what they thought about the saws ahead of building my own.

My first stop was that Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker’ Shop…

The Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker's Shop at Colonial Williamsburg
The Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker’s Shop at Colonial Williamsburg

Hanging on the wall was a nice two man frame saw and a smaller veneer saw you may recall seeing in an episode of The Woodwright’s Shop. (Season 6, Episode 9 — Free Preview Here on YouTube )

Frame saws hanging on the wall of the Hay Shop
Frame saws hanging on the wall of the Hay Shop

In talking to my friend Ed Wright, the master Harpsichord Maker in the Hay Shop, he showed me some of the finer details of the larger saw shown below.

Ed Wright with a frame saw in Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker's Shop
Ed Wright with a frame saw in Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker’s Shop

The saw’s size and details were derived from Roubo’s plates. The hardware was forged by Colonial Williamsburg’s Blacksmiths, not to be confused with Williamsburg Blacksmiths up in Williamsburg MA (I bought my hold fasts and log dogs from the former, and barn hardware from the latter and I am very happy with both). You can see the forged eye bolt below, passing through a threaded square section and pressing against a metal wear plate.

Close up detail of the tensioning mechanism of a frame saw
Close up detail of the tensioning mechanism of a frame saw

The saw deviates from the Roubo plate a bit with the offset turned handles shown below. (Check out Don’s post here — which includes a copy of the plate I am referring to and is related to the recent LAP reprint of Roubo on Marquetry which includes a nice translation of this plate and Don’s experiments with his own reproduction saw) Ed said that the turned handles worked well over the years even if they give the saw a slightly more modern (Say 19th century) appearance compared to the simple carved volutes in the Roubo print. If you were to use this saw all day long vigorously sawing fine veneers I could see wanting this sort of turned handle and it seems to be popular in other reproductions I’ve seen. While the carved volutes seem like they’d be tougher on the modern sawyers’ hands I suspect the likely simple volutes were contoured to fit in the sawyers hand and would have forced him to have a lighter grip on the saw which might have allowed him to react more directly to the wood and make fine adjustments as he goes. From examining Figure 10 of the Roubo print it looks to me like the sawyer on the right has a very light grip and is sighting down the saw to gently steer it on an appropriate course as the the left sawyer is sighting as well as pulling the saw through the cut. Don’s translation talks about the advantages of sawing on a slight incline and lifting the saw on the return stroke to clear sawdust and not bind the saw. Sawing with a second person can be like having a dance partner — if you are in sync and can communicate well verbally and non verbally you have a shot, if you are out of sync things can go south quick as the narrow blade is unforgiving and wants to follow the path of least resistance.

Close up detail of turned handles on the frame saw
Close up detail of turned handles on the frame saw

The saw blade is held in place via pins that are held in tension, thus tensioning the blade. The blade shown here is quite wide, though not quite as wide as the ~4″ Roubo suggested. When using this type of saw you need to be careful not to over tension it as you can deform/stretch the holes in the blade. The impression I got was that this saw was a little slow cutting at times. A lot of folks online have experimented with saw tooth geometry and similar variations. Adam Cherubini had an interesting and somewhat controversial post regarding his experiences with frame saws which you can check out here.  (Be sure to read the comments as several other folks who have been experimenting in this space weighed in).

Close up detail of the pins the secure the blade to the frame
Close up detail of the pins the secure the blade to the frame

When using a frame saw to re-saw planks or make veneers you can see some of the telltale marks of the tool as it slices through the figured wood. (See below). In general the blade wants to follow the path of least resistance, so cutting in with another saw to start as Roubo describes or using a ‘kerfing plane’ as Tom Fidgen suggests are great ways to better your chance of success. If you’ve seen any of the many great projects to come out of the Hay Shop you’ll have no doubt Ed and the others in the shop have mastered many uses of the frame saw.

Panel that was cut with a frame saw -- shows the telltale pattern of tool marks showing how the saw progressed through the wood
Panel that was cut with a frame saw — shows the telltale pattern of tool marks showing how the saw progressed through the wood

My next stop was to visit Master Carpenter Garland Wood in the Joiner’s shop. Every time I visit I want to pull up a bench and take up residence in the shop as another member of the crew. The benches, tools and projects all feel like home.

Garland Wood in the Joiner's Shop
Garland Wood in the Joiner’s Shop

In the Joiner’s shop Garland showed me the frame saws he had on hand in the shop. Shown below is a nice felloe saw with its narrow blade used to cut curves. In the wheelwright’s shop you can see some larger versions of this style of saw. The example below has nice delicate lines, a simple volute detail, and nicely wrought wing nuts on both ends of the saw. In the foreground of the photo below you can see a tiny bit of a simple bow saw which we’ll talk about in a future post.

Small frame saw in the Joiner's Shop
Small frame saw, a ‘felloe saw’ used for cutting curves and the like, in the Joiner’s Shop

There are very few places you can drop by and pick the brains of talented folks who share the same level of enthusiasm for traditional woodworking and sharing the craft with others — Colonial Williamsburg is one of those places. I’m thankful to Ed and Garland for their time and advice. I look forward to putting some of it to use in building my own frame saw.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I’m of the mindset that we still have more to learn about these saws and look forward to experimenting a bit with my own. I ordered the first production frame saw kit blade from Bad Axe Toolworks based on a saw from Tom Fidgen’s Unplugged Woodshop and will be posting about that in the future.

Stump Vise

When a chainsaw is cutting well it is a joy to use — you can see shavings fly. When it gets dull and spits out dust it’s a slog at best and dangerous at worst. Working out in the field for an extended period is no excuse for not sharpening your chain. There is a great little accessory called a ‘stump vise’ that every chainsaw lumberjack should own. It allows you to quickly sharpen your chain in the field and get back to work.

Stump vise
Stump vise

How do you use this vise?

You hammer this little vise into a stump or log. Then you clamp the chain saw bar into the vise, being sure to make sure the bottom chain can clear the vise.

Chainsaw held in place on a tree trunk with a stump vise
Chainsaw held in place on a tree trunk with a stump vise

Once the saw is secured you can mark the first tooth with a sharpie or similar marker and start filing. I usually do all the right teeth first taking advantage of muscle memory and using the same number of strokes. When I get back to the tooth with the sharpie mark I know I have made it all the way around the chain. Then I make a pass down the left teeth and sharpen each of them. I usually take 3 strokes with the file on each tooth.

Filing a chain saw chain out in the field
Filing a chain saw chain out in the field

After 10 minutes out in the field with a file I am ready to get back to work and making more shavings.

Where can I find one of these vises?

The vise I have was made by Husqvarna and fits nicely into its own compartment inside the blow molded plastic case I keep my chainsaw in when it’s not in use. When you don’t need one of these vises they are easy to find — when you need one they can be hard to find. Last year when I bought a new chainsaw I went to the local Husqvarna dealer seeking one of these vises and he had no idea what I was talking about  — so I showed him the plastic case they sell which had a picture of it even and you’d think I had 2 heads the way he was looking at me telling me that is not something they ever made — clearly he had not done a lot of work out in the field as all the timber framers I knew had them. Needless to say I won’t be returning to that shop. The local True Value, big box stores and Tractor Supply didn’t have them even though I know there is a LOT of logging going on up here in NH. So I caved and bought mine online from a 3rd party outdoor equipment supplier on Amazon and have been very happy with the purchase. I bought the official Husqvarna branded vise for about $18, but the castings look near identical to the yellow model you often see branded as ‘General’ or other similar brands.

I hope you’ll treat yourself or the chainsaw operator in your life to one of these vises so they can get back to cutting up blanks for future projects.

Take care,

-Bill

Working with cut nails…

As a preservation carpenter and joiner my work regularly requires me to work work with a wide variety of cut nails. A lot of recent woodworking publications focus on cut nails appropriate for cabinetmaking and smaller projects, but that barely scratches the surface of what was still available if you know what you want and where to look.

From small projects requiring a few nails…

Brooklyn Tool and Craft bags of cut nails
Brooklyn Tool and Craft bags of cut nails

To larger jobs needing them in bulk…

Decorative wrought head cut nails used for wide pine flooring
Decorative wrought head cut nails used for wide pine flooring

You can still get cut nails, even galvanized steel cut nails from Tremont, the oldest remaining and most prolific cut nail maker that is still around.

Why do I want to use cut nails?

Cut nails offer several advantages over modern wire nails:

  • The chisel shape of the end of a cut nail helps to severe fibers as it is driven into the wood as opposed to wire nails that compress the wood around it
  • The wedge shaped profile and sharp edges that result from how the nail is made help the nail hold better when compared to wire nails
  • The distinctive square head, or decorative wrought head can be quite pleasing to the eye on new and old projects
  • Cut nails with the wrought head can be a cost effective alternative to blacksmith wrought nails for larger or less historic projects
  • Cut clinch nails can be clinched (bent over onto itself) which makes them a very effective fastener much like a large staple
  • For preservation or reproduction work it is important to get the small details right — including use of the correct period appropriate fasteners
Tremont Nail Display Board
Tremont Nail Display Board

All that sounds well and good, but is it worth the extra time and expense to track down these sometimes hard to find nails?

I’d say it’s hard to argue with good results, so let’s take a look at some common uses for cut nails. From simple traditional boxes and drawers…

Chisel box with cut nails
Chisel box with cut nails

To high style door pediments and architectural details..

Cut nails in a traditional door pediment
Cut nails in a traditional door pediment

To clinched nails in a reproduction door on an historic home…

Clinched cut nails in a period door reproduction
Clinched cut nails in a period door reproduction

To siding and trim details…

Cut nails in exterior siding and trim
Cut nails in exterior siding and trim

The cut nails add to the visual authenticity and given their superior holding abilities will also increase the longevity of the work.

Tips on working with cut nails:

  • Make sure the chisel end of the cut nail is set in across the grain thus severing it and not acting like a wedge
  • Start off slow with a couple of light taps before driving the nail home with harder hammer blows
  • If working near the end of a floor board or using a large spike consider pre-drilling a whole that is slightly smaller than the nail to prevent splitting
  • If using the nails on an exterior application consider buying galvanized cut nails. If your local supplier does not offer that, you can send the nails out to have them hot dipped for a reasonable price. This will help the nails survive the elements and require less maintenance.
Cut nails in exterior siding and trim
More cut nails in exterior siding and trim

Gallery of the 20+ Cut Nail Types still available (If you are viewing this in email, you’ll need to click over to the blog to see this gallery properly displayed):

Where can I find these cut nails?

  • If I need a small number of cut nails I usually order from Tools For Working Wood as they sell 1/8lb bags which are secured shut with another cut nail (Labeled as Brooklyn Tool and Craft I believe they are repackaged Tremont nails)
  • If I need a large number of cut nails I usually order direct from Tremont Nail (A company in MA with over 190 years of cut nail making experience)They offer, 1lb, 5lb, 50lb and custom larger size (think nail casks) orders
  • The Tremont Nail wood board with sample nails is available for purchase from Tremont — it’s a great addition to any shop and allow folks to examine each of the above described nail types in person. I have one in my shop and have found it to be a nice visual aid in my teaching.

I hope to see more folks using cut nails on their projects.

-Bill