Chris Schwarz's Blog

New Year, New Tools, New Tolerances

Every Tuesday night we ritually torture our children with a meal that we call “New Food Night.” The kids have to eat something they’ve never eaten before , this week was coq au vin, but we’ve ranged as far as ostrich and bison. In exchange for eating the new dish, the kids get one U.S. dollar and a small prize, usually a small plastic animal.

After a couple years of this schedule my girls have become accustomed to it (or they are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome). But some nights are rough. The most difficult dinner of all was when I made homemade chicken noodle soup. Tears , enormous ones. Shaky bottom lips. Slumping in the seats to a horizontal position.

All for chicken, wide egg noodles, carrots, celery and broth.

Every year I torture myself on Jan. 1 by forcing myself to put away some beloved tools and start using tools that I haven’t embraced. For 2006, I put away my traditional bench planes and used Veritas bevel-up planes: a jack, jointer and smoother. After 12 months of hard use, I’m glad I did it. I now know the limitations and advantages of these tools. First the bad: I still don’t dig the location of the adjuster (it’s too low) or the shape of the handles (which I can fix with a rasp). But then the good: I really like the low center of gravity. I also like how you can tighten up the mouth to admit one-half of a gnat’s hinder with little effort. And I really like how you can hone an ultra-high angle on the blade to make a plane that mocks interlocked, reversing exotic woods.

So on Jan. 1 of 2007, I set the bevel-up tools aside and took out my Sauer & Steiner unhandled York-pitch smoothing plane. I have made peace with this tool and it is a great user, but I don’t grab it automatically whenever I need to do some general smoothing. Maybe I’m not familiar enough with the grip , there’s no tote on this plane. Plus, there’s no mechanical blade adjuster or lateral adjustment lever.

But whether the thing turns out to be chicken soup or coq au vin, this is its year.

Its first major task was finishing up the top of this English Workbench for a photo shoot on Thursday. After completing the bench, I started building the accessories you need: bench hooks, a sticking board and some stuff that grabs round and octagonal work. The sticking board, which is designed for holding long, narrow work for shaping, is about 6′ long. When I placed it on the bench I noticed it wasn’t sitting flat on the top. At first I thought it was the sticking board that was bowed. But after jointing the sticking board again and checking everything with straightedges, I determined there was a hollow in the middle of the benchtop, right up at the front of the bench.

This is the worst place for a hollow in your benchtop. Period.

So I went to work with a jointer plane, working diagonally across the top both ways. Then I worked with the grain of the top with the jointer plane, and then with the Sauer & Steiner smooth plane. Sweet. I checked my work with feeler gauges. I did this out of curiosity , not habit. I get asked all the time how flat a benchtop needs to be for handwork. Until today my answer has been: Flat enough so your work doesn’t bow under planing pressure.

That’s not a good answer. So with the feeler gauges and the straightedges I determined that I shoot for a top that is flat in the critical working area (the front half of the bench) to about .004″ along 6′. Is that extreme? I don’t know. But that’s when my work started to behave predictably under the planes.

So is this a good start to the year? I don’t know. I’ll have to noodle it.

, Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “New Year, New Tools, New Tolerances

  1. Christopher Schwarz

    Randy,

    They may indeed wear differently. I wouldn’t dispute anyone’s findings on that point.

    However, for the home woodworker who uses these planes a few times a week, I think it’s a minor issue. I use planes just about every day for work (and at home). And I have found no compelling reason to alter my sharpening methods. I just sharpen them like I would a bevel-down tool. The camber on a bevel-up might need to be a bit different, but again, it’s a small change that most people don’t need to mess with.

    Sorry that this seems like a non-answer to a good question.

    Chris

  2. Randy Klein

    Chris, I’ve been reading that bevel up irons wear differently while planing and that a change to the traditional sharpening methods are in order (a back bevel, more than the ruler trick one, is needed to hone the wear bevel that was created). Since you have used these planes for a year now, I imagine you sharpened them quite a few times. Did you change the way you sharpen or is the traditional method adequate?

  3. Karl Rookey

    OK, Chris. Nice drive by, and great suggestion. Though, somehow I think that no amount of "new tool" talk, no matter how principled, is going to convince my wife that I should get a Sauer & Steiner smoother 🙁 I’m with Mike: show us a picture!

  4. jesowell

    Is there something wrong with my computer? I have an idea what the marks mean in the paragraph below, but I am not exactly sure about the "numbers or letters".<br><br>That’s not a good answer. So with the feeler gauges and the straightedges I determined that I shoot for a top that is flat in the critical working area (the front half of the bench) to about .004” along 6’. Is that extreme? I don’t know. But that’s when my work started to behave predictably under the planes. <br><br>So is this a good start to the year? I don’t know. I’ll have to noodle it. <br><br>– Christopher Schwarz <br>

  5. Tony

    Loved watching this bench grow Chris. Over the Christmas break I built a new bench (beech top, oak legs and frame) and when it came to flattening, I got it spot on first time which I put down to the LV jointer and the methods of work you describe in your ‘Course, Medium Fine’ DVD. Thanks for the great advice and interesting blog
    Tony

  6. Dave

    Nice jointer BUT where’s the picture of the Sauer and Steiner in action!<br>Looking forward to a great 2007! <br>Dave Jeske<br>Blue Spruce Toolworks

  7. Mike Wenzloff

    Argh…and now I need to wait to see pictures of the plane Konrad made for you!

    btw, the more I see pictures of the English Bench the more I like it. Maybe it is simply because it is an uncommon bench to what I am use to seeing. I don’t know. But it has a certain charm to me.

    Speaking of bench appliances, are you going to be adding some in future issues? I think the shooting board made a big hit, the others probably will as well.

    Take care, Mike

Comments are closed.