David and I have been building an armory of 18th century tools during our perennial trips to see Bill Anderson at the Woodwright School in North Carolina. This time around we set to work on a pair of molding planes – both a refresher on plane making and hopefully a kick in the pants to better understanding all of the molding planes one collects over the years. These plans work by cutting the profile of the blade into the wood, leaving an appeasing curve and a little flair to my typically geometric work.
Tool making is a challenge – your work has to be functional as well as handsome. On at least one score this project was an unqualified successes – I still need to spend some time at the bench to evaluate the functionality
You can already see marks left by my mallet on the front of the planes – a sign that I was gently nudging the blades forward with the mystifying magic (aka physics) that make these things work.
Here is the ogee – or as I have recently learned the most “sublime curve”. I have already used it to frame my kitchen island. I bet there are very few home renovations in my neighborhood that start with the moldings and go from there. The next owners are going to have a devil of a time trying to find replacement mouldings.
And here is the thumbnail. This profile was designed to add flair to table tops and prevent the ruckus of daily life from damaging the corner. Probably a good tool for me.
Conveniently Bill laid out all the steps on blanks – A lot of work to illustrate the process – but an indispensable guide for keeping me on course. Anytime you start messing around with bevels its easy to go astray. We started with quartersawn beech blanks rough cut to size. The first step was establishing the spring lines and drawing the profiles.
Setting the Profile:
With molding planes, gouges and a like I cut the pattern into the sole of plane. Here I am using Bill’s moving filibuster to cut a rabbet. The fine-tuning on his planes is dreamy.
Next I used shoulder planes to establish the corners.
I used gouges to hog out the bulk of the wood in the curves. With a sharp tool and a gentle tap the beech curled up like ice cream on a hot day. Not to say that I wasn’t terrified of sending the whole project in the fire bin at this point.
Finally a round cleaned up the gouge work in my thumbnail. Plane making is easy when you have a plane which cuts your profile of choice.
Finally, I used a metal card scraper with an ogee filed into it to smooth out the bumps and nicks. All said and done – I was left with a totally uniform plane sole.
I sawed the walls of the mortise – a critical cut because it establishes the bed which the wedge will snug up the iron. One of the many ways too much chatter in the shop isn’t good. This cut is one of those case in which a clean line to start will save me a lot of fitting later.
I am not good at this. We drilled out the throat of the mortise – here I am doing a poor job of keep David level with the floor.
Here is David realizing that I did a poor job of keeping him on the level. At this point we took floats and files and chisels to clean up and clean out the mortise. After a late night in the campground David and I are both looking a little extra ragged.
Shaping the Iron:
I transposed the profile from the plane to the iron.
Then used a hack saw to cut off the largest pieces.
And finally used a grinder to shape the blade. All of this was done before the blade is tempered. 90% of the work took 10% of the time.
Getting the blade to match the profile took a little precision and not too much coffee. Here David tries to get some perspective from the master.
Hardening And Tempering:
This was an incredible process! We heated our shaped irons with blow torches until the blades took on the right hue and than rapid cooled them in peanut oil. All of downtown Pittsboro smelt like a deep fryer – and ever passerby was both intrigued and terrified. The first go-around my iron was too hard to sharpen – I retempered the blade and now have an edge hard enough to hold an edge but soft enough to file. I also – I am way to tall that table.
Hey we are working in a tradition and part of that tradition is matching the style of the 18th century artisans who figured all of this stuff out – from characteristic hollows, chamfers and other unexplained signatures. David uses a special plane for cutting the follow in planes – thats right folks a plane for decorating planes. meta right – planes for making planes.
More to come as I incorporate these planes into my repertoire .