Wednesday, November 25, 2015

As the Days Go By So Do Some Really Good People

With the passing of Carl Bilderback this past week I took some time to think about the people we've lost from the hand tool community. It's inevitable given the median age of the people that were the majority of the first people that joined the hand tool renaissance. Fortunately the average age of people that are active participants in hand tool woodworking is younger than it was at the beginning.

I first met Carl Bilderback at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Jeff Miller's shop in Chicago in the early years of my being a full time plane maker. At our first introduction I didn't quite know what to make of Carl. I observed him heckling Chris Schwarz that weekend about the sawing techniques he was demonstrating. Before that weekend was over I figured out that Carl Bilderback was the best kind of guy.

This was about the time I started attending the Midwest Tool Collectors Meet in Madison, GA. This event is referred to as the Peach Meet and it happens the first weekend in February every year. I began to see Carl there most every year. I would always engage Carl in conversation and I never walked away from one of those conversations without having learned something. It may have not been an astounding bit of information, or a piece of knowledge that caused an epiphany but an accumulation of knowledge is known as experience. Guys like Carl are a great source of that kind of experience. These meetings meant a lot to me even though Carl would always look at me in a inquisitive way and asked "you're that plane maker, right?".

There are several reasons I try to attend the Peach Meet every year.

(1) I sometimes see tools that inspire an idea. Seeing a Chaplin Patent plane in person inspired the creation of the Winter Series of planes.

(2) It's a chance to spend a day out of the shop with like minded people that appreciate tools.

Third and most importantly is that I get to see the Carl Bilderbacks of the world. You never know what year will be the last year you will see some of those guys. For this reason I always make an effort to attend. Like Carl, many of these people are a pleasure to know and I get precious little time to spend with them.

Almost 3 years ago the first Handworks event was held in Amana, Iowa. On Saturday morning prior to the presentation about the Studley tool chest, the Emcee, Brian Buckner announced that Carl Bilderback would start the festivities by singing our national anthem. The crowd sort of snickered and laughed a bit thinking this was just a joke on Carl. But then Carl started singing and except for Carl's voice the place went silent. Who knew that Carl Bilderback had a golden voice? If my memory serves me correct he received a standing ovation for his performance.

Last year at the Peach Meet in Madison I saw Carl but I could tell immediately something was different. When the long term MWTCA guys show up with their most coveted tools for sale something is up. I was informed by a another friend attending that event that Carl was terminally ill.

I guess Carl singing our national anthem at Handworks became a tradition. At the second Handworks this past spring just before Roy Underhill's presentation on Saturday morning Carl once again sang our national anthem to a very appreciative crowd. I was sitting on my workbench along side George Walker and when the applause subsided George and I looked at each other and both said "that's the last time we'll see that". I'm sure we both hoped we would be wrong but there is an inevitable end to life. At the next Handworks I wonder what will fill the void of Carl's singing? Maybe it will present the opportunity to remember Carl and some of the other mentors and patrons of the hand tool community.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

FIrst of the "JR" planes

In a recent post titled, "A Plane for Bond...........James Bond", the subject was an all brass plane that was to be engraved.

Then the customer had an idea of a kit of planes that would be made of brass and engraved on the interior and exterior and in many places that would only reveal themselves as a surprise when some parts of the plane, like the iron, would be removed.

This was a very intriguing idea for myself and engraver Catharine Kennedy and so we set about work on the first of these three planes.

First order of business was to make all the component parts of the plane body so that I could send them to Catharine for the interior engraving. I also masked some areas to indicate the mating surfaces of the plane body parts that could not be engraved.

Catharine returned the parts to me and I then made bright all the surfaces with Scotchbrite pads and applied True Oil to the interior surfaces of the plane body parts. This gives the parts an aged gold color and protects somewhat from hand oils that leave handling prints on the surfaces.

I then assembled the plane paying particular attention so as not to mar the refined interior surfaces of the plane. This was tedious at best because there was no going back once the final refinement and finish was attained on these surfaces.

This is that part of plane making where your mind has to stay in the moment at every moment. If your thoughts wander from the immediate task you just have to stop and re-establish your concentration. The cost of a mental lapse at this point in the process is enormous. Is this a bit stressful? Yes, but it's also very challenging and rewarding.

A more contrasting wood for the tote and knob would have looked very nice in this predominantly brass plane body, however the Olive wood has a classic look that works quite well with the color of the oiled brass.  If you look closely you'll see that I used a stainless steel knob seat just to create a bit more contrast in the colors of the metals used.

If you compare the lever cap in the pictures of the components parts above you will notice quite a difference as compared to the lever cap used in the assembled plane.

When I received the parts from Catharine with the interior engraving completed I knew having only my brand stamp on this plane was not right or proper. Catharine's work is just too much a part of this plane. On my suggestions we decided on a brand mark that included both initials of our last names(B & K) set in an oval on the lever cap.

This entire project originated from the imagination of our customer John Rexroad, therefore you'll see the initials "JR" on the side of the plane and planes of this type will now be known as the "JR" line of planes.

Not many times in your life do you have a patron that gives you the leeway to express yourself in this manner. When it happens you must seize the day.


Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

FORP II, Work Progresses and The Sun Comes Out............FINALLY!!!

Work Progresses at the French Oak Roubo Project II. After several days of cold drizzly rain the Sun finally emerged on Tuesday afternoon.

Ted Lolley (far side) checks the fit on his bench top joint. Jeff Miller and Pete Krupowicz  are looking on.

The glue is spread and the clamps go on.

With timbers this large you get squeeze out even before you tighten the clamps.

As you will see in the attached video these are big pieces of French Oak timbers and require quite large machines and plenty of people power for safe and efficient handling.

All the attendees at this event have worked together so well and cooperatively I thought it appropriate to attach a quote about friendship.


The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

It Has Begun, The French Oak Roubo Project #2

Today people from all over North America will be arriving in At Wyatts Childs, Inc. in Barnesville, GA for the beginning of the French Oak Roubo Project #2.

Jameel Abraham arrived earlier this week to make ready for everyones's arrival. Yesterday Jameel, and Raney Nelson were working with Bo Childs in order to get the bench top slabs milled to rough size on the Woodmizer saw mill. Today Ted Lolley joined them and they continued the process in a cold steady rain. But hey, watcha gonna do? The show must go on.

Freshly milled edges of Bench Top Slabs
Tonight there will be a meet and greet, and an orientation. Monday at 9:00 a.m. the entire group will commence this endeavor.

Let the work and the fun begin!


Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Recently Completed Winter Smoother, and My Son is a Zombie (professionally that is)

I recently completed another Winter Smoother. The contrast of the brass sides and the cocobolo Rosewood seems right to my eye.

 Unfortunately working the cocobolo Rosewood seems to be more and more of an issue for me.

I'm very careful when working this material but it seems to be causing me quite adverse health consequences.

If I react in a similar way on the next rosewood tote and knob set it may be my last time to work this material. Fortunately I have just emptied the kiln and I have some of the best pieces of olive wood yet. The only adverse reaction I have to the olive wood is a craving for pasta.


If you're a "Walking Dead" fan you probably saw the scene that contained this screen shot below in the last episode. The Zombie on the left is my son Marc. I think my daughter Erin summed it up with this comment.

"You do NOT want to fight my brother for the last drumstick at Thanksgiving"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Plane for Bond.....................James Bond?

I received a request from a customer to make a 123-38SBP, also know as the "Brute" chute board plane entirely from brass, except of course for the iron and in this case the lever cap screw was made from stainless steel just for a bit more contrast. I won't say this was an unusual request because I think planes with bodies entirely from brass are very serviceable tools.

Early in my plane making career I did what I suggest to many budding plane makers. I made my first plane bodies entirely from brass. Brass is a much easier material for new plane makers to use and it means you don't have to jump as much of the learning curve in the beginning. Steel is such a different animal and frankly it requires a much larger investment in tooling to do well at the outset.

I still use some of those early tools daily in the shop and I've not experienced significant wear to any of the surfaces. I think the soles actually work harden after a certain amount of use.

These days I pursue plane making with a goal of precision in every part that make up the plane and in this endeavor brass presents a new challenge and difficulty. Making the component parts of the brass to very precise thickness is challenging mainly due to the fact that it's not magnetic and it is very difficult to dimension on the surface grinder.

Cold drawn brass bar tends to relieve itself of stress at the most inopportune times.

Hand lapping to precise thickness is possible with the right method but is very time consuming but it is what is most times required.

This customer asked if I had any particularly special wood for making the knob. I purchased a Desert Ironwood burl quite a while ago. It contained several inclusions that were significant enough that it would have been impossible to get enough material for a tote and knob, let alone enough good wood for an infill. The piece I chose contained heartwood and sapwood and that made it especially eye catching. The sapwood was rather coarse and open grained and required a lot of CA adhesive filling to establish a firm structural integrity in the wood. The process was most interesting and the end result was satisfying.

My generation was young when the James Bond film Goldfinger was released. After that movie most people associated the color gold with James Bond. As I was making this plane it felt as if I was crafting some secret gadget for James to use in his fight with the evil villains he encounters. The gold of the brass makes this plane  body look as if it's milled from a billet of gold. This in and of itself makes this plane very unique. 

The week after this plane was shipped to the customer I received an email from engraver Catherine Kennedy and it immediately became apparent why this plane body needed to be made from brass. I don't have pictures of the plane after engraving, however one comment in the body of an email between myself, Catherine and the customer that received this tool has sparked an entire other project that will require Catherine and myself to push the boundaries of our skills and that's challenging and exciting at the same time.

Daniel Craig is the new James Bond and frankly his ruthless manner and methods are what we always wished the kindler gentler James Bonds of my era would have been like. He doesn't need special gadgets, he just kills them that needs killing in order to keep the world safe and secure and he doesn't dilly dally around pursuing beautiful women in the process............well not much. (please understand that this comment is made tongue in cheek. I'm certainly not a war monger)

More about the project that this plane spawned in another post.


A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Virgil Wyeth Brese, The Back Porch is Getting Crowded

I apologize for the long hiatus from posting on this blog. We've had a busy summer. A trip to Vermont for a family visit and keeping to a schedule of plane making in the shop. 

When fall arrived we decided the cooler weather was an optimal time for performing some maintenance on our house. All three exterior doors needed to be replaced and because of the way the entrances were trimmed on the inside and outside, pre-hung door units were out of the question so we've had to replace these utilizing door slabs which of course required a good bit of mill work in order to prepare them hanging in the old openings. It's a time consuming process that is soon coming to an end.

This summer we experienced a wonderful day in the life of our family. Virgil Wyeth Brese arrived into this world and the delivery went better than anyone expected. What a relief.

I enjoy my grandchildren an enormous amount and the place we choose to spend a lot of our time together is on the back porch of our house. We start the day by eating breakfast there and then the activity can turn very quickly to an impromptu sword fight using whatever is handy for swords and can progress to acting out super hero scenarios. Julie and I are typically given the role of the villians but that's okay, somebody has to be the villian.

A Proud Father

Virgil in a Breast Milk Coma

On the back porch we can do most anything and most importantly we can do nothing when time comes to rest. When it rains we don't necessarily have to go indoors. It's also where we bide our time waiting for late evening and the appearance of lightning bugs, or as Maggie Mason refers to them as "dem bugs with lights".

We also enjoy snacks on the back porch. This can range from an afternoon tea party to just enjoying a popsicle, watermelon or my favorite, ice cream.

The next blog post will include plane making and maybe some pictures of the new doors and will arrive in a more timely manner as compared to this one.


"You get what you get and you don't pitch a fit",
                                                                            Katherine Mason, now 8 years old