Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Working Stainless, You Best be on Your Game

Mention stainless steel to most machinists and they look at you like you're some kind of sadist. If it's within your power to choose, why would you subject yourself to this kind of mental and physical abuse? The answer is simple, corrosion resistance. If you remember a couple of posts back I put a piece of 410 stainless on the door step of my shop exposed to the elements just to see if it would prove to be as corrosion resistant as claimed. The piece is still on the steps and for a week it was frozen in a block of ice, courtesy of the unusual winter storm that came thru a couple of weeks ago. The ice melted and the piece looks just as it did the day I put it out for the torture of mother nature.

The stainless does however live up to a reputation for being difficult to work. You'll go thru more tooling than with any other metal and cutting lubrication is an essential key to being successful with this material. Drilling is an area of much concern. You can work harden this material in the bat of an eye and once this occurs your only recovery will be with carbide tooling, however it's really just a better idea to avoid this occurrence. Sometimes it's just not within an acceptable design parameter to remove a few more thousandths with the carbide tooling so working hardening can also mean scrap parts and if this part happens to be a plane side that is match milled to the other side it could mean scrap parts time two. When one considers that precision ground 410 stainless is typically priced three times what you would expect to pay for mild steel....well, it can get expensive real quick. You learn that it's cheaper to pitch the drill bit that you're not really sure about rather than create stainless scrap. The trade off is evident a $4.00 drill bit versus a $135.00 stainless bar.

There is also a considerable amount of irony in working 410 stainless. In the photo above you'll see that one of the planes sides has been refined by removing the milling marks from the edge, and the piece in the background awaits this process. 410 stainless is formulated to be" wear resistant" so when you working an edge to remove the milling marks it comes to mind that you are trying to wear material that is "wear resistant." You can't think about this for very long because the idea of it will make you weary. As a comparison, anything that you can do in brass that requires 10 minutes of work will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours in stainless. Once again don't think about this too long or you'll go completely off the idea of corrosion resistance plane bodies.

I will have to say that milling 410 stainless with carbide end mills is a relatively easy task if you provide the cutter plenty of lubrication so it's not difficult in every aspect of fabrication but it will wear tooling at a much higher rate. It is not the easiest material to surface grind. I typically can get parts out of the mill at very close tolerances. It's pretty typical to achieve tolerances of .0005 on the width a plane sole in a length of 14" and that bit of inconsistency (if you would call .0005 an inconsistency) can be removed on the surface grinder if one wishes to do so.

Creating the stainless tweed pattern on the interior surface of the sole requires indicating every part when it is put into the vise and quite frankly what passes as precision ground bar these days usually isn't quite accurate enough to accommodate a milled texture that is only .002 deep in the surface. Therefore these pieces have to be reground here in the shop. The tweed pattern is a math/milling puzzle and attempting to assure that it is perfectly centered on the plane sole can drive a plane maker "round the bend."

The picture below shows the process of milling the tweed pattern, anyone can cut milling patterns in metal but to cut a milling pattern that has a holographic effect and looks like tweed fabric is a different thing altogether. It requires the correct starting point, the proper pitch of the overlap, the correct feed rate and depth of cut.

The picture below features two new additions to the shop. When attempting very precise work in demanding materials accurate working holding is very key. These two Glacern vises are very well made tools and are quite up to the task once they've been accurately set and indicated to the mill spindle and one to the other. I indicated these vise the same day I milled the stainless tweed pattern on two set of plane soles. Somedays you can just wear yourself out with math.

I certainly did not mean to post a gloom and doom of working stainless entry today. But sometimes a little insight into what's required to perform this work is helpful. I do believe the effort is worth the result. The stainless tools have a quality that is quite different in look and feel. The emphasis on very precise work in these tools is important in my effort to consistently create planes of this quality. Of course when all the pieces of a tool fit together quite precisely and solidly you have a plane that when in use.... nothing moves but the shaving. Include an iron with a quite sharp edge and wood fibers just don't have a chance.

My next post should show the final parts required before assembly of the plane body and the body assembled, that is unless I get off on another tangent. It's been know to happen. (grin)


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rosewood is Interesting Stuff and Sometimes it Comes with a Story

Rosewood may be the most intriguing wood that I have the opportunity to work. I was lucky enough some years ago to acquire on some very old log segments of this material. Quite honestly I don't really know which category of rosewood this material would be a part of. One of the log segments had markings on it that indicated that it had passed thru the Panama Canal on the trip that ultimately ended at the door of my shop. South America is a big country so this still gave no clue to it's identity. Quite frankly I don't care what kind of Rosewood it is because one thing I do know, it's really dense beautiful material.

The other aspect that I really enjoy when working this wood is that it's very unpredictable. I don't mean that it's not stable, what I'm making reference to is the fact that you can cut infill blanks from a 20" section of this material and the first 10 inches may look completely different than the second 10 inches and the color can vary widely in just this much length. The growth rings aren't nearly as consistent as in most woods and sometimes a swirl occurs in the growth rings.

Let me tell you the story of how I came to acquire this very old and wonderful wood. I was at the annual meeting of the Midwest Tool Collectors Association in Madison, Georgia. This event is called the Peach Meet because of it's location in the Peach growing belt of the Piedmont area of our state. I brought along one of my infill smoothing planes and a gentleman from Athens, GA whose name was ironically "Brent Wood", became quite enamored with the mahogany infilled plane.

The next week Brent sent me an email proposing a trade. He explained that he had this quite old rosewood log and would be willing to trade it at some value against the price of the plane. Brent also went on to tell me a rather elaborate story about how this particular log segment had come into his possession.

During the 1950s it seems an artist from Elberton, Georgia had gone to Europe to study with Picasso. This artist, whose name I do not know, carved sculptures from exotic woods. Upon his return from Europe he purchased several rosewood and ebony log segments from Carlton McClendons Rare Woods in Atlanta, Georgia. This gentleman set forth in his career determined to make a name for himself as a full time working artist. Well as the story goes the fact that he had studied with Picasso did not seem to impress many people and this gentleman became the proverbial starving artist.

He rented a farm house and on the premises was a barn that housed his studio. His work was not selling and he was terribly behind on his rent. He had often touted to his landlord as to the value of the log segments that were his chosen medium. The landlord was devising a way to regain his back rents when the time came that he would ultimately have to evict his tenant. The landlord decided when he evicted the artist that he would seize the logs and then sell them in order to recover at least some of what was owed.

The artist caught wind of the landlords intentions and moved one night under the cover of darkness taking with him all but a few of the log segments. He stored the log segments in an abandoned building until he could figure out how to get himself re-situated and back to work. However just a few weeks later the abandoned building caught fire. The building and the contents went up in flames. ( I literally cringed when I was told this part of the story) The remaining log segments were sold back to Carlton McClendon and this is where Brent had purchased the log segment that he traded for the plane.

Well........, you could probably imagine that I thought this was a pretty elaborate story that could have well been made up by someone wishing to improve his bargaining position in this trade. On the other hand it also sounded a little too involved to be a made up tale, so I called Carlton McClendon's Rare Woods the next day and the gentleman with whom I spoke, patiently listened to my re-telling of the story and when I had finished he said, "every detail of this story is absolutely true" and he also stated that Mr. Carlton had recounted this story to him on several occasions before he passed on. He also informed me of how Carlton had come into possession of the log segments in the late 1940s but that's a story for another time. As I began to recount this story to others this wood acquired a nick name, "Picasso Rosewood".

The great result of this story is there were several more log segments of this material in a dark corner of the basement of this wood selling establishment. They were stuck into a dark hole beside an ancient veneer press. The next day I went to Carlton McClendon's. Myself and the proprietor, with some toll of effort, extracted the logs from the hole where they had resided for several decades. I'd like to believe that these pieces of this extraordinary wood had just been patiently waiting for me all those years. I was born in 1953 so these pieces of rosewood had been there waiting for me to grow up, get a education and then go off into the world to learn and absorb all the things I would need to know and accomplish to eventually become a full time furniture maker and eventually a plane maker, and then one day to make the acquaintance of Brent Wood and as they say "The Rest is History."

As I was recently completing the 875-250 plane in the pictures that begin and follow this story it set me to thinking about the day I met Brent Wood and all this was set into motion. The 875 plane is a version of the Norris number 13 smoothing plane. I've observed several versions of this tool made by other plane makers and I have to say it's one of my favorite forms of a smoothing plane. The sweeping curves of the brass sides in contrast with the steel sole and the color of the rosewood infill are just a very compelling thing to me.

Next week this plane will make it's way to Greenwich Village, NY and a piece of a story that started when the log segments came into the U.S.A. sometime in the 1940s will continue it's journey and possibly the beginnings of a new story will be inspired by the legacy of woodworks made with the use of this tool created in the first month of this New Year 2011.


An added note: If you have infill planes with dense hardwood infills you need to stay aware of the moisture content in your shop or the area where you store these tools especially during the dry winter months. Humidity levels of below 25 percent for extended periods of time can cause these woods to check. If you have a location in your home or shop where the humidity is controlled then just store the plane or planes in this location during the winter months. Another remedy is to place the plane in a large ziplock plastic bag along with a wad of damp paper towel. Stick the wad of damp paper towel in the very corner of the bag making sure the paper towel doesn't contact any part of the plane. Take the usual precautions for protecting the metal bits from rust and periodically replenish the moisture in the bit of paper towel.

If you discover a check don't try to repair it while the environment is dry. Just bide your time until the humidity returns to a more moderate level and you may well discover that the check will resolve on it's own.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I admit it!!! I have a Dovetail Saw Problem......

As the title says "I have a Dovetail Saw Problem" but I only have six. Some while back I decided to start collecting dovetail saws from the independent saw makers that are at this time making saws. I had a few criteria that the saws I would purchase would have to meet. (1) I had to know the maker. (2) I had to like the maker. This one was easy because I already knew most of these guys and as of yet I haven't met a saw maker that I didn't like. (3) The saws had to have a wooden tote or handle. (4) The saw had to have a reputation for working rather well.

I started with a Lie-Nielsen saw and quickly progress to a Medallion Tool Works saw, I then had the opportunity to pick up a Mike Wenzloff Harvey Peace saw. Next up was the Gramercy that I purchased from Joel at Tools for Woodworking.

The next arrival was my Eccentric Toolworks saw from Andrew Lunn made using a piece of my Picasso rosewood for the tote. (Don't try to Google Picasso Rosewood, it's a long story but I'll explain in another post at a later date) This saw was unlike anything that I had experienced up to this point and I mean that in a very good way.

My most recent acquisition was a saw from Klaus and Pedder. Two attorneys in Germany that have a passion for making fine saws. This saw has a plum tote and strikes me as a more robust version of the Gramercy saw.

The saw is a little larger overall than the Gramercy and the back is notably more substantial. The plum tote (see below) is rather striking and I never imagined it would have this dark color. The details of this saw are quite well attended and it's as tight today as it was when it arrived.

I first discovered Klaus and Pedder on the Woodnet forum. They posted pictures of some of their saws and they were asking for feedback in order to improve the details and the working ability of their saws. It was also apparent in their comments that they did not take themselves too seriously which appealed to me on several levels. You can see their work at:

Plane making has cut into the time I have for my personal woodworking projects considerably. I'm not cutting several sets of dovetails a week so when I can get good consistent results with a tool I have to give a certain amount of credit to the tool being so well tuned and ready to work which is what I discovered in the box that arrived from Germany. If you look at the trial cuts in the picture below you'll see that I was able make cuts that were very square to the end of the board consistently and they were at a consistent angle as compared to the adjacent cuts. I didn't pay particular attention to depth on these trial cuts.

As hand tool woodworkers we are quite lucky to have so many great choices in this age of tool making. I featured the Klaus and Pedder saw into this blog entry because it is a recent addition but I have to say that all the dovetail saws that I own work wonderfully. Some are notably different in some regards but they all are quite well made by some quite wonderful people. I really appreciate the fine folks that purchase my tools and I enjoy celebrating and enjoying the work of others.

When I approach a project these days it's fun to think that I will be using tools made by myself and tools made by people I consider friends.

My fascination with dovetail saws may be satisfied for a while and I've resigned myself to purchasing only tools that I will use in the shop on a daily basis, however in a future post I just have to tell you about the awesome back saw with ebony handle that I just received from Ed Paik at Medallion tools......Oh No!! Back Saws.....can a person live with just one!?

On a different note....I had a visitor in the shop this week. This gentleman's name was Eric D'Ercole. Eric is in the Army and is stationed at Fort Benning about an hours drive from my shop. Eric has been deployed to the Middle East twice, once in Afghanistan, and also in Iraq. Eric worked with a luthier as a teenager and his father is an avid woodworker. Eric is looking toward his retirement and wants to get back to woodworking and is interested in including more hand tools in his work. As we discussed setting up planes, sharpening techniques and many other aspects of working with hand tools, he kept thanking me for sharing my time. When I thought about how he has spent almost all of his adult life and some of the places he's been in service to our country it seemed pretty absurd that he was thanking me for a couple of hours spent at my shop.