Monday, April 25, 2011

The "J" Plane

One of the most ordered tools at Brese Plane is the small smoother that we've come to call the "J" plane. As I stop to think about why this is so, several things come quickly to mind to explain the popularity of this tool.

This plane fits the hands of a lot of different size people. I've had people of quite small size as well as woodworkers of quite large proportions pick up this plane and comment that it feels good in their hand. The rounded end if the plane presents a nice to place to grip this plane and keeps your hand from sliding forward and possibly pressing against the back of the iron which can crease uncomfortably into your hand.

The performance characteristics of this plane are well known. Many people have witnessed this plane working very difficult woods with and against the grain with relative ease. When confronted with a planing challenge, which happens frequently at WIA and the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events where we show our wares, I will always reach for the "J" plane first. It has never let me down and once I've been successful with the "J" plane then I will attempt these difficult boards with some of the other planes on my bench. In other words, it's my "go to" plane.

The combination of the 55 degree bed angle, tight mouth and the unified mass that this plane creates is a winning configuration. Combine a well sharpened iron with the other aspects of this plane and the wood fibers have no choice but to shear and curl up. There's no magic, just solid mechanical elements that yield a result.

If you compare the picture at the top of this blog entry to the ones below you will notice that this plane has undergone some refinements over the past couple of years. None of these refinements has changed anything about the performance characteristics of this plane. I have reduced the weight in this tool a small amount and feel that the balance was improved by this change especially in regard to using the plane on the edges of boards and in places where the sole is not completely registered to the work piece. Almost all the other changes have been cosmetic.

I've changed to a stainless steel lever cap screws and a lower profile button on the iron that makes a handy back bevel registration point. If you're using the scary sharp method of honing the iron it's easy to place a piece of painters tape over this button, swipe it with a some paraffin and with the button placed off the abrasive you can easily impart about 1/2 to 1 degree of back bevel to the back side of the iron.

I also think that the price point of this tool has made it an attractive entry point for many people looking to delve into the world of infill planes. This plane is almost always ordered with rosewood infill. The color of the rosewood works well with the stainless and brass. I've actually been sort of yearning to make one with ebony infill, fortunately I recently received an order for this plane with ebony infill. I like a bit of a change once in a while.

I introduced this plane at the first Woodworking in American Conference in Berea, Kentucky. This event was also when I was first introduced to the hand tool woodworking community. I brought two "J" planes to the first WIA and at one point myself and a gentleman from Canada were making alternate passes from different directions on a piece of curly maple that contain some of the tightest curl you've every seen. This worked because one of us was left handed.

Since the first WIA in Berea I have been wonderfully supported by the hand tool woodworking community, Thanks Everyone!

Because of you I have more "J" planes to make. This makes me quite happy because as you know......."I sort of live for this stuff."


"If you're too opened minded your brains will fall out"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Last Equipment Upgrade for a Long Time!

Equipment acquisition is sometimes a wonderful way to increase your capabilities, efficiency and accuracy in your work. However it's not a decision made lightly. When you embark on an upgrade it typically involves a large amount of time and effort to research the purchase thoroughly and also to market and sell the equipment that is to be replaced.

For these reasons it almost always impacts your regular shop schedule in a negative way and creates a time period in which you'll put in long hours maintaining progress on the in process work occurring in the shop and then additional time in the evening setting up the new machine and preparing it to take over part of the work load
This latest upgrade has been one of the most challenging I've attempted to date. I know there's a guy with a beard in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that might want to argue this point, stating this machine did not have to be moved out of a basement during two rainy days. However the acquiring of the knee milling machine pictured in this post encompassed many structural and technical aspects that had not been issues in prior machinery additions. The picture above shows the mill fresh off the truck.

When I put the forks of the lift under the pallet and raised them I could feel the hydraulics of the lift straining to raise this load. The first thing that came into my mind was "what have I done?", immediately follow by a mental picture of this thing crashing thru the floor of my shop and onto the ground underneath. However I was too far into this to turn back. The truck driver had just completed a trip of 2200 miles with this mill on his truck and I don't think he would have taken very kindly to the idea of making a return trip.

To begin with this machine is massive. It weighs a good solid ton. Yep 2000 pounds. The biggest milling machine that I've handled prior to this one weighed 1000 pounds. Once you start acquiring machines that weight in excess of 600 pounds you're past the realm of thinking in terms of how many people you would need to move a given item. You've also passed into the realm of how do we move this thing without getting someone hurt. In this case I would be attempting to install this 2000 pound mill in a shop with a wooden structured floor so structural issues had to be dealt with prior to moving forward with this purchase.

I also knew that I would have to traverse an unpaved area to get to the load in door of my metal working shop. This was one part of the move that really concerned me, however it turned out to be one of easiest parts of moving the mill to the final location.

To actually set the mill into the shop it was removed from the pallet and held aloft under the ram of the head. I was very deliberate with this entire process. This was no place to get in a hurry. Finally it was in the shop. The person in the picture below is my friend Terry Sebright. He's not a big guy by any means, however seeing him in comparison to the mill you get an idea of the size of this machine.

The mill was moved into final position using a series of metal pipes and pry bars. At this point I'm just glad it's still on the correct side of the subfloor. Obviously my design of the floor shoring was up to the task.

There was still an enormous amount of work needed to get this mill up and running and finally 9 days after the truck arrived with the mill it has finally made it's first chips.

Even before this mill arrived it was scheduled for several upgrades. I'll be using a new tool holding system that is a series of collets that will allow me to change tooling in a fraction of the time this task has required in the past and there is not a major change required to go from milling to drilling.

In stock condition this mill achieves speed changes by moving the drive belt to different pulley positions. I have already upgraded this aspect. This mill now has digital speed control achieved thru a device know as a VFD or Variable Frequency Drive unit. This is one of the more technical aspects of this entire ordeal and required a good deal of research to sort out the wiring, installation and programming of this device. When it all worked I declared myself an "Electro-Magician".

There is one more major upgrade to be installed on this mill. It will receive a 3 axis digital readout system. This system will allow locations to be precisely positioned to within 2/10s of one thousandth of an inch.

Now that the machinery moving is over for a while I'm going to concentrate on posting more about the actual process of plane making and how these machines figure into the process and also about when the machine work stops and the hand work begins. Machines can do a lot of great work, however it's only when the human hand comes into the work that a certain look and feel is imparted to the item, and that will never change.


"Experience is the Name we give to our Mistakes"