Lockdown! Tools and new book projects!

It's been an extremely productive lockdown here in mid-Michigan. Our Governor recently extended the stay at home order through April 30th, so we have a few more days at home with our daughter Abigail. In addition to this wonderful family time, I've been getting a little more time in the shop, which I have been using to work on little projects here and there.

Here's the finished infill plane that I wrote about here.

I fitted a new oak handle to this large Ohio Tool socket chisel. It has been languishing in my "someday" pile for years, and now it is a wonderful, Underhill-esque worker.

I've had this reproduction Iron Age Celtic socket axe head sitting on a shelf over my bench for a while now, and I finally found the right piece of maple firewood from which to make a handle. The axe head is carefully fitted onto the handle and currently lashed with twine, though I will redo this when I get some proper rawhide lacing.!

Finally, and perhaps most exciting of all, I've been making significant progress on two, yes, TWO!, new books. One is tentatively titled The Hand Tool Woodshop: How to Create Your Space and Build (Almost) Everything In It. Like my first book, With Saw, Plane and Chisel, it is a how-to manual to produce many of the hand tools, layout tools, and work surfaces you need to be able to work efficiently by hand. This one is taking me a while to finish, and I've been working on it since last July. I'm hopeful it will be available by the end of the year. More to come.

The second is more akin to my book On Woodworking. It is tentatively called Tall Tool Tales: Hunting Rusty Treasures and the People Who Made Them. It features (mostly true) tool hunting stories, ideas about how to find the best of the best, and biographical stories of some of the men and women who made the objects we most revere. I expect this to be available by late summer.

If you're interested in keeping up with news on these two new books, shoot me an email and I'll add you to the list!

Scratch built spokeshave rehab and an infill plane restoration

My dad's corner in the shop: his Billy the Kid poster, Southern Comfort sign,
and  the catcher's mitt he used when we played baseball when I was a kid.
One of the first tools I ever made from scratch, including the blade, was a spokeshave for my dad. This was back in 2007 and, when he passed away in 2010, I got it back.

The spokeshave had lived on a shelf in his computer room and was basically never used, so I put it to work. It turned out to be a capable, if slightly rough and ugly, tool. The front of the sole wore out and I put it on a shelf, waiting for a rainy day to fix it up.

Courtesy of the coronavirus, I've had more than a few rainy days lately, so I took some time to inlay some ebony (my tool patch of choice) into the front of the tool. I also waxed it down and sharpened the blade. It will now return to use, and I'll be reminded of my dad every time I see the WVD I crudely stamped into the tool's top (for William Van Dillinger).

Still rough, still a little ugly, but priceless to me.
 I also started working on this long-neglected infill smoothing plane. I've had it for years but I've never done much with it, either cleaning or sharpening. I don't even remember where I got it but I decided the time is now to fix it up.

"What has brought you to this lowly state?"

The original owner / maker, S.G. Pool. This same name also appears
 on the front bun and on the heel of sole casting.
After a little cleaning and some shellac.

A few lockdown projects

First, let me say how incredibly thankful I am to all the healthcare professionals, front line emergency responders, and everyone else involved in the battle against the insidious Coronavirus and Covid-19. I am personally acquainted with several positive cases and have lost one friend already. So thank you. And thank you to everyone who is staying home and staying safe. That's the only way we win this thing long term, until we have a working vaccine.

Now, on to the woodworking content. Like many of you, I find myself with a bit more time in the shop lately, so I've been taking care of a few things and trying to use up some scrap wood. Here are a few projects I've been working on lately.

First, I replaced the ugly porch skirting on the front and side porches of my 1900-built farmhouse. It had been done with 2.75" diamond garden lattice by a previous owner and this was patently incorrect for the house. So I built my own lattice from 1 1/2" lath, giving proper small squares. This will be painted once I can safely go to the hardware store for "non-essential" materials. Also up is a rebuild / repaint on the side porch stairs / railing to match the front porch stairs / railing I built last year.

I also built an oak door bolt for my front shop door. No more eye hooks to keep the door closed from the inside!

I also used up a scrap piece of pine tongue and groove siding, a 6" length of copper pipe, and some scrap birch to make a set of pinch sticks. These handy things allow you to easily check how square an assembly is simply by checking the measurements diagonally between corners. If the corner measurements are the same the assembly is square; the sticks eliminate the need for remembering the measurements and removes the inherent inaccuracy of using measurements at all.

I also used up some scrap 1/2" poplar (and the last of my 1" headless brads from Tools for Working Wood) to make this 18th century New England style wall hanging box. It will be painted, color yet to be determined by my wife.

Anyhow, I'm thankful that I have my woodshop, a decent supply of lumber and scraps, and a little bit of time to make stuff. It is surely helping me to keep what little sanity I have.

I hope y'all are staying safe.

'till next,

Swedish-Estonian style breast drill - part 2

In Part 1, I discussed the inspiration for and the first steps towards building a unique breast drill that I found in the classic "Woodworking in Estonia". This post continues that project.

With the lower body completed I moved on to the pad, the part to which chest pressure is applied to both steady and advance the auger bit. The book shows that the chest stock is made from a piece of tree branch. The hole for the stock tenon is bored through a knot, enabling the grain to flow around the hole which should help prevent splitting.

I selected a likely looking piece of maple from my firewood pile and started after it with a variety hand adzes and hatches.

Pretending to chop the knot swell flush to the rest of the wood.

Boring the hole

Bark removed and rough layout lines drawn on.

Starting the work with a hatchet

More work, now with cooper's adze

More adze work, getting close now.

I love the texture left by the adze. Some of this will remain.

All in all, a very successful attempt. This is after one quick coat of my preferred finish for tools, a blend of pine tar, linseed oil, and turpentine. Several more coats will be applied after all other steps are completed.

Next up, I'll be choosing and fitting an auger bit to burn into this stock and pouring some pewter. It's about to get smoky in the wood shop (usually a very bad thing).

- Zachary Dillinger

Swedish-Estonian style breast drill - part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I finally had a chance to pick up Lost Art Press's version of "Woodworking in Estonia". Despite being an avowed acolyte of Roy Underhill, who states that this particular book is his favorite, I'd never before read Vires's masterwork. Well, that has now changed and, frankly, it is eye opening. It made clearer so many of the relationships between tools, names for tools, and how their usage has evolved. I highly recommend the book, available here.

The book, coupled with a reread of Issue Six of Mortise & Tenon Magazine, led me to undertake a new tool project. You can see the original in the upper right hand corner of my opening image, a Swedish-Estonian breast drill. Being sans lathe at the moment (a situation to be corrected soon), I opted for the simple style shown on the right.

Vires says that many, if not most, of these drills were constructed predominantly from birch and I just happened to have an appropriate piece.

The work began with laying out the rough blank then ripping and crosscutting it free.

I then planed to my layout line giving me a square blank which enabled me to accurately lay out the center of the piece on both ends.

 I then used a center bit, with the central pike in the center of blank, to lay out the end tenon which will ultimately go into the chest stock. Using a crosscut backsaw, I sawed in to rough depth on all four sides before splitting away the waste with a chisel.

 I then used my Stearns hollow auger to cut the tenon perfectly round.

Some basic shaping, a chopped mortise in the center, and a long turning bar were then made completing the lower part of the drill.

The next post will be a detail of creating the chest stock from a piece of maple firewood. After that, I'll cover the process of fitting a pewter collar and burning an auger bit into the stock.

- Zachary Dillinger

No one is gone if you remember them and speak their name

To Jamie Bacon: friend, craftsman, and raconteur
It's very difficult for me to believe it but it will soon be five years since Jamie Bacon of the Plane Shavings blog left our mortal world. I never had the privilege of meeting Jamie in person but, if you've ever read his blog, you'll understand why we were frequent correspondents.

His blog was superb and remains so. It is well worth another read through.


To friend Jamie, wherever you are, I hope your planes are sharp and that the walnut is all air-dried.

- Zachary Dillinger

Our predecessors

The chimney of Thomas Jefferson's joinery at Monticello. Photo by Zachary Dillinger.

"We are not wiser, we are not better, we are not stronger than our predecessors, but we have their accumulated knowledge and wisdom to build upon. We have gained in understanding and technical knowledge: this vast treasure house is our inheritance. With the creative intelligence of the people now living combined with wisdom developed over the centuries, we may create a self-sustaining flame of human happiness.

- Bill Copperthwaite

Chatoyance on hand planed pine

Chatoyance is the fancy term for wood that shimmers and shines in the light. It is most prevalent in certain types of wood, especially heavily figured examples, but can be observed in just about any species. In case you've never seen it, this is what it looks like on freshly planed pine. As you can see, a properly tuned and sharpened hand plane gives even this big-box hardware store pine a stunning, reflective look.

This is what I refer to as a "Class 1" surface in my book With Saw, Plane and Chisel.

This was achieved with my shop-made Dutch style planes, specifically the voorlooper and the gerfschaaf below.

Making an ancient handplane

My curly birch version of a c.1300 plane
Last Thursday, the Viking Museum Instragram feed posted a picture of a truly exciting plane that they use in the process of reconstructing Viking-era ships. It is based on one found on Skraeling Island and has been dated c.1300.

When I saw this thing, I knew that I had to make one and I found some time this weekend and put one together.

To speed the process along so that I could experiment with the plane more quickly, I chose to make a glued up body rather than chop the plane from one piece.

The glued up plane body. The iron is bedded at 45 degrees.

Such cool tool marks left by the in-cannel gouge

It took all of my self control to not leave the cool gouge marks in the body while carving the curves. Having worked with such tools before, I can tell you that those ridges, while attractive, are sure to raise a blister. So I smoothed them away with a rasp and sandpaper.

King Edward's dowel stock

Whenever I have oak scraps or cutoffs, I split them into dowel sized billets and put them in a cigar box high up on a shelf to dry out completely. One of the blanks was selected and driven through my 3/8" dowel plate with my new hand sledge.

I love the shavings that the dowel plate leaves
 This split oak dowel was used as the cross pin for the plane. The Viking Museum's example uses a steel cross pin but I didn't have any steel rod of the appropriate diameter. Also, based on previous plane making experience, I find that a wood pin seems to hold the wedge better than steel. Should the oak fail in use it will be a simple thing to replace as it isn't glued in.

The finished article
 Interestingly enough, the Viking Museum appears to use their plane on the push stroke. I tried this but found that the plane works much better on the pull, at least for me. This type of discovery is why I consider myself as much of an experimental archaeologist as I do a furniture maker: trying to replicate the work of the past (in this case the ancient past) is why I do what I do.

I should probably make some actual furniture soon but I'm having a lot of fun cleaning, reorganizing, and restocking the shop with some fun new tools.

As you can see, it works very well.

- Zachary Dillinger

Another use for the sash fillister

I don't usually need anything more than a gauge line to work to for bringing a board to thickness but, on jobs that require abnormal precision, sometimes a more distinct visual reference is called for.

One technique that I have used in the past is to bring a board to width and rough length, flatten a reference face then use a sash fillister plane to cut a rabbet into the opposite side across the two ends and along the two long grain edges. The rabbets can then be used to guide my final thicknessing efforts. This is similar to the technique of gauging flooring for historic buildings, where you only adze away the waste to a common thickness where the board crosses a joist. Thanks to Roy Underhill for this and countless thousands of other tidbits of information.

The sash fillister is used because it "hops" over the wood to be cut and references the already flattened reference face while cutting the other side of the board. As long as your fence locks down tight, the resulting distance between the reference face and the cut edge of the rabbet should be the same all the way around the board.

The benefits of this technique when planing a board to thickness are obvious but where it really shines is in resawing. The rabbets give a positive reference surface, rather like a fence, to guide the saw plate.

This is a very useful technique as it makes a precise surface along the edges where precise thickness often matters most for aesthetics and for cutting joinery.  Plus I just like using my sash fillister plane and I don't get to make sash as often as I'd like.

- Zach Dillinger

Details from my c.1770 Gabriel hollows and rounds

As some of you know, I'm the proud owner of a full set of 18th century hollows and rounds made by Christopher Gabriel c.1770. These planes could have been on the shelf next to those that found their way into the famous Benjamin Seaton tool chest, which is incredibly cool to me. All bear the same owner's mark and seem to always have been together (thanks again Patrick!)

Pardon the halo on these, a small part of my prized collection

I recently had a request over on my Instagram feed for some specific measurements from these planes from a fellow woodworker who is seeking to make his own set of molding planes. In doing so I noticed something very interesting regarding the width of the chamfers that are cut to soften the top corners and make the planes more comfortable to hold.
#2, #8, #16 pairs

The #1 set, i.e. 1/16" wide, has a chamfer which is 3/16" (or 6/32") wide. The #2 pair goes to 7/32", and this measurement stays the same all the way through the #11 pair. Starting with the #12 pair, the measurement goes up by approximately 1/32" of an inch for each pair of pairs (even and odd), i.e. #12 and #13 pairs are 8/32" (1/4"), the #14 and #15 pairs are 9/32", the #16 and #17 pairs are 10/32" (5/16"). The #18 pair is 11/32" but I do not have anything larger to know if that same formula would continue into larger, joiner sized planes.

#2 pair - 7/32"

#8 - 7/32"

#16 - 10/32"

In a world where many modern makers use the same sized chamfer for all their molding planes, regardless of size, this is an interesting detail. I found it intriguing that handmade planes exhibited this type of precise formulation.

I'd be very interested to learn if anyone else has a set of planes like this which displays this sort of sizing formula.

- Zach Dillinger