Friday, September 30, 2011

Wisdom of The Ancients

There seem to be two schools of thought on the validity of The Way It Used To Be Done. Until recently, the most prevalent seemed to be "Progress is good, two feet bad". I may have mixed my slogans a little there, but you get the gist; improvement is the goal and we know heaps more than those ignoramuses who came before us. This is clearly not always the case. (Please see good old Barry Bucknell and his crusade to swathe every panelled door in 1950s Britain with hardboard as an example.)

Recently, particularly in the hand tool world, it seems more like the rose-tinted safety glasses and "it were better when my several-greats granddad were alive" has gained the upper hand. I'm not always a great proponent of that one either, and to coin a phrase: Here's (one example) why.

One 1 & 1/8in firmer chisel of solid and, I suggest, fairly old manufacture.

'Tis by "James Cam", an old and well-regarded maker of steel goodies for the discerning woodworker. Indeed, so well-regarded, that his name continued to be used well after his demise. This is never a good thing if you want to tie down a date for a tool, and the James Cam timeline is still rather up in the air anyway. Suffice it to say it's older than a Marples splitproof anyway.

Obviously it is, 'cos it's, um, split. Not even boxwood either, and thus I undermine my own argument of yesterday just a tad. But moving on... Appreciate that nice octagonal bolster, why don't you? And if you look closely, you can probably make out what appear to be file marks on the similarly octagonal handle. Sometimes I think we all take entirely too much trouble over the prettiness of our chisel handles. Not that such an observation is going to stop me, mind you...

Now this Cam came among the goodies of the coachbuilder's kit, and the owner of same left us much evidence that he liked to adapt and repurpose tools. Unfortunately this chisel didn't escape, and has been reground into a turning skew, to go with one or two other tools similarly adapted for turning purposes.

Legitimately, you may be saying at this point "But Alf, it might have always been a turning tool. It looks sturdy enough for the lathes of yesteryear". To which I'd respond that yes, it does and please don't use the term "yesteryear" because it makes me nauseous. There's just one thing though...

I've over-layed a line on the identical bottom shot, just to make it clearer. Know what that line is? Yes, it's where the hard tool steel is laminated to the rest of the softer chisel body. See where it stops? See where the "cutting" edge of this home-brew skew is? Yes. Exactly.

Sometimes our forebears were just as daft as we are.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

No cheeky butt jokes, please

My only butt chisel. Which I acquired the old fashioned way - or what I suspect was the old fashioned way - by repurposing a rather worn down and handle-less Marples & Sons 1" bevel edged firmer.

Rehandled with boxwood - something I tend to avoid now, however much I love it (and I do). You know how folks lust after completing sets of Marples chisels with the boxwood carver handles? Well I've got quite a few of those handles as it happens - all in the pile of "small exotics" for turning into something else, because, yup, they've split. Of all the split and knackered chisel and gouge handles I've seen (and would you believe I've seen a few?) the bulk of them were boxwood. It's not fancy or even remotely sexy, but opting for ash and beech handles are to be much preferred if you don't want to get into rehandling. Tip o' the day.

So amazingly, no set of butt chisels here, but I do have another short and handle-less 3/4" Marples that's crying out for the same repurposing. Hmm, maybe I'll have to give in and make it a boxwood handle after all, just so they'll match...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Chinese Way

So I thought I'd go into some of the other candidates suggested as the "odd one out". PeteW came up with lots to work with. Viz:

Extreme top-left, appears to be your only oriental-style chisel

Which is quite true. The Japanese set I was curious about and decided to try was kicked into touch many years ago now; the hollows in the backs just didn't suit me and that was that. Now contain your surprise, but I came to own this chisel because I was also... curious. Yeah I know, you didn't see that coming at all.

It's a Chinese stylee broad chisel with an HSS blade soldered to the body (Or maybe braized? Like I know the difference...) Think I may have got it from Rutlands in a moment of weakness. Or maybe Workshop Heaven? Neither of them have them any more though, which I'm inclined to think may be our loss.

Dim memory suggests it came to me under the auspices of the Mujingfang label, and if you've ever seen El Presidente's photos of their state of the art plane factory, you can certainly see chisels along the same theme in use to make those surprisingly excellent tools. You can probably also hazard a guess at the equally state of the art production that makes the chisels...

Okay, the back isn't pretty, it's true, but wait to you see the other side:

It's, um, "honest". No artifice here. No surplus polishing or grinding. It's some bits of metal all whacked together and clobbered until they made a chisel. I rather like it; kind of a connection with Western chisels of yore and they're similar habit of taking the minimum of cutting steel and making it go a long way.

And seriously, don't let the looks fool you - it takes a wicked edge and I have no hesitation in belting the snot out of it when necessary. Does it care? Does it wilt in the face of such abuse? It does not. Yeah, I've chipped the edge and all sorts, but it's HSS, so Hah! Take it to the grinder with impunity and have at it; in no time you can have that wicked edge right back.

So far I've stamped on my curiosity sufficiently to resist purchasing any more Chinese style chisels, but it's not easy 'cos I've heard good things about these...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apocalypse Now

Pausing from the chisels for a moment, in the comments box here, Dave was inexplicably moved to ask:

"God knows why the question just occurred to me, but Alf (and anyone else reading) - out of all of your thousands of tools, do you have a special favourite? A desert-island-tool, if you will!"

Scraping the desert island factor (if we're not to drown in axes, machetes and Leathermans) suppose you had 30 minutes to do a "supermarket sweep" of your tools and gather up the tool kit you wanted, which tool would you grab first, just to make darn sure you wouldn't forget it? Might be the most useful, but equally it might be the one with the most sentimental value, or the one with the most bells and whistles. Which would you choose?

After wincing at the idea for, um, a couple of days, and hoping that such an apocalypse will never actually befall me, I gave it some thought and opted for...

...the Record #043 mini grooving plane.

More specifically, my dad's #043. Technically I've, um, swiped it off him, but I don't think he minds. (Shhh, don't tell him, just in case he does mind...) As you see, it has custom short rods, which I made, and also a custom lignum vitae fence face made for me by BugBear. It also pretty much acted as the catalyst for my descent into plough and combination plane addiction; little did I know where that would take me. Add to that the fact it's just one darn useful and handy plane, and it ticks so many boxes for me, I couldn't really dream of choosing any other tool. First into the tool chest when The Schwarz comes round with the Limited Tool Kit police ;)

So that's mine. But the comments box is open; what would you choose?

(Talking of the comments box, anonymous comments are getting swallowed as spam, kids, and I'm pretty sure I'm not catching them all. Put a name to them, 'k? Thank you muchly)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Shark Week

As I seem to be in the mood, this blog might just focus on chisels for a while. (Surprise) Kinda like Shark Week, except it may or may not last as long as a week, depending on my mood. Or maybe longer than a week. And there are no sharks.

Having said which, the odd one out I had in mind was indeed the "Where's Waldo?" candidate. (Or as it's called here in Blighty, "Where's Wally?". Possibly because anyone walking about in red and white stripes like that would naturally tend to be described as a bit of a wally...)

Anyway, this is a E A Berg 1031 series 3/8"/10mm chisel with the famous Shark logo. (See what I did there?)

It came to Alf Towers in a state of abject misery, and has stayed to become something of a favourite. In the normal scheme of things I wouldn't have touched it with a Ten Foot Pole (Or any other Eastern European of abnormally tall stature - I'm an equal-opportunities employer. Or rather, in this case, non-employer.) However, at the time there was a lot of chatter about the joys of Berg chisels on't fora, vis-a-vis the superior quality of their steel, and I was curious.

My being curious gets me into all sorts of trouble, tool-wise. You may have noticed.

So this thing was basically a length of rust with a handle. Indeed the blade was so rusty a previous owner had declined to have it anywhere near their pot of Pure Brilliant White emulsion, and had instead stirred the paint with the handle. But it was the only Berg I'd ever seen before or since, so I had to have it. Didn't I? I believe I was (over) charged 20 new pence for the thing. Or one fifth of a pound sterling. Or about 30 cents at the current exchange rate. The paint on the handle was thrown in for free.

Having absolutely nothing to lose, and only less rust to gain, I threw the thing at the belt sander, and as is often the case in life when you have nothing to lose and thus take no particular trouble at all, it came out beautifully. Okay, so by the time I'd found steel it wasn't actually 10mm wide any more, but just a hair under 9mm, but I also had slightly finer bevels as a result too. So it was a win-win.

And only a couple of hour's work to lose the paint off the handle... Well, most of the paint.

Now the astute observer will have gathered that I'm not a fan of plastic handles. At all. But this puppy? Man, it is so comfortable, it's ridiculous. Fits my hand "just so", doesn't roll off the bench, gives an instant tactile feedback on which way the back's facing. It's brill. If I wasn't such a lazy so-and-so I would make oval handles just like it for a whole bunch of chisels. Alas, it's so much easier to slap something on the lathe and make it round. Sigh. It's not easy being a lazy so-and-so sometimes...

So there we have the E A Berg. The 1031 are made under the Bahco brand now, and I don't know if the steel is as good. If it is, well if I'm ever in the market for some more plastic handles, I think I'd give them a shot first.

Tomorrow, or maybe Wednesday, from plastic handles to Made in China. Can this blog stoop any lower...?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

As Imelda Marcos is to shoes...

... so, apparently, am I to chisels and gouges. I knew this, but... not to this extent. Now you can see why it's taken me many months to get up the courage to return to the Spring Cleaning and stare my chisel problem squarely in the face.

Having looked it squarely in the face, I shall now run away and sit in a corner, hugging my knees and rocking back and fro. This is not a wide range of tools from which to choose - this is an actual problem.

But while I seek therapy, the truly bored reader might like to spot the odd one out. Or "an" odd one out, perhaps. I'm sure you can come up with a few beyond the one I'm thinking of, because there really are surprisingly few duplicates in there. No, really. As long as significant details like different makers represented across approximately half a dozen 1/4" chisels qualifies in your mind as "no duplicates". As obviously it does in mine...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kingshott's Kit

Found another entry for our occasional series of British Woodworking Writers' Suggested Tool Kits, so thought I'd share. In this case, Mr Jim Kingshott from his book on The Workshop. For some reason RJK seems to be rather better regarded across the Pond than here in his native land, possibly helped by the availability of his four videos/DVDS over there. Plus he used to write for Traditional Woodworking, which seemed to me was always the forgotten magazine of UK woodworking. Anyway, on with the kit:

Basic Kit

Jack plane
Steel smoothing plane
9in try square
2ft steel rule
Marking knife
26in crosscut saw, 8 or 9 ppi
10in Tenon saw
Combination mortise and marking gauge
Firmer chisels 3/8in, 1/2in, 3/4in, 1in
Warrington 8oz hammer
Medium oilstone
Screwdriver, 8in cabinet pattern
Fine nail punch
Pincers, 8in
Ratchet brace, 8in or 10in sweep
Twist bits: 1/4in, 3/8in, 1/2in, 3/4in [Auger bits for the brace]


As a Basic Kit goes, this is not dissimilar to Charles Hayward's - and, I reckon, lacks in much a similar way. Not a bevel edged chisel among them? And in RJK's case, none of them smaller than 3/8in, forsooth?! And no means to efficiently make rebates or grooves either. I'd also have recommended anything but a combination mortise/marking gauge. They seem like a good, and economic idea, but those things eat fingers. So, thus far I'm a little ho-hum. Onwards:

Supplementary Tools

Panel saw 20in, 10 or 12 ppi
Dovetail saw, 22 or 24 ppi
Coping saw
Fore or panel plane in metal [RJK was, of course, a big fan of the infill plane]
Block plane, 60 1/2 or 9 1/2 (both if you can afford them)
Metal fillister Record No.778
Bullnose plane, 1in cutter
Shoulder plane, 1 1/4in cutter
Plough plane or combination with cutters
Bevelled-edge chisels; 5/8in, 7/8in, 1 1/4in
Gouges (obtain as and when needed)
Screwdriver bit [Presumably for the brace]
4in and 12in try squares
Mitre square
Sliding bevel
Cutting gauge
Dividers with screw adjustment
Pin hammer, 3oz
Spokeshaves, one flat sole and one round sole
Fine oilstone


Well this is more like it, and again a lot of similarity with Hayward. Still no narrower chisel listed though, which surprises me - unless we should be blaming a typo somewhere, about which I'm starting to wonder. On the other hand, "plough plane or combination" makes my combination plane-loving little heart swell with love for the late RJK...

Recommending two block planes strikes me as interesting though, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many a woodworker, the more they do, the less they find themselves using block planes at all - I'm one of them, which is slightly ironic given how many of the darn things I have. The old school, classically-trained woodworker, will often seem to regard the ownership of a block plane at all as utterly superfluous and tend to look at the modern amateur a trifle pityingly for even wondering about getting one. But two?! One low angle and one standard angle? If I recall El Presidente correctly, LV only make a standard angle 'cos the educational establishments call for it - owing to the ham-fisted yoof in days of yore having an uncanny ability to bust the more delicate low angle bed on a 60 1/2. So you gave them a more robust 9 1/2 instead, right? But this is a kit for a novice joiner and/or cabinetmaker - a kit whose list includes an expensive and equally vulnerable shoulder plane - so robustness is not an issue. And if it is, you wouldn't be recommending a 60 1/2 in the first place, would you?

In short, I am, I freely confess, utterly perplexed at the double block recommendation in a supposed Starter Hand Tool Kit. Any reader who cares to enlighten me, the comments box welcomes you with open arms - there may even be tea and biscuits.

On the whole I'm still inclined to favour John Brown's list as being the most comprehensive and avoiding the trap of trying to give a pared down list of "basics" that really, IMO, fall just short of being truly useful. Only black mark is his lack of a plough plane. Sigh. Anyway, comparing them all, it does give a fairly good idea of what really are the essentials, and which are the individual's pet likes. You never know, that might be useful to someone.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Draw, not drawer

The Hat Has Spoken, and... Bad luck, you're in Slytherin.

Saints forgive me, I've just referenced That Damn Wizard in my blog. Shoot me now.

But before you do, congrats to Nick and Evergreen, to whom a shiny, un-thumbed copy of the LV catalogue will shortly be winging. Just as soon as I've got over the poorly concealed daylight robbery that are UK postal charges. Hmm, anyone got an owl I could borrow...?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Say cheese

Coupla folks in the comments box expressed wonder and amazement at how I was able to take a photo of my own hands. A more reasonable question might have been "Why?", but moving on... I did briefly like the Bionic Man/Steve Austin idea, until I remembered that didn't the action figure have a hole in the back of his head so you could see through his "bionic" eye? Or was that an Action Man? Either way, I went from "Cool" to "Eewww" pretty quickly. Anyway, it's not that, although the answer is because I actually do have the technology.

I have two (okay, three) words for you: "Tripod" and "Self Timer". Or as I call them "Camera stand thingy" and "Timey thing". I'm all about the techno speak, me... I think I tend not to call the tripod a, well, a tripod, because of being scarred (and scared) in my youth by that Saturday afternoon Doctor Who wannabee, The Tripods. I don't think it's very likely that humanity will be enslaved by a camera accessory, but better safe than sorry, eh?

A tripod is pretty much the first step to take towards workshop picture nirvana; makes a heap of difference. Plus, even if you don't intend to bore the rest of the woodworking world to death with your pictures, a tripod and the video mode on your digital camera pointed at you while you plane, chisel, saw etc, can provide surprisingly useful feedback on your techniques. Try it; you might be surprised at what you actually do rather than what you think you're doing. Pretty sure the car boot/flea market trawlers among you could pick one up for a song - or maybe not even that much. Perhaps just the first verse and half the chorus...

Anyway, here ya go - visual proof of how it's done, and not a bionic eye in sight:

There, all the magic is gone forever.

Or is it...? For how on earth did I take that picture?!

No, there was no-one but me in the w'shop at the time.

No, I do not have a prehensile tail just out of shot. But gosh, wouldn't that be handy for those tricky glue-ups?

You want to know?



Okay then:

Boring, innit? A borrowed camera on a nifty Ilford camera holding thingy, clamped to the WoodRat. The alert and long-memoried reader might remember it arrived chez Alf, somewhat bizarrely, among the contents of the coachbuilder's tool chest. All cleaned up now, and really very good. It can even take the weight of my, much larger, camera. I'm thinking I might rig up something to clamp it to that I can drop in the bench dog holes and have nifty, on-bench, camera-holding ability at the drop of a dog.

And before I go, still time for UK folks to drop their name in the hat for a copy of the 2011 Lee Valley catalogue! Details here. Although the standard of grovelling thus far is, I have to say, patchy.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

September Gives Away

Dunno about you, gentle reader, but there's been a definite autumnal (or fall) vibe about the place already. You know how sometimes summer drags its heels and you're surprised that it's September already? Well this year, around here at least, the world hung up its metaphorical flip-flops and started to wonder where it had put its boots and gloves pretty much as soon as the last weekend of August was done. Slightly depressing, to be honest. But it's not all doom and gloom, for the arrival of September also heralds this time-honoured announcement:

Once again, three copies of the new Lee Valley catalogue have arrived upon my doorstep. Oooo, I hear you cry. Oooo indeed, for before even hitting the desirable content, its cover alone is a positive festival of Hand Drill Gorgeousness which, naturally, appeals to me very greatly. So much, in fact, that I felt obliged to provide a much bigger screencap of same than usual, just so we could all have a drool together. Off you go - I'll wait.

Okay? Done? Right. The gizmo in the centre's pretty darn extraordinary, innit?

Anyway, online versions are all very well, but nothing beats the opportunity to put a big red circle round your heart's desire and leave it lying around in an prominent position in plenty of time for Christmas... So, being as how nature has provided me with only one pair of eyes, that leaves two copies up for grabs. Only just, mind you, as I was tempted to remove the cover from one copy and frame it... Anyway, same routine as before - indeed I intend to copy 'n' paste the required, slightly edited, text.

For a copy of the Lee Valley & Veritas September 2011 catalogue to your door, (UK mainland only - sorry overseas folks) free, gratis and for nothing, get an email into my inbox (website AT cornishworkshop DOT co DOT uk) with "Drool" in the subject line and plenty of grovelling in the body of the text ;) and I'll draw two lucky recipients from the hat. Entries close at midnight on Sunday (11th)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wazzat den?

I get quite a few requests for tool identification, one way of another. I quite like the ones on an open forum, because generally discussion expands and everybody learns something.

Email requests of the "I'm about to sell these tools on eBay - what are they and what are they worth?" I'm less enamoured with. No-one learns anything but the seller, a complete stranger, who - not to put too fine a point on it - is looking to make extra profit off knowledge I've taken time and trouble to acquire. Amazingly enough I wasn't born into the world knowing this stuff. My fairy godmother failed to gift me with a copy of Salaman's Dictionary and the 3rd Edition of British Planemakers at my cribside. (I know, I know. You just can't get the calibre of fairy godmother these days.) In other words they've got a ruddy nerve asking me, and these days I just tend to delete and not even suggest they look up completed auctions on eBay.

Harsh, ain't I?

Often the most fun can be found viewing stuff "in the flesh". It's a downside of having lived around here and interested in old tools for sufficiently long that enough folks know who I am when I wander round a car boot sale. As a result it's very hard to buy rusty crud when you're supposed to know what you're buying. One has a reputation for discernment, don'tcha know - I don't know how or why, but apparently one does... And then you also get the testers. The "So then Alf, you'll know what this is?" with a grin and a general feeling that you're suddenly surrounded by banana skins. Reckon it's just about a score draw when it comes to correct identification vs. falling on my posterior, but a good laugh is had by all...

But then there are the genuine "What's this then?" Yes, there are banana skins available here too, but we've all got an equal chance of slipping on them. Yesterday, in a rather damp and disappointing Pool Market, I was confronted by a nifty little gadget that I just knew I'd seen before. A three armed little tool with tap, reamer and turnscrew, one on the end of each arm, trefoil style, and a corresponding die in the middle. 26tpi, 3/8", "British Made" and a name that looked to me like "J Hughnes". Frank, who presides over the now somewhat large tool emporium within the market walls, thought maybe something for bikes. Seemed plausible, except I wouldn't recognise anything bike-related (motor or push) if you waved it up and down in front of my nose and described it to me over a loud hailer - and yet this I knew I'd seen before. Alas, I couldn't drag the memory to the surface and I had to admit defeat, but, for the record, did mention I thought it might be in the MAC catalogue and I'd have a look.

The MAC catalogue is a huge volume produced by The Metal Agencies Co. Ltd of Bristol. If you're familiar with the Buck & Hickman catalogues, it's kinda like that but with added bathroom fittings, paint, tiles, and generally everything you'd need for property maintenance. And then some. Fascinating tomes, and thanks to an incredibly generous forum member, I have four of them; here's the latest one from September 1937. Thin, innit?

So, nearly spraining my wrist taking it down from the shelf, I turned to the section devoted to taps and dies. Turning to page 1307, I admit I allowed a rather smug smile to steal across my face, for lo! It seems the effects of the aluminium pans aren't entirely fatal yet, and my memory of where I'd seen the mystery tool was not at fault:

Arguably this is Bad News for Frank, because somehow I don't imagine demand for Gasfitter's Combination Burner Taps is terribly high these days. But you never know. It makes me think though; a combination of die and taper, second and plug taps all in one tool would be pretty cool, wouldn't it? Probably practical reasons why not, I dare say, but still cool.

Anyway, it turned out they were in Buck & Hickman too; just not as clear an engraving, so I'd overlooked them. Which goes to show the importance of pretty pictures when grabbing the attention of such tool butterflies as myself...

By chance I also met the Tall Scotsman in the finely falling rain, and we caught up a little. Just as soon as he sends me the details, I will plug his new emporium in Hayle. Indeed, if I can convince the transport manager, I think a road trip and site report might be nice, eh? Pig's might fly, but I can but try. Anyway, courtesy of another passing tool addict, he ended up describing another sort-of mystery tool to me. Yeah, it was one of those days.

Viz: An adze, but with a straight blade, the head at at an acute angle to the round eye, a hammer poll, and a keyhole slot such as on an old Stanley lever cap in the centre of the blade. Again, this rang bells. Someone had said they used them in their workplace making rustic style rail fences - the posts coming already with sockets for the rails, but the end of the rails themselves needing shaping to fit. We don't get a lot of those round here, instead favouring enormous lumps of granite hidden in hedges just waiting to remove vehicular paintwork, so our lack of knowledge of such a fencing tool wouldn't be surprising. However, the TS had yet to check Salaman, which it turns out was A Bit Silly, because there - if I'm not mistaken - it is on page 30. Viz: A Turkish Adze.

Salaman sez: "A straight blade with flat chequered poll and round eye. Usually has a key-hole shaped slot for pulling nails. Still used in the East as a general purpose tool."

So there we have it, and have also clearly demonstrated that I really didn't appear on the planet already knowing this stuff. With my works of reference I'm a genius - and you could be too. However, without them, I do have a nifty line in expressions of vaguely knowledgable puzzlement and that, my friends, takes talent... ;)