Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Routine drill

Weather's not so hot here in Blighty at the moment. When I say "Not so hot", I don't just mean figuratively speaking either. It's bloomin' perishin'. Just the thought of laying hands onto the cold metal handle of a #044 or a #78 rebate plane chills me to the bone. So in a bid to avoid actually having to venture out into the icy wasteland that is my workshop, my mind turned to things to muse over without leaving the comfort of the fan heater at my feet.

Now all the time discussions crop up on the various fora and message boards about certain things. Can't think of any at the moment, except one... But anyway, it happens. And every time I think "I have just the thing (usually a photograph) to answer that query somewhere, if only I could find it". But I usually can't, so I don't. But I thought might it not be handy to build up a library of blog posts that could act as a reference for that sort of thing. Like... Oh, just thought of another one. Chisels. A basic photographic guide to different chisel (and chisel handle) varieties. Handy, yes? Can't off-hand find a pic of the leather washer on a registered firmer chisel? Find one here, kinda thing.

Naturally I don't have a wide range of clear chisel pictures about my person, but I do happen to have quite a few of different bits for the humble brace. Excellent; everyman's (and woman's) guide to brace bits. Except The Muse is feeling a little chilled too, and it's turning out more boring than Boring. So it needs to marinate a little and will turn up another day.

However, this did throw up an unexpected question from a non-woodworking friend. One that left me feeling a bit stumped, actually. Viz:

What's the difference between a drill bit and an auger?

At first glance, I bet you opened your mouth and said "Well, that's eas-" and then maybe it wasn't. Or maybe it's really obvious and I'm just being a clot. That wouldn't surprise me; I don't function well while my teeth chatter. Either way, the comments box is Open. Do your worst.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Me Tarzan

Right, as promised, the flip side of tool decoration. Anyone easily offended may wish to look away.

Hang around in the world of tool acquisition for long enough, and you'll eventually hear the phrase "The Mother Lode". I'm not absolutely sure who coined the phrase, but the gist is pretty obvious. You've hit the seam. There's gold in them there hills. In short, it's often a lot of particularly lovely tools all at once. If you're good and eat all your greens, you may happen upon one in your lifetime. Nearly eight years ago, I hit mine. And, as is so often the case with a mother lode, the source was a patternmaker.

But I don't want to bore you with that tale now.

It's enough to say that amongst the goodies were some rather nice paring chisels and gouges, including a couple of boxwood-handled examples. Mr Thomas, for such was the name of the patternmaker, had acquired one 1 1/2" paring gouge and one 1 1/2" paring chisel, previously owned by an R G Roberts. Here's the chisel; is it not a thing of majesty?

Mr Thomas was but 18 at the time and keen to personalise his new acquisitions. Naturally enough, being a young man only newly in the working world and tool ownership, he put some effort into it. As it happens, Mr Thomas was one of many millions of gentlemen who followed the adventures of "Jane" in that well-known national newspaper, the Daily Mirror.

For those not in the know, "Jane" was a comic strip in which the hapless, but comely Jane, found herself caught up in all sorts of misadventures. Oddly enough, she often mislaid one or all of parts of her outer clothing while so employed. She never caught on in the States, being considered decidedly too risqué, whereas she was very popular indeed in Britain. Go, as they say, figure. Legend has it that it was Jane losing all her attire lead to a significant 5 mile advance by the British Army in North Africa during WW2, but that's very difficult to prove. Anyway, you get the gist. She certainly captured the embryonic patternmaker's imagination:

And on the gouge, this full height portrait:

Pretty tame stuff by today's standards, but you had to feel for Mr Thomas - naturally enough it never occurred to him, 50 years later, that he'd be explaining this to a potential buyer who also happened to be female. But I was honestly more interested in how he'd done it. Apparently he cut out the comic strip, temporarily glued it to the handle and scratched the lines through with an awl. "How did you blacken them?" asks I, thinking of India ink and such. But no, it was just the accumulated grime from his fingers well rubbed in. Although I think the underwear was probably inked in afterwards...

Now I have to say this wouldn't be my first choice of tool decoration any more than a bunch of flowers, but as a snapshot of that owner of that tool at that moment, it's a little bit of social history. I wonder if there's anything comparable being done now? Anyone installing USB sticks in chisel handles yet? Now there's a marketing idea...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blooming Lovely

If there's one thing in tool marketing that annoys me more than any other, it's an over-priced piece of tat that's aimed at the female market by virtue of being pink. Or having flowers upon it.

Or - at its zenith - it has pink flowers on it.

I do not see flowers; I see red. By all means put flowers on tools and make them pink if you must, but is there really a law that says you can't at least apply this to decent tools? And please, please, do not put them on a useless tool and then have the gall to charge double or triple just because it has flowers on it.

But most of all - and this is really, really important - do not even think about how amusing it would be to give me such a tool. Really. Don't. I will hunt you down and my weapons will be sharp and with absolutely no flowers visible at all. Neither will they be pink.

And breathe.

Okay, so having clearly ranted stated where I stand on this particular matter, imagine my confused reaction when I was browsing the online-available section of The Art of Fine Tools on Google books and stumbled on the Morris Patent plough (plow) plane.

Now that's a tool with flowers that I could look upon with favour. Just love that scissor-style fence adjustment.

But it naturally caused me to wonder why. What was the thinking behind decorating these ploughs (plows) with such a floral decal? It seems so... random. And yet, when I come to think about it, what about the floral castings of early Stanley plough and combination planes? So what's with the flowers? Is it a plough thing? And can I persuade everyone with a floral casting Stanley that really they're tools for girls...? ;)

Prod me with spoons if I don't post again this month, because I have some quite different tool decoration to share which should successfully counteract this florid entry.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Micro Bevels

Sometimes I'm really, really glad I bit the bullet and learnt to hone freehand. Like, for instance, this time:

Okay, so I didn't actually try it in a honing guide, because... Well, I mean, come on. Although before you come on, do pause to appreciate that fine machining for the blade bed. Okay? Got that? Right.

So faced with this stonking great big hunk of A2 steel, I bethought me to turn to the instructions; bearing in mind those clever Lee Valley elves have provided cunning dodges for holding awkward blades before. And found:

"Blade Sharpening
The 0.060" thick by 1/2" wide A2 tool steel blade has the bevel ground at a 25° angle."

And that's your lot.

Gosh, that's helpful... The Mk1 honing guide it is then. R/H version.

The Schwarz is associated with cut nails - I do bitten ones. Sorry about that. Must try and remember to get some stunt nails for these things. Something with some nice sparkly-pink girlie polish...

And behold, if you look carefully you can see a nice little secondary bevel all honed and ready to go. Although, on reflection, describing anything to do with this plane as "little" is just a tad superfluous.

I was a little concerned as to exactly how tricky it'd be to set the iron. I've read mutterings on the difficulty of getting the edge so the tool actually planes at 90° to its fence with the normal-sized versions, so what would this one be like? No adjuster and very little fiddlin' room. In the end I had a brainwave and adapted a tip out of the wooden plane-setting manual. Viz: One block of hardwood, one face and edge at 90°. Place plane tight against same and push cutter down so the edge just nicks in the surface evenly across. Tighten lever cap.

Then I looked at the blade setting instructions for the normal-sized version - and found not dissimilar advice. Oh well, great minds...

Now for the fun bit; time to hit the scrap box and find something suitably thin. Oak seemed to be flinging itself at me and nothing else, but it's not a bad tester. First, some pretty thin stuff to ease us both in:

Ooo, look at the pretty curlies. More! More! In fact more of a challenge - a piece that's absolutely the upper limit of planeable thickness. Actually I had to take a couple of shavings off it so the blade could span the thickness:

Oooo, different pretty curlies. Me likey.

Okay, I'm sickening you now, aren't I? You're rolling your eyes and muttering about how could anyone mistake me for a serious tool user. Okay, out with the square it is then, you practical types:

Perfecto! Houston, we have a miniature edge that is definitely trimmed. Job done, tool proved, case closed.

And as a result I will absolutely not be tempted by the big one. Nosir. I don't like edge trimming planes. Nope. Silly things. For collect- Er, I mean. No. Um. Er. Well. Look, I can explain...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Twice As Handy

Getting a, um, tiny sense of déjà vu all over again? Yeah, me too ;) About the only way El Presidente was going to get me to voluntarily purchase an Edge Plane was probably like this. What can say? It's small and cute and I couldn't resist.

Fully working, I gather. Haven't tried it yet. I mean, that'd require me to break my duck and use one of these confounded planes. Cripes, what happens if I like it and all my baseless prejudices are blown away?!

So to a rather safer small plane - one that doesn't work. Arguably you could say that for all my planes if you based it on the amount of board footage they've traversed in recent years, but moving on...

Isn't it sweet? El Presidente teased me with a pic of dozens of these lined up during production, and I knew I was doomed to buy one when they came out. I love the detail, although the rear tote is actually even worse than the original.

(What? Yes, okay, so Alf is bitching about the handles again. Hey, you can't say I'm not consistent. And insane. The level of tote comfort on a keyring being a little esoteric even for me.)

Quite by chance the level of detail on this one extends to a mark that looks as like as dammit to the effect you'd blench over if plane sole accidentally met nail. I rather like that. It suggests it's a user. You know, just like I am.

Right, stop that laughing at the back RIGHT NOW. Yes, you. Don't think I can't see you.

Anyway, a lot of needless whittering to say "A LV parcel came and I wasn't stung by customs." Woot!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Out of the mouths of babes and long-haired fools

I imagine some of the UK-based readership might have glanced at James May's Man Lab on the telly. Load of useless twaddle - it's essentially a Top Gear approach to practical skills and the modern man. i.e. As much use as a chocolate fireguard. However, I'm prepared to forgive Mr May a good deal, because it's quite entertaining. But mainly because he came up with the best description for an electric router. Viz:

"A Router... The perfect tool for ruining things quickly."

All too true, in my experience. Although in the case of the Man Lab they seemed to be making a good stab at it with pretty much every tool they used... ;)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Looking Back

Okay, so the shoulder set off The Back, and generally my miserable carcass is holding up proceedings something chronic. Sorry 'bout dat. So, while we wait for me to fall apart into component bits, some tool history...

There are an embarrassing number of tools chez Alf that have been waiting an even more embarrassing amount of time to be fixed up and made to live again. I dived into the bran tub and fished out a lucky few for treatment. The 2ft rule is not remarkable. To be honest, neither is the "Acute" brand shave, except it had been covered in an 'orrible muddy brown finish and looked dire. I threw conservation to the winds on that one, and got rid of as much of that as possible, and what remains looks okay, I think. The blade's in fairly good order, tight in the body, and it's plated. Really it should go on the "To Sell Before I'm Crushed Under The Tottering Pile" pile, but spokeshaves don't grow on trees...

Where was I? Oh yeah, the group shot. And the tool we're going to focus on today. Take notes; I make be asking questions later...

A rosewood mortise (Or mortice) gauge. This one came from the Newlyn Tool Chest - although in truth it actually came in the Big Box o'Gauges that came with the Newlyn Tool Chest, because there wasn't room for them all inside. Gauge problem? What gauge problem.

Anyway, I'm sure some gauge enthusiast has categorised the different mortise gauge designs and given them sensible names. However I will call this "The Sort With a Manually Operated Slide-y Bit". And the slide-y bit was stuck, the fence/head/stock wold only moved when threatened with a mallet and it generally needed a bit of loosening up. Which I duly did. Some judicious scraping here and there works wonders, but don't be tempted to overdo it. Of course I cleaned it while I went, and Lo! It came to pass that instead of the "W B Raddon? ****ance" which was all I could make of the mark back in 2004 (Eeek!), I could now make out the truth:

"J B Haddon, Penzance" Really, Trust me. I squinted at it like a pro.

Oh dear; that's another one I won't be selling then. I, um, sorta collect tools supplied by Cornish dealers. In the sense that I'm not a collector though, obviously.

So, still remembering the success I had tracking down W Baker of London, I hit the Trade Directories for Cornwall, and struck gold in Kelly's Directory of Devon & Cornwall, 1893. Viz:

HADDON, Joseph Baldwin
Wholesale Ironmonger
2 Market Place
(And resident at 13 Clarence St, Penzance)

Amazingly, Joe was one of only two wholesale ironmongers in the whole of Cornwall at that time. Onwards to the next available directory - Kelly's again, but in 1914:

HADDON, J Baldwin
Wholesale & Retail Ironmongery, hardware dealer & gun & ammunition dealer.
31 Market Place & Bread Street
TN137 (Telephone number, I believe)
(Residence now 5 Morab Road, Penzance)

Baldwin's gone up in the world a bit in 20 years. Business has expanded and although geographically he's not moved far either in business or residence, it's to a rather better class of house. Ah, a tale of business acumen and hard graft no doubt lies behind these bald facts.

As far as the gauge goes, though, it tells us little more than we already knew - it's a nice rosewood gauge. Quite good fun tracking it down though, in lieu of being able to actually do anything constructive. Only a coupla hundred to go...