For the manner in which men live is so different from the way in which they ought to live, that he who leaves the common course for that which he ought to follow will find that it leads him to ruin rather than safety.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes, With Larry Williams

...a review...
I like to think of myself as a budding tool maker. Truth is, I'm a wannabe. Seriously, let's look at this for a moment. Going back over the years you have Enos Baldwin, J.R. Tolman, Marley (those three come to mind because their tools are in my living room). There's Norris and Spiers. There's more and more. Today we have some great tool makers as well. Then there's me. Sure, I've got a few odd Krenov style planes. Planes that I love to work with. A few of them even have irons that I cut, hardened, and tempered myself. I am no tool maker. I'm a wannabe. Put me in a room with Larry Williams, and I'll shrink away and try to pretend to be a corner table.

Now, why do I name Larry Williams? Because I just watched his film "Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes," produced by Lie-Nielsen. And, no, I'm not trying to say that Mr. Williams is an intimidating, scary man. The fact is, he's the real deal, and I'm a pretender.
My professional life, leading back to my early days as a young helicopter wrench in the Army, was full of tool making in some form or another. It's what I love to do. In my helicopter days, I made many of the special tools required to do my job. I was hooked. These days, I split my time at work between my desk and a humble machine shop. I'm not an engineer, but my boss is, and he let's me dream up tools and make them.
Why then, do woodworking tools escape me? Likely because I've only been into this for a short time, and I need to remind myself of that from time to time. In an effort to learn more about the world of toolmaking, I forsake my social life, and watched a three hour instructional DVD on the art of making a pair of molding planes.
In reality, there was no social life to forsake. I have nothing to do on Friday evenings. Anyway, about this film...

Anyone interested in hand tool work today has probably heard of Clark and Williams. Earlier this year, that was changed to Old Street Tools. I can not even begin to afford to buy these tools. They are the things I wish I could own. The next best thing is to learn from the guys that make them

Mr. Williams takes us step by step through the process of making a matched pair of #10 hollow and round planes. He begins by explaining what makes a molding plane. "Deceptively simple" is how he describes them, rightfully so. After the brief history lesson (brief, but important), he moves into the meat of the topic.

The first chapter is an important one, "Tools You Will Need." I point this out, because in some books or videos, the tools get brought up as the process goes on. Mr. Williams gets the tool information out in the beginning. I have to say that I like his choice. He covers different planes he uses, floats, chisels, saws, etc. It's all right there, in one spot. Chapter two, "Sharpening Floats" ties right into chapter one. A sharp float is a wicked little tool.

Once tools have been covered, Mr. Williams shows us how to select the wooden billet to make the plane from. He describes a few different species that lend themselves to plane making. Grain orientation is covered, along with ring orientation (for lack of better words on my part).

From here, we get into the actual construction. The chapters are laid out in the order of operations. Layout, escapement cutting, the wedge mortise, etc, all the way up to the finishing of the body. This is, obviously, the bulk of the DVD. It is well presented, and goes at a pace that anyone could follow. There is a lot that gets covered, and being broken into smaller segments makes it easier to go back and review (I'm on my third trip through already, and I've had the video in my possession for 3 days right now!). After seeing this, I'm angry about not buying those gimlet bits at the antique store. Now I just hope that I can find some again.

Once the plane bodies are cut, shaped, and finished, it is time to work on the irons. Oh, what an education! Watching Larry Williams work an iron was awesome for me. I, for one, am HORRIBLE at doing stuff like this free hand. This is a section that just about any woodworker would benefit from. It is interesting to note, that he fully shapes the irons and puts a fair bevel on them before heat treating. The way I have learned is that you don't do it that way, for fear that the iron will warp/crack due to the change in thickness. If it works for Old Street Tools, I'm sure I can make it work for me. Working the steel before hardening has an advantage: working soft steel is easier. I'll run with that.

The final sections are just the finishing touches. Cleaning up the blades, and a quick discussion of sharpening. And, for those of us who have passed on purchasing gimlets in the past, Mr. Williams explains how to make one. This is definitely something I'll have to try.

As someone who enjoys tool making, whether it be for work or play, I am glad I finally plopped down my forty bucks and got this video. I now have a deeper understanding of what a molding plane is. They are far more complex than I had ever imagined, but now they are within reach. I'm sure that without the expertise that Larry Williams shared in making this DVD I would keep pushing off the idea of trying to make a molding plane. Now I know I can, and at least one pair have made it onto my Winter to-do list.

A big thanks to Larry Williams, Old Street Tools, and Lie-Nielsen. Hopefully one of these days I'll drop my wannabe label!

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