Monday, 23 December 2013


Well just last night I got the last plane body dovetailed together for the set of four low slung smoothers. They don't look like much yet, but here are a couple of pictures.

Of course it is slow going because I only have Saturday's to dedicate to plane making. The main thing is that I have been enjoying every second of it. I take plane making very seriously, however I do not want it to feel like a second job. I am also comfortable with the fact that I will only be producing a small quantity of planes each year.

Well, Christmas is here already and I am looking forward to a couple of days of R&R with family and friends. I have been living in Australia for five years now and I still find it strange to be celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Cabinetmaker's Work Bench

My wife and I are just back from a six week vacation in Newfoundland Canada, catching up with family and friends, beautiful hikes and paddling my old cedar canvas canoe. A wild and beautiful place like Newfoundland was a great place to recharge our batteries.

Before the trip my last project was a Cabinetmaker’s Workbench. A friend of mine, who is new to woodworking has a small out building on his property that he wanted to use as a hand tool workshop. Since he approached me with this idea less than a year ago his enthusiasm has been impressive. He has all of my favourite woodworking books devoured and has already amassed a pretty nice hand tool collection. Of course he needed his first workbench. He wanted a relatively small bench that fit the blueprint of his workshop. We used Tasmanian Oak and kept the thickness to a minimum to lower the cost. The construction method is basic but solid. For hand planing a good tail vice is a must. The problem with most tail vices is that when you open them they stick out from the end of the bench. A wagon vice solves this problem however you have to live with a large opening in the bench top. For this bench we decided to try a tail vice made by H.N.T. Gordon& Co. Classic Plane Makers (

At first glance this tail vice seems very basic. Then when you take a closer look, you realise that this vice is the product of great thinking and expert design. Properly installing the vice takes a bit of work but here is how it goes. The vice needs to be recessed into the bench top so you first need to make an accurate routering jig.

The recess needs to be 42mm deep so I recommend at least 5 passes with a sharp router bit to achieve a clean and accurate recess.

Notice how the internal threads are completely sealed. This is what makes the vice so effective.

The next step is to make a jig to router the recess for a wooden cover plate. This jig looks the same as the first but is 10mm larger at the front and sides. The router is set at 7mm deep. I then refine with my shoulder plane.

Then you make the wooden cover plate. Mill the plate to 7.5 or 8mm thick, dress one edge, then run through the table saw so it is close to a tight fit. Then I dress the other edge with my 1” low-slung smoother until the fit is perfect.

Next, run the slot for the brass dog. Again I recommend several passes to get the router bit through.

Now plane the plate flush with the bench top.

A finely tuned hand plane is the tool for this job. The plate is flush, polished and the sealer coat of tung oil on the bench top is hardly disturbed. Here is the tail vice fully installed. Do not be tempted to glue the plate in place. Removable means repairable and you may need to clean things out every now and then.

The front vice is very basic. Lining with leather is a tip that I picked up from my friend Duncan Robertson from the School of Quiet Woodworking (

When fully installed, the vice works beautifully. It comes with a drawing and instructions. Sorry I was a little brief with some of the steps and some people may choose to approach this install differently. Here is a picture of the bench in its new home, with my friend Austin’s first project, a Christopher Schwarz inspired sawhorse.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Prototype Coffin Smoother

Of course I have a “bucket list” of planes that I would like to make and I have for some time wanted to make a small version of a traditional coffin smoother. My idea was to make a smoother with a 1 1/2 inch wide blade and between 5 1/2 to 6 inches long. I do not own any traditional, unhandled, coffin smoothers so the design proportions were up to me. I have, in the past, used the “compose as you go” method successfully on several woodworking projects. However, I do not recommend this method for plane making. Accurate drawings are a must. After drawing the plane, I can usually feel confident that the proportions are going to work. I make planes to use, so for this plane I also needed to make a mock up infill out of some scrap pine.

Prototype of coffin smoother

Steel dovetails on coffin smoother

Finished steel coffin smoother with Ebony infill, 1 1/2" wide blade & 5 3/4" long body

For those of you that are new to infill planes then you will notice from these photos that when you dovetail a steel sole and sides together, then the dovetails disappear. When I first became interested in infill planes I could never imagine going through the labour intensive dovetailing process and in the end not see the joints. I have always been inspired by the work of plane maker Konrad Sauer of Sauer and Steiner Toolworks. He opened my eyes to the fact that certain infill woods marry beautifully with the clean, crispness of 01 tool steel, and of course ebony is one of these woods.

This plane is coffin or curved shaped, which of course is a great deal more challenging than a parallel sided plane. Fitting the infill is one of those challenges and it takes patience to get it right. The infill has to be tediously hand fit. It makes an amateur plane maker like me really respect the guys that do it for a living. In the end I am happy with the fit of my infill.

Front infill detail

Rear infill detail

I am trying to keep the corner detail crisp, where the steel sides meet the steel base. The close up photo of the front shows this. I missed the mark on this detail on my last plane, which annoyed me to no end. If you look at other plane maker’s websites you will see that this detail gets approached in various ways. Aesthetic details are important to me however, when I am making a plane the anticipation of taking that first shaving is my biggest priority.

I am happy with this plane. Of course it is not perfect. That will never happen. Next time I would change the shape of the lever cap a little and I also need to work on my finishing. It does not have the one handed versatility of my small, low slung smoothers, but it is nonetheless very comfortable to use. I am looking forward to making this plane with brass or bronze sides and because you see so much of the infill this plane design is great for showcasing beautiful woods.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Cabinetmaker’s Tool Chest

I had hoped to dedicate this post to my new prototype coffin smoother, which I just finished. However, I am still waiting on the custom blade. These last few months have been busy. All of my spare time has been dedicated to my infill plane obsession. My wife jokingly calls herself “The Plane Widow”. Well at least I hope she is joking. Sourcing precious infill material has been my biggest priority. I want to showcase beautiful Australian species as well as the more traditional infill woods. If anyone has a contact for good infill wood please shoot me an email. I have been receiving some emails of interest regarding the tool chest in the photos from my first blog. For anyone interested, here is a closer look. I made this chest in Canada in 2005 from Beech. This side and top view shows the Walnut veneer diamond match in the lid.

Walnut veneer diamond match lid

Opening the lid reveals the compass rose veneer inlay, which is Makasar Ebony and Cherry. Notice the grain direction in the inlay, it makes the tips of the veneer easy to break. The diamond inlays to the left and right are Walnut burl with a black Ebony border.
Compass rose veneer inlay, Makasar Ebony and Cherry

All the dovetails are hand cut and all the mitres have hand cut walnut keys. The lid has a dovetailed key. Adding this final detail to the lid tested my nerves, however these keys help strengthen the mitres by adding a side grain glue surface.
Walnut key

This is the detail in the bottom skirting. My dovetail saw made the perfect kerf for the Walnut veneer.

I originally fitted the chest with brass handles, but after a couple of years I changed them out for a more heavy duty wood handle. The diamond is 5mm thick solid Walnut. I wanted the diamond to have fine tips, so after routering out the recess in the Beech I had to use a very fine carving knife to refine the tips. Then of course I had to cut and fit the walnut diamond. I milled a piece of 6mm thick Walnut and prepared myself for a tedious fitting process. Fortunately the opposite happened. I marked four layout lines on the Walnut and made four cuts with my gents saw. The fit was perfect. I did both inlays with no fuss at all. Just don’t ask me to do it again.
Walnut diamond detail

The removable trays and saw till are made from Honduran Mahogany and all have tiny single-kerf dovetails. Most of the tools have been French fit.

I hope someday to make a matching lower cabinet with larger drawers to take the lift out trays, maybe when I retire. For now the chest sits on a temporary pine stand. I designed the built in cabinets in my shop to take the lift out tool trays. My planes that sit in the bottom of the tool chest are then easily accessible as I work. I really enjoyed making this project. My advice to the hobby woodworker is to build projects that you feel inspired and motivated to make. They don’t always have to be technically challenging. After making this tool chest I built a bunch of birdhouses for my Mother’s garden and loved every minute of it. I have another tool chest that I use every day in my “real job” as a cabinetmaker. I will give everyone a closer look in a later blog. I definitely have a thing for tool chests and making little homes for my tools. If you are a woodworker who does your rough milling with machinery and then uses hand tools for your final details, then I would recommend making a smaller machinist/patternmakers style chest and then a larger rolling cabinet for it to sit on. Drawers are definitely a more effective use of space and make all of those smaller tools easier to access.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Plane Commission

To get everyone up to speed, my wife and I purchased a house about 18 months ago and we have been busy renovating. I now have a larger, double garage which I am slowly setting up as a new workshop. Since December I have been working on a plane commission. I am currently pricing some woodworking machinery but for this plane my processes still involve mainly hand tools. Here are some pictures:
Dovetails hacksawed, assembled and peened

Rear infill fit

Here I am cutting the curve for the front infill with my bowsaw, which I made six or seven years ago.

Finished infill plane
Brass sides, 01 tool steel base. Low-slung smoother, 6 5/8” long, 1 1/2” iron, 50 degree pitch.

This plane was commissioned by Alastair Boell. After graduating from the North Bennet Street School in Boston, USA, Alastair returned to Australia and in 2007 founded the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking ( Here is a picture of myself and Alastair when he came to my shop to receive his plane.

Alastair-left, Brian-right

Alastair is a gifted furniture maker and instructor. He is also a truly genuine guy. This was a great commission. When I set about to make this plane I wanted to make some changes to the shape. I decided to make the front of the plane steeper and also move the blade forward a little. I also chose to dome the rear infill more. I am happy with this final shape. This is also the first plane to have my custom logo stamped into the blade. I get my blades from Hock Tools, USA ( If you want great blades and excellent customer service, then Ron Hock is your man. Thanks again Ron. Here are some more photos. This ringed Gidgee has some beautiful figure.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Squirrel Tail Plane

Body 3.5” long, 1” wide blade, infill wood Ringed Gidgee

The idea for this plane came to mind while working on this jewellery box for my Grandmother’s 85th birthday.

I was using Lie Nielson’s version of this plane for cleaning up the delicate banding and inlay work, but found that the mouth opening was far too large for very fine veneer planing.

Here is a picture of my infill version of the Lie Nielson and an old Stanley #100, which I borrowed from a friend.

Left-Infill, Middle-Lie Nielson, Right-Stanley #100

Infill 50o pitch bevel down, Lie Nielson 12o bevel up, Stanley 45o bevel down

When using these three planes the extra mass of the infill plane is a welcome advantage. I also designed this plane to take a 3/16” thick blade, which also adds to the solid feel. From using the Lie Nielson, I decided to increase the height of the “tail” to fit my hand more comfortably. I also increased the blade width from 7/8” to 1”. This was my first go at a curved or “coffin shaped” infill plane with an “overstuffed” infill. Tricky, but worth the effort. The only change I would make would be to increase the length of the blade. The only power tool used on this plane was a drill press. I think this would be a treasured plane for any detail minded woodworker. I would consider making this plane again and I have some interesting infill woods to try. You can view more pictures of this plane in the gallery.