Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Other Cabinetmakers Tool Chest

I have a few weeks’ holidays for Christmas and I decided to bring my tool chest home from work to give it a good clean up. The photo shows the worst corner where somebody accidentally sprayed contact glue. (Click on any photo to enlarge).

This photo shows the chest after a good clean and a fresh coat of tung oil.

I built this chest back in Canada in 2007. I remember getting inspired to build this chest after attending an antiques fair in Calgary, Alberta. A vendor at the fair was selling old wooden chests. Nothing that fancy, no intricate inlays but the chests were well made and had been well used. The dents and patina really gave these chests character. I also was inspired to build this chest out of necessity. I was coming to the end of my four year cabinetmaking apprenticeship, so I had worked out the basic hand tools that I needed for the job. The problem with my plastic tool box was that each tool didn’t have its own place. Also, when I would put a bunch of tools together to go out to install a cabinet, everything was just a thrown together mess. A craftsperson should be able to look in their tool box and know when something is missing or out of place. When it came to designing the chest, I wanted to keep it simple, strong joinery and not too big and heavy. Cherry was a good wood choice and it darkens nicely over time. I bought my plastic tool box home to my little basement workshop, and spread the tools out on the floor and designed the chest around these tools.

As you can see these tools are nothing fancy. These are the tools that I started with. The planes are flea market finds but I tuned them up nicely. As an apprentice I had more time than money. I actually used the #5 Stanley to smooth the outside of this chest. Here is a photo of the chest and its trays empty. The dimensions of the chest are 25 ¾” long by 14 ⅛” wide by 13 ½” high.

The next group of photos shows the tools fitted in the chest and trays.

All of the tools can be easily accessed with the trays permanently in the chest.

The small drawer in the lower tray is a key design element to this chest. It makes all those small tools easily accessible. I open and close it dozens of times a day. A rear earth magnet keeps it closed during transport. The drawer sides are made from Rock Maple, which is hard and smooth. It is also a good contrasting colour for the half blind dovetails.

The cut out sections in the front till allow me to grab my level and also gives clearance to push the top tray back.

This chest sits on a stand next to my bench, which keeps it at a good working height. Of course I have many larger squares and layout tools hanging on the wall behind my bench that I need for the job as well. This chest can easily be modified to suit the hand tool hobbyist. It will handle all the hand planes that most people need, and by taking away the level till you would allow more clearance for the sliding trays. The biggest mistake I see with tool chests is that people make the trays too deep and this means wasted space. Here are a couple of photos of my two chests side by side.

The inlayed chest is the one I use at home for my fancier tools. I made this one two years earlier in 2005. You can check it out in an earlier blog, Cabinetmaker’s Tool Chest.

I have a couple of priority low-slung smoothers to get to in the New Year. The first 1” low-slung smoother is dovetailed and ready for peening.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Damascus Steel Infill Plane

My latest plane is all about the challenge of trying out a new material, and I thought that Damascus steel would work nicely with my low-slung smoother design. As soon as you lap Damascus steel the pattern disappears, so you have to etch it with ferric acid to bring out the pattern again. I knew this job was going to be better handled by my wife, the “mad scientist”. We did a bit of internet research regarding the etching process and a little experimenting on a few off-cuts. I always lap the insides of my planes before assembly, so acid etching the inside was a good warm up.

Here is a couple of photos of me doing the final fit of the ebony infills. I used two of my low-slung smoothers from my original set.

After the infills are in and all the cross pins are drilled and peened, it is time to lap the outside up to 600 grit.

Now it’s time for the final acid etching to the outside of the plane. I was definitely less nervous about how the etching was going to turn out because my wife had perfected her process and did a great job on the inside. Here is a photo of the pattern reappearing under the ferric acid.

Under the acid you can see the dovetails and cross pins clearly. When the acid is removed however the cross pins and dovetails turn a dull grey. I wanted the dovetails to be more visible, even from a distance, so I decided to make a quick sanding tool out of some scrap aluminium (or aluminum) and meticulously sanded each dovetail.

The finished plane turned out better than I imagined. I picked Damascus steel with a pattern that was leaning forward to give the feeling of forward momentum.

1¼” Low-slung smoother – 6⅛” long, 1¼” wide blade, 50° pitch

If you would like a more detailed description of acid etching an infill plane, check out Konrad Sauer’s blog – Etching pattern welded steel - Damascus. I would also like to mention Brian Buckner. I am pretty sure that he was the first plane maker to use Damascus steel. Both Brian and Konrad’s Damascus steel planes were a huge source of inspiration. Also, feel free to contact me if anyone has any questions regarding plane making using Damascus steel. Here are a few more photos.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Beautiful Australian Timbers

As I said before, using different species of wood is certainly one of the main things that excite me as a craftsman and Australia has some pretty amazing timbers that I am keen to try. Here is a picture of a variety of Aussie timbers after a morning milling session.

Some species milled on the day include: Red Coolibah burl, Mallee burl, York Gum burl, Black Box burl, Inceana, Ringed Gidgee, Mulga, Hooked Needlewood, Belah, and Beefwood.

Not all woods that I purchase are intended for infill plane materials however, they will come in handy for future woodworking projects. The only Australian timber that I have used for infill planes to date is Gidgee (Acacia Cambageli). This wood, when properly seasoned, is definitely stable enough for infill planes. It is hard to find technical data but I would rate its specific gravity somewhere between 1.20 to 1.40 (this stuff doesn’t float).

Most plane lovers would know Gidgee from the beautiful work of HNT Gordon & Co. (

Gidgee has a rich, dark chocolate brown colour and fills my shop with a sweet, smoky fragrance. Ringed Gidgee is the truly beautiful stuff and the figure can be more commonly described as fiddleback in appearance.

Here is a photo of one of my small, precious pieces. I want to use this in my next squirrel tail plane.

For more information regarding Australian timbers, check out these sites:
  1. Djarilmari Timber Products (
  2. Forrest Products Commission (
I am currently experimenting with some Damascus steel. I haven’t had much free time lately, but so far, so good.

Friday, 13 June 2014

1 ¼” Low-slung smoother

I just finished this commission. Here is a picture with its first coat of finish.

1¼” Low-slung smoother – 6⅛” long, 1¼” wide blade, 01 Tool steel, Naval brass, Kingwood infill
I was contacted a couple of months ago by a local woodworker and hand tool enthusiast, who was interested in potentially commissioning one of my planes. The next step was simple, invite him over for a Saturday afternoon and take some shavings. It was a great day, low key and lots of fun. He was able to try all of my planes, old and new, and was happy to pick them up and put them to work. Like myself, he enjoys doing smaller woodworking projects and he was attracted to the feel and versatility of the 1¼” low-slung smoother. If you do fine woodworking, chances are you do smallish projects such as box making or small drawers, or your larger projects include small details such as inlays. This small smoother is great for all sorts of smallish jobs and can be used comfortably with two hands or one. Why use a sanding block to remove machining marks from the edges of a small drawer side? One or two passes with this plane and the edge is smooth and ready for finishing.

Or use it with one hand to gently round an edge or clean up a chamfer.

With the blade cambered, I can level up a delicate joint or smooth any small surface.

Of course every woodworker has a favourite plane to perform these tasks. You certainly do not need this plane or an infill plane - whatever works for you. I would just like to encourage more woodworkers to trust in their fine planes on projects. I’d rather sweep up shavings than sanding dust. I actually use this size plane to fit my parallel sided infills and the first time I tried it I was surprised at how accurate this method is.

I was finally able to get my hands on Naval brass for this plane thanks to a good Samaritan in America. It was a great brass to work with and it will be what I use for now on for my low-slung smoothers. Here are some more pictures of the finished plane.

While taking the photos for this most recent blog, my wife and I had a play with the video feature of her camera. It was a bit of fun – you can check it out on the new Video page on my website - BJS Planes and Working - Video page.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The little guy gets left behind

This was my first go at incorporating my new shape in a set of four low-slung smoothers. I experimented with a new type of brass for this set and in my opinion it was too soft for tool making. I assembled and peened the smallest size plane body first and was not happy with the results. As you see in the photo the brass deformed too much and the dovetails on the smallest sized, plane body look sloppy.

I wanted to redo this body however my 01 tool steel supplier did not have any steel in stock for the plane sole so I continued on with the rest of the set. I used my common sense to alter my peening technique for the next three planes and it all worked out fine. These three planes look and work beautifully. I will not work with this type of brass again, so this is a finished set of three planes.

The Kingwood infill material was wonderful to work with and it was an added challenge to get the infills to match from the same piece of wood. The sizes of the set from left to right are:
7 ½” long by 1 ¾” wide blade
6 ¾” long by 1 ½” wide blade
6 ⅛” long by 1 ¼” wide blade