View Full Version : An Inexpensive 50-Degree Smoother – Part II
04-09-2004, 2:19 PM
In the first installment below, I converted a 30-dollar Stanley No. 4 1/2C parts plane to 50 degrees in preparation for a big job that involves hand planing dozens of birds-eye and figured maple panels. The plane worked perfectly, but was harder to push in comparison to the Stanley No. 4 I usually use. In this final installment, I’ll make new weighted handles for the plane in an attempt to better match the performance of legendary Norris and Spiers “York Pitch” smoothers…without the $300-650 expense of a Lie Nielsen Bedrock design or a Shepherd Norris copy in 50 or 48 degrees.
I chose to shim the Stanley’s frog to 50 degrees (York Pitch) with soldered steel for maximum stability. This choice gives me the options of removing the shims to bring the plane back to its stock 45-degree configuration and also to hone a 5-degree back bevel to the front side of the blade to bring its effective cutting angle to 55 degrees if I find 50 degrees insufficient.
For the new weighted handles, I laminate some hard and heavy Pacific Madrone (Arbutus sp.) stock into equal-sized blocks. Why laminate? Plane totes are notoriously fragile and this epoxied lamination will reduce the chance of breakage when it is eventually dropped on the floor. To add weight and mass, I’ll inlet these handles into their cast iron mounts in a manner similar to an infill plane using marking soot from an alcohol lamp burning mineral spirits and various inletting tools.
I mark the inletting necessary for the plane’s sides from the ends…
…and in profile. All three surfaces of each cut are marked to minimize the possibility of error. I use a pencil for photo clarity instead of my usual marking knife and cut to the inside edge of my lines. The difference in precision between pencil and knife isn’t so important here, as I will bed the inletting in dyed and thickened epoxy. Epoxy bedding isn’t traditional, but it creates a tremendously strong, stable and microscopically perfect bed far beyond what any craftsman is capable of. My intent is that this tote will outlast conventional totes.
I strike the outline with firmer chisel and a gouge that matches the radius of the cut…
…and pare to my lines.
I insure my cuts are accurate by trial fit. Index lines for the infills are marked with masking tape on the plane…the tape won’t be obscured by the soot and insures the infills go back into the exact same place for marking each time…a critical requirement of inletting.
Then I coat the cast iron bedding surfaces thoroughly with soot, and tap them in place. When the infills are removed, the mortises required for the mounting studs are clearly marked by soot…
…and cut using Forstner bits and a chisel.
04-09-2004, 2:20 PM
The soot and pare technique is continued, the soot marks removed with whatever tool is appropriate. In the photo above, mortises are cut to accommodate the “Bailey” and “No 4 ½” raised letters cast into the plane.
West 5:1 boatbuilder’s epoxy is mixed, dyed, and spread onto the wood bedding surfaces under light heat, which thins the epoxy for deep penetration into the end grain…I continue this until the wood won’t take any more.
While my warm epoxy is soaking in, I coat the entire plane with paste wax to prevent the epoxy from adhering. Holes and recesses where epoxy could be extruded into a dovetail preventing removal are filled with toy-store modeling clay and also coated with wax. I leave a recess, however, in holes that will require drilling the handle to facilitate center locating and drilling the infills for mounting.
I thicken the remaining epoxy with a high-strength, high-adhesive thickener; apply it thickly to the bedding surfaces…
…and snugly “clamp” the assembled pieces together. Epoxy doesn’t really require clamping pressure and the weights are simply to insure even extrusion of the epoxy. Now you can see why I made the blocks the same size, and the vinegar was used to clean the epoxy from my hands. The leftover epoxy goes in the freezer in case I need to redo any part of the bedding after curing, removal and inspection.
The resulting bed is sufficient for my purpose…
…so I move on and clean the overflows with fine rasps and files. Epoxy is very easy to work.
I use the epoxy nubs to indicate bolt hole locations, center punch them…the knob’s bolt hole is drilled on the drill press…
04-09-2004, 2:21 PM
…the tote’s bolt angle is laid out on the stock with a bevel gage….
…straightedges are clamped in place as sight lines and the tote bolt hole is drilled using a bell hanger’s bit. Use two straight edges, one on top and one on the side…and get a helper to assist in sighting if you haven’t done this before. If you mess the long hole up, it’s no big deal…simply ream it true by redrilling, fill the sloppy hole with the thickened, dyed epoxy, and drive the smooth portion of the drill bit into the correct hole after coating it thoroughly with wax as a release agent. Allow the wax to dry, first. Any dyed epoxy showing on the surface can be hidden later using finishing techniques shown here:
Once the bolt holes are drilled, the blocks can be cut. I select and mark the profile I desire…
…and begin cutting on the bandsaw. You can also use a fret saw, if you don’t have a band saw.
The infill knob is relatively straightforward…
…and is quickly rasped into shape using coarse and fine rasps. The tote profile is laid out and tested for fit. For more detail on shaping wood, read this:
The tote is rough cut into shape. I’m not doing it in the photo because of the limited capacity of this saw, but this 4-sided profile is best cut by making the front and back cuts, then taping the waste pieces back to the workpiece to make the workpiece square again, then making the two side cuts.
If you use a bandsaw and it won’t make the cut without strain, don’t risk breaking a blade or damaging the workpiece, simply turn the machine off, back out the workpiece and finish the cut by hand with the fret saw. Accordingly, you should also cut wide of your layout lines on the work piece when approaching the capability of the blade, as turning tight corners can pull the blade out of plumb. Messy cuts are quickly and easily rasped into shape, and it’s not worth the risk of the blade wandering inside your lines in an area you can’t see.
04-09-2004, 2:22 PM
I true all four square surfaces before attempting to shape the tote into an oval…
…and test fit periodically to insure I have the shape and proportions desired.
I countersink for the tote nut while I still have the bulk of excess base material to clamp to…Forstner bits are best for this but I misplaced my 5/16th’s somewhere and use a freshly-sharpened spade bit. Forstner bits index on their edge instead of the pilot and can be tapped with a brass hammer to start them when countersinking atop an existing hole. Doing the same thing with a cruder spade bit is tricky, and it’s easier if you drive a tight fitting dowel into the hole temporarily so the drill’s pilot bears firmly.
I rasp the corners into ovals one side at a time so I can gage even proportion and radius by eye…and carefully plan how I will hold the work piece for each side before cutting away excess that may be needed for clamping. The tote bottom rear profile shown above was the last side sculpted with the rasps, which was the only time I had to hold the workpiece by the tote instead of the square and sturdy base.
When shaping is finished and prior to final sanding, I use Forstner bits to drill mortises into the bottom of both infills and add the loose lead shot I will use for added weight. A low center of gravity is desired, so I use many shallow holes as opposed to a few deep ones, and I don’t join the holes into mortises in order not to reduce the strength of the infill base. The tote infill is shown…when I’m satisfied with the amount of weight I added to the tote, I pore the loose shot from the tote into a dish, pore an equal amount of shot by weight into another dish and drill the holes in the knob infill to fit the amount of shot….equal weight, and equal mass of wood front and rear will allow the plane to retain its original balance. If it turns out that I don’t like the balance later, it’s easy enough to change.
When I’m satisfied with the weight front and rear, I epoxy the shot into place using heated epoxy. Normally, I would chalk the holes to protect the wood from heat, melt the lead, and pore it into the holes. But as these infills are epoxy laminations, and epoxy bonds weaken at around 120 degrees, pouring molten lead at 400 or so degrees is a risk I don’t take.
Once finished and assembled with a new Hock chipbreaker to match the iron, I try it out on highly figured hard maple in comparison to the stock Stanley 4. It weighs 75 pct more than the No. 4…93 ounces to 53 ounces. I find that when it’s set to a gossamer-thickness shaving, it planes this hard maple well in any direction with the added weight and attendant momentum a significant advantage. The more figure, the slower the cut and the more diagonal or skew required as the plane is moved in a straight line, however…or it’s perfectly capable of taking an ugly chip.
The No. 4 (not shown) shaves well, too when set as fine as it will go…but in only in the direction of the grain…it is more prone to take chips when going against the grain, which is impossible to avoid with quilted figure like this. Would the smaller plane chip with the stock frog and a heavier iron and chip breaker? I’m not going to spend any more money to find out, but I strongly suspect so….this 4 is as well-tuned as any, with flat sole, tight throat and zero chatter or skitter….I suspect the swirls in the grain react better to the 50-degree frog. I won’t entirely make up my mind until I complete that big job next winter, but I’m happy with how the new plane performs. My tentative plan when I have to do dozens of these panels, is to joint and power thickness plane a 16th over thick, remove the chips with belt sander and 60-150 grit, wet and dry the wood surface to raise the grain, then remove the sanding scratches with the 4 ½, checking progress with an occasional swipe with a turps-dampened rag.
What did this plane cost in comparison to the $300 Lie Nielsen 4 ½ with optional 50-degree frog, which is the least expensive commercial solution? I don’t remember what I paid for the parts plane, it was bought as part of a lot, but similar ones with missing parts can be had in the 30-40 dollar range and replacement parts bought at Highland Hardware. Just make sure you never buy a plane there without a clear photo or personal inspection of the throat and mouth and an assurance there are no cracks or chips there. The heavier, excellent Hock iron and chip breaker were another $56…so the plane can be fabricated for under a hundred bucks. Total shop hours for the entire project? Twelve or so for me…about the same time as advertised for a Shepherd kit…but I’ve had a bit of practice over the decades using files and rasps. However, not only are my evening and Sunday afternoon shop hours free, they are an investment in training, and those investments always pay off in the long run.
04-09-2004, 3:04 PM
Fascinating, Bob! A real tribute to your ingenuity.
Thanks for the post and all your time putting it together for those of us not so inclined.
04-09-2004, 6:13 PM
Thank you for sharing your work, especially in such a straight forward stp-by-step approach. Nice job!
04-09-2004, 7:06 PM
At the rate you've been going with these lessons, Bob, I'd say before too long you'll have produced the makings of a very nice and valuable book. And one that is one of a kind.
04-09-2004, 7:23 PM
Bob, I always enjoy your “how to” posts. You do an excellent job of explaining the processes with text and pictures. It is always a pleasure to watch a true artisan at work!
04-09-2004, 7:25 PM
I'd like to sign up for "The School of Bob" please. When does the book come out. Thank you for the lesson. Too nice.
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