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Thread: Making Spar Planes Inexpensively

  1. #1

    Making Spar Planes Inexpensively

    James Krenov shows a simple way to make custom wood planes in his book, “The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking”. The only problem for a boatbuilder, who might need a half dozen spar planes of different sizes, is the price of high-quality, aftermarket irons of sufficient thickness for a wood-bodied plane.

    There is a less expensive way to a high-quality end, and that is converting old flea-market woodies. Auburn, Ohio Tool, Fulton, and dozens of other 19th-Century manufacturers competed hard with each other in quality and value. These planes are generally beech with thick, tempered cast-steel irons…some of them laminated like today’s Japanese blades…and mild steel cap irons. The ones the collectors don’t want are worn, scruffy and cracked with the logos stamped into the wood illegible…. you see them at swap meets and on Ebay for as little as 5 dollars each. We’ll use the same modern-glue rationale to make permanent repairs as Krenov used in making split-bodied planes. Make sure the one you buy has the original thick iron with some length left in it and not too much pitting on the back side near the edge.



    Here’s an old, worn-out Ohio Tool coffin smoother above I’ll remake into a spar plane. I’ve jointed the cracked sole flat, and will laminate a thick, squared-up piece of beech to it. How thick? Thicker than the plane and cap iron assembly will penetrate the jointed sole of the body….plus a little more for good measure. Also note the rapid technique for marking center lines in the photo.



    I laminate using boatbuilder’s epoxy…a coat of unthickened on each faying surface followed by a thickened coat…I worked the unthickened coat into the cracks in the sole using gentle heat for penetration…and used a lead-weighted mallet as a “clamp”. Epoxy doesn’t like a lot of clamping pressure.



    I use the same heat technique to repair the many cracks in the plane’s top side…cleaning those cracks with a thin solvent, first like acetone or trichloroethylene to remove any oil. I dye the epoxy to match the wood, merely for cosmetics.



    Old woodies like these generally wear much more at the toe than heel, which changes the iron’s angle of attack, so I rip the sole parallel on the table saw.



    Now I chop out a new throat from the throat side of the plane. The rear of the throat is a 45-degree angle and the front bevel of the throat needed to clear shavings is about 20 degrees in the opposite direction. I merely index the chisels against the plane body and tap and pare.



    I continue to remove wedge-shaped waste until the back of the throat and the front of the throat meet…



    …in a nice, clean “V” about halfway to the bottom of my over-thick sole stock. The cleaner and more accurately-indexed your new throat, the cleaner the resulting mouth will be…. which I’ll cut shortly on the table saw.



    To lay out the eventual depth of cut of the cove I am about to mill, I measure the depth to the bottom of the “V” and transfer that measurement to the plane body.

    Continued…
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  2. #2


    There are two basic ways to lay out a cove cut on the table saw…either by the depth of the cove or the width of the cove, and I’ll show both methods. The resulting radius will always be a segment of a circle and is variable in size from the radius of the table saw blade downward. To lay out the cove by depth, set the saw blade to the desired depth and adjust the parallel ruler until both legs touch the blade. To lay out the cove by width, set the width of the legs first using a rule, and adjust the parallel ruler on the saw table and the height of the blade until the legs touch. The results will be the angle required for the temporary fence, and the depth of the cut.

    Also note also the inked tick mark on the red blade insert….that marks the exact center of the arbor and is used to fine tune the fence, centering the cut by insuring the center line of the plane body passes over the center of the saw blade teeth at the arbor.

    Shown is the layout of a rather wide-radius cove I’ll use on this plane…



    …for a narrower-radius cove for a small spar, the fence must be positioned at a more acute angle to the saw blade.

    How do I get the exact radius and depth required for a specific spar size? Trial and error cutting scrap and testing against an existing spar of the size I desire, that’s how. I’m sure there are more sophisticated ways to lay them out…but it’d probably make my head hurt puzzling them out.



    As the cove radius for this plane is wider than the plane body, I cyano on some temporary outriggers to make the cut. A freshly-jointed temporary fence is securely clamped to the saw table at the angle indicated by the parallel ruler. The cuts are made in 1/16th” vertical increments until the desired depth is reached using multiple passes by raising the blade with each succeeding pass.

    Beginning at a shallow 1/16th, it is a simple matter to check that the cut is centered and to test the radius against the spar you are trying to duplicate…and adjusting the temporary fence as needed.



    Once satisfied with my fence settings, I continue making passes until I reach the desired depth…. the desired depth in this case being a perfectly formed mouth in the sole as shown below.

    Now…if you’ve been getting away with bad table saw habits all this time, doing your first cove cut may bring them to light with great surprise and violence:

    Insure the saw blade is sharp and true…the more teeth the cleaner the cut…insure your temporary fence is dead straight and the edge square to the table…insure you use a push stick that applies pressure to the toe as well as the heel of the piece….with added pressure in direction of the fence…and under no circumstances pull the work piece backwards into the saw blade, which will promptly throw it through the wall and perhaps drag your fingers into the blade as it takes off. Remember that the machine can’t hear you cry.

    A vertical temporary fence and featherboards can also be rigged (and are a good idea) when coving long stock…but wouldn’t be effective coving a short plane.



    Now that I have a mouth, I clean up the applied sole and and scribe the plane iron for grinding.



    I rough grind to the scribe line before attempting to regrind the bevel…



    …then I reinsert the iron and scribe the bevel from the opposite side. A similar plane blade serves as a model for how I will transition the corners of the bevel.



    Then I rough grind the bevel to my marks.

    I could have used the grinding wheel, or dressed a grinding wheel to the radius desired….but I prefer 26-grit heavy abrasive disks mounted to an old wheel with contact cement. A 9” disk mounted to an 8” wheel provides a flexible, forgiving grinding edge, and the coarse disks grind significantly cooler than carborundum wheels. I can do the most of the entire grind without cooling the iron in water.

    Continued…
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  3. #3


    I finish the rough grind on the bevel using the Dremel with chainsaw grinding stones…



    …and do the cap iron using the same techniques.

    I like to buff and phosphate blue the steel before final honing…the blue acts as an indicator fluid and the phosphate followed by oil protects from rust.



    Final honing of the irons is done with oil stones and round slip stones…but can be done using any sharpening system and abrasive paper wrapped around dowels. A goodly bit of time was spent getting the iron’s back dead flat with coarse and fine stones before honing the bevel with the slip stone.



    The cap iron was bent and honed for a tight fit to the flattened back of the plane iron….I strop the edges on the buffing wheel so I can see them better…and you can see on the left that both it and the plane iron radius need one more slight adjustment, which can be done by hand with the stones.



    When I’m satisfied with the iron assembly, I double check it by mounting and setting for a fine cut…then give the plane a test run:



    The wide shavings and quality of the resulting surface are the real test.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  4. #4
    Feedback Worth Noting:

    Q:
    Very informative, thanks! I do have a question about the positioning of the angled fence for the cove cutting, though. Would it not be better to have the fence on the infeed side of the blade rather than behind it? That way the cutting force would tend to push the workpiece tighter against the fence rather than trying to pull it away, as it would appear would be the case in the photos.



    A: You are correct....I've done it both ways, depending on room, but the near side woulda been a better choice for a demo.

    Q:
    …The resulting radius will always be a segment of a circle and is variable in size from the radius of the table saw blade downward …

    a) Actually, the resulting figure will be a segment of an ellipse, the amount of eccentricity of which is dependent upon the angle to the blade. The steeper the angle, the more the resulting figure will approximate a circle, and the shallower the angle, the more eccentric the elliptical figure.

    b) Geometrically, this is not true. The only circular arc you can get using this method is the arc of the diameter of the blade itself. All tighter arcs are elliptical. The tighter the radius you need, the more eccentric. This means that the closer the arc gets to the table top, the flatter it gets. The arc is tightest (smallest "radius") at the top, or in this case, in the center of the plane's cutter.

    This is not a serioius problem, however. In fact it works in your favor, since it decreases the tendency for the corners of the plane blade to dig in, but it does mean that most of the cutting will be done at the center of the blade, especially for small spars. It also means you don't need several planes to shape a tapered spar. For making decorative cove molding, it is a totally insignificant effect.

    A trick to minimize the effect is to use a 7 1/4" circular saw blade instead of the 10" table saw blade, or use a 6" dado blade. Don't use a whole stack of dado blades, because that will result in a flat at the top of the curve.

    Yesterday, I got the spar I'm working on to a square state. Al least what is left of the timber I started with I can now lift by myself. Next Wednesday, I'll get it round, starting with the octagon gauge I made from your inspiration. I was just going to make it faceted, with sixteen sides, and then sand off the facets, but now I might try to speed things up a bit with a hollow molding plane, since I don't have time this week to hunt down the raw materials for, and build, a dedicated 3" diameter spar plane. I will file your exposition for future use, just as I have filed most of the others you have given us.

    As an aside, I have another point of concern about the table saw method of making cove molding. It is not significant for one plane sole, but if you have many feet of molding to run, a table saw is probably not a good tool for doing it. Table saw trunnion bearings are not usually designed for the thrust loads generated by forcing wood sideways against the blade. This abuse can wear out the bearings prematurely. When I'm making molding, I usually hog out the majority of the waste with several cuts on the table saw, just to speed thinks up a bit, and then do the final shaping with hollows, rounds, etc., as needed.


    A: Thanks for some excellent feedback....I saved them for a later revision. Another comment worthy of note is many feel the fence is on the wrong side of the saw blade in my pics. They are also correct. I've done it both ways, and have seen folks lose control and throw work pieces both ways, but the sawing forces pushing the workpiece into rather than away from the fence is the best technique where possible. The downside is that if control is lost, the resulting accident is more spectacular as the blade squeezes the workpiece against the fence before throwing it.

    Q:
    I've not done any cove cutting on a TS so have not experience to know one way or the other...but you state that the more teeth the cleaner the cut ; yet you appear to be using a Frued Rip blade. IIRC these blades are 24 teeth. Just what you had one hand I assume. Would a "plywood" blade with 80 teeth be preferable and why? Would a blade with flat top ground teeth be a better choice?

    A: That’s a Freud Diablo Combo blade on the contractor’s saw….but as I said, and 80-tooth crosscut finish blade would be smoother. By taking only a 16th at a time, however, the difference is small and for one cut, I don’t bother to change blades.

    Q:
    A question though? I assume the disk edge visible in the photo is traveling up, and we very greatly need eye protection?

    Also, what kind of rpm's is best with a 9" disk? Same as you'd run the wheel at?


    A: The disks on the 8", 1750rpm buffer-grinder are traveling downwards to the operator...but eye protection is needed anyway, as noted by how often the hardened safety lenses in my glasses need replacing.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  5. #5

    Great article Bob

    Like all of the other articles you've posted, this one offers a lot of meat and ideas for folks. Readers should look past just the idea of the spar plane though and look at some of the other ideas it offers on shaping irons, repairing beaten old woodies, and remouthing a plane. There's a lot of useful info there. One small nit to pick however. Cutting the cove on the table saw gives you a segment of an ellipse, not a segment of a true circle. My guess is that for paractical use it doesn't really matter though since you'd be constantly rotating the spar to get to the next areas needing rounding.

    Again, thanks for a great article.
    Dave Anderson
    Chester Toolworks LLC
    Chester, NH

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    SF Bay Area, CA
    Posts
    15,168
    If you put the fence perpendicular to the blade (as if you were gong to crosscut the fence), you can cut a perfect circular cove.

    However, this is VERY dangerous and requires very small height adjustments and a good clean, sharp blade. I'm not sure I've EVER seen anyone cut a cove like this. Theoretcially, it can be done but....
    Wood: a fickle medium....

    Did you know SMC is user supported? Please help.

  7. #7
    Moving to Boat Building Forum...
    Glenn Clabo
    Michigan

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    santa cruz ca. transplant to ga.
    Posts
    155

    time to start the search again

    excellent information !

    Had been looking on eBay for a couple of months at wood planes and just couldn't afford to get the ones I wanted.
    I find my self enjoying tuning and building some of my tools almost as much as building with them.
    looking forward to eBay once again with your information at hand .
    Also I liked the tip on using abrasive on old stone for keeping tool cool great tip.

    Thanks for the care you take posting
    Last edited by raul segura; 09-17-2009 at 9:13 PM.

  9. #9
    More:



    Coarse sandpaper glued to a form made from PVC pipe is an easy method to convert the ellipsis formed by the cove cut into a circle segment, while at the same time matching the iron to the sole. Then remove the iron to regrind the 45-degree bevel created to 35 or so degrees.



    Depending on the size or the radius, sometimes you end up with a mouth too loose to take fine shavings.



    An easy method to let in a graving piece to close the mouth is turning a plug on the lathe to match a Forstner bit mortise.

    These aren't perfect, but are OK for softwoods:



    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

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