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When the first caveman used hand-chipped flint as arrowheads, he unknowingly genetically programmed me to long to make my own tools.  Unfortunately, back then there were no mail order catalogs, no Ebay, no (and you can forget about Lee Valley or Garrett Wade).  If you wanted some fire wood, you couldn't just hand over your credit card number and hope UPS or FedEx didn't bungle up the shipping of your brand name Garrett Wade hatchet.  You had to pray to the tool gods and rely on your own two hands and that sponge between  your ears otherwise known as your brain. 

I have to admit that during the initial "obsession" stages of my woodworking hobby, I spent quite a bit of cash buying lots of tools (some of which weren't really that necessary, but I couldn't fight off the urge).  But lately I've noticed that my snobbier tastes in tools, coupled with my shrinking bank account have forced me to come up with ways to make my own tools.  So this page is dedicated to little shop improvements, tools, and tricks that I've made or used.  Some of tools were made with just woodworking skills, but now that I've learned a few metalworking skills, the range of tools I can make has really expanded.  *caveman grunt*

I'm currently working on making a British Norris style infill plane made of solid cast bronze, ebony and cocobolo infill.   Just so you know, this photo (right) is a professional made plane that I'm aiming to replicate.  Cross your fingers for me--I'll need it.  I'm feeling as though I might be biting off more than I can chew.  But then again, maybe I have a big mouth...errr....that doesn't sound right.

UPDATE:  I only get to go to my machine shop class twice a week.  Being the Lame-O that I am, during the in-between days, I can't help but think about what my next milling operation will be in order to complete the Norris Infill Plane in time.  So to keep my mind occupied, I reopened my book on making wooden Krenov style planes.  If you're interested in making a wooden plane and have had no experience doing so, I'd highly recommend reading David Finck's Making & Mastering Wooden Planes.  I didn't follow his instructions exactly (as I never seem to like using any plans), but my results (aside from some cosmetic flaws) were surprisingly AWESOME (I mean 0.001 AWESOME--more on this in a minute).

Here's a good picture of my first shavings with my home made plane.  Aside from the plane iron and chipbreaker, everything else didn't cost me a cent, i.e. shop scraps.  The plane here wasn't shaped, sanded or finished just yet.  I had just finished filing the throat to allow just the slightest gap for the blade to protrude through.  These are shavings from a scrap board of cherry. 


Here's my first attempt at making a wooden smooth plane.  Most of my steel planes are bedded at 45 degrees and once my Infill plane is done, I'll also have a 50 degree angle smoother.  So to not make this wooden plane duplicative, I tried bedding the iron at 55 degrees.  I figured this would be really handy for planing really, really tough woods.  The parts and their respective wood species are as follows:  Center--2/4 walnut; Sides--Jatoba; Throat Insert--Macassar Ebony; Cross pin--Red Oak; Wedge--European Beech.  One of the drawbacks about "winging it" on the first try is you're bound to mess up on something.  For me, I drilled the holes for the cross pins in the wrong place.  So instead of trying to hide it, I decided to make it a stylistic point by using ebony plugs.  To give my thumb something to grab onto, I decided to make concentric circles on the back end of the plane.  I think it makes it look a little different. 

After shaping, sanding, and applying an oil & wax finish, I wanted to really test out my 55 degree angle bedding.  I tuned up my plane with my plane hammer and took out a piece of birdseye maple.  This piece still had rough bandsaw marks.  I started taking shavings and after a few minutes I got a glossy smooth surface with absolutely no tearout!!!  Even without any finish, you can see that the freshly planed birdseye maple appears glossy. 



I placed a shaving up to the light to illustrate how thin the shavings are.  I actually took out my digital caliper and measured the shavings.  This one in the light and the ones from the birdseye maple were 0.001 inches thick!  I was pretty surprised with how easy it was to adjust the plane by simply tapping the plane or iron with a plane hammer.  I was always skeptical about using wooden planes before (seeing as how I never used one at all), but now after making one from scratch and understanding how they work, I think I'm hooked. 

The secret to a really awesome smoothing plane is a really tight throat opening.  I took my time and patiently filed the opening, stopping every couple of strokes to check on my progress.  It seemed a little tedious (it took probably only 15-20 minutes in hindsight), but the results are well worth it.  You can see that I placed a piece of macassar ebony inlay to serve as the throat.  Since the area in front of the throat gets the most wear, I thought a scrap ebony would be a lot hardier than walnut.  I figure the next time this plane's sole needs to be redone, I'll probably inlay a bigger piece of ebony for the inlay.  But for now, this is one smokin' plane!  In fact, to test it out even further, I was able to get a smooth tearout finish on cocobolo and came out with 0.001 inch thick cocobolo shavings!

UPDATE:  For me, making this wooden Krenov-style wooden plane was like spraying WD-40 on my already slippery slope.  I wound up making a couple more wooen planes.  Check them out!

I decided I needed a wooden jointer.  Wielding my Lie-Nielsen #7 isn't that bad, but there's nothing like the slick surface of a long wooden jointer.  Plus, I tricked out this and my other recent plane with a laminated sole of Lignum Vitae.  The natural oils in the LV and it's extremely dense properties (the stuff sinks in water!!!) make for an incredibly smooth and fun plane to use.


Take a look...this baby's got some SOLE....

*imagine marvin gaye crooning "Let's Get It On"*



I've heard lots of people say that Lignum Vitae doesn't laminate that well due to it's oily nature.  I cleaned the lignum with some acetone before glue up, but I wanted that extra level of comfort just in case, so I dovetailed the sole to the plane body.  More on that below.  The photo (left) is shot of the plane from the front.  In addition to the LV sole and cross pin, I used jatoba for the body, purpleheart for the wedge and some unknown tropical wood I found during my wood dumpster diving days for the sides.  Fortunately for me, that dumpster wood wound up having some pretty nice curly grain.  And as for the iron, I had a leftover metal plane blade and cap iron that was just sitting in my stash of miscellaneous stuff.  I figured might as well put it to good use.  I might cut off the top to shorten the blade enough to fit it into my workbench drawer. 



To give the sole mechanical strength in addition to the glue bond, I joined the jatoba plane body and the lignum vitae sole with sliding dovetails.  I was amazed at how smoothly the lignum glided together with the jatoba.  And this wasn't because the joints had a loose fit.  I milled out the exact same sized dovetails on two pieces of pine and it was super tight trying to slide those two mating pieces together. 



Here you can see the sole and the body sliding into place.  It's a beautiful thing!    To keep the sole from sliding around when the plane was in use, I tried both polyurethane glue and epoxy (one for each plane).  Even though both work adequately, I think polyurethane is probably easier to use.  Just FYI:  On a piece of offcut where the LV was joined to the jatoba without the dovetail joint, I found that you could pretty easily knock off the LV from the jatoba despite the epoxy and polyurethane bond.  Thanks to everyone at Woodcentral for their thoughts on this, especially Steve Knight.  By the way, if you're interested in purchasing a wonderful wooden plane, you should definitely check out Steve Knight's Planes

I almost forgot, Lignum Vitae has such a wonderful smell.  I can only describe it as a variation of Eucalyptus oil, but not quite as strong.  I think this stuff beats out fresh cut walnut in the aroma department.


I was so worried about the oil in the LV preventing an adequate glue bond that I decided to reinforce the sliding dovetail by inserting and epoxying cross dowels (placed perpendicular to the sliding dovetail joint).  In hindsight, this probably wasn't necessary.  I suppose it can't hurt, but in the future, I'll probably skip that step.




I probably have one too many smoothing planes, so I had to somehow make this one different than my existing planes.  I decided to set this blade angle at 62 degrees.  This will be my secret weapon for super gnarly grain.  After hearing all this praise about Hock blades, I decided to try one out for this plane.  Let's talk about the vitals:  Lignum Vitae sole and crosspin, walnut body, white oak wedge, again reclaimed (dumpster) lumber for the sides, and brass knurled nut'll see.




In addition to a 62 degree angle, I made sure the throat opening was super tight so as to adequately tackle those figured woods I love so much.  But here's where things got really interesting for me.  After seeing how smoothly the lignum glided into the jatoba on my jointer plane, I decided why not make an adjustable toe piece for this smoother.  This way, I can decide how large my throat needs to be depending on the wood to be planed.  Plus I'll be able to fine tune this baby should the sole ever wear out or I need to replace the toe later down the line.  I'm really pleased how the the toe worked out.  I never would have thought of this had it not been for the invaluable experience I gained making the bronze infill plane below.  (Left) An extremely narrow throat opening.





(Right) Toe piece extended forward exposing a throat opening the size of the Pacific.  If you look carefully, you might see some Ahi Ahi swimming in that opening!







(Right)  The front of my smoother with a good shot of the dovetail shaped lignum toe.  You can see that the toe piece glides on a sliding dovetail.  All one has to do is slide the toe piece to the desired location and tighten down the knurled nut.  I milled out a t-slot into the Lignum Vitae toe piece and inserted a t-bolt to seal the deal.  As you can probably tell by now...I'M PROUD OF THIS BABY!!!  I never would have thought I'd be able to make a half decent plane--again I have to thank the folks at Woodcentral for their gracious and helpful advice and words of encouragement. 






Hopefully, when I'm done with this project, my version will look something like this beauty.  If you're looking to buy a finished plane or buy plane kits check out St. James Bay Tool Co.  I bought my bronze casting, blade irons, and miscellaneous parts from them.  You can save a few bucks if you have access to a metal milling machine and know some basics on how to work with metal.  I'm learning as I go, but I'll post my thoughts on this process later. 


I was really impressed with the personal service I received from St. James Bay Tool Co.  Bob, the proprietor was very friendly and helpful considering I had a lot of questions seeing as how this projects really intimidated me.  You can buy a plane at various stages of completion, depending on how much work you want to put in into your plane.  You can buy them completely finished, or with the parts pre-machined and ready for assembly, or (my choice) a rough casting.  I wanted a project to work on in my intro machine shop class.  Instead of drilling holes in some scrap stock, I wanted to makes something useful upon completion of the class.  So a rough casting seemed like a good way to have a nice bronze plane and yet still have a lot of opportunity to learn how to metalwork and machine parts. 

British infill planes (Norris happened to be the last manufacturer of them--they shut their doors sometime during the early 20th century) came in three styles:  parallel sided; coffin sided; round sided.  I think the easiest design to make has got to be the parallel sided version (If this first plane works out well, I might try to make own parallel sided plane from scratch--but that's dreaming a bit too big considering I haven't even finished the first one).  I opted to buy the round sided casting.  I think it's the most beautiful version among the three and I can't picture myself making one from scratch.  The very shape of it makes it hard to create unless you have a casting made. 

Short Explanation:  A casting (in my case here, made of bronze) is a mold that has the rough shape of the desired plane.  Then some mixture of tin and copper (or whatever metal a foundry chooses to use) is poured (cast) into the mold.  Once the mold hardens you get the casting.  A casting is very rough and needs to be machined, shaped, and or processed to get to your finished product. 

Here are some photos of a rough casting.  You can see it doesn't have the characteristic shine of a polished plane.  All that work is up to you!  I've heard that brass and some bronze soles can leave discoloration on some lighter woods, but we'll have to see if that's the case once I've got my plane up and running.  The benefit of having bronze is this sucker is heavy!!!!  More weight means better performance--can't picture that being a said on a diet infomercial. 







Within a few days of placing my order for a rough casting kit, it arrived, and then I frolicked like a schoolgirl.  Here's what the kit looks like.

You can pretty much order individual pieces if you only want some parts and not others, but here the kit includes a rough casting of the plane body, the lever cap, iron, iron cap, lever cap screw, steel dowel for the lever cap, lateral blade depth adjuster. 

A couple of notes of first impression:  The blade adjuster is a very elegant piece of machinery.  I'm not sure how many tpi or threads there are, but the adjustment mechanism seems to have a lot of fine threads for very fine adjustment of the blade.  Secondly, the thing that impressed me the most is that the blade and cap iron are robust and thick!!!  This should provide chatter free performance.



I was eagerly anticipating machine shop time and the time finally arrived.  I started machining the sides and sole of the casting.  Here you can see the mill marks from the machine.  I used a really wide diameter bit to help speed up the process.  The bridgeport milling machine at school is a bit old and so there were some minor ridges.  I wasn't too concerned because I'll wind up lapping them flat with some sandpaper later on.  But let me tell you that machined bronze looks pretty fancy! 

While milling is pretty fun, the setup time takes forever.  I didn't get around to milling the frog until a day after milling the sole and sides of the plane.  The flash from the camera makes it tough to see, but you can see mill marks (round circles or ripples on the bronze).  Here I've milled the frog to set support the blade at a 50 degree angle (the factory had it roughly casted at 47 1/2 degrees, but I want this plane to work on more figured woods, thus a higher angle would be a better choice).  

Now here's where I got really, really upset with myself.  The whole idea behind an infill plane is to have an extremely tight throat opening between the blade the front part of the plane's sole (toe).  This tight opening forces wood shavings to break and curl up before they can chip out your wood surface.  Well, simply put, I fudged up.  I couldn't believe how stupid I was when I let the milling machine chew up a little too much of my casting.  Distraught and extremely upset at myself, my machine shop instructor came to the rescue--I suppose there's a reason why he's the teacher and I'm the student.  He suggested I open up the throat a little more and install an adjustable throat.  This design makes the project a little more complicated, as you can see by my cheesy diagram below.  Even though this means more work, this plane will have an added feature (not available in stores) and I'll be try out a new design and milling technique during my class time.  I guess this time I can at least say I've learned a lot from my mistakes.

Note:  I was thinking (and got verification from two different, yet both qualified people) that fixing a goof up on bronze is pretty easy.  Welding some new filler material to close the gap gives you more material to try and mill the throat again.

Since the throat opening is too wide, this solution involves adding a new piece of material to close the opening a bit.  Here's a rough sketch (and I do mean rough--pencil drawing should be next on my list of classes to take) of the proposed plan.  A new part (throat insert) needs to be machined to have a small step.  This step will ride along a machined groove in the toe part of the plane.  This groove will allow the throat insert to be adjusted front to back, thus increasing or decreasing the throat opening.  To secure the throat insert in place, I'll have to drill and countersink a hole through the sole of the plane and insert a machine bolt (shown in red ink to the left).  The machine bolt will be tightened with either a nut right on top of the insert or even some threads tapped into the insert itself (I'm still undecided about that).  I'm not sure how this will affect the perfomance of the plane as this design will mean a small gap will be present just in front of the insert.  Well, just keep your fingers crossed for me as I really want this to work out.  I'll keep you posted on any developments. 

UPDATE:  So this week's machine shop class rolled around again and I was excited to tackle on the next step of this plane.  Since I've got woodworking tools at my disposal, I decided it would be a good idea to make a wooden mock-up of the proposed throat plate insert.  I wish I was better at visualizing things in 3-D.  But since I'm not, making an actual 3-D model is a great way of seeing how things will work in real life instead of just on paper or in my head.


Here's the prototype throat plate I made out of some scrap wood.  Being able to physically see and move this part in the plane really helps illustrate how this will work and any potential problems that may arise.  In the course of making this mock-up, I realized the importance of recessing a groove to house the nut that'll hold the machine screw in place.  I won't have access to the nut once the front knob of the plane is epoxied in place, so designing a tight slot for the nut to grip on to is a must.   Inadvertent double entendre galore


I think this was my most productive day in machine shop so far.  Machining is a lot of fun when you think of all the things you can make--the downside is the setup can be a bit tedious and frustrating if you try to rush.  Here I was able to mill a 3/4" groove right smack down the middle of the front part of the plane.  This slot will keep the throat plate insert from wobbling laterally.  Now I have to mill out the throat plate insert from solid piece of brass.  I'm still a bit worried about that one...but this is still a fun learning experience.




While I was trying to decide what wood to use as the infill portions of this plane, I had a good time strolling down memory lane--remembering where I bought/acquired various pieces of lumber and how excited I was to get my hands on a new species.  

 I needed to make a wooden rear handle and a front knob.  Listening to the suggestions of friendly people on woodcentral, I needed to find a wood species that was not only beautiful but really dense (I bet a chauvinistic non-woodworker would think this is true about finding a woman, but I digress--I think all seven of my sisters would kill me if they read this part).  I toyed around with using jatoba, beech, walnut, among others.  But I decided I wanted to use a dark tropical hardwood.  I did buy a single piece of cocobolo (which is usually pretty expensive) and ebony scraps a while ago with the idea that they might come in handy someday.  Well, today is the day.  You can see, I laminated/sandwiched a piece of ebony between two pieces of cocobolo.  I know this doesn't look like much now, but you just gotta have a little vision to see how pretty these wooden parts will be on the finished plane.


Here's a quick preview of how the plane will look like.  Just imagine a front knob and a rear  handle.  It sure looks pretty cool with the blade and chipbreaker resting on my workbench, don't you think!  I know, I know cheap thrills.  But hey, at least it's A THRILL.







Update:  So I finally got some time in the machine shop and boy was I ready to make some metal shavings fly!  here's a photo of a countersunk hole for the machine screw.  The screw secures the adjustable throat insert in place. 


Making the wooden mock up this throat insert really helped me understand how I needed to mill up this brass version.  For the exception of the stainless steel 10-24 machine screw, I made all the other parts.  I started milling out the brass insert.  There were a lot of steps involved--which I don't want to get into here--but take note of the slotted hole and recess to house the nut.  Also, I originally milled out the recess specifically for a 1/4-20 machine screw.  However, I drilled the countersunk hole a little too close to the throat opening so I had to use a smaller machine screw.  The problem now was that a standard 10-24 nut would be too small and would keep spinning around in the recessed slot I milled out in the throat insert.  So my machine shop instructor (who really knows his stuff) matter of fact-ly told me to machine out a simple square nut.  Actually at first, he suggested I make a hex nut!  But I said while I'd like to learn how to make one, I didn't have much shop time left in order to finish all the milling to complete the plane.  So I used some of my excess brass to drill and tap some threads and then milled it to fit into the throat insert's slot.  It's amazing how there's practically no limits to what a machinist can make.  I, for one, am no machinists, but they do have my utmost respect (especially now that I've dabbled a little bit in the machine shop world).

Here's a photo of the throat insert upside down.  You can see the sloped end (roughly 62 degrees) I milled out to allow wood shavings enough clearance one the insert is put in place.  I also needed to round the back corners of this insert so it would slide easily plane sole's opening. 

At first I was a bit concerned about this insert being made of brass.  I've heard that brass does leave some discoloration/marks on light colored woods.  Seeing as how I'm intending on using this plane to put a final smooth finish on quilted & curly maple, I was worried.  But then I realized that since the throat plate sits immediately in front of the blade, any discoloration will be planed off into shavings. 


Here's the throat insert installed on the plane.  It's secured by the machine screw.  My original machine screw had a flat slot (which would have been okay, but I've always managed to strip out the slot with a simple screwdriver.  So this hex head machine screw probably will last longer.  The insert here is fully extended.  I can't really show it in a photo, but the insert slides up and down the slot very easily.  However, I think I'll probably set the throat opening just once and keep it there.  I'm planning on using this plane as a dedicated final smoother--so super fine shaving is this plane's sole function.  But it is nice to know that I can adjust the throat for a looser fit just in case.  We'll have to see how this insert functions once this plane is up and ready to fly!

This is a good photo of how the insert slides in the soles machined groove.  I took extra care not to machine too much of the insert, thus causing any slop in the insert's travel.  The insert pretty much moves up and down and not left and right.  To be sure, I did mill the insert slightly undersized so it could slide easily.  I took out the shopmade nut in this photo to show where and how the machine screw would protrude through both the sole of the plane and the insert.





I secured the nut to the machine screw in this photo.  Remember that I'll be attaching a wooden knob in this area (front of the plane), so I won't have access to this nut when the plane is finished.  That is why it was crucial that I made a slot in the throat insert--I needed the nut to stay in place and not spin around when I tightened down on the machine screw from the bottom of the plane.  Oh yeah, I know I mentioned it before, but I still can't believe that I made my own nut!!!  I know that sounds kind of weird, but you know what I mean.




You might guess that drilling for and assembling this steel rod to the plane was a simple operation, but let me tell you that accuracy demands that it's not that simple.  I was really worried that drilling straight through both sides of the plane at once (a pretty lengthy distance for a 1/4" drill bit) would cause the bit to "walk" (wobble) off-center a bit.  So I carefully calculated and moved the spindle 1.500" from bottom and 1.450" from the front of the plane.  To ensure that the steel had a nice tight fit, I actually used a slightly undersized bit (not a 1/4" bit).  Then I used a 0.251" reamer bit to widen the hole just enough for the rod to slide through easily. 




Here's the partially machined parts assembled together.  The steel rod above secures the lever cap to the plane, while acting as a pivot point.  I drilled and tapped for the large thumb screw.  I still have a lot of shaping, filing, and sanding left to do on the lever cap and the plane body.  Since the plane body is slightly tapered at the front of the plane, I had to mill out a corresponding taper on the lever cap to make it fit in the plane body.  This is slowly starting to look like a real plane.  But without the wooden handles and blade, it still looks like a shoe of some sort.



The handle and front knob are finally done!

It feels great to have finally finished the wooden parts of this project (well there's some final sanding left).  Although I knew that I'd feel a sense of accomplishment after machining all the bronze parts of this plane, I also knew I wouldn't really feel like I was really making a metal plane until the wooden handle and front knob were finished.  I'm sure anyone who has completed a DIY project knows what I'm talking about--that feeling you get when you've done just enough to see the finish line and then you get that second wind that powers you through to the finish line.   

The only piece of cocobolo I had actually turned out looking really nice, especially with the macassar ebony laminated in between the bandsawn cocobolo.  Even the different colored grain of the cocobolo wound up being parallel to the sole of the plane. 

Even though this Norris type adjuster allows for lateral as well as depth adjustment, the frog of this casting really didn't provide enough clearance for the lateral adjustment to pivot enough to really make a difference.  I was a bit disappointed with this, but the depth adjustment works great.  Plus, since I've recently learned how to adjust wooden planes with a plane hammer, using a plane hammer on this metal plane isn't really that hard at all.


Because my plane included my custom made throat plate insert, I had to provide proper clearance on the bottom of the front knob for the insert and the shopmade nut.  You can see the two steps on the bottom of the knob (right).  Also, all the corners had to be hand filed to create a roundover profile so that the knob would sit securely in the front of the plane.  Needless to say, this part of the project, though "easy" because it involves just woodworking (as opposed to metalworking), actually took quite a bit of time to get just right. 

Just to illustrate how time consuming a simple thing like making some wooden handles took, I snapped this shot.  I made three different versions of the rear handle.  Cutting the correct angle for handle was a bit tricky.  I had to keep test fitting and cutting my first mock-up to get it close to the desired fit.  The placement of the slotted hole for my fingers was also a matter of trial and error.  The downside to not having a plan to follow is it means investing more time and working by trial and error.  I just guestimated the rough dimensions from pictures of British Infill Planes found on the Internet.  Well, after playing around with three different mock-ups I finally got the handle pretty close to the way I wanted it.  (There was still some more fidgeting required to get everything to sit nicely in place). 

I performed a dry fit of the wooden parts to the bronze body to make sure everything fit well.  The blade and cap iron were not yet assembled for this photo.  You can see how the throat plate insert's travel isn't obstructed by the front knob.  The other reason for this photo is to show how the center strip of macassar ebony contrasts with the cocobolo.  I wanted to give the effect of the ebony running down the middle of the plane in both the rear handle and the front knob.  I figured that even if this plane doesn't function well, at least I'll have one unique and cool looking paperweight.   

If you want some more information on making infill planes, try these websites:


*Drumroll please........*

That's right, my bronze infill plane is finally (and I mean finally) DONE!

I can't stop looking and running my hands all over it.  Geez, if there was ever a woodworking episode of TaxiCab Confessions, I'd probably play some unwilling cameo role. 

I can't believe I made this thing.  I still remember thinking this would be way over my head.  Of course, the perfectionist in me thinks there are a couple of things messed up on and could use improvement.  However, overall I guess it isn't bad for a first try. 






Here's another view of the plane.  After sanding the wooden parts up to 600 grit, I finished it up with a couple of rubbed on coats of Olympic Antique Oil and then buffed it with a thin coat of Renaissance Wax.  I'm not sure if the photo conveys this, but if you're thinking the wooden handle and knobs are begging to be handled, you're right!  Let me tell you that they feel great--very silky smooth and comfortable.   



Here's a topside view.  Look at the color of the cocobolo handle!  The slight glare on the rear handle is a nice shot of the non-glossy, but nice sheen of the handle's finish.  Machining and sanding cocobolo was an odd experience.  I made sure the dust collector and air scrubber was on at full blast while I was inhaling air through a dust mask.  The smell of cocobolo still hung in the air--very peculiar smelling stuff. 

Newly polished bronze is a pretty thing to look at.  It's too bad I don't really want to go through the trouble of putting on lacquer or some other finish on the bronze to preserve that shiny look.  Oh well, there's still something to be said about developing a patina on a bronze handtool attesting to the tool being actually used and not just merely on display.

So how does this tool actually perform? 

Well, here are couple of the virgin shavings this plane took off a board of birdseye maple (left) and cherry (right). 





Here's the thinnest shaving I made with this plane--about one-one thousandth (1/1000) of an inch.  The shavings seem to vary anywhere from 1/1000 to 5/1000 depending on my adjustment of the blade.  I'll need to see if I can tune the plane and hone the blade some more to really make this plane sing.




I had a such a good time making my first infill plane, I decided to take another machine shop lab course so I could try and make another infill plane (but this time from scratch, not from a commercial casting).  I decided I'd try to incorporate both machining and welding techniques for this plane.



My welding instructor was nice enough to help me cut out three rough pieces of 3/16" mild steel with the school's heavy duty shears.  It's pretty amazing how three plain old dirty pieces of steel are going to become an awesome infill plane!




I used a Bridgeport-type milling machine to mill out the shape of the plane's sides.  The curves were a bit tricky.  The semi-circular sections of the sides were made using a combination of a rotary vise and some hand-filing.  They don't look great, but are good enough for a do-it-yourself-er like me. 





Here's a good photo of how the plane will look like with the sides upright just prior to welding them to the sole.  Now, here's where my welding instructors show why they get to teach students like me.  Before taking classes in welding, I would have

1)  Not even considered welding up these pieces together (traditionally the sides are dovetailed to the sole--a nice touch, but a lot of work and you can't really see the dovetails unless you use a steel sole and brass sides);

2)  Not know what type of welding method or machine to use;

3)  Not try to account for warpage to the steel due to welding.


First off, MIG welding seemed like the easiest and most effective method of welding for this application.  I made sure to align the sides with a steel dowel pin and then I carefully lined up the sides to the sole with some clamps.  But it was critical that I used a pair of bolts and nuts to act as spacers to push out against the clamps.  This way, even if the steel plates wanted to expand, the mechanical force of the clamps and bolts would not allow the steel to warp. 



The next issue was to minimize the amount of heat I'd put into these plates.  This is a handplane and not a multi-story structure.  With this in mind, I really didn't have to weld too long of bead to make a strong joint.  Here I welded six short beads to keep the plane from warping too much. 

Bonehead Update:  I decided to machine out the fillets welds with the idea that this would make epoxy-ing the wooden tote and knob much easier.  Well, blame it on the recent 100+ degrees we've been having here in Southern California b/c I totally forgot that once the welds are machined off, there's nothing left to hold the three pieces of steel together.  Feeling kind of stupid, I headed back to the weld shop and used an oxy-acetylene torch to bevel the sides of the sole (contacting each of the two sides).   My blueprint reading instructor would be proud to know that I now  that I should have used single bevel groove welds instead of fillet welds for this application.

Bonehead Redemption Update:  This time around, after machining off part of the weld, I was left with perfectly strong and stable joints connecting the sides to the sole.  Boy, that was satisfying to finally get it right.  Now I don't feel quite so embarassed. 

I'm proud to finally be able to post pix of this project--it took me long enough to finish!   Here's my horizontal router table.  I still can't believe I made this thing!  I'm not just talking about the melamine/plywood table and the wooden parts.  I'm talking about the aluminum!!!  I really wanted to challenge myself and come up with a tool that I'd actually use.  If you've taken a virtual tour of my shop, I think it's fair to say, there aren't too many tools missing from my arsenal.  I have a beefy router table, but I did have an extra router sub-base that was just crying out to be used.  I didn't use any plans, but I have to admit that I did look at several commercial versions to get ideas.  Is it cost effective to make one of these instead of buying one?  Not by a long shot.  But like woodworking itself, the enjoyment one gets out of making something from scratch is priceless. 







I started with two solid bars of aluminum and proceeded to mill out t-tracks.  The whole time I was milling out the t-track, I kept doing a double take, realizing that I was making the stuff I normally have to buy at Rockler.  What a sense freedom you get knowing you can make almost anything!  Without boring everyone, I'll just say I machined everything you see to the left, except for the plastic knobs, the machine screws, nuts, and the threaded rod.  Everything else you see comes straight from the satellite branch of The New Chinky Workshop (aka:  the Machine Shop department at LATTC).




The backside view of the horizontal router shows how I incorporated my extra Porter-Cable router sub-base into my own little Frankenstein!  Plus, a shop-made horizontal router table wouldn't be complete without a dust collection port.  Here you can see a piece of white pvc that allows for a quick connection to a dust collection hose.  What you can't see is how made an angled ramp that funnels the sawdust directly into the dust port, minimizing the amount of "dead air" space. 






I nearly fainted when I saw the prices of dust collection fittings.  It's pretty shocking how a simple piece of plastic can cost an arm and a leg.  And even then, I found that most fittings were either slightly oversized or undersized for my application.  This coupled with the fact that I needed quite a few dust collection ports, made me realize I had to make my own fittings. 

DISCLAIMER:  The following process can be dangerous so please research this carefully, take any and all necessary precautions, and proceed at your own risk!!! 

I started by buying some 4" diameter S&D PVC pipe.  I quickly noticed that this size pipe is slightly larger than the inside diameter of typical 4" dust collection hose.  To make my custom fittings actually "fit" I had to shrink it just a tad.  To do this I used the following items (right):  4" PVC pipe (cut to desired length); one piston ring compressor, a glass jar that's perfectly sized for this application (after sifting through my stash of jars--boy am I glad I have a little pack rat streak in me--I found that a Knott's Berry Farm 42 oz. preserves jar works perfectly), a heat source (a heat gun will work just fine, but I found my outdoor gas grill fit the bill nicely--CAUTION:  I've read that the fumes from PVC are toxic, so I made sure I did this outdoors and I stayed clear of the fumes), and I found that thick gloves were absolutely necessary to protect my hands from the hot pvc and piston ring compressor.  Even though PVC is very rigid at room temperature, it's surprisingly flexible and malleable when heated to the correct temperature.  When the PVC was adequately heated and became flexible, I quickly (and I mean quickly) put the PVC into the piston ring compressor and slipped in the glass jar into the inside of the PVC.  A quick cranking down on the wrench to tighten the piston ring compressor and I was in business.  I did screw up the first few times by moving too slowly.  The PVC hardened too fast and I had to begin the reheating process again.  All in all, this technique not only saved me a few bucks, but it also allowed me to custom size the fittings to fit my dust collection set-up.


I just realized that I've mentioned milling out steel, bronze, and aluminum during the making of several tools now and yet I have yet to show what machine I used.  What good is talking about cool tools when you can't see them!!!  Sorry, big goof on my part.  Click here to see pix of the milling machine I used at Trade Tech.

Yes, I love my Leigh FMT jig.  It cost me a fortune, but it really does make making mortise and tenon joinery a cinch.  However the biggest drawback to this jig is the dust collection or lack thereof.  It really did surprise me because everything else about this jig is built like a spaceship:  clean lines, accurate CNC machined parts, excellent fit and finish, well thought out functions, very user friendly, and even the instruction manual walks you through each step with clear instructions and pictures.  But a 1 1/2 inch dust port just doesn't cut it.  Maybe the designers thought most users would hook this amazing jig up to a shopvac.  As for me, (come on!) you know better than to think a puny little 1 1/2 inch dust port would satisfy my inner caveman! 

This is the back view of the FMT.  As you can see, the dustport is puny relative to the rest of the jig.  I kept dreaming up of some way to encapsulate the back of the jig so I could attach a 4" diameter dust port.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  And after seeing all that dust flying everywhere during my last mortise and tenon session, I was thinking this type of necessity is a mother of some sort  (excuse my crass sense of humor).  All joking aside,  it dawned on me how to solve the problem.

All I had to do was to screw a narrow strip of wood to act as a ledge just behind the FMT.  The backside of the FMT is completely flat (that is coplanar), so it was really easy to make a sliding panel that would have a cutout perfectly sized for a 4" diameter dust port.  The idea is simple, I basically created a groove for the dust port panel to slide in and out of.  I could have used plain old plywood, but I opted for a fancier  option by making the panel out of some polycarbonate.  And of course, now that I've mastered the art of bending PVC, I made my own 4" dustport.  All that was left was to remove the factory installed 1 1/2" dustport.

Removing that dustport was no easy task.  I had to disassemble nearly half the FMT.  If you do decide on taking the dustport off of your own machine, I'd say pay particular attention to where everything goes.  I tried to be very careful and focused on what and where all the parts were and had to go.  The schematic contained in the manufacturer's instruction manual sure helped.  I can say after the disassembling the FMT and putting it back together--I was really, really impressed with the inventors of this thing--this tool was truly well thought out and executed.  The fit and finish of this thing is impeccable.

With the factory dustport removed, just look at how much dust collection space is gained!  

I slid my home fabricated dustport/polycarbonate panel into place and fired up my cyclone.  The suction worked great.  What a drastic difference:  4" dustport vs. 1.5" dustport.  Enough said...well, one can always improve on past improvements.  That wheel running hamster in my head kept telling me that funneling the dust in a more direct route from the FMT to the dust port would be all the more efficient and effective.  I guess sometimes I can't leave well enough sometimes--it's a vice and a virtue at the same time.  In this case, it was a virtue.


So I built a custom inclined shroud that funnels the dust from the large opening in the front of the FMT directly to the dustport.  By doing this, all that dead space in corners of the FMT is eliminated--making for better dust collection.  Boy do I love customizing my own tools!!!  This is also a good shot of the sliding feature of my shopmade dustport.  FYI:  I didn't have to screw, tap, bolt, or make any alterations directly onto my FMT!  It's as good as the day I bought it, save for some sawdust.

Here is my new and improved FMT with some beefy dust collection capabilities.  Dust extraction works much better than before.  Although, the more I think about it, the nature of this jig does tend to throw dust and shavings towards the front of the jig when routing out the tenons.  Maybe I'll have to think of some sort of dust extraction shroud for the front..... 

ahhh.....but  that'll be sometime later. 


A few years back, during a trip to Italy, I stopped by a cutlery shop in Florence just to look around and decided to pick up a few marking knives as souvenirs.  I knew someday I'd get around to making fancy tools out of these momentos.  I'm not sure if they were meant to be used as marking knives (as I wasn't able to ask the proprietor in Italian--I could only manage to say "Gelato, per favore"--for those of  you who don't know that that means, "Ice cream, please").  Perhaps it's just a function of being on vacation in Italy, but I can't help but think it's neat to buy Italian steel in Italy and have the owner wrap my purchase up in wax-like paper with Italian written on it! 



Back to knife making--It all starts with selecting the right hardwood to serve as the marking knife's handles.  I look for dense hardwoods with aesthetically pleasing color or grain. 

About three years ago, I purchased 100 small pieces of madagascar ebony for $5!!!  I didn't know what I'd use these pieces ebony for, but I had to take advantage of such a great deal.  And today, I'm glad I'm a wood hoarder.  

From right to left: jatoba,birdseye maple, madagascar ebony.  I always save my hardwood scraps just for projects like this. 

Be sure to mill the blanks wider than the width of the knife blade. 

With a very sharp pencil, use the knife to directly outline the shape of the knife onto the hardwood blank.  Then rout a groove on a router table using a straight or mortising router bit.  

Always rout a groove narrower and shallower than the final dimensions.  That way you can creep up on a perfect fit.  The knife shaft should sit flush when the groove is complete.


Once you glue up the blanks, there's no going back. 

With a square, mark out where the knife shaft sits in the blank and trace these lines to the outside surfaces of the blank.  This way when you shape the finished knife for comfort you'll know exactly how far you can shape the blank without exposing the knife shaft.






After you've checked that the knife shaft fits perfectly in the routed recess and that both pieces of wood are touching each other without any gap, you're ready for to glue it up.  I used polyurethane glue because it bonds well to both wood and metal and it foams up (filling up any gaps that may have occurred if your routing is absolutely perfect).

Be sure to wear disposable gloves when using polyurethane glue.  If you get it on your skin, it's almost impossible to get it off.




Here's how the marking knives look like once the glue is dry.  As you can see, some the glue dripped and needs to be cleaned off.  The next step is shaping the handles for a comfortable grip.  Most store bought marking knives straight handles. 

The great thing about making your own tools is you can customize it so they fit comfortably for your own hands.


To begin the rough shaping of the handles, I use my bandsaw to make 3-D saw cuts.  By that I mean cutting a shape on side of the wood blank and then rotating the blank 90 degrees.  Using a pencil, I traced out the shape to what I thought seemed comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. 



Be sure to use ink or a white pencil on dark wood to ensure you can clearly see the intended shape of the handle when  you're ready to make some cuts.

In the photo (right) I've rotated the blank 90 degrees and drew in the shape.  Notice the shape from this birdseye view is different than from the side view.

Before you're ready to make cuts on the bandsaw, protect the sharp blade and yourself by taping the blade with masking tape.  Here I used my 14" Jet bandsaw equipped with an 1/8" blade.  I made the first cut staying proud of my layout mark and making sure to not saw all the way through.  In doing so, I was able to keep the 90 degree adjacent side (with its respective layout lines) intact.   

The photo below is what the handle looks like after making both cuts.  The bandsaw marks are clearly visible and it looks rather rough, but that can be shaped further.






I suppose you could use a spokeshave or rasps to refine the shape, but my tool of choice is an oscillating spindle sander.  Prior to acquiring this tool, I probably would have used a belt sander. I like the spindle sander because I can get pretty good contral and sculpting wood on it comes very easily, at least for me. 

If you do elect to use a belt sander, exercise extreme caution as trying to sand something this small could be dangerous.





You will get flat ridges where the solid drums of the oscillating spindle sander has left its mark.  Here I like to use a combination of chisels, gooseneck hand scraper, and sandpaper/sanding sponge to further refine the shape to result in a smooth and free flowing surface.  The great thing about trying to sand/sculpt and organic shape is you can't really go wrong.  So long as the hand feels comfortable to your grip, the fit is fine.



The whole point of making your own tools is to customize it, not only ergonomically, but aesthetically too.  I wasn't able to fit my brand onto this knife (the brand was to large), so I decided to using my burning pen to mark my family name.  This is a rather thin knife, so there isn't much of a curve to the handle.  As you can see, the handle isn't perfectly curved, but the little imperfections are the trademark of tools made with effort and passion.  All that is left now is to put on a finish.






After all the final shaping and smoothing and burning was completed, I used a shop vac to clean up any dust.  I then finished the knives with pure tung oil.  Pure tung oil has an odd nutty smell--which I prefer over chemical odors any day! 

Tip:  To access the entire knife without leaving any imprints while you're applying your finish, use handscrew clamps to clamp onto the metal blade of the knife.  This will enable you to move the knife around and let it dry just by handling the handscrews clamp and not the knife itself!

Marking knives are really great for marking precise joints (e.g. dovetails).  The razor thin marks metal blades leave on wood is more precise than you could achieve using pencils.  However, sometimes I do go back over the scribed mark with a pencil or pen just to see it better, but I always try to make my joints right up against the scribed mark.  All in all this was a fun project.  

While passing by the scrap metal bin at my welding school, I saw a broken bandsaw blade.  Some sections of the band had teeth missing, but much of the blade still had some bit to it.  I couldn't believe this was going to the trash/scrap heap!  So I took the band, sheared the band into equal lengths and let my brain get to work.  By ganging up the blade sections side by side, I could make a pretty aggressive rasp.  At first I was thinking about using some sort of wire to bind the band sections together.  Then I had a Homer moment, "Doh!"  I was in a welding shop after all and the last time I checked bandsaw blades are made of steel!!!  Eureka!  So why not weld the the sections together.  And so that's how rasp was born.  A quick hit with the tig welder (to prevent burning out the temper of the tool steel) and a scrap piece of steel welded onto the blade to serve as the tang and I was in business.  Then the tool made a trip back home to The New Chinky Workshop for a walnut wooden handle epoxied into place.  A little shaping for ergonomics and personalized touch with a burning pen and voila, a perfectly usable tool from trash!

I had such a fun time making the rasp, I thought I needed a second dose of tool making.  One of my other hobbies is gardening.  And weeds are such a PIA!  Normally, I wind up pulling them out, leaving the roots still intact.  So to address this problem, I decided to make my own weeding tool.  Some mild steel with a forked cutout really seemed like it would a good job at levering out weeds, roots and all.  Of course, I had to make a nice wooden handle--there's nothing quite as nice to the touch as the warmth of wooden handles.  The weeding tool handle is made of jatoba (brazilian cherry).  In hindsight, the green color doesn't looks so hot, but that was the only can of spray paint I had around.  To me, rust prevention was priority number one since the tool is made of mild steel, but maybe next time I make one of these I'll pay more attention to aesthetics.  Despite the ugly green, the tool works like a charm.


Once I installed my cyclone dust collector, I realized that needed to incorporate a 4" dustport onto my tablesaw crosscut sled.  The old sled used a 2 1/2" port.  I could have tried to stick a 4" port onto my existing sled, but I decided it was time to make another sled.  The sled's bottom is made of 1/2" baltic birch plywood and I used 1 1/2" thick poplar and red oak for the front and back fences.  A few pieces of polycarbonate and a homemade 4" dustport made from pvc and this sled was done.  But this time, I decided to go that extra step further and brushed on one coat of shellac and paste wax.  This sled works great!



This project isn't really sexy in terms of looks or refinement, but it's nevertheless satisfying because it's a shopmade tool that works like no other!  My metalworking grinders work really well with one exception.  The factory provided wrench works with standard grinding discs, but is completely useless when it comes to attaching aftermarket wire wheels and other attachments.  All my standard pliers, crescent wrenches, and other do-hickeys just wouldn't fit because they were either too wide, too large, or too clumsy.  After much frustration, I decided why not make a custom wrench.  So with some 1/4 thick mild steel, a oxy-acetylene torch, and my rudimentary drawing skills, I was able to fabricate this shopmade wrench.  This looks a little rough, but I wanted to post up a photo of it before my spray paint job--proof that I did in fact make my own wrench! 

And if you're wondering if it a charm.  I'm just a little surprised the manufacturer didn't include a wrench like this with their product.  I don't think that's asking too much.


I had been meaning to make myself a downdraft sanding table but kept putting it off until now.  I had a few shop hours while I was waiting for a panel glue-up to cure, so I dug up some scraps to make this ugly, but effective tool.  For those of you who don't know what this is, just think about how messy and unhealthy sanding can be.  Sawdust flying everywhere is definitely not one of the virtues of woodworking.  This tool helps collect dust right where it starts.  To use it, just attach a dust collector hose (and turn on the DC of course) and place your project part onto the pegboard and begin sanding. The dust will get sucked through the small openings in the pegboard.  To maximize its efficiency, I used a countersink bit to widen the pegboard holes.  I spent absolutely ZERO CENTS to build this.  Usually, I've got to buy some small parts like screws, handles, pegboard, etc.  But this time I used all scraps and leftover material I had laying around.  Sometimes it pays to be a woodworking packrat!

This is the heart of the downdraft table.  You have to create a funnel to allow the suction to spread out evenly throughout the pegboard top.  I had plenty of cardboard (FREEBIE!) and it was really easy to cut out and shape.  I built a simple box frame and added slanted pieces of plywood to reinforce the cardboard funnel.  To add extra reinforcement, I cut up more pieces of cardboard and tried to creat a torsion box effect (difficult to explain here).  A little duct tape help make the funnel air tight.  To prevent the pegboard top from bowing down during sanding, I placed a couple of hardwoodstrips into precut dados.  This wans't fine furniture so I just joined everything with screws and or nuts/bolts.  I think I sprained a shoulder patting myself on the back after I fired up this puppy and saw how it worked! 

Commercial versions of this tool (while fancy looking) can run into in the hundreds of dollars!  I made mine again, for the bargain price of ZERO cents!!!!


This just in...this downdraft sanding table also serves as a makeshift footstool.  My nephew Victor was using a the oscillating spindle sander to finish up his shopmade space shuttle.  Brainwashing youngersters about woodworking at an early age is definitely a good thing.





It was time to prune out my olive 50+ year old olive tree.  The problem was that my tree has to be around 25' tall or so and my ladder only reaches 16' high.  After taking care of the lower branches with my ladder, I just had to figure out a way to cut some of the taller branches down.  A trip to the local garden center and I just couldn't stomach having to pay $70 for a tool that I'll probably use once every couple of years.  So I came up with this $5 tool.  I had an extra pruning saw blade (it came as a replacement blade along with a handsaw/pruner tool).  I decided I just needed to clamp the blade to some sort of handle.  Basically, I sandwiched the blade between two pieces of 1x2 of wood.  In a previous version of this tool, I made a handle that was about 8" long.  But now I figured why not use the same principles to make a longer tool.

So here you can see my homemade pruner/saw "handle" grew from 8" to roughly 20'!!!!  Since most 1x2 construction lumber comes in 10' lengths, I had to connect two lengths of 1x2 to give me that extra long reach.  If you are wondering if this saw actually works....the answer is yes!  Of course, there's a bit of flexing involved with piece of lumber this long.  It's not as rigid as a telescoping piece of pipe/tubing.  But inspite of the flexing, the saw did it's job and it literally cost less than $5.  I was able to prune away to my heart's content.

I secured the extension part of the handle to the actual handle using two hex bolts complete with washers and nuts spaced about 8-10" apart.  After a full day of sawing away tall branches while safely standing on the ground, I'd say I made my $5 investment in some wood and hardware earn its keep.