apartment woodworking

Who Needs ‘Em?

An integral part of a leg vise is the garter that connects the screw to the vise chop, allowing the chop to move in and out as the screw is turned.  Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.  And when you make your own screws, it’s probably a good idea to be able to plow a 1/4″ trench around the circumference of the screw to capture the garter.  But what to do when one does not own a lathe (powered or otherwise)?  Improvise!

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Hold your applause, please.

I started by sawing down the walls of the trench with my miter box.  The screws are 6/4″ wide so I set the depth stop to about 3/16″ and was careful to keep all the saw kerfs in alignment.  Then I used a 1/4″ chisel to hog out most of the waste, using the saw kerfs as the depth guide.  After that was done, I took a mortise float and spun the saw around while holding the float steady: first in the direction of the cut to get it close, then in the opposite direction to burnish it down to a perfect cylinder.  The inner diameter ended up being a bit over 1″.

The garter plate will be made from a 1/4″ x 4″ square of quarter-sawn hard maple (the same wood as the screw).  If I drill a 1 1/8″ wide hole in the face of the garter plate, the kerf from sawing it in half should result in a perfectly-sized (if minorly-oval) hole when the two parts are joined together again and secured to the vise chop with slotted screws.

I also made an ash hub (from the same board as the leg vise chop) and glued in the screw once the garter trench was plowed.  I’ll shave the hub into a something approximating a cylinder once the glue dies.  I will also drive a dowel through the hub and the screw to further secure the assembly.  I haven’t decided on a wood for the handle yet.  I’m leaning toward rived ash (surprise!).  I have some decent lengths of ash to rive into good handle, which I can shave down to round.

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The screw stock is a snug fit into the hole, so PVA works just as well as epoxy.

I have not yet determined how the parallel guide should work.  The leg vise chop is a 6″ wide, highly figured piece of 12/4″ ash.  And because the the legs are only 4″ wide, I should be able to mortise a 5/8″ parallel guide into the chop and secure a catch to the inside of the leg (think of the catch for the lock battens on a Dutch tool chest).  The parallel guide and the catch will probably also be quarter-sawn hard maple (like the other hard-wearing components).   And, because very little of it is internal to the bench itself, the leg vise should, theoretically, be salvageable when I next lose my mind and make another workbench.

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Heart-side to the bench in case it cups.

Although the parallel guide will not be perfectly centered, I might be able to get away with a pin board set-up.  But I’d rather use a shim system with a few common sizes secured to the bench with twine.  I am sure there is some combination of four shims that have specific dimensions in each orientation that will work for most tasks.

But it’s been a long week and I can’t figure that out right now.

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Sometimes, Things Work Out Just Fine

Let’s get one thing straight: this is not the easiest way to make a hand tool woodworking workbench.  It’s not even fifth easiest.  But I’m the boss, and this time, the Stent Panel is in the hizzy.

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This is just a test fit.

Each of the legs is mortised directly into the main slab.  Because of leg stock length constraints, I was not able to do the traditional Roubo sliding dovetail joint on the front legs.  But some beefy tenons and double drawbore pegs (not shown above) will hopefully keep things together.  I find birch dowels flexible enough to resist cracking when drawboring and the color match should be okay.

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Front legs flush with the benchtop, like a good workbench should be.

The back legs each rake out at a 14° angle, which I calculated based on the stock I had to allow an overall footprint of 21″ and an overall height of 36.5″. Net of the heavy duty anti-fatigue rubber mat, the workbench will be 35.5″ high.  A full 1.5″ taller than my current workbench.

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Heart-side up, just like Andre Roubo said.

Angled internal tenons are not exactly the easiest joint to cut.  But through a combination of boring and careful paring (to match a pre-cut leg) it can be done.  By some miracle, the joints are beyond piston-fit and I could likely get away without anything but hide glue.  I don’t even know how I would drawbore the angled legs (maybe something on the drillpress?).  But I have some lovely black powder-coated square head lag bolts that seem like a good belt-and-suspenders solution for keeping everything together.

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Just insert tenon (bottom) into mortise (middle) at pre-determined angle (top).

The only thing left before gluing in the legs is mortising the benchtop extension posts into the slab.  I found a lovely piece of 8/4 ash at the lumberyard that will extend the benchtop to approximately 22″ (about the same as my current bench and only an inch beyond the rake of the back legs).  Being 8/4, it’s probably at equilibrium, but it still needs to acclimate for a week or so before I feel comfortable flattening it.  The posts will also be drawbored into the benchtop, so I should probably figure out holdfast hole placement before chopping those mortises.

More later in the week on the leg vise, including why I’m adding a single notched stretcher to the left side of the workbench.  I’ve already bored the screw clearance hole and applied the threaded nut.  I could have threaded the leg directly, but something tells me this setup will be longer-lasting.

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It’s also hide-glued on.  Two brass screws are clearly not strong enough on their own.

In the meantime, huge shoutout to Brady and Jamie who helped me push the slab through the thickness planer for just 3 more passes.

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It’s That Time, Again

I’m taking another crack at a Stent Panel-style workbench.  In truth, I am basically copying one of the Shaker workbenches from the Pleasant Hill village in Kentucky.  Well, sort of.  I’m skipping the skewed vise-leg and the integrated tail vise.  But it will be stretcher-less, 36″ high, a shade over 7 feet long, and between 20 and 22″ deep.  The front legs will be flush to the benchtop and the back legs kick out at a 13° angle. It’ll have a tripod bench slave to match.

The foundation of the workbench is a 125″ long, 13″ wide piece of 16/4 ash.  From that, I was able to make four legs (approximately 3″ x 4″) and a slab top that is about 88″ long, 12.75″ wide and 3.75″ thick.  I will extend the benchtop by mortising a few supports into the back edge and adding an 8/4 ash shelf.  This will give me solid wood only where I need it and theoretically allow me to switch in a tool well if I ever go to the dark side.

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I left a bit of roughness on the underside to preserve as much thickness as possible.

There will be a proper leg vise (the chop for which is salvaged from another project).  I broke out the wood threader and made a couple of 1.5″ hard maple screws.  I have yet to decide whether to use a proper pin board parallel guide or whether to use some sort of dowel/wedge combination.  I like the idea of the wedge, but I’d rather it not be loose on the floor.  I wonder if a relatively-interference-fit guide rod and one of those plastic shim sets would eliminate the need for a wedge or pin board.

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When setup takes precision, always make a spare.

I also need to shape a hub and figure out a garter situation.  It’s tough without a lathe, but I can probably hand carve something.  Although not strictly necessary (because of my Crucible Tools holdfast and collection of does’ feet), I plan to add my Veritas inset vise to this workbench.  I really like this piece of hardware and think it needs to make a comeback in my life.

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I am skipping the Roubo sliding dovetail joint as well.

By now, you’re probably asking: what is wrong with your current workbench, James?  Nothing, really.  But I’ve never really been happy with it.  The shelf attracts clutter and I foolishly never incorporated a sliding deadman.  It’s also too low for my tastes.  34″ is great for hand planing thick stock, but literally any other operation is torture on my back.  I’m not as young as I used to be, after all.

And it will make me happy. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

In a couple of weeks, my old workbench will go up for sale.  Including the vise, I’ll probably sell it for $900.  I just want to make back the cost of the materials (including the vise).  I’ll even throw in the screw-driven crochet.

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In My Defense

I am commonly asked why I spend so much time on superfluous furniture projects when there is home improvement I should be doing.  Usually, the honest answer is: “home improvement projects generally suck and I’m procrastinating”.  But every now and again, there is another answer: “because I’m practicing for an important home improvement project”.  And this is one of those very rare cases.

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The finished cherry table with the last scrap of the source wood for comparison.

It’s no secret that I don’t chop many mortises.  I much prefer dovetails and housing joints.  But with the double-sink vanity I’m making for the upstairs bathroom, only mortise and tenon joinery will do.  I would not describe the vanity design as “delicate”, the legs and rails will only be about 2″ square so the joints need to be as stout as possible.

The 48x13x36 reclaimed cherry console table (seen above) is done.  It served two purposes (aside from cleaning out some of the wood pile), really.

First, it allowed me to test build a Nicholson workbench if I ever go that route.  I’m impressed with the overall design.  I was able to figure it out without any real plans, so that makes me think it would be good for someone making their first workbench from construction-grade lumber.  It seems stout and scalable and not very dependent on the materials that you’ make it from.  Oak, Douglas Fir, Spruce or even White Pine all seem like they’d work just fine.

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The cross rails add rigidity despite the lack of a slab top.

The second purpose was to practice mortise and tenon joinery.  With such little margin for error on the relatively small dimensions of the vanity components, I’ll rely on stub tenons to hold everything together.  For aesthetic reasons, I don’t plan to drawbore the mortise and tenon joints, so piston fits will be important to lifetime bonds.  And that’s what this project allowed me to practice.  Unless I decide to learn to fox wedged tenon.

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Gratuitous up-frame shot.

At this point in the retrospective, I typically assess what I’d do differently on this build.  In truth, very little.  I absentmindedly broke the arrises on a few boards before the glue-up, so there are a few visible glue lines (the joint line between the apron and the tabletop as seen above comes to mind) that no amount of boiled linseed oil will hide.

But that’s about it.  Once the BLO dries, I’ll move the table into my office.

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A Rebirth (of Sorts)

A great joy of life is reclaiming wood.  Both economically- and environmentally-efficient (most of the time), recycling my or someone else’s prior project into something equally (or more) beautiful and functional is about the only resurrection I still believe in.

A while back, a coworker gifted to me a solid cherry table that had been neglected.  Across a 3 foot width, the table top had cupped almost a full inch.  There was no flattening this through ordinary means.  It had to be ripped down and re-laminated if it could be saved.  But that seemed like a lot of work and I already have a dining room table.  So, instead, I took careful stock of how board feet there were and set to work re-purposing the table.

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The first of many glue-ups.

I’ve been fascinated by the Nicholson Workbench form for a long time, but never actually built one.  And in need of a grinding station for my new bench grinder, I set out to turn that cherry monstrosity into a light duty workbench.  It would be 48″ long, 13″ deep and about 36″ high.  Small enough to move around but big enough to stay put when pushed up against a wall.

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Light duty because of the depth of dadoes in order to make the aprons flush to the legs.

I drew on a number of influences, including Paul Sellers’ ubiquitous workbench and Mike Siemsen’s Naked Woodworker bench.  And then pretty much winged it.  And as the piece took shape, it became clear that this was not destined to be shop furniture.  The wood is too beautiful and the effort too great.  This one would live in the civilized world.

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I’ll scrape away the little bit of french polish left in spots where flatness is not critical.  

It’s no secret that I don’t chop a ton of mortises.  Most of my woodworking involves dovetails and dadoes.  So when I need to cut eight blind mortises for the leg assembles, I fall back on the most boring method of all.

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See what I did there?

I find that when chopping mortises by drill bit and paring chisel, the most important thing is to cut the mortise first.  And it begins at establishing a reference wall (see the check mark above) that is consistent across the piece.  If all of the reference walls correspond to the outside face of the assembly, and the corresponding tenon cheek on each rail is perfectly in line, then it doesn’t really matter what the opposite wall and opposite tenon cheek are.  They can be adjusted to fit the individual mortise (which I do with a router plane on smaller work).

The end result is a consistent reveal on the show side of the assembly (and, by extension, an assembly that has no twist or wind).

And a base that is square and true will be the first step toward a table that is square and true.

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There Comes a Time

We must all live with the choices we make.  In my case, the choice to make a small workbench out of home center Douglas Fir.  Even sharp tools bounce around because of the varying hardness.  But one great property of Douglas Fir is its compression.  A friction fit joint can be nearly mechanical if done right.  And the angled back legs of that small workbench are beyond friction fit.  They are sledgehammer fit.

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The most important trick is getting the angle right.

While I recently chose the benchtop boards for their clarity and color match, the legs had been prepared for some time.  As a result, the grain pattern is not great.  I used what was left of the Lamp Black milk paint (leftover from various tool chests) to paint the undercarriage.  It’s a silly contrast that serves no purpose other than vanity.

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The back legs are lag-screwed to the top, but the front legs merely through tenoned.  No glue.

I did not glue the short rails to the legs.  They are just friction fit lap-jointed with carriage bolts.  The laps on the back legs are intentionally left long, so the short rails (and not the benchtop itself) butt up against the wall.

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In the absence of glue, I guess this is, in theory, a knock-down workbench.

Once the paint dried, I packed up the bench and the Dutch tool chest and brought them to their new home at my buddy’s house.  I was sad to see it go, but I know both the bench and the tool chest will have a good home.  My buddy does metalworking, so I also bought him a proper vise as a housewarming present.

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Goodbye, dear friend.

I’m officially over Douglas Fir for a while.  With the extra room in the shop, it’s time to get started in earnest on my next project: a new guard rail for the staircase.  I need to check the building code, probably.

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Sincerity in Imitation

Thoroughly ripping off Mr. McConnell, I’ve been making a small workbench to clear out some spare Douglas Fir 4×4’s from the home center.  I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I see a rift-sawn, clear-ish 4×4 at the local Lowes or Home Depot, I buy it.  For US$8 or so each, it’s hard to pass up such useful dimensional lumber.  I’m sitting on ten or or so of them right now, so why not make a little workbench for a buddy who is moving into a new place?

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It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for any workbench.

My friend is about 6’1″, so a 36″ high workbench should be perfect.  He does metalworking (not woodworking), so I’ll skip the crochet and assume he’ll bolt a metalworker’s vise to the top.  Speaking of which, a 48″ x 18″ top (i.e., about 6 lengths of Douglas Fir 4×4) should be plenty of real estate.  With the splay on the back legs, it will probably be 20″ from the wall (and I’ll make a backsplash that he can screw on to keep things from falling down the back).

The front legs will pierce the top with through tenons (like a Roubo bench but without the sliding dovetail).  The mortises will be formed in advance by shaping the front piece of the lamination (to keep things simple).  The back legs will also be through-mortised, but on an angle in much the same way as a joined saw bench.  The back lamination, like the front, will be shaped in advance to create the mortise for those angled joints.  

Short rails will connect each front and back leg with lap joints.  But there will be no long rails between the legs.   Instead, a scrap of 3/4″ plywood, reinforced with a couple of Douglas Fir strips, will fit neatly across the short rails.  I don’t expect the workbench to receive much lateral stress (like occurs when planing by hand), so I’d rather leave the area under flexible for storage.

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Beautiful, beautiful lap joints.

In the spirit of adventure, I’m using only a very small number of edge tools to build the bench.  To date, the only handtools to touch the work have been a Stanley No. 5 bench plane, a 3/4″ chisel and a large router plane.  All pieces go through the thickness planer once a reference face and edge are tried and trued.  And F-style clamps are used for glue-ups (with Titebond I).

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This vintage Stanley No. 5 has quickly become my favorite bench plane.

I’ve purposely selected the more twisted boards for this project because they aren’t good for much else.  As a result, each length of 4×4 ends up at about 3.25″ square.  These boards have been in the corner of the shop for over a year at this point, so once the twist is removed and they are laminated, I’m willing to bet they’ll behave (more or less) for the rest of the bench’s working life.

This is all just a distraction from finishing up the Dri-core in the basement.  It’s amazing how much gets done when you’re procrastinating.

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Made with Love

It’s good to have goals.  Not just deadlines, but true motivation for doing something right and well.  In my woodworking life, my greatest motivation tends to come from projects that will become gifts.  In this case, the Japanese tool box for my buddy, Brady.

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I think I’ll leave it unfinished, so it ages naturally.

I am glad to have embarked on this project.  The joinery (rabbets and nails, with a little bit of glue) was a lovely break from my usual dovetail routine.  It would be a good project for someone just starting out in woodworking.  And by careful wood selection, I barely dented my pile of reclaimed mahogany (the entire box used only two 36″ boards, plus some scraps I had lying around).

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The lid is friction fit (both in the case and under the end battens), so no need for locks or wedges.

It had been a while since I “dovetailed” nails.  I don’t know if I hit exactly 7º, but it was close enough.  The bottom should stay put for a very long time under ordinary use.

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There are always a few french marks that don’t steam out.  Glad these are where only the bugs will see them.

There is nothing I would do differently on this project, which is refreshing.  Except, maybe, making the box a little bit shallower.  With 7.75″ of clearance inside (when the lid is in place), this is probably more of a picnic basket than a proper tool box.  I thought about adding a removable till, but that seemed like overkill.  These things are meant to be stuffed.

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Nice and open are always preferable, in my view.

My favorite design detail on this is the recessed ends, which allowed me to add wooden handles (from softer Eastern White Pine, for comfort). Because what’s a portable storage container for if it hurts to hold?

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A little contrast is good.

Conceivably, these recesses could also permit someone to clamp this to a table.  If I made a stouter lid (perhaps replacing the battens with a rabbet around a much thicker slab lid), this might even be sturdy enough to be a little workbench in a pinch.

But I think something dovetailed would be better suited for that.  Oh well.  Back to the bench, I guess.

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Better Late than Never

I’ve come very late to the Japanese tool box party.  I already have a traveling tool chest, so up until recently, making this tool box would have been a purely intellectual exercise.  But a dear friend of mine is starting the house hunt, and every good home needs a good tool box.  Plus, it was his birthday recently.

I dug into my pile of reclaimed mahogany for the case.  Although nominally 3/4, the stock gets to about 5/8 when tried and trued.  This should make the case light enough overall. While the recipient is not likely to use the tool box for woodworking tools, I roughed out the dimensions based on my traveling kit of tools (seen below).  The interior dimensions of 8″ x 17″ are enough to fit a No. 5 plane, a couple of medium backsaws, brace and bit, and eggbeater drill.  8″ tall may seem a bit excessive, but after piling in a tool roll, mallet, hammer, nails and other miscellany, the tool box would be quite full for my purposes.  And don’t forget, it loses 5/8″ or so of height due to the lid being inset.

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That’s my “new” No. 5.  It has quickly become my favorite plane.

Cards on the table, I’m pretty sick of dovetails and their finger joint cousins.  The design calls for recesses at the ends will house the wooden handles.  So this was a perfect application for dadoes and nails.  A tightly-fitting housing joint can be just as satisfying as their interlocking counterparts.  And the tactile feeling of cross-grain shavings from a freshly-sharpened router plane is divine.

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Glamour shot of the joint after glue and nails.

Each joint, which was fit to require hammer persuasion, gets glued and secured with die forged nails from Rivierre.  I took great care to properly size the end grain during the glue up.  Taken together, the tight joint, the careful glue-up and the reinforcing nails form a very strong joint that will hold up to any wear and tear this box will likely see.  And it’s pretty from the outside.

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I keep track of french marks to steam out before finishing.

I don’t have any 1″ mahogany scraps and didn’t feel like laminating any, so I instead used Eastern White Pine for the wooden handles.  There is a slight bevel on the underside of each, which helps get a firm grip.

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Just a couple of degrees, for comfort.

The case ends were somehow slightly proud of the handles, so I shot them down to flush.  It was awkward on the shooting board and uncomfortable to hold the plane.  I still have the bruise on my palm from the wing of the plane sole.  Never again.

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The crochet is perfect for final fettling.

More on it next week, but I have since attached the case battens and prepared the lid and lid battens.  It’s unclear to me what to use for the bottom boards.  I can certainly resaw some 1/4″ mahogany.

But that starts to feel like actual work.

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Harlequin Baby

Warning: DO NOT image search the namesake of this blog post.

For a while now, I’ve been rehabilitating a Type 15 Stanley No. 5 smooth bottom bench plane. After a couple of hours of work, it’s as pretty as I’m going to make it.

Other than my Veritas scrub plane, there are officially no modern bench planes in my tool chest anymore.  I really like the lighter weight of the antique planes (as compared to their modern counterparts).  If one of the modern makers made new versions of these lighter planes to the precision specs they do for their Bedrock copies, I would be all over it.

Even after scrubbing, there is some of the patina on the sides.

This No. 5 is intended to be a worker and, suffice to say, it’s a bit of a harlequin. The sole and frog are original. As is the cap iron. The blade, however, is salvaged from my Type 17 Stanley No. 4 smoothing plane (which now has a Veritas replacement blade and is my main smoothing plane).

It’s not a pretty grind, but the frog is perfectly flat.  And it’s a bedrock frog!

The lever cap (seen above) is scrounged from another Stanley No. 4 (a Type 10, I think). The lever cap that goes with this Type 15 exists, I just haven’t cleaned it up yet.  It has a chip at one corner so I’m in no rush to expend that much elbow grease.

The knob and tote are replacements as well. I source wooden replacement parts for planes from Greg Droz.  He does a great job and his prices are very reasonable. They both fit first try without any fettling.

Honduran rosewood, which is beautiful enough for a worker.

The sole of the plane is in very good shape and didn’t take long to de-rust or flatten. This is a jack plane so I didn’t obsessed too much. In fact, I only took it to 80 grit (which, admittedly, had worn to probably 120 grit by the end) on the granite slab.  There is a very slight hollow around the mouth that can be seen below. If the spirit ever moves me, I may dress the sole a bit more. Maybe to 220 grit and perfectly square on the shooting side.

I’m pretty sure this plane was well-used before it came to me

But I now have no place in my tool chest for my well-loved WoodRiver bench planes (No. 4No. 4 1/2 and No. 5 1/2).  They have served me well but I’d be happy to part with the No. 4 for $100 and the No. 4 1/2 and No. 5 1/2 for $125 each.  UPDATE:  ALL THREE PLANES SOLD.

If interested, shoot me an email at theapartmentwoodworker@gmail.com and I can send pictures.  They are all in used but otherwise perfect condition.

This is the first of a few sets of extra tools that I plan to sell off.  I am not a tool collector, per se.  But I do have some extra tools, which are pretty much only good for cluttering the shop and procrastinating when it’s time to sharpen.

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