Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shorts, Scrubs, and blisters

I'm not sure what came over me the other night night. It was time to wind things down and head for bed. I went downstairs just to apply a coat of stain on some scraps of cherry. My staining efforts are part of an (apparently) never-ending quest to match the stain on some existing cabinets for a display case I'm making for my mother-in-law. That was all I was going to do, just a bit of staining.

Well, that's not entirely true. I've been thinking about making some boxes lately. I have some people I need to thank, and I've decided to get off my keister and make some boxes as gifts to thank them. So I admit I was thinking of finding a few pieces of lumber that might be suitable for making a couple of boxes.

That brings me to one of the things weighing on my conscience. I have a pile of 'shorts' I've accumulated over the last five or so years. Some came from a local cabinet shop when they offered me the chance to buy as many 'shorts' as would fit in the back of my Subaru station wagon for $25 (a wonderful bargain, but a story for a different post). Others came from a friend who was cleaning out his mother's basement. A few others came from pieces I've picked up here and there along the way. I thought this might be a chance to use a few of these shorts. That would be a good thing, as I've been intending to use them for a long time and am feeling increasing guilty for not taking otherwise wasted material and turning it into something.

It started out innocently enough. I pulled out two pieces of wood which had been glued together with dowels. It was a failed attempt. I'm not sure what went wrong since the glue-up took place sometime in the (possibly distant past), though by the looks of it the dowel pegs were too long. The two boards had a gap between them that varied from about 1/8th of an inch to about 1/4 of an inch. So, I took out my cheap backsaw and sawed the dowels in half. That left me with two pieces of wood with the nubs of dowels sticking out of them (some more, some less). I suspected the two boards were walnut but figured I'd make sure. I'm not very good at identifying wood species, but thanks to a lucky find of some wonderful walnut boards (another story for another post), I have a pretty good idea of what walnut looks like. Still, the boards could have been old cherry, or even something else.

The obvious solution was to plane the edges where the dowels were inserted. The dowels themselves were some kind of white wood, so those edges of the boards are waste for as deep as the dowels go. I got out a 'beater' chisel and knocked off the nubs of the dowels. Then I got out my 'scrub' plane. It's not really a scrub plane. It's a cheap #4 'frankenplane'.

I'm pretty sure the only two pieces of my frankenplane that came from the same original plane are the blade and the chip breaker. Everything else (except the knob and tote perhaps) appears to be from a different source. The frog is clearly from a different plane than the body, and will never mate to the body very well. The blade and chip breaker (and the nut joining them) appear to be matched, but they don't fit quite right to the frog and are probably not matched to it. The depth adjustment knob is clearly not right, as it has way too much play inside the "Y" adjusting lever. In other words, an abomination of a 'frankenplane'.

I tried tuning up this thing about a year ago and found that it's hopeless for any kind of real smoothing work. So, until I can afford to buy a scrub plane I've repurposed it for scrub planing. It's not a very good scrub plane, since the adjustment knob is mismatched with the "Y" adjusting lever, resulting in several rotations of play when backing off or tightening the knob. And because of that (and other inequities in the mating of various parts), it has a tendency to 'jump' it's adjustment by as much as a 32nd of an inch. For anyone who has used hand planes, you know how much havoc that can produce. I haven't (yet) injured myself when it decides to jump, but I hope I get the funds to buy a scrub plane before it happens, or I may suffer permanent disfigurement.

So, with my frankenplane in hand, I planed the ends of the now separated boards. Sure enough, they are walnut, as I'd suspected by looking at their dirty surfaces. The boards themselves aren't that large, and I will lose some material when I go to cut off the portions with dowels embedded in them. But still, I could make small boxes from them or combine them to make a somewhat larger box. They are highly figured pieces of wood, but I'm a glutton for, that is, I've been meaning to learn how to plane and scrape highly figured wood anyway.

I should leave well enough alone. But no, I'm suddenly all fired up and wondering if there are any other pieces of walnut amongst my 'shorts'. So, I pull out another piece.

After cinching it in the leg vise, I use my frankenplane to plane the edge. That one is also walnut. I'm really into it now and images of several walnut boxes are dancing in my head.I start pulling out piece after piece and plane the edge to identify it. Some are so light in weight and color they have to be something else. I identify what I'm pretty sure is a piece of Douglas Fur. Then another piece of walnut. I don't recall the exact order, but I'm finding walnut, fur, cherry, even a few pieces of what I suspect are mahogany.

An hour and a half later, I've pulled out every short from under the old workbench I use as a sharpening/fettling station and rough planed one edge trying to identify each species. For my effort I'm rewarded with ideas for a bunch of boxes and an interesting array of shavings on the floor.

But (there's always a 'but' it seems), I'm also 'rewarded' with a blister on each hand. I rubbed a blister on the outside edge of my left pinky while planing left-handed and on my right index finger while planing right-handed. So now I know that my 'scrub' plane's tote is too small for me to grip it with my full hand. I have to ride my pinky on the side of the plane to avoid wearing a blister. And now I know better than to brace the edge of my index finger against the casting where it rises up to hold the frog. But blisters heal quickly enough, and I learned a few things about planing technique.

Now to finish the display case for my mother-in-law and build the wardrobe in our laundry room. Then I can build some boxes.

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