Removing rust – Vinegar and saw blades

Last year I picked up a Sandvik saw from the front yard of one of my neighbours. I was just going to harvest the bolts from the handle. When I looked at it the other day I realized it was quite a good saw. It’s missing a bolt, but it has the cool scrolling serpents on the handle. Likely it was once a Sandvik No.277, 26″ (12 PPI/11 TPI) saw. But the markings on the saw are all but gone, largely because they are not etched, but screened on. There is nothing really remarkable about these saws, largely because there are so many of them out there – but the Swedish steel is good.

Here’s what the marking should look like on my saw.

Now the saw blade had a good amount of rust on it, and the conundrum with saw blades is how to remove the rust? Rust on a blade can make for a very dirty cut, and a saw that tends to stick in the kerf. Not good. It doesn’t matter the quality of the steel if the tool doesn’t actually work. Now a traditional route for removing saw blade rust is various grits of wet-and-dry sandpaper (silicon carbide), and some form of oil-based lubricant. Not exactly green though, and I don’t use stuff like WD40 unless I have to. Evapo-Rust is good, but frankly it isn’t exactly cheap, and things like saw blades need a fair amount of coverage. What is the cheapest, easiest way of doing this? Vinegar.

The saw blade showing the rust (part of it was removed already because I tried using a bag to hold the vinegar and saw)

Part of the problem with saw blades is inherently their awkward shape. The best option would be a long (plastic) tray to lay the blade in, like a boot tray perhaps? An alternative is a plastic bubble-mailer cut open and turned into a trough. Remove the handle, place in a tray, add vinegar, and leave the blade to soak for 6-8 hours. The vinegar does its job, stripping the rust, and leaving a smooth gray surface. I found that generally the rust and any other contaminants on the blade end up as coagulated sediment in the liquid. After taking the blade out of the vinegar, you can neutralize it with some baking soda.

Bubbles forming on the surface shows the rust removal is in progress.

The downside? It stripped away what remained of the markings. But there are limitations to every treatment. It also leaves a layer of black (Ferric) acetate on the blade, which is quite messy to remove, but a scrub with a scouring pad under water will wash away most of it (I would wear gloves, because the acetate is kind of messy). I have also use Barkeepers Friend to scrub the acetate off (careful to scrub it off quickly, as it too is acidic). The blade can then be finished with some 400 grit silicon carbide paper to provide some sheen, and then waxed to prevent further corrosion (I use Veritas Tool Wax). There is little point to shining saw blades to a pristine condition, as old saw blades will likely never achieve this, and frankly who cares, if they are to be used.

The end of the process, showing the rust debris lifting from the blade, and the black acetate colour of the blade.

Vinegar is cheap, biodegradable, and easy to use. It’s not instantaneous, but it does work. The vinegar I use is plain old grocery store vinegar at 5% acidity. You can also use cleaning vinegar, which is circa 12% acidity, but I don’t know if it works quicker or more aggressively. Some info on the web adds salt to the mix – salt (NaCl) + vinegar (acetic acid) produces HCl, which is a stronger acid, but frankly it isn’t warranted, and isn’t exactly safe.

The blade after cleaning, and waxing.

If you want to check out what happens to a bunch of tools left in a bucket of vinegar for 19 months, check out this post Vinegar rust removal, 19 months later.

Don’t mess with historic aesthetics

I live in a semi-detached house in Toronto that was built in 1926, so it is now 94 years old. We have lived in this house for nearly 20 of those years, but by no means could the house be considered “historic”. At least not in the same sense as historic houses in Europe. When I was a small child my grandmother lived in a house in Gstaad, Switzerland that was 300-400 years old. But still, there is a sense of “oldness” about these houses, built at a time shortly after the First World War, as “working-man’s” houses – like so many strewn across the city. There is a sense of historical context with these houses – old houses in Toronto are one of the few things that have endured. So many of the old historic, and architecturally significant buildings have disappeared over the years, replaced with “modernity”, and all the fleetingness it entails.

So when one renovates these old houses, it should be done with a sense of reverence for its past. Not necessarily for the design of the inside, because interior design invariably changes. Few would want a fully restored 1930s kitchen or bathroom I would imagine, nor a coal fired furnace. But there has to be some respect for the aesthetic appeal of the outside of the building. Too many people of course disregard this. They add extensions where they should not be, or drastically change the look of the building – things that change the character of the house, and invariably the neighbourhood. Walling in porches leads to a reduced interaction with neighbours, and on a semi-detached a sense of asymmetry. Poorly thought out extensions robs neighbours of winter sunlight.

A 1920s era “working class” stained glass window

I’m not talking materials of course – modern building materials are often great. Who wouldn’t replace asphalt tiles with more sustainable metal (wooden shingles are not anything like they were in the 1920s). Siding? Sure as long as its tasteful. Sometimes it is the small details that harken back to the historic aesthetic the house was designed with. Wooden porch railings, stained glass windows, detailed trim – modernized, but with an m, not an M. It has to do with architectural integrity. There is nothing wrong with modern houses, but they must be well designed, and in the right environment. There are also some design aspects of houses like semi-detached that have to be retained. Many people have moved towards complete open concept on the main floor, but done poorly (i.e. without the use of proper sound absorbing materials, or furnishings) this effectively turns the entire floor into an amplification chamber. Rooms are separated for a reason, unless designed as open concept. Semi-detached houses were never designed as such.

The window after stripping paint, replacing trim, painting, and adding an aluminum apron on the brick sill.

Here is a case in point. All the windows in my house are updated, except two – the two stained glass windows which sit either side of the fireplace. The frames are wooden, and the glass, well it’s just stained glass, R-value basically zero. But to enclose them in a vinyl window, or remove them would be to strip the house of part of its historic aesthetic. Instead, I decided to restore them, by stripping off the old paint, replacing rotted trim, caulking them, and adding an aluminum apron on the brick sill (old bricks can be porous, and this prevents issues of water pooling. In winter they are covered with a 2″ foam insulation cover, and in summer I will add a storm window over them. All it takes is a bit of effort to keep these things in good condition.

Pictures of English joiners workshops

Paintings are a good way of depicting life before the advent of photography, although historical artwork often takes some latitudes when it comes to real image content. There are a couple of examples of English woodworking shops from the early 19th century which are of interest.

The first, is a classic painting (oil on canvas) from 1816, is often used to illustrate an English joiners shop in the early 1800s. The painting is by George Forster, and is titled “English Joiners at work“. It depicts a joiners shop, in which objects like picture frames, and doors are being constructed. The bench is what we now call the Nicholson bench, described in Peter Nicholson’s book, Mechanical Exercises published in 1812. There are a lot of versions of this painting (mostly on pinterest), but very little historical information. What is interesting is that a search finds two artists of that name, both born in Germany, but living in periods outside when the painting was made: Georg Forster (1817-1896) later immigrated to America, and Georg Forster (1754-1794). Who was George Forster?

English Joiners (1816)

The bench is what we now call the Nicholson bench, described in Peter Nicholson’s book, Mechanical Exercises published in 1812. The painting contains a number of classic British woodworking tools – handsaws, wooden planes, and even a bowsaw.

The second painting is “Interior of the Carpenter’s Shop at Forty Hill, Enfield“, painted by John Hill (1780–1841), and exhibited in 1813. The workshop is likely that of John Hill himself, or that of his father, who were both carpenters. It seems as though the workshop has a nice vista, but the “window” in the background is actually a painting, likely for which a frame is being built.

Interior of the Carpenter’s Shop at Forty Hill, Enfield (before 1813)

P.S. Paintings like this are a good example of how hard it is to find information on the internet about the provenance of things, or why they were created.

Book review: Leonard Bailey and his Woodworking Planes

This is review of a book, Leonard Bailey and his Woodworking Planes: An Unrecognized Genius of the American Industrial Revolution, by Paul Van Pernis, and John G. Wells (2019).

I bought this book on a whim. It looked intriguing, and so it ended up in my Amazon cart. I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a wealth of information on a topic that seems to have been somewhat ignored. Leonard Bailey was truly an unrecognized genius. Although his name is plastered on many a Stanley plane, his patents, and the technology which they represent were pivotal to the evolution of tools, especially metal planes.

The book portrays Bailey’s life through the timeline of his successes and failures. From the beginnings of his inventing in 1852 in Winchester MA, to his years at Stanley Rule & Level Company (1869-1874), and ending in 1884 when he sold his Victor Tool business to Stanley (although he did not stop inventing). It seems to be a work of passion for its authors. Van Pernis is an expert on Bailey, and a tool collector, and Wells had the most comprehensive collection of Patented American Metallic Planes in the US. This means that the book contains a wealth of information about Bailey’s inventions and patents, and photographs of planes which you may not find anywhere else. Below are a couple of sample pages.

The book is part technical, part story. One can skim over the more technical details related to patents and the like, and get a sense of Bailey’s life, the decisions he made, and his struggles with Stanley. Bailey was foremost an inventor, and although he tried to turn his tools into companies many times, he was never really successful. Bailey was a pivotal identity during the American industrial revolution, and some of his core designs are still in use today. It also provides an exceptional insight into some of the details of his tools, like the Victor line of planes. This is one of the few books which provides any sort of insight into Leonard Bailey, showing that he was more than just someone who worked for Stanley.

My only gripe with the book? For US$37 (C$60), I think it likely could have been printed on nicer paper.

Picture of a German workshop circa 1900

This depiction of a German workshop, “Tischler” (joiner), is from a series known as “Meinholds HandwerkerBild für Anschauungsunterricht und Heimatskunde”. This is No.2 of a series of 12 lithographs depicting various trades, for use in school lessons. It was printed by C.C. Meinhold & Söhne of Dresden, Germany around the turn of the 20th century. The artist was Felix Elssner (1866-1945), and published with the assistance of Mr. Geh. Schulrat Grüllich, and Prof. Thieme.

No.2 Tischler (scanned from postcard)

The pictures, 65×91cm in size, were produced in varied forms for the classroom, including on cardboard, and on canvas with sticks (to hang on the wall). There was also a “Werkzeugtafeln“, which accompanied the trade pictures, which depicted the “tools of the trade”.

The series is most often found in German and Swiss antiquarian sellers, both as a print, or also printed on postcards. The picture is often used to illustrate a classic woodworking shop, as in Scott Landis’s book, “The Workbench Book“. The twelve trades people in the series are: 1. Schmiede (blacksmith); 2. Tischler/Schreiner (carpenter); 3. Schuhmacher (shoemaker); 4. Schneider (tailor); 5. Bäcker (baker); 6. Töpfer (potter); 7. Klempner (plumber); 8. Böttcher (cooper); 9. Maurer (bricklayer); 10. Weber (weaver); 11. Flussfischer (fisherman); and 12. Sattler (saddler).

There are some notable aspects of the picture. The saws used by the joiners are all frame saws, British style saws were not common in Europe. The wide bladed saws are actually quite adept at re-sawing. The planes are traditional German-style planes with the smaller smoothing type planes having the “horn” handle in the front. Even during this period, as the British and North American joiners transitioned to using more metal planes, German woodworkers still used wooden planes (and still do). All the clamps are wooden, which seems odd considering the modern propensity to use metal clamps. The workbenches themselves are of the classic German design, with most tools stored below the bench.

Some of this information came from “Schulwart-Katalog : Ein Lehr- und Lernmittel Verzeichnis“, which is basically a catalog of school supplies from 1914 (and the range of things available is pretty amazing). NB: This picture is sometimes attributed as a Swedish workshop, but this is not the case.

My thoughts on Ipe

Ipe, or rather Ipé, is a tropical hardwood also known as Brazilian walnut. My first foray into using Ipe was when I decided to replace the cedar deck (it was recycled into fences etc). I bought some around 2005, and I guess, at a time it was not that common. I installed the 1″ by 6″ (nominal) sized boards. I drilled and countersunk the holes, and secured it with stainless steel screws. It was a thing of wonder – hard, strong, and intrinsically beautiful. I installed it on my (covered) porch as well, and included railings and the like there. I thought it would be relatively maintenance free… well, that’s what I thought.

My Ipe deck wall (freshly coated in Penofin)

For a few years it was fine. I think I put some sort of coating on the deck, but to be honest I can’t remember it too clearly, likely Cabot’s Timber Oil (due to the lack of other products at the time). After a while, maintaining the “look” became an issue, and it didn’t really hold up the the winters, so I replaced it with aluminum. Here are my thoughts on Ipe.

  • If you live anywhere with a good amount of rain, and/or snow (i.e. anywhere that isn’t the dry south-western climate), Ipe and similarly exotic woods are not maintenance free. Ice strips all finishes off. The deck greyed very quickly, the porch still looks great with maintenance coats every few years. So covered Ipe will maintain its finish nicely.
  • Working with Ipe will eat the edges on your tools, due in part to its density. Choose good quality (carbide-tipped) bits for drilling, and blades for cutting. Ipe and its brethren woods are hard on tools – consider that Ipe has a Janka hardness value of 3684, eastern red cedar on the other hand is only 900.
  • If you have to use glue, G-2 Epoxy, polyurethane glues, and PVA Type III work well, but gluing won’t work as well as with softer, less dense woods. Experimentation is key, depending on application.
  • Ipe is strong, e.g. it can span great distances at high strength. It is resistant to insects, decay, and even fire. It’s no coincidence it has the same fire rating as concrete.
  • Ipe is extremely good for vertical surfaces.
  • Ipe when used for horizontal surfaces should be nominal 5/4″ in thickness (in my humble opinion). I use it on the front steps of my house, and it holds up really well.
  • Ipe can take a lot of abuse. You can wash it with the sharpest setting on a pressure washer, and it won’t harm it. In fact if the Ipe has an old coating, it often strips it off no problem, and does not chew up the wood.
Aged Ipe before (dark region) and after (light region) power washing.
  • Ipe can be sanded, but a word of caution here. Not just any sander will work. If you are going to sand a lot of Ipe, invest in a Festool Rotex sander – it has two settings, eccentric motion and rotary motion. The rotary setting will eat off any finish – quickly. It does leave some markings, but hey, it’s not fine furniture.
  • Ipe without a coating will grey over time. It is not hard to recover the colour, but it does take effort.
Sanded (top board), and subsequently coated with Penofin (bottom board)
  • Coatings should be used that penetrate the wood. Natural oils help keep it good looking, and stop cracks from developing (most noticeable in 1″ stock, near the board ends).
  • For vertical surfaces, using a coating from Penofin. It works on horizontal surfaces too, but vertical surfaces will hold up better due to the lack of traffic. The best of coatings don’t last long on horizontal surfaces.
  • With hidden deck fasteners for Ipe, there is no need to actually drill and countersink the boards. Find one that works for you (some 5/4″ boards come pre-grooved to fit fasteners).
One coat of Penofin on a vertical versus horizontal Ipe surface

Ipe is an exceptional wood for building things outside, and it is appearing more and more on city park structures in Toronto, largely because of its longevity. Often for seating structures, they are using 2″×4″ Ipe, which is extremely strong, and I imagine graffiti can be power-washed off more easily than on other surfaces.

The other thing to consider with Ipe is its source. As its a tropical hardwood, sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the wood has been sustainably harvested. There are more sustainable woods to use, and I imagine, given its long-term resistance to decay that eventually there will be a market for used timber… and hopefully we won’t push Ipe the way of the giant redwoods.

A fun approach to woodworking postures

I found these neat posters while doing some research on a woodworking picture. They are from the Sörmlands Museum in Sweden, and depict different foot stances and postures for woodworking at a bench. It’s amazing how much incredible detail can be garnered by a simple image.

woodworking postures
The posture for planing at a bench

Source : “SLM 30158 4 – School poster” Walking standing position at planing (VIII) “, 1894,” Sörmlands Museum, retrieved 13 September 2020,

An overview of track/rail square options

I have had a Festool TS-55 EQ track-saw for years now. For those who live in small houses in the “downtown” core of a city, there isn’t much room for large workshops, let alone stationary table saws. Half my machinery sits in the shed and gets pulled out to the back patio when I need to use it (i.e. not in winter). The Bosch portable table saw I have is good for some things, but breaking down sheet goods is not one of them, and accuracy… well it’s not exactly always to the level I need it to be.

The Festool TS-55 on the other hand does an optimal job in any situation, from cutting 4×8 panels of Baltic birch to the finest of cabinetry cutting. Of course cutting with a track saw assumes that the plywood panels are square – something one hopes for but isn’t always reality. It would be easier with some sort of device to square off the track. Enter the 3rd party track or rail squares. Now Festool does not exactly condone the use of non-Festool accessories, but really it’s not like these devices modify a tool per se.

(Clockwise from top-left) FC Tools, Benchdogs, Woodpeckers, Insta-Rail, GRS, Taiga

Below I have outlined most of the track/rail square options available, which I investigated prior to making a choice. For each saw I outlined its country of manufacture, price, and tracks it adapts to. Options for tracks include Makita (M), Festool (F), Triton (T), Dewalt (D), and Bosch/Mafell (B).

  • Insta-Rail-Square Track Saw Square – Available in two forms, the original and the XL. I have found this at Atlas Machinery and to be honest I have not been able to find out who manufactures it. (Canada: M/F, C$169)
  • GRS-16 PE Guide Rail Square – The “original” guide rail square, manufactured by TSO Products. Available in two forms: the standard GRS-16, and the parallel edge guide. Is compatible with MFT/3, and extendable with the TSO Parallel Guide System (USA: M/F/T, C$215-245)
  • Woodpeckers Adjustable Track Square – Multiple angles up to 60 degrees. (USA: M/F/T, US$269)
  • TaigaTools Precsision Rail Square – Anodized aluminum, triple-locking mechanism, does not use a latch. (Finland: B, M/F/T, €167)
  • Quick Square – Made of high strength plastic, this is the most inexpensive square with the simplest design. (USA?: M/F/T, C$69)
  • FC Tools Rail Square – Single-sided devices for three rail systems, and a hybrid double-sided device. Works with MFT. (Scotland, UK: D, B, F/M/T, £185-205)
  • Benchdogs Rail Square – Independent devices for three rail systems. Other exceptional Festool accessories. (UK: D, B, F/M/T, £110-199)
  • Festool Accessory Kit FS-SYS/2 – Festool’s entry into this category allows for cutting a variety of angles. (Germany: F, C$341)

All of these seem to be constructed of CNC machined aluminum. The thicker the better in my point of view, as it allows for better registration along the edge. It would be great to do a comparison of these squares, but it’s not something that’s in my budget… maybe Fine Woodworking Magazine will take up the cause. There are a bunch of reviews of individual squares, for example here is a good review of the GRS-16. I ended up buying the GRS-16 PE, from Lee Valley the day after it showed up on the website. I’ll write a review on it once I’ve got out and tested it.

Note there has been some controversy in Festool forums about the Insta-Rail, and issues with intellectual property, largely because of how closely it resembles the GRS products. The lack of manufacturers website is a major problem – Canadian made is pointless if we don’t know by who. In the UK, there is also a square from Palette Tools (you can find it on eBay).

Note, if you are doing a *lot* of these cuts, like on a job site, a better alternative might be the Festool HK 55 EQ-F-Plus-FSK.

10 years with the aluminum deck

One of the first posts I ever did on this blog was related to the aluminum deck in my backyard. The deck is about 10 years old now, so I thought it would be good for a quick update. While many things around the deck has been modified over the past 10 years, I haven’t done that much with the deck itself. For those who are interested, I used a product called LockDry, manufactured in the US. It is easy to install, easy to maintain, and looks incredibly good. If you install it yourself, it isn’t really that costly, and if you factor in the time and energy put into maintaining a normal deck, it is a minimal difference.

The corner of the deck.

So what do I like about this deck surfacing?

  1. The space under the deck is dry. So apart from low-maintenance, I wanted the underneath of the deck dry. Having it dry keeps water away from the basement wall, and means you can store stuff underneath (which I don’t do because of critters). After 10 years the space underneath is completely dry. No leaks, no nothing.
  2. The deck looks good. This deck always looks good, even in winter. All it takes is a cleaning at the start of spring, and it is good the whole summer.
  3. It is easy to clean. I clean this deck once or twice a year. Typically early spring, and maybe once later in the summer (just to keep it super nice). Typically the first cleaning of the year involves power-washing, and scrubbing with a brush, and dish soap. There may be some stubborn stains, typically from rotting leaves which the dish soap will not remove – this year I started using “Bar Keeper’s Friend Spray and Foam Cleaner“, which does an excellent job.
  4. It doesn’t rot. Wood is sustainable, but honestly when boards are laid on a horizontal surface, water pools atop it, and eventually something rots, or mould forms. Sometimes it is the ends of the boards, or where they sit on the joists beneath. Wood only has certain lifespan in this context. Woods like IPE will last longer, but they come with their own issues (see my next post). Plastic and hybrid decking doesn’t rot, but usually don’t provide for a dry deck underneath (and unless it uses recycled plastic, do we really need more of this stuff?).
  5. It doesn’t need staining. To maintain a wooden deck it needs to be stained/coated with some sort of protective coating. Sometimes these are complex formulations, sometimes a blend of natural oils. Regardless of the coating, they nearly always fail, and by that I mean they don’t last long, and have to be reapplied. They last even a shorter period in northern climes (these products work better long-term in places like Arizona where there is very little moisture, and no snow). Over the 10 years of this deck, I haven’t spent a cent on refinishing.
  6. It doesn’t stain. I have had a bunch of things spilled on it over the years – nothing stains it.
  7. Aluminum is sustainable. A deck made of aluminum should last a *long* time – likely 30-50 years (probably more, considering it takes 80-200 years for an aluminum can to decompose in a landfill!). Aluminum reserves are estimated at centuries, and it is also incredibly recyclable – the process of recycling aluminium uses only 5% of the energy used to create primary aluminium from bauxite ore. When an aluminum deck is done it can be recycled (versus a wooden deck which is thrown in landfill).
  8. The deck is easy to maintain in winter. Using a plastic shovel, it is easy to push snow build-up off. I would not suggest using salt or any melting-product (on any deck, including wood decks).
LockDry has a unique way of interlocking the deck boards, so that any water that does penetrate between the boards runs off in the unique channel beneath.

Is there anything I don’t like? No. The unique interlocking feature of the boards, and the fact that it channels water away, means that the deck does need a slope to it, typically away from the house – so boards will be laid perpendicular to the house wall. The supplied screws are stainless steel, and colour-matched. After some time some of the colour on the screws will wear off in high-traffic areas, but frankly if that is the extent of what happens, who cares. The only place potential leaks can occur is where the boards abut the house. This can be simply caulked using silicon, or strengthened using a piece of ¾” angle aluminum – first I use some dabs of silicon to seat the angle on, then caulk the top and bottom. Likely overkill, but it stops any chance of drips.

The edge of the deck.

Noise-wise? When it rains heavily, there is some noise, otherwise I don’t find it bothersome. Heat? When it’s really hot on a summer’s day, the aluminum gets hot, but it is metal, and frankly I have been on wooden decks that get just as hot (Ipe does). The deck is designed in such a way that the baffles underneath do keep it cool on a normal day. There are small cracking noises on days where there is a great temperature change, as obviously the metal expands and contracts – and the odd squeak, as the wood underneath expands and contracts (or shrinks if you’re building new).

A 16th Century Dutch workbench

I first noticed this interesting bench in a picture on the cover of Four Centuries of Dutch Planes and Planemakers by Gerrit van der Sterre (2001). A little Googling found very little in the way of information, apart from a brief article by Peter Follansbee. But where did the picture come from? More research found that the image also appeared on another book, Guilds, Innovation and the European Economy, 1400–1800 edited by S.R.Epstein, and Maarten Prak. It took a while, and some Googling in Dutch to get this far. Then I emailed Maarten Prak to get some more insight on the picture.

The picture comes from a series of four panels comprising “De vier ambachten van het gilde der timmerlieden“, or “The four trades of the carpenters’ guild” – the ship’s carpenter, the carpenter, the joiner and the chair turner. The four panels are done in oil paint, and possibly by the artist Michiel Claesz in the period 1560-1570. It is housed in the Museum Gouda (Gouda), and was originally intended for the Goudse Jozefsgilde, the carpenters’ guild, which maintained an altar in the choir of the Sint-Janskerk.

The four trades of the carpenters’ guild – the joiner

The picture above shows a joiner planing a piece of lumber using a planing stop to hold the work in place. There are two similar benches in the picture. The front bench has three pairs of legs, all with holes to accommodate holdfasts of the type seen hanging on the rear wall. It appears only the leftmost end pair of legs have a stretcher, the others could of course have been omitted by the artist. The legs seem to be attached to the top by means of dovetails, which would certainly allow for a robust connection, possibly enhanced by the legs appearing to be slightly splayed. Having said that, there are stretcherless Shaker benches that are based on a similar structure, and many historical benches were indeed stretcherless.

(Edit: Eventually maybe I’ll make some scale models of these workbenches)