Update on the Nest Protect – smoke/CO detector

In the spring I installed a second Nest Protect in the basement, just shortly before they were recalled for problems with the hand-waving to hush algorithm. Everything worked fine… until earlier this week. I bought a new dehumidifier and had it running in the middle of the basement to check it out. It’s a Frigidaire, and pushes the dehumidified air out through top of the machine. 15 minutes into running the machine, the Nest goes off… and not an advanced warning yellow, full blown RED status for smoke. It goes crazy, and I hush it – clearly there is no smoke, but I figure the slightly warm air from the dehumidifier has set the smoke alarm off. I took the dehumidifier outside and ran it there for a day, dehumidifying the city, *just* to make sure it worked okay. Okay, so I call up Nest and they say that’s how it is suppose to react, and I should move the Nest to the stairwell, due to the low (finished) basement height etc. So I did that – shortly after which it told me its batteries were low. Okay, so I bought new ones, but at C$15 for 4, Energizer Ultimate Lithium aren’t exactly cheap – C$25 to replace the batteries every time this thing has a hissy fit? Okay – all good, or SO ONE WOULD THINK. At 4am the following morning it alerts all the devices I have it hooked up to that the sensor has failed. After all this hassle, you can guess what’s happening to this puppy – it’s going back to Nest for a refund. Yes, I could have cleaned the sensor – but I shouldn’t have to go through the hassle – thats too low a maintainability factor.

I’m keeping the 120V version, because it seems to work okay – there is just too much technology and power consumption for the battery version to operate efficiently. Back to old-school smoke detectors. I am somewhat of a luddite when it comes to technology (and I do it for a living) – and I gave it a chance – but I don’t think the battery version is 100% consumer ready. Why does the voice and auditory alarm drain the battery so quickly… maybe the battery version doesn’t need voice? As for the Nest Thermostat – well I won’t be buying one of those either – not because I don’t think it’s a good product but because of one feature – it doesn’t allow me to switch off (on the thermostat) my air-conditioner in summer. I only run it when it’s really hot/humid and otherwise I prefer to have it turned off. When they add this ability, I’ll consider getting one. Sorry Nest.

What does #9½ mean?

Ever wonder where tool companies got the numbers they associated with planes from? Did they make them up? Where did the nomenclature of a No.9½ come from? Or 9¼ or 9¾ for that matter. The first “block” plane Stanley numbered, the #9, likely was given that number due to its development after the bench planes 1-8. Although technically a miter-type plane, the No.9 was actually 10″ in length. The 9½ was 6″ in length. So there doesn’t seem to be real rhyme nor rhythm for the numbering  scheme, other than the fact that it was sequential.

The Stanley No.9½ in the guise of the Excelsior block plane was introduced in 1873, at the same time as the No.9¾ Excelsior – which really only differed by having a Rosewood detachable rear handle. The No.15, appeared in 1876, being 1″ longer than the No.9½ – as did its sidekick, the No.15½ sporting the same detachable rear handle as the No.9¾. One would like to believe there was a pattern here, but that would imply a “whole” number for the core plane, and a ½ or ¾ appended for some improvement, be it a handle, or different finishing. The No.9¼ when introduced in 1947 had less features than the No.9½.

  • 9¼ (6″, 1-5/8″ blade) – adjustable mouth
  • 9½ (6″, 1¾” blade)
  • 9¾ (6″, 1¾” blade) + detachable rear handle

We see a similar situation with Stanley’s low-angle (12º) block planes, although here the indication of ½ implies a reduction in features (i.e. quality):

  • 60 (6″, 1½” blade, 1-3/8″ after 1914)  nickel plated trim
  • 60½ (6″, 1½” blade) – japanned trim
  • 61 (6″, 1-3/8″ blade) – adjustable mouth, + rosewood front knob

Another interesting group of block planes are the No.18’s. Whilst they used prefixes to denote a change in the material used to form the plane body, the No. 18¼ again signified a reduction in features:

  • 18 (6″, 1¾” blade, 1-5/8″ after 1909) knuckle-joint lever cap
  • A18 (6″, 1-5/8″ blade) aluminum version
  • S18 (6″, 1-5/8″ blade) pressed steel version
  • 18¼ (6″, 1-5/8″ blade) – adjustable mouth
  • 19 (7″, 1-5/8″ blade)

Leonard Bailey had a similar numbering system for his Victor series block plane (introduced in 1875), and there is somewhat of a progression in the schema (No.0 is the base model).

  • 0 (7″, 1¾” blade) japanned
  • 0½ (7″, 1¾” blade) + blade adjustment
  • 00 (7″, 1¾” blade) + nickel-plated
  • 000 (7″, 1¾” blade) + nickel-plated, blade adjustment

Bailey had a similar schema, where the No.1 is the base model).

  • 1 (6″, 1¾” blade) adjustable mouth, adjustable blade, polished
  • 1¼ (6″, 1¾” blade) + detachable rear handle
  • 1½ (6″, 1¾” blade) + detachable rear handle, nickel-plated
  • 1¾ (6″, 1¾” blade) + nickel-plated

NB: In the examples above, bold denotes a base model, a – denotes a feature lost (or downgrade in the case of finishing), and + denotes a feature gained, (or upgrade in the case of finishing).

What is interesting is how so many other manufacturers copied not only Stanley’s plane, but also their nomenclature, including the Ohio Tool Company. Holdouts include Sargent, whose block planes started at 1XX, and Millers Falls whose numbering seemed all over the place. For example, the MF No.9½ was actually a scrub-plane, the MF equivalent of the Stanley No.9½ was the No.16, and the MF equivalent of the Stanley No.15 was the No.17. Somewhat wacky, but maybe that was to make them stand-out as they were latecomers to the plane-making game (and their bench planes did not conform either). When it comes to numbering planes, maybe Sargent had the best approach – here’s an example of the Sargent No.306 and its derivatives (with reference to the Sargent catalog of 1910):

  • 306 (6″, 1-5/8″ blade) adjustable mouth, adjustable blade, polished trimmings
  • 1306 (6″, 1-5/8″ blade) + nickel-plated trimmings
  • 4306 (6″, 1-5/8″ blade) + knuckle-joint lever cap
  • 5306 (6″, 1-5/8″ blade) + knuckle-joint lever cap, nickel-plated trimmings

Numbering of block planes may seem like a trivial thing to think about, but it goes to show how a simple modification to a block plane sprouted a new number, and led to the profusion of block planes on offer. Why did manufacturers develop such a variety of different block planes? Would not have one or two done the same job? Stay tuned.


Les Rabots – a brief review of a French book on planes.

I recently had the chance to browse through an excellent book on planes – although browse is the operative word here – I can’t read French, and that’s the caveat with this particular book, it’s all in French. But if you can look beyond that, there is some exceptional information in this book. The book Les Rabots is written by Pierre Bouillot and Xavier Chatellard – rabot being the French word for plane.


The cover of the book “Les Rabots”

It is a seminal work, partially because of the breadth of information about European planes. There are some catalogs on European plane manufacturers floating around the place – but they are hard to come by. I blame two world wars for helping to decimate the amount of historical ephemera (and tools) that is left in Europe. The book starts with a discussion of classical planes with an emphasis on Roman planes, and goes on to discuss the plane-making industry, from a French perspective. We sometimes forget that Europeans were making wooden planes, and infill planes, by way of the Romans, way before Stanley introduced the metal planes in the 19th century. There is a breadth of information on the developments in French plane making in the 18th and 19th century, and an insight into some unusual plane designs.

There are four main sections in this 300+ page book:

  1. L’historie – the history and manufacture of planes, with a large section on French planes.
  2. La technique – ways of using the planes.
  3. La typologie – the topology of planes, e.g. metal planes.
  4. La collection – trademarks of plane makers.

Sample pages from L’historie and La typologie

Les Rabots also contains a large compendium of manufacturers trademarks, which concentrates on French plane makers, but also plane makers from all over Europe, and North America. The concentration is French plane-makers – but the major work done in planes, was likely concentrated on France and Germany.


Examples of the manufacturers trademarks.

The book contains in-depth information likely available no where else. There are sections on auxiliary planing devices such as shooting boards, and cut-away diagrams of various plane types, showing their typology.


Examples of plane cut-aways.

At $200 on Abebooks, it’s not going to be for everyone (it is available amazon.fr for €85), but the sort of information in this book, is likely unavailable anywhere else. It would be great to see an English translation sometime in the future.

A pineapple coring type gadget

Like I said before, occasionally tools from the kitchen make their way onto the blog. I’ll say it straight – I don’t particularly like “gadgets”, and I certainly don’t like kitchen gadgets. Do we really need a world full of strawberry hullers and banana slicers? But when someone buys you a gadget, I guess you just have to try it. The gadget in question is a pineapple corer. Coring a pineapple is not exactly hard with a serrated knife, but it is tedious – cutting out the eyelets, and removing the core. how does it work? After the top of the pineapple is cut off, the corer spirals down into the pineapple – made possible by an auger-like blade.


This achieves three things: (i) it separates the pineapple flesh from the skin; (ii) it cores the centre of the pineapple, and (iii) it spiral cuts the pineapple. The tool and pineapple can then be extracted, the handle removed, and the pineapple removed from the tool. How does it work? The result looks just like it came out of a can. You are left with a pineapple with the core and outer shell. There is likely some wastage on the outer shell, but this is offset by less wastage at the core.


Crazy prices for a coping saw

Sometimes when you browse eBay you can find some incredibly over-priced items. Recently there have been a rash of ads for Millers Falls No.42 coping saws. These ads just show how over-inflated the market is for some items. This Millers Falls No.42 coping saw is worth no-where near the first asking price of US299.98, let alone US399.99 or US$485.00. That and the item is hardly “rare” if three of them show up on an auction site. I bought three myself last year, and the most I paid was $25. *Maybe* if it were in pristine condition, still in its original box it would be scarce enough to warrant a price of $100-200. If you are a collector, you likely know better than to spend that much money on saws in “used” condition. If you’re buying it as a user – spend the money on a Knew Concepts coping saw instead. Rare does not always really mean rare, and just because a tool is stamped as patented in 1908 does *not* mean that’s when it was manufactured.


crazyMFsaw_eBay2 crazyMFsaw_eBay3

A list of contemporary planemakers

Here is a nice list of current and defunct planemakers. I included the defunct planemakers because sometimes there is a reference to them somewhere but little in the way of what they made.

Modern planemakers

Here is a list of current planemakers (not including Lee Valley or Lie-Nielsen).

For those interested in a prices, I put together a basic table of information. The information is directly from the websites, and the prices reflect the fact that these are hand-made items. Naturally there are also differences between wooden planes, and more complicated infill planes with dovetailed soles. This is by no means a definitive guide – and planemakers not on the list generally provide pricing per individual order.


Defunct planemakers

Over the years, some interesting planemakers have come into the market. What is surprising is how quickly they seemed to have disappeared into the ether. The tell-tale sign is always the website becoming in-accessible.

  • Shepherd Tool (2000-2006) – well known for its infill plane kits.
  • Gabardi & Sons (?-2011) – handmade infill planes.
  • Sturnella Tools (2013-2014) – infill smoothing plane castings.
  • Nice Ash Planes (2012-2014?) – nice wooden planes.
  • Knight Toolworks (? – 2012) – Krenov-style wooden plane kits.
  • DL Barrett & Sons – traditional wooden planes (bench and plough) (Canada) (website defunct as  of Jan 2016)

Note the trend amongst infill plane makers to end up closing up shop. It is probably due to the high cost in manufacturing these planes – or being overwhelmed with orders (which is also not so uncommon).

NB: If the website for a toolmaker no longer functions, I consider the company to be defunct – if it functions again at some later date, I will move the link.

The DowelMax jig (with musings on the Miller dowel system)

At the moment I have very little time for the actual woodworking I would like to do – partially due to the cabinetry I’m building for the basement, and renovations that have taken too many years to finish. Years ago when I drywalled the basement I left cavities in some of the walls in which to insert bookshelves. These are utilitarian bookshelves made of maple (5.5″ deep) – sturdy enough to hold paperbacks, DVD’s and probably all the planes in my workshop – they are somewhat overbuilt. Due to the fact that they are in the walls, making aesthetically pleasing joinery is not a problem – it won’t be seen. Like the walnut shelves I’m making in the bathroom – in inconspicuous places where joints are hidden, I don’t need dovetails, and I loath 45º mitres. So  five years ago when I was building the myriad of doors in my 6′ high basement I bought a DowelMax.


Fig 1: Shelves made using DowelMax

Miller Dowel System

Prior to the DowelMax, I bought the Miller Dowel System – which is a clever system which works well in certain applications. This system relies on stepped dowels and a hole drilled from the outside, i.e. the end of the dowel is exposed – and herein lies the caveat: as the dowels are shaped lengthwise with the grain (to increase their strength), when the dowel is inserted into the hole and trimmed flush (after allowing the glue to dry of course), the resulting “plug” is end-grain. This doesn’t present a problem in situations where the wood will be painted, or stained (or less noticeable in walnut), but in maple the dowel ends become quite prominent. I still use them, but in situations where showing the dowel end can be used aesthetically, or is hidden (e.g. by books). At C$8-14 for 40 small dowels (2 5/8″), they aren’t exactly cheap either.


Fig 2: The Miller dowel system

DowelMax – what’s in the box

The DowelMax kit I bought is pretty comprehensive (they don’t sell this particular kit anymore). The standard jig set-up shown in the left of Fig.3, works for 3/4″ boards – the spacers allow for boards of different thickness, e.g. add the 3/4″ spacer for a 1-1/2″ thick board (nominal 2″). The index pin allows for multiple holes along a boards length by moving the jig and setting the pin in the end collar. Similarly, the distance gauge can be used to maker larger spaces between holes. By modifying the position of the components on the jig, holes can be placed on the surface, or end of a board. The L-bracket allows for making dowel holes along the surface of a board in a T-type configuration, e.g. for shelves. All the parts are precision engineered, and after five years of use show little in the way of wear.


Fig 3: DowelMax bits and pieces

DowelMax – how well does it work?

I use my DowelMax to do butt-joints. In utilitarian cabinet making, not much else is needed. Yeah I love dovetails too – but they take time, and in instances where the joint is not visible, does it really matter? So number one use – joints where I won’t see the joint, or where the joint is nice enough that it doesn’t matter – corners, shelves, and attaching frame trim to cabinets. If you have 45º mitre joints on boards that are wide enough, they work well there too. I also use it to make wider boards by joining them on the long side.


Fig 4: The DowelMax in use.

The jig can be reconfigured to multiple arrangements to deal with boards ends/edges or faces (Fig.5).


Fig 5: Setups for end/edge and face dowelling

It is also possible to use the L-bracket to create T-type joints (Fig.6), for example for bookshelves.


Fig 6: L-bracket and index pin

So how well does it work? Incredibly well – as long as, likely any other type of joinery, the joints are well aligned. My one quibble? – It would be nice to have some sort of removable “stop” or tab on the end of the main jig block to make registration of the face of the jig block with the wood face easier (similar to the one on the Viel jig or Joint Genie maybe?). Amazingly, earlier prototypes actually had end stops, but they were removed because they were deemed unnecessary.

Fig 7: The Viel jig

When using the L-bracket to make holes for T-type joint such as a shelf, it can be somewhat challenging to align the jig accurately – and it requires a line 1/8″ below the actual position of the shelf to position the jig (see Fig.8). Also nice would be an improved L-bracket that would register the jig at 90º perpendicular to the edge, *and* clamp it would make this a much easier task.


Fig 8: Using the L-bracket

I have used the jig to build shelves, doors for my basement, window sill/box for the windows in the basement (they are 12″ deep), and book doors (i.e. bookshelves that function as doors to closets). I’ve never had issues with it apart from the odd misalignment, which isn’t the end of the world.

The dowels and drill bits

I tend to use the expansible dowel pins sold by Lee Valley and manufactured by JustJoinery, known as “The Pin With a Memory”. The drill bit that comes with the 3/8″ system works extremely well, allowing the pins to be test-fitted (the drill is actually 9.7mm). Recently I decided to augment the system by having one drill bit for the 1½” dowels and another for the 1″ dowels – this is way easier than changing the stop-collar. In cases where a butt joint is made of a ¾” stock, then I tend to use 1½” dowels, with ½” set in the side of the board, and 1″ set in the end of the board.


Fig 9: Dowels and drills

I bought a 3/8″ HSS brad point drill from Lee valley and a set of stop-collars. This drill is marginally smaller than the one supplied with the DowelMax, and so makes it more challenging to remove dowels after test-fitting. This drill is actually the equivalent of 9.525mm, hence the tighter fit. Dowel holes should also be slightly longer than is needed. However on the up-side, the brad-point makes it easier to drill in end-grain. Fig.10 shows four dowel-pins in a 6″ board, and a cross-section through a dowel-pin used to edge-join two boards.


Fig 10: The dowel pins

Don’t use too much glue – it will squeeze out of the spirals.

How strong are the dowels?

A number of studies have looked at the strength of the DowelMax joints in comparison to other joints – and the strength of the joints made using DowelMax are better than many systems. Here is a link to the testing on the DowelMax website. Issue 219 of the British magazine Furniture and Cabinet Maker also has an analysis of six joint types. Here are the results with respect to the PSI value where the joint failed.

Biscuit 180
Domino 400
Mortise and tenon 420
Pocket hole 280
Zeta P2 system 180
Dowelmax dowel system 680

Final thoughts

Overall it’s a great jig, however there are now competitors in the market place that offer more in the way of functionality – they require the use of external clamps, but offer more in the way of alignment. The DowelMax is expensive – but consider the time involved in doing it any other way. You could pay more for a Festool Domino, but unless you have a cabinet shop, it may not be worth the investment. Sadly, the DowelMax is no longer made in Canada (and there is a long thread discussing this on the Canadian Woodworking forums if you are interested). The standard kit is now US$249 – I paid C$325, which included the L-bracket (now US$15), and a ¼” spacer (now replaced by 1/8″ spacers at US$8.50 a piece).

What about the JessEm? Well, I have been thinking about a ¼” / ½” dowelling assembly, so I might just get one of these to try out as well sometime in the future. They also have a cool looking Mortise Mill.


Split-depth collars for drills (imperial) – Lee Valley
Expansible dowels – Lee Valley (3/8″ x 1-1/2″ – C$6.90 for 100). These are the ones for the 9.7mm drills. You can also buy them direct from JustJoinery. They sell the same set for C$5.80, but also sell them in sets of 1000 for C$53.90 (they sell the standard 3/8″ dowels as well). There is somewhat more selection at the JustJoinery site, as they also sell 3/8″ dowels 1-1/4″ and 3″ in length. Also if you are looking for beefier dowels, they have them in 1/2″ and 5/8″ diameters. (The JessEm handles 1/2″ dowels).