Using crappy material for furniture

I couple of years ago we bought an unholstered footstool from a vendor at “The One of a Kind” show in Toronto. It seemed very nice, but it wasn’t until later than I realized that the person building the footstool had skimped on the screw-on angled leg plates. They were thin, already had some surface rust, and were continuously wobbly because they only attach via three screw holes. So I decided I would upgrade them to the kind Lee Valley offers, tempered steel that is 0.067″ in thickness (4 for C$8.90).


Crappy hardware *and* crappy fake wood

So I tried fixing this, but soon realized that the material covering the underside of the footstool was covering up more than the wood… it was covering up a failed attempt at attaching some other leg plates – instead of 3 holes I found 7, which made attaching the new leg plates impossible. In addition the wood used is some crappy MDF-type material (i.e. not real wood). I mean you couldn’t spring for a nice ¾” ply? And use a round-head screw vs. a counter-sunk flat-head.

So I fixed the base by applying a ¼” ply sheet to the base, and then affixing  the leg plates. It’s stable and it works better. I really hate it when people skimp on a few $ and use cheap materials. I don’t mind paying for quality furniture, but not when what is hidden is clearly not quality.


Book review: Norwegian Wood

I recently finished reading “Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way“, by Lars Mytting. An unassuming book about the practical guide to chopping, stacking and burning wood the Norwegian way… and this makes it very special from the Canadian perspective. Canada has parts where the clime is similar to that of Norway, so there is a certain resonance in what Mytting describes. The book was first published in Norway in 2011 as Hel Ved, or Solid Wood, before being published in English.


Now some people may find a book solely about wood for fires to be quite strange. But Norwegians, and Scandinavians as a whole likely have a closer affinity to trees than the rest of us. Many people likely take trees for-granted, because they do not rely on them to keep them warm in winter anymore. Nor do they remember that trees absorb CO2 from the air, and release oxygen.

It is an edifying book, which I found very enjoyable to read. It goes through the entire process of chopping, drying, and chopping wood – when to fell trees, and which trees are best, how to dry wood, which tools to use, and the efficiency of Scandinavian wood stoves. I learned how green heating using wood is from an environmental perspective. The best designed Norwegian and Danish stoves apparently release a mere 1.25 grams/kg  of atmospheric dust, and can use as much as 92% of the energy potential of the wood. If you want to learn more about wood as a clean, renewable energy source, then you must read this book.

Suffice to say you will learn enough to undertake the process of building your own woodpile, but be careful because the type of woodpile you build may reflect on the type of person you are. Scandinavian folklore says you can tell a lot about a person from their woodpile. For instance an upright and solid pile implies an “upright and solid person”. From choosing the best type of wood, to the tools used to transform it from tree to fuel, to the stove used to burn it – this book has it all. By the end I desperately wanted to go out and build a birch woodpile – the only problem being that we live in downtown Toronto, and we heat with gas. But more so, I  have a innate desire to go and plant a birch forest, something that is certainly in the cards if we ever decide to buy some rural property.


Block plane throat adjustment mechanisms (iii) – contemporary

In contemporary planes, such as those of Veritas and Lie Nielsen, there are no radical changes to throat adjustment mechanisms. Some Veritas block planes have stuck with the simplest mechanism akin to that used by Tower & Lyon – no lever, just manual adjustment via the knob. LN on the other hand, have maintained the eccentric lever of Stanley on their No.60½, except that it is made of brass.


Veritas (DX60) versus Lie Nielsen (No.60½)

More interesting is the fact that Veritas (on the DX60 and NX60) have enclosed the sled entirely within the toe of the plane, so there is no chance that the sled get caught on anything. The Veritas standard and low-angle block planes have the traditional projecting sled. The knob on both these planes is also almost streamlined with the toe of the plane.


Veritas (DX60) sole showing integral throat plate, and adjustable throat plate of the Veritas bevel-up jointer

More “radical” is that Veritas has adopted the throat adjustment lever to some of its bench planes. The picture above shows the adjustable throat plate Veritas bevel-up jointer plane.

Block plane throat adjustment mechanisms (ii) – varied

The first picture in Fig.1 below shows the front of a block plane by Tower & Lyon illustrating the simplest of mechanisms. Here the knob is loosened, and manually moved along an elongated slot to adjust the size of the planes throat. The Ohio Tool Co. also produced their own adjustment mechanism in the form of a tabbed lever. The lever included a pivot which is seated in a small inlet in the right side of the hole through the toe. When the knob is loosened, and the tabbed lever moves, it pivots about this point, moving the entire knob (and throat plate) backwards or forwards.


Fig 1: Tower & Lyon and Ohio Tool adjustment mechanisms

In the early 1900s, Sargent & Co. introduced their own adjustment mechanism in the form of a cammed adjuster (Patent No. 818,472, 1906). These cammed levers were unique to Sargent and hence help identify any clones produced by Sargent for other companies.


Fig 2: From Patent No.818472 showing cam mechanism

These cammed levers are often seen on Craftsman block planes, designating them manufactured by Sargent. The mechanism is comprised of (i) a mouthpiece which has two lugs, and an upward projecting machine screw; (ii) a disk with an eccentric cam on its underside, and finger pieces which project from the top; and (iii) a clamping finger nut. By loosening the nut, and moving the disk via the finger pieces, the cam interacts with the lugs on the mouthpiece, moving it forwards or backwards.


Fig 3: Sargent and Millers Falls

Millers Falls went a more traditional route and used the eccentric lever very similar to that of Stanley.

Block plane throat adjustment mechanisms (i)

Throat adjustment mechanisms consist of a “shoe” (or slide, or mouthpiece) which normally sits in a cavity under the plane toe, a finger knob, and some integral mechanism to facilitate adjustments to the width of the throat opening.


Adjustment mechanisms for regulating the width of the throat opening in planes had been around since approximately the 1860s, albeit in the form of intricate systems for wooden planes. Consider this patent from 1870, showing a throat adjustment mechanism. Here the metallic shoe is held in place by a vertical screw, and adjusted through the toe of the plane by means of a horizontal adjustment screw. This would likely have worked quite effectively.


Fig 1: Patent No.

In 1888 a patent was granted (No. 381,141) for a plane throat adjustment mechanism based on a sliding “T” shaped piece to adjust the throat of a corrugated sole bench plane. The earliest throat adjustment mechanisms for block planes consisted simply of a knob and throat adjustment shoe. The throat would be adjusted by loosening the knob and moving the shoe along a slotted screw hole.


Throat adjustment mechanism from patent No. 381,141

In 1894, Traut and Borner received a patent (No. 515,063) for what was to become Stanley’s core mechanism for adjusting the throats of block planes – the eccentric lever. This patent would morph into the actual mechanism found on planes. The earliest eccentric lever had two distinct features: a lever tab for the user to move the mouthpiece, and a pivoting post attached to the plane toe, behind the finger knob.


Throat adjustment mechanism from patent No. 515,063

In a Stanley catalog from 1898, both these features had changed: The lever tab had been turned down (except in planes where there was no room for this), and the pivot pin had been attached to the eccentric lever, such that the pin fits in a hole in the plane body. In many Stanley block plane patents after 1900, the lever tab shows in the turn-down position. In Catalogue No.14, all four of the “Bailey” adjustable block planes have the lever tab turned down, similarly the No. 65 and 65½. The No.60 and 60½ however, have the lever tab turned upwards.


Throat adjustment mechanism from patent No. 1,053,270 showing downturned lever (1913).

Two examples of planes with the pivoting post integral to the toe of the plane body are shown in Fig.1. The Siegley “No.18” has a unique integral post construction, more similar to the original Stanley patent. The No.S18 also has an integral pivoting post due to the thin nature of the material on the planes toe.


Fig.1: SiegleyNo.18, and No.S18

The next two photographs illustrate the pivoting post integral to the eccentric lever. Also shown is the eccentric lever tab shown turned downwards vs. upwards.


Fig.2: Stanley No.65½, and No.60½




Wood from old houses

Far too much old-growth lumber gets thrown-out when people do renovations. Many of these pieces of “construction” lumber more closely resemble a real 2″×4″, than anything produced now.

When we moved into our house, there was an old front door. It was 2″ thick, and I assumed made of solid oak. I was wrong of course, because likely that would have caused it to warped a lot more. We eventually replaced it, partially to improve the efficiency of the house, but mostly because over the intervening 70 years, the door had suffered from a myriad of offences, not least of which the original lock had been broken, and at some point a mail slot had been added. A while back a neighbour also replaced their door, so I managed to snag it as well.

What am I doing with them? Recycling them.The doors are made of a core of laminated pieces of some form of pine, which is covered by an inner veneer of some form of pine, and then a outer veneer of oak. So it looks like a solid oak door, but is what is termed a laminboard. This is common practice to create a more robust door. The inner core is made from some fairly old-growth pine, as shown below.


The door core

I also replaced the bedroom (and closet) doors. They were originally stained, or varnished, and had been painted a number of times. I had tried to strip the paint, but the doors were beyond saving. I salvaged some of the wood from them as well. What is interesting about these doors is how they were constructed. The core of the door stiles, and rails were composed of pine, and this was covered in front and back with a veneer, and on the edges with a banding which is dovetailed onto the core. The stiles and rails are connected using dowels. From a little research it seems as though the banding might be longleaf pine. One can identify pronounced resin in the growth rings, and a beautiful scent. I think most of the framing in my house, is likely longleaf pine, but I will try and identify it more definitively.


The door stile cores