Thursday, February 24, 2022

A Shoemaker's Shave

A few years ago while perusing some of Curtis Buchanan's Windsor chair videos, I saw him using a small, tightly curved spokeshave to smooth out a carved seat (see here and here).  He called it a shoemaker's heel shave and I've been intrigued by it since then, especially because I've had zero luck finding a scorp in the wild.

I found a similar tool recently from a tool dealer.  According to the write-up, iwas originally made to shape shoe "lasts".  Of course, I had to look up what a shoe last is.  From Wikipedia, " A last is a mechanical form shaped like a human foot.  It is used by shoemakers and cordwainers in the manufacture and repair of shoes" (now, what's a cordwainer?).

Top view

View of the bottom

The curvature

The shave's body is 
9 1/8" long and the 2" wide iron is curved with about a 2 1/2" radius.  Aside from the 6 screws, there are only three parts: the body, the iron and the brass wear plate.

Exploded view (after some clean-up)

The following picture shows some details of how it goes together and works.  It also shows the condition it was in when I got it.

How it works

Two screws (red arrows) extend through slotted holes in the body and thread into the brass wear plate, making the wear plate's location adjustable front to back.  Two screws (blue arrows) hold the iron to the shave body.  These screws go through slots in the body, making the iron adjustable vertically.  The two screws shown with yellow arrows limit the vertical adjustability of the iron.  They essentially adjust the depth to which the iron and blue-arrow screws can be tightened in their slots.

The only marking of a maker on the tool is at one end of the brass plate - A. E. Johnson.  I could find zero information about this company.  At the other end of the brass plate was the number "4".

A. E. Johnson

OK, on to the rehab.  I let some 3-in-1 oil soak the screws and they turned out not to be too hard to remove.  After brushing the parts with a wire wheel in a drill and giving the iron a lot more attention (including grinding tools in a Dremel) to remove heavy rust and corrosion, I gave the iron and screws a 3-hour citric acid bath.

Lookin' pretty rough before any work

While they soaked, sandpaper easily cleaned up the brass wear plate.  The iron and screws got some more wire wheeling after the bath.  The screws cleaned up nicely, but I could see there was some pitting on the iron.

Back side of iron: the black areas are pitting

I used diamond stones to work the back of the iron and got rid of most of the pitting.  Fortunately it was mostly shallow.  But there's still a little there and I didn't want to thin the iron too much - it's pretty thin already and there's zero chance of ever finding a replacement iron.

For sharpening, I made a simple jig to hold the iron as I filed, ground, sandpapered and stropped the bevel.

The iron in its jig, with a few implements of sharpening in background

It took a while and a lot of patience, but I got a pretty good edge.

Cutting the edge of 3/4" thick pine - nicely curled shaving

Here's where it will shine - hollowing the surface of a plank

Glamour shot #1: top view

Glamour shot #2: bottom view

Curtis cut off the handles on his heel shaves so that he could get it into tightly curved areas of his chair seats.  I'm very reluctant to do the same.  But I have tried to hold it as if the handles were not there and there are comfortable ways to do so while getting nice cuts.  Maybe when I finally get back to making some chairs I'll cut off the handles.  I'll cross that bridge when ...

Thursday, February 17, 2022

New (to me) Spokeshave

I recently bought a couple spokeshaves from a tool dealer.  I really only wanted the metal one in the picture below, but they came as a pair.  I'll write soon about that shave, but today's post is about the wooden spokeshave.

A couple of spokeshaves

The aft end

The front end, showing the "Clark Tool Co." mark

This spokeshave has the mark "Clark Tool Co." on the front (stamped upside down, oddly).  I was unable to find any information about this company.  They could be an original manufacturer or possibly a hardware store that put their own name on somebody else's tools.  If anybody knows, please leave a comment.

The spokeshave body looks to me like maple, though the seller says beech.  It is 11 1/8" total length, about 7/8" thick top to bottom and 1 3/8" front to back.  The iron's cutting edge is 3 1/16" long.  The body's shape is typical of wooden spokeshaves that I have seen, with the exception of the thumbscrews - probably not a new feature to many of you, but new to me.



The ends of the iron are mortised into the body and the tangs are threaded so that the iron can be raised or lowered using the twin thumbscrews on the top side.  As is often the case with old tools, the threads did not match one of today's standards, so I couldn't chase them to clean them up.

The iron and brass

Here are some details about the thumb screws.  They are attached to the football-shaped brass plates by curling up the bottom cylindrical part of the screw.  The brass plates are tightly mortised and screwed into the body.

Details of the thumb screws

The iron and body are curved in two directions.  Two pics above, you can see different facets on the brass wear plate as it had been filed to create a curve front-to-back.  The brass was also clearly filed side-to-side to match the lateral curvature of the iron.  As found, the wear plate had more curvature than the iron and didn't match it very well.  I filed it a bit to even them up.

A straightedge resting on the iron shows the slight lateral curvature

The right side of the wear plate had been filed more than the left side

Filing the wear plate to get it to match the lateral curve of the iron

Here's where the shave was in need of some significant work.  The write-up in the tool dealer's site said it was "in sound worker shape".  I guess our definitions of sound worker shape are somewhat different.  Check out the cutting edge of the iron!

Nice mountain range on the cutting edge

The bevel side of the iron shows the condition fairly well

Close-up of the middle portion of the iron's beveled edge

The back side was easy enough to clean with some sandpaper and diamond paddles.  A nice thing is that the back is slightly hollow front to back.  This allows a diamond paddle (held perpendicular to the iron's edge) to rest on the front and back edges and the work goes more quickly.

Fairly shiny after just a little work

The bevel side needed significantly more work to get the jagged cutting edge back to raw metal.  In the next pic, I've started the process of rehabbing the cutting edge.  You can see a thin line of shiny metal at the cutting edge, but there's still a LOT of roughness.  As the caption notes, the rear part of the bevel side is raised and I was able to rest sanding sticks and sharpening paddles on the bevel and the raised area to get a reasonably consistent bevel as I ground the edge down.

The bevel side has a raised portion at the back that helped a lot

Pic shows how the paddle rests on both the raised area and the bevel

Finally, a sharp iron!

At this point I had to give it a try.

First shavings in a VERY soft wood - so far, so good

Next a 3/4" wide edge of a harder wood and look at those chatter marks!

This is a problem I have with all my spokeshaves.  I can't seem to get rid of chatter.  I tried skewing the shave, taking a shallower cut, resharpening the iron and I don't get much improvement.  Need to look into this more.

Speaking of resharpening, I had to touch up the iron after a few dozen passes over a piece of wood.  My guess is that this iron won't hold up to hard work.  I'll evaluate it as I use it and may have to re-harden and temper it.

Finally, for the body, I scraped off the old finish, sanded, and put on a few coats of shellac.  Normally BLO is my go-to finish for wooden tools, but I thought I'd do something different with this one because it looked like the finish was originally something other than oil.  Time will tell if I like the shellac finish or not.

And there she is

Bottom side

This tool cleaned up very nicely.  I love how easy it is to adjust the iron and I also think the slightly curved iron will prove to be a great feature.  Keeping it sharp could be a challenge.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Weaving a Danish Cord Seat

I've wanted to do something like this for a long time.  In Richard Maguire's latest online course, he builds and weaves the seat for a Danish stool.  I won't be writing about the woodwork here - only the weaving.  I will say that even though the woodwork was fairly straight forward, there were challenges due to the angles involved.  I made a couple of mistakes, but hid them well and overall was very happy with that part.  The wood is red alder and it was finished with shellac before the weaving.

The completed stool

This type of weaving uses Danish cord and 90° nails.  I got them from Peerless Rattan, who I believe is behind the videos that Ed Hammond does on YouTube (nothing sponsored here).  My understanding of this cord is that it is paper that is twisted into a fiber, then three of these fibers are twisted (not braided) together to form the cord.  It's nominally 1/8" diameter, but is slightly larger.

The paper cord

The nails are L-shaped, the long side a strong 3/4" and 5/64" diameter and the flattened short side 3/8" long.

The nails

Before weaving, install the nails.  For the stool ends, there needs to be an odd number of nails so that the weave parallel to the ends will exit the first and last weaver the same way.  The spacing is determined by the length available and the desired distance between weavers.

Used a stick marked with the 15/16" spacing to transfer to the upper side rails

Marked a scant 5/16" from the underside to complete the crosshairs.
In retrospect, should have gone no more than 1/4 up from the bottom, as
these rails are 3/4" thick and the short leg of the nails extended close to the top of the rail. 

I pre-drilled 1/16" holes for the nails about 3/8" deep (should have gone a little deeper) and also blunted the nail points to avoid any problems with splitting the wood as they are hammered in.  Nails on the front and back rails were done with 5/8" spacing (interrupted by the legs), and were placed about 1/2" from the top of the rail.  That spacing probably could have been a tiny bit smaller, maybe 9/16" to make the front-to-back weaving easier.

The weave starts on the stool's long axis.  Because each weave of cord is wrapped around a nail and returned to the start location, the weavers become pairs of cord.

View from above after completing the long direction weavers.
The following views from below show more detail.

The starting end

The far end: you can see how the cord goes over the rail to the bottom, hooks on the nail,
then returns back over the rail and back to the starting side.

The next part fills in the gaps between these weavers on the upper side rails and uses a cut length of cord, as opposed to weaving it directly from the spool.  I used about 28-30 feet for each end, but had about 5-6 feet left over.

The "infill" wraps, filling between the existing weavers.
I usually got 5 wraps between pairs of long weavers - a few times only 4.

View from below: one crossed wrap on the bottom.
No biggie - it won't be seen.  The other end was better.

Getting the cord not to overlap on the bottom of the rail was tougher than it sounds.  It was challenging to get the cord from one infill area, past a pair of weavers and to the next infill area without overlapping another cord on the bottom.

The front to back weaving started with the areas outside of where the legs join the front and rear rails.  

One end complete: over, under, over, under, hook on nail, come back to front.
Repeat for next row, but go under, over, under, over this time.  Repeat.
The last row (nearer the center of stool) is woven between the two strands of each pair of weavers.

The underside: it gets a bit busy

I added a 4th nail on the other end and that helped keep things more orderly.

End sections complete

The middle section was tedious, but went along well.

About 1/3 complete

Weave completed

It wasn't until I was done that I saw the mistake.  It's easy to get sucked into a rhythm and not see it when it happens.  But I missed an "over-under-over-under ..." and ended up with an "over-under-over-over".  This happened 8 pairs of weavers from the far end.  It's easy for me to see, but so far nobody I've shown this to has noticed, so instead of pulling out the last 8 rows, I just left it.

Zigged, when I should have zagged

Two last things I'll say about this.  First, it was very helpful to have the spool of cord on a stick that I chucked into the vise, allowing me to pull cord as the spool turned on the stick.  A rotating device might have been nice, but this worked.

The spool was about 4-5 times larger than this at the start

Second, this was hard work!  I found myself really tired after a couple hours of weaving.  I kept a lot of tension on the cord (maybe too much?) and it was taxing on the muscles.  And it's tough on the hands and fingers!

Overall, this was very satisfying.  Another thing off the bucket list.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to do more weaving in the future, perhaps with different materials.