Proletarian sanding contrivances

Although I do own a belt sander and two orbital sanders (that were past down from my Dad to me), I still prefer sanding by hand. Unfortunately the cheap and nasty commercial sanding blocks I used to own in New Zealand were all stolen en route to Namibia. I thought making some sanding planes would be a good start towards my next goal of building some wooden hand planes. This way I get some experience in producing the plane tote (handles) and joining it to the rest of the tool. Even with sanding planes the aim is to keep it as flat as possible, so this way I can get a feel for doing just that.

One of the annoying things about using a sanding block is having to change the paper all the time as you move from one grid to the next. Therefore I decided to build 3 short (230 mm) and three long (380 mm) sanding planes, in order to load each with a different grid. It would allow me to simply grab the next plane when moving up a grid.

I had some trouble to get the pdf documents on Stanley totes (handles) from the Lee Valley website printed to the correct scale. It necessitated me to take the tote off my Lie-Nielsen Low Angle Jack Plane and use it as a template. The Lee Valley documents were very helpful nonetheless as it explains clearly what the best sequins of steps are to produce the handle. In the picture below, you can see how the Lie-Nielsen tote was used as a template, ensuring that the hole running through the tote is 90 degrees to the sides of the board.


Here you can see the documents, as mentioned. It is downloadable from the Lee Valley website.


Below you will notice that the hole that runs through the handles were drilled before drilling the large diameter holes which simplifies the actual cutting of the blanks.



Next step is to shape the blanks to resemble the perfect Lie-Nielsen tote it is based on. For this purpose I used the green monster, which is a machine my father built many years ago. In the pictures below I took it’s work surface off to enable me to maneuver the blank a bit more. Some of the shaping was done with the surface intact.


Next I took some scrap Witels, which I thought would be a nice colour match with the pale fungi induced spots on the Assegaai handles and plane bodies. Yes, I know, ‘a certain je ne sais quoi’. After laminating the three pieces I turned the six knobs from it


Unfortunately I did not take pictures of how I prepared the plane bodies. It was fairly gnarled bits of Assegaai to start off with. In order to flatten these bits of wood I spent quite some time working on my hand planing technique. Then I moved on to custom fitting each handle recessed about 4mm into the plane body. The totes and knobs were then glued and screwed into it’s permanent home for the next 500 years (I hope).


The mechanism I chose to fix the sand paper to the plane necessitated a lot of fiddling with small bits of wood, screws and panel pins. Although probably not the fastest way of changing paper, it works like a charm and also adds a certain je ne sais quoi on the looks side of things!


Seeing that these are sanding planes with which I do not want to spoil a surface that was already elbow-greased to perfection by hand planing, the next critical step was to ensure that they are as flat as glass. I used two different grids of 3M Adhesive-Backed Sandpaper on a piece of glass. You can see how I used the trick I learnt from David Charlesworth by scribbling on the sole with a pencil to see low spots. I saw him using this in a DVD on sharpening. I think if I saw this guy working in his meticulously cerebral fashion earlier in my life, I probably would have pursued woodworking as a career. His DVD’s are highly recommended. I bought mine from Lie-Nielsen.


Next I mixed epoxy and added some wood dust to increase the viscosity. This concoction was then used to fill the holes left by the countersunk steel screws which fixed the knobs and handles to the plane body. It dried to an incredibly hard filler, which was again sanded perfectly flush with the rest of the sole.


I then glued Red Dear leather (short planes) and Kudu leather (long planes) to the soles to ensure an even contact between the sandpaper and wood that is being sanded. You can see how in one case I used a piece of glass as a flat surface clamping through the assembly table. In the other case I used the two sanding planes as each other’s flat reference surface, to ensure flat and consistent adhesion of the leather.


Finally the first test with sandpaper and it works like a dream.


Usually my favourite part of building these tools is to rub on Ballistol. It brings out the beautiful colours of the wood and does not dry to a film at all, nor does it go yellow over time.



Here you can see how I indicated on the back of each plane which grid of sandpaper it is loaded with. This makes it easy to simply grab the next plane needed during a sanding operation.




In these final pictures you can see where the planes found their little home.



Tamboti and Witels marking knives

Marking knives are one of those multifarious paraphernalia that have not made it’s merry way to the distant shores of Namibia. Seeing that it is a fairly vital tool in a proper woodworking workshop, I had to make a plan.

First, I set off to find some reasonable steel for the project. I decided to use the blade of an old Bailey no.4 hand plane of my Dad that I am busy revitalizing. There are some Lie-Nielsen custom replacement blades on it’s way to me as we speak to replace this particular blade. Anyway, so the steel was sorted. Then I had a good ferret around for suitable off-cuts of wood for the handles.

Finally, I decided on some Tamboti (Spirostachys africana) and Witels (Playlophus trifoliatus). I only have two very small pieces of Tamboti that have probably traveled more than 2000 km over 15 odd years with my father and already 1800 km over 13 years with me. Maybe it is time to do something with it. The first two pictures below show the old plane blade on the Witels wood. The copper ring you spot is one of those the plumbers use to join copper pipes. Clearly I need to improvise and use what is available.



Tamboti-red_MAR5443_IJFR A beautiful Tamboti tree in the wild.


You will usually find these gargantuan Witels trees in the wettest parts of the forest.

In the next few pictures you can see the small piece of Tamboti. I deliberately chose to cut a blank that contains a bit of sapwood to show off the beautiful colour contrast. These blanks were so small that I had to improvise again in order to fit it on my antediluvian lathe. You can see the plywood wheel with a recessed area accepting the blank that is screwed to a bigger piece of hardwood. Yes it is fiddly to say the least.


Here you can see the turned Tamboti handle. The sapwood really adds some je ne sais quoi, don’t you think? You can also see the part of the blade allocated to this particular knife. The front part of the handle is turn to be a fraction bigger than the hole through the copper ring, but with absolute end slightly smaller to get it going when tapping it over with the blade in place. A take-home message from turning this blank, is to look for wood that has fairly straight gain throughout. The haphazard gain pattern on the front of this blank looks nice but does compromise it’s strength somewhat.


Below you can see the Witels blank being shaped on the lathe. This was the first time I have turned Witels and only the second time I have worked with it at all. In hindsight it is probably not the best wood for this application as it is very porous and softer than what I am used to if compare to Assegaai (my go-to wood for tool making). Nonetheless I do not think there are too many people with Tamboti and Witels marking knifes.


Unfortunately I did not take pictures of how I shaped the the blade or the internal design of how it was fitted to the handle. Therefore I made some crude Sketchup drawings to give you an idea.

You can clearly see the shape of the blade. It has a thin shaft that was inserted into the hole drilled down the middle of the handle. That part of the shaping was done by cutting it roughly to size with a grinder and finished off with hand files. The front of the blade however took ages as I did not want to overheat the steel and lose the temper. Therefore it was done slowly over hours with water stones and wet-and-dry sanding paper. Part of the blade was seated inside a slot cut into the front part of the handle, which clamped down on it when the copper ring was tapped over that section of wood. I also use epoxy to help fix the blade to the hilt (if you pardon the pun). It was inserted down the shaft’s hole, as well as inside the slot. Something that worked very well was the epoxy on the wood that came into contact with the inside of the copper ring reduced the friction significantly while tapping it over.

MG view 1MG view 2MG view 3

Here you can see the final product. The Tamboti knife has a fairly short blade for all the run-of-the-mill work. The Witels knife has a blade almost double the length of the first and also sports a slightly more Brobdingnagian handle.


My journey 3

In this installment of ‘My journey’ I want to explore the core reasons why I became interested in woodwork. As a psychiatrist I make a living out of having a reasonable understanding of how one’s childhood (to a large degree) shape the person you turn out to be. In my case it is just the same.

Possibly the single most influential factor came about as a result of my parents’ divorce when I was almost 5 years of age. My mother and I subsequently moved from a town infested by Blue Bulls supporters, to the area were the rest of the family on both mother’s and father’s side has dwelled for several centuries. This area is one of the most spectacular parts of Azania, with ancient hardwood rainforests cladding the Outeniqua mountains as it meanders along the southernmost coastline of Africa.

I therefore found myself separated from my father by roughly 1200km of National Party ruled territory. My father, who also grew up in these parts, spent most of his free time plugging away at some woodworking project. We therefore spent most of the precious little time we had together making sawdust, hence probably the positive association with woodworking. In particular I remember how we glued the Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius) top of the dining room table that we still use on a daily basis, back in 1985. In fact I have done quite a bit of the writing of these posts, while sitting at that very same table.


Another influence came from spending quite a bit of time in the forests were the wood we used in the shop stood for 500 years or more. You might think I am exaggerating, but these trees generally grow very slow and end up extremely hard and dense. The forest belongs to the ‘Big Two’. The colossal Kalanders (also known as Outeniqua Yellowwood or Baster Geelhout or Podocarpus falcatus), some of which are up to 35 meters tall, has a stem circumference of up to12 meters (containing 30 square meters of wood) and rules it’s kingdom with graceful authority. The ruling powers of the Elephants that used to teem in the forest has weakened due to diminishing numbers. Only a few survive, but the thrill of possibly running into them continues to add mystique to the experience of roaming around the primeval forest.


If you want to know more about these animals I suggest that you look for the work of Gareth Patterson. He has made an in-depth study of them since 2001 and found evidence to suggest that there are at least 5 different females within the surviving group that moseys around the forest hinterlands. This seems to suggest that there is a good chance that they will not be lost to future generations as some authorities reported in the past.

One of our family fables has it that one of our earliest ancestors in this part of the world hunted these forest gods during the time when they were responsible for many deaths amongst the woodcutters. The story of these woodcutters is also a fascinating one. They were probably some of the toughest people who ever lived.

Solomon-Pierie-Stander-1929woodcutterswoodcutters 2Forestry-061aa68200

As a result of the close historic ties and personal experience of spending time in the forest I feel intimately connected with the wood that comes from it. For that reason I have religiously collected wood from these forests over the last 13 years, most of which was dried naturally. I feel a certain responsibility to produce something special with it out of sheer respect for it’s history and heritage.

This leads me on to my approach in the shop, but we will leave that for next time.

Alternative workbench/assembly table (Chapter three)

In this chapter we will start to look at the design elements of the table/bench top I cobbled together from various sources, which was predominantly driven by my frustration with previous ‘benches’.

The top shelve of the table is low enough to allow easy access during the use of F-style clamps that reach through the tabletop. One can even store a few jigs without it being in the way. The top shelve is fixed with wood screws to the teak sleeper and countersink bolts to the angle iron stretchers. This helps to stabilise the table in a dimension I do not know the name of.


Next I moved on to prepare the aprons of the top. The aprons were made up by laminating plywood and designed wide enough to enable one to clamp material to the edge of the table. It is also thick enough to allow space for a fairly massive t-channel created with angle iron fixed to Ironwood (Olea capensis subsp. macrocarpa) This t-channel would eventually run along three sides of the tabletop to allow easy clamping to the side of the table with F-style Bessey clamps and the attachment of any future jigs. You can see rabbits cut into the apron plywood in some of the pictures. These were meant to accept a part of the angle iron that forms the mentioned t-channels. It might become a bit easier to understand as we progress to that part of the process. I include a crude Sketchup drawing to give you some idea of what I was aiming for.

100_0089100_0090table's edge

The aprons were then screwed and glued to three sides of the tabletop.


The fourth side of the top needed a wider apron to allow secure attachment of the quick-release vice, which I decided to place in a unique (and therefore possibly stupid) location. I have since read that Mr Bench (Christopher Schwarz) advises bench builders not to design anything new, as the most useful designs have been established through trial and error over many centuries.

The vise was place in the middle of the end of the table (a design feature I have not yet come across in any book or internet source), with two pipe clamps on either side set up to act as removable end vises. The idea was that I could use these in conjunction with the quick release vise to form a type of twin-screw vise on either side of it. Proper twin-screw vises are as easy to come by around these parts as a spacecraft, hence the substantial improvisation.

Together with the fourth apron I fashioned another bit of laminated plywood to enable the quick-release vise’s base to reach across the heavy angle iron that forms the steel apron of the tabletop. You will see the rabbits cut into this piece creating a very tight custom fit to the angle iron apron. This design feature effectively fixed the quick-release vise to the metal carcass of the table, rather than only hanging on the plywood top. Steel woodscrews pass through the plywood top, then through the angle iron to imbed itself in the mentioned plywood spacer.


In the pictures below you can follow the process in creating the said pipe-clamp-end-vises. I first drilled (partial) holes in the plywood apron that were meant to accept the pipes of the clamps. I then used these holes to mark the correct location were it needs to passes through the metal apron. Then drilled those holes with the bit pictured.


Once this was done the bit of the pipe-clamp that slides over the pipe (do not know the correct term for it) was fixed to the inside of the metal apron. This design allows one to easily remove and insert the pipe-clamp, without having to fiddle under the top in order to insert the pipe into the bit I do not know the name of. I apologize for the poor quality of some of these pictures.


Once all of the above preparation work was done I installed the quick-release vise. You can see that I used heaps of fairly heavy woodscrews and what we call coach bolts for this purpose. The woodworker in the second picture is called Pantu. He is our live-in gardener/builder/soccer coach of my children/receiver of rugby coaching from my son/babysitter etc etc. He likes to learn about woodworker in his free time and therefore does his bit towards our shop development. The third row of screws from the edge passes through the angle iron apron of the table.


At some point a bit earlier in the process, I recessed an area that would accept a steel ruler on two of the edges of the tabletop. This would have been another job better suited to a router, but I had to do it with my newly acquired Festool TS155. On one of the pictures you can see that I had to make heaps of cuts (each only 2mm wide) to achieve what a router would have accomplished in one or two cuts.



The actual rulers were installed only much later, after all the table’s edges were finished. We will embark upon that epoch in the next thrilling chapter on the table’s birth.


Bench Bitches

In this post we will look at an African solution to a lack of bench bitches.

Due to my predicament of living in self-inflicted woodworking isolation, it is not even an option to wonder into the nearest hardware store to pick up basic pieces of equipment such as bench dogs. Therefore like most other workshop-must-haves I needed to improvise and build my own.

For the same reason there are lots of bits and pieces I need to produce, so I thought up the following plan in order to speed up the production of this work-holding gem. The holes in my ‘bench’ are 20mm (0.79 in) in diameter and 96mm (3.78 in) apart (centre to centre). I took a piece of 20mm (0.79 in) threaded rod and chopped it up into bits of two different lengths. The shorter version being around 70mm and the longer version 150mm. The accompanying nuts were then welded onto the one end of each of these.


After tidying up the welded areas, I took some leather strips and glued it to the bolts to ensure that it will not dent wood.


These dogs stand 15mm (0.59 in) proud of the bench surface, which takes care of most situations I regularly come across. In cases where I need higher dogs I use the ones with another nut screwed on as indicated in the pictures below. You can see that it gives me the option to create a dog of exactly the correct height without too much fuss. It is however not as easy as the ones that you simply pull out of the bench top to the desired height, but this was not an option for me as my ‘bench top’ is only 20mm (0.79 in) thick. The thin top does cause the higher dog-setups to be somewhat floppy, but so far I do not tend to need these very often.


One added benefit of my dog design is that I can screw a spare nut into the threaded rod that protrudes underneath the bench in order to stabilise the longer dog setups.


If you are curious you can read all about my Alternative workbench/assembly table in a series of post with this title.

For stock thinner than about 18mm (0.71 in) I use a wide plane stop made out of 6mm plywood. I see Christopher Schwarz calls these devices ‘Redneck jigs’. I wonder what he would call my bench dogs then. It is probably better not to find out.

Finally, I made a small shelve below the top with 22mm (0.87 in) holes to accept the set of bitches for easy access.


Below you can see some pictures of the bitches at work.