Woodworking is the craft of dressing lumber and joining it together to create useful and beautiful objects.

Western Planes

To dress and finish the faces of a wooden surface, the western woodworking tradition developed a set of hand planes. These generaly take the form of a cast metal plane body that holds a removable blade, and which is pushed forward by the craftsperson to cut and shave layers of the wood. There are two primary types of planes: "Block Planes", which have the bevel edge of the blade facing upward and are pushed with one hand; and "Bench Planes", which have the bevel facing downward and are pushed with two hands.

Bench Planes

Bench planes are generally the workhorses of the shop, used to roughly size, flatten, and smooth boards. The primary differences between bench planes are the length of the plane's sole, and the profile of the blade. The longer the sole of a plane is, the flatter its cut: longer soles can sit atop more peaks in the surface, while shorter soles will ride up and down the peaks and valleys. The profile of the blade is generally differentiated by the amount of "camber", which is how much the blade is rounded from the center to the edge.

There are three types of planes (with near infinite variations) in the main stable of western bench planes: the jack plane, the jointer plane, and the smoothing plane.

Jack Plane

The jack plane is generally the first plane used to dress lumber, and has roughly a 12"-14" sole and a blade with heavy camber. Its purpose is to take relatively deep cuts and remove a lot of material as you take rough stock down closer to flatness and close to desired thickness.

Jointer Plane

The jointer plane is used to flatten the faces and edges of a board, and is generally around 22" to 26" long with a light camber on a mostly flat blade. It is usually set up to take shallow cuts, as its primary purpose isn't to remove material but to flatten an existing surface. The jointer plane will follow the jack plane to take a board to its final thickness and flatness.

Smoothing Plane

While any plane can technically be configured as a smoothing plane, it is common to see smaller planes around 9" long be used for the job. The smoothing plane is mostly determined by the blade profile which is very flat and used to take extremely fine cuts. It is expected to be used on a surface that has already been thicknessed and flattened, and so its only job is to create the final smooth surface.

/woodworking Stream

March 1, 2024

/stream /woodworking /desk-riser

Today I gave a final high-grit sanding to the desk risers after letting the oil saturate overnight, and another light wipe down of hemp oil.

A nested pair of simple wooden desk risers photographed from an angle with a backdrop of dark grey industrial slab concrete floor. Each riser is a simple rectangular board of maple with short

I'll continue buffing with a rag every day or so while they cure over the next week. Once they're no longer leaving oil on my finger tips, it will be time to take them home.

February 29, 2024

/stream /woodworking /desk-riser

Last night I glued up the dovetail joints on the desk riser, and today I planed (with a chisel) down the protruding pins and then sanded the whole thing to 220 grit, and then 400 grit on the outer surface.

A close up shot of a sharp row of glued up dovetails cuts diagonally across the frame. In the center of the frame a finger pushes a sharp flush chisel through the top of one of the protruding pins bringing it in plane with the surface of the piece.

Once sanded, I finished with a generous coat of hemp oil. I didn't let it drink all it wanted, but I did pour the oil directly onto the surface to flood it a bit.

In the middle of the frame is a handmade desk riser: a wooden board about 20 inches long by 8 inches deep joined to two

As a relatively "high use" surface, I wanted it to be better protected than a wipe-on application, but I don't think it needed to really drink all the oil it would take.

February 28, 2024

/stream /woodworking /simple-stool

Began working on a new /woodworking project: a three-legged stool made from the reclaimed lumber from my previous bed frame. The goal is to practice using reclaimed lumber, and to cut angled through-mortises by hand.

An isometric angle of a table saw. The blade is slightly protruding and a small 20-inch board of wood sits in front of it in preparation for a cut. In the foreground out of the way of the blade are two identical boards stacked neatly with a pencil and tape measure resting on top.

The three legs were made from a single 5-foot slat. First it was cross-cut into three 20-inch pieces, and then each piece was ripped in thirds again. Those three strips were glued together to create the thicker posts used to form the legs.

Three 20-inch laminated beams of pine rest against a white wall sitting next to a roughly 12-inch square by 1-inch thick panel of slightly nicer pine leaning at the same slight angle against the same wall.

For the seat, I took a roughly 2-foot segment of a long beam and glued it up into a squarish panel.

February 25, 2024

/stream /woodworking /desk-riser

It's been almost a year since I last worked on this desk riser project, since the next step was to cut three long rows of mitered dovetails in relatively quick succession. I finally had the time and focus to sit down for almost an entire day and get through that work, and so now all of the joinery work is complete on this small project. This was completed with my magnetic dovetail guide that I made, and my japanese dovetail saw (a Razorsaw #372).

A closeup shot of two halves of a mitered dovetail joint. A longer board of wood that goes out of frame to the top left comes in at an angle to the center of the frame where a 45-degree corner is cut folowed by a few visible dove tails before they go out of frame to the right. Touching against the larger board is a very narrow smaller strip of wood where the receiving pins are cut laid flat on the table and touching the mating edge of the larger dovetails. The orientation of the two pieces of woods lets you visualize the smaller piece being rotated into the mating joint of the larger piece.

In addition to the dovetails and the mitered corners, I also cut a chamfer running along the entire "inner" surface of the board so that the visible edge looks thinner than it actually is. On this project I just used a router table, but in the future I hope to get a hand plane to do the job.

One wrinkle is that when doing the test fit, I realized that the smaller "leg" boards of the riser were so short that the end grain orientation made them weak; I split the end grain twice during the test fit process. Next time I'll keep in mind that I probably need a few more inches of board length to use dovetail joinery like this.

February 24, 2024

/stream /woodworking /tactical-urbanism

A friend and I spent some time on this very cold (but sunny) afternoon prototyping and chopping some dimensional lumber into benches.

Uniform groups of wooden planks leaning against an outdoor dark grey industrial wall with bright sunlight shining on the wood.

Benches are an easy and cheap way to make a place more welcoming. We've got some pretty decent and simple designs working using 2x6, 2x8, and 2x10 lumber, and only requiring a chop saw/circular saw and some screws. With enough motivation, you could do it with a decently sized hand saw as well. Once we get things working well, I'll share a guide to build them.

February 18, 2024

/stream /woodworking /cutting-board

For the past nearly two weeks of my wood shop time, I've been working on an end grain cutting board to replace an aging IKEA cutting board at home. End grain cutting boards are very popular in "pop-woodworking", playing the role of a common project for beginner woodworkers. Knowing this, I jumped into making one thinking it would be an afternoon project. I was wrong.

The main issue is that the strain of woodworking that end grain cutting boards are popular with is the type of suburban dad whose favorite part of being a "DIY guy" is buying power tools. Making an end grain cutting board requires a ton of boring (yet tedious) glue ups, and flattening end grain. In fact, this is the whole process: a mass repetition of cutting boring strips of wood, those tedius glue ups, and then figuring out how to get it flat.

No part of the process was challening or interesting, and the standard way that most people achieve each step is through a heavy application of power tools. It wasn't until I had my final glued cutting board that I realized that I had no idea how to flatten end grain. When I looked it up, I found out that the standard process was either to run it through a planer even though everyone knows it's very dangerous, or to set up this nightmare of a router jig to effectively "CNC" the board flat.

Neither of those options were appealing to me, so I spent a week trying to restore an old hand plane I had in my studio hoping that would help me out. It didn't. I gave up and took the router jig path. While this did end up giving me a flat surface, it also completely chewed it up, collapsing the end grain and tearing out a bunch of divots. I now had a flat surface, but had no idea how to make it smooth. After again pursuing several more human-powered options, I ended up taking a low grit heavy duty handheld belt sander and grinding away until it looked presentable.

In the end, at least I've got a halfway decent looking cutting board. There are still final finishing steps I'd like to take, but overall I look at what I ended up with as a project full of compromises. There's plety of places where I could have "done it right" but didn't, because I hated working on it so much that I just wanted it to be over so that I can get to a different project that was more fulfilling. (I'll post a picture once it's done and oiled.)

The most valuable part of this project was that it gave me so much time to think about what I would rather be doing that it helped crystalize the aspects of woodworking that I love and hate. I love planning and designing furniture, and cutting precise joinery by hand. I hate glue, power tools, and sanding. Tomorrow I'm going to scour ebay for some used japanese hand planes.

October 22, 2023

/stream /tactical-urbanism /woodworking /diy-pallet-barricades

Wrote out the bulk of what I learned from building street barricades out of reclaimed pallets last month, in an effort to get it in writing before I forget. Still need to revisit later to add images, and perhaps some 3D illustrations/animations for maximum impact.

October 6, 2023

/stream /woodworking

Last Fall I discovered that our in-window air conditioning unit was about a half an inch taller than its product page claimed, because it didn't fit under the bed frame that I built specifically for that purpose. This year, in order to make sure we could fit the AC under the bed, I built some leg risers for the bed that match the design.

The rectangular leg of an oiled maple bed frame sitting inside of a chamfered, unfinished block of wood acting as a riser.

I used the same construction technique as the legs themselves: I cut a bunch of 1" x 1" strips, glued them up into 3" x 1" boards, and then glued those boards together to create a 3" x 3" post. Instead of 15" long posts like the original legs, these were cut into four 1" tall "pucks" that the legs would sit on.

Four freshly oiled identical square blocks of wood resting an inch above a concrete floor.

In order to keep the legs from sliding off the pucks, I also made some 4" x 1" boards and the resawed and planed those into something closer to 3.5" x 0.5". Those were then cut down to 1.5" tall and "wrapped" around the puck, creating a lip for the legs to slide into. I added a simple chamfer both to remove sharp edges and for aesthetics, and then sanded them and finished with hemp oil.