What were the best gifts you ever received?

No doubt, you have your own short list. Gifts that found their way into your eager little hands come Christmas, your birthday or at your bar mitzvah.

But not just any gifts. I’m talking about the ones that you remember vividly to this day. The rush of tearing the wrapping paper. The exquisite moment of recognition when ‘could it be?’ turns into ‘It is!’ A moment that froze in time when you opened the box to look upon your precious desire for that first lingering moment.

As a teen, I used to play a boardgame called Wooden Ships and Iron men.

P6-Wooden Ships and Iron Men

It was set during the age of sail when English, French and Spanish grappled each other with shot and cutlass. So when I unwrapped the 1846 French Naval Cutlass laying under the Christmas tree one year, it felt like I was standing on the deck of a frog frigate.

P7-French Naval Cutlass 1846

As an adult, I got that chill up my spine when the slow tearing of wrapping paper revealed an Italian Aurora fountain pen. I had been coveting the finely-crafted writing instrument for a year solid. And it was the solitary item on my wish list. So, when I opened the wooden presentation box and caught the first glimpse of my future favorite writing tool, I swear that I saw a star twinkle shoot off its silver cap to the accompaniment of a distinct *ping*. As if someone had plucked a crystal wine glass with their index finger.

P5-Aurora Fountain Pen

I remember thinking that no physical object would ever make me feel that way again. A few birthdays later, I was proven wrong when my unwrapping revealed the Lie-Nielsen Toolworks lettering upon a pristine box. Could this be the No. 4 I had asked for?

P1-LN Box

Moments later, the box lid opened—yes!—and a smile crossed my face to utter a single word: bronze.

Lie-Nielsen #4 bronze smoother

Pulling it out, I let its factory cocoon float to the floor. Then I set it down to marvel at her.

Lie-Nielsen #4 photos from different angles.

She made a fantastic first impression. First, she’s hefty, but I like a bit of mass to help push through smoothing strokes across hardwood boards. Second, she’s “all dolled up”. Every detail to her fit and finish is finely crafted.

And it didn’t take long to get her ready for the prom. I spent a few minutes polishing the iron’s back and bevel and put it to wood.

Lie-Nielsen #4 bronze smoother taking some shavings.

Since that time, I’ve used her consistently. And I’ve been happy with the glassy surfaces she’s left behind.

Thin planing stop project.

New Traditional Woodworker Thin Planing Stop project

Chisel mallet project.

Wood plane mallet

One thing’s for sure, we’re mates for life. And long after I’ve departed this crazy world, I imagine she’ll be working wood in the hands of my decedents. Until then, every time I use that brass beauty, I’ll be reminded of my parents. For their thoughtful gift brightened my Christmas, along with many woodworking days since. My No. 4 is the most beautiful piece of bronze and cherry I’ve ever owned.


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A Problem-child Stanley Transitional #26 Jack Plane

While meandering through an antique store, something toolish and vintage wooed me into a stall. It was a Stanley #26 transitional jack plane. Not that there’s anything remarkable about them. But what set this one apart was its just-came-off-the-assembly-line looks. Even the tote and knob were intact with but one chip to show for its long life. Here’s what I brought home, $20.00 the poorer for it.


It had no checks.


And the Stanley logo dates it c. 1909-1912.


So it fits right in with my favored 1910-1918 vintage tool time frame. You Stanley plane collectors will recognize that range as the type-11 period. I really like the retro styling and STANLEY lettering font.


At home the metal parts got dunked in Evaporust while the wood pieces slurped up a coat of BLO. The reassembled plane went into the vise upside down. Then a few light passes with a #8 trued up the sole. After sharpening the iron, I put the rehabbed jack to the test on some pine.

Stroke—clog. Clear clog. Stroke—clog…and so on. “What the…oh. That’s why.” The chip breaker wasn’t mating fully to the iron and shavings were getting trapped between them. After fixing that, I took a few more passes. And clogged the mouth big time. After an hour of fettling I gave up and it collected dust upon my home office tool display shelf. Every once in a while I’d see it there, mocking me, and be egged on to try again. Clog. Clog and clog were the results. Each time back to the shelf it went.

Then, I watched Shannon Rogers’ video “From Boat Anchor Junk to Fore Plane.”

And that got me to thinking. I already have three jack planes including this one. So why not configure it as a fore plane like Rogers does?

When I got to the step to open the throat, I scratched my head. I could have sworn that my previous fettling attempts included moving the frog backward. But as I inspected it, there was clearly room to spare. So I adjusted and tested it.


 A few passes on some pine produced thick, clogless shavings. That was good, but I still had a third jack plane. In order to make this a fore plane, its iron needed a camber. Rogers puts an 8” radius on his jack. I wanted something a bit less pronounced and opted for an 11” radius.


With that done, I tested the camber by cross-planing a rough-sawn board. Open Sesame.


That did the trick. And I’m glad. Because now I have a woodie jack to fore plane with. “But Brad, what are you going to do with two fore planes?” Well, Grasshopper, I’m going to use the lighter #5 transitional for strenuous cross-grain flattening duties and the #6 along the grain to take out its predecessor’s track marks.


Thank you Shannon Rogers for helping me get the you-can’t-tune-a-transitional-plane monkey off my back. And for clearing space for another tool on my display shelf.


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Destoration of a Stanley #80 Cabinet Scraper

A couple of years ago, I was rummaging through a dusty box of vintage tools at an estate sale. My wish list at the time included a Stanley #80 cabinet scraper. I wanted something for wily-grained woods. That’s because my smoothing planes did as much tearing out as they did smoothing of those species. So when I saw this beauty, I dug deep in my pocket for the $3.00 dollars we agreed upon.

P01-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-as found from estate sale P02-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-as found closeup of rear-c1907 trademark P03-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-as found back side retention strip

It had a few peculiarities. Like this homemade “iron” that obviously came from an old sawplate.

P04-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-homemade iron from sawplate

And a sole that clearly was out of flat.

P05-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-uneven sole spells trouble


Still, there was nothing to do but clean her up…

P06-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-After rehabbing-full shot P07-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-After rehabbing-rear shot

…and lap the sole.

P08-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-After rehabbing-sole shot

After sharpening and burnishing the iron with a screwdriver, I set it in and put a piece of pine in my vise. And got crap results. A shallow depth setting made dust. A thick one left gouges in the wood surface. A bit deflated, I set it aside. Then, off and on for the next few months, I would fettle this abomination some more in the vain hopes of restoring it to working condition.

No dice.

The not-so-flat sole bugged me. And since I couldn’t lap out the 1/8” of difference between the front and back of it, I figured that I would bend the cast iron sole into flat.

P09-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-Fixing bend in sole

And I must say. This approach worked perfectly…to break my prize.

P10-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-Broken sole-parts

As Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.” I think that it took a whopping 0.0005 foot pounds of pressure to snap the sole. And the sound of the iron breaking, that high-pitched “pink”, made me sick to my stomach. And the knowledge that I had destroyed a vintage tool with decades of history etched upon its soul gnawed at me.

I tried to put it out of my mind, but found that the only thing that would ease the feeling would be to buy a new one and start from scratch. So it was to Ebay I went, where I picked up this honey for 10 times what I paid for my original.

P11-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-Replacement-full

I’m fond of Stanley type 11 planes made around WWI. I believe that this time period represents a zenith for tool makers. Those were the days that they combined patented tool features, superior materials, and craftsmanship to give birth to millions of quality tools. Implements of such excellence that three generations hence they still sit atop woodworkers’ benches amidst shavings and sawdust. Well, except for the one I got ahold of…

So when I saw the V-logo on the back blade retention strip, I knew it dated this plane to around 1912-1918. I had to have it.

P12-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-Replacement-c-1912-1918-V-logo

It didn’t come with a blade, but that suited me just fine because I purchased a LV replacement blade for my now broken tool. And of course, I still have the user-made-sawplate blade that came with the original.

The new #80 sole responded well to lapping.

P13-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-Replacement-much better sole

Excellent. That removed one potential variable from the reasons-I-can’t-get-a-decent-shaving-with-a-cabinet-scraper list. The next variable that came to mind was burnishing. Chances are I wasn’t turning a decent hook. My reading on the subject suggested that I was using burnishers that were too soft to affect today’s hardened steel. So to eliminate this as a possibility, I picked up a harder-than-steel, carbide burnisher.

P15-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-Replacement-Able to turn a hook with carbide burnisher

After using it I was, miraculously and suddenly, able to take decent shavings.

P14-Stanley No 80 Cabinet scraper-Replacement-Able to produce shavings

Decent, but not great so there’s room to improve my technique. But at least now, I have a tool to reach for when the wood’s grain gets to tricky for my smoother.


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Pegboard Tool Storage Epiphany #4: Hand drill storage rack

If you’re like me, your workshop space is at a premium. Situated in an L-shaped portion of the garage, I have to make every square inch count. One day, I woke up and decided I was fed up with “drill sprawl.” My hand drills and braces were strewn hither and yonder across my pegboard landscape. So I sat down to design and build a pegboard brace rack to organize them.

My criteria were as follows:

  1. Minimize the space taken up on the pegboard.
  2. Include enough space between tools so that they don’t hit each other when docking and retrieving.
  3. Ensure that each tool can be retrieved without moving any other tool.
  4. Accommodate two hand drills and four braces. In other words, only tools that I use. This is not a display case for a boring tool collection, no pun intended. Here’s the lineup:
  • Stanley eggbeater No. 624 (5/8” slot)
  • Goodell-Pratt Hand Drill No. 53 (½” slot)
  • Skinner 6” brace (½” slot)
  • PS&W 8” No. 1203 (½” slot + ¾” spacer)
  • Skinner 10” brace (½” slot)
  • Millers-Falls 12” No. 321 (5/8” slot + ¾” spacer)

5.  Make an attractive design.

Storage Designs
Six boring tools can get heavy so I opted to make a sturdy construction. My wood of choice was alder-the poor-man’s cherry-to match the other storage racks I’ve made so far. My search for eye-catching brace storage designs turned up this one.

P1-Brace Rack Design I liked

Now that’s some good woodworking to be sure. But for me, it was overkill. I prefer to keep all my bits at hand in existing drawers. That obviates the need for any storage rack drawers. And because my pegboard includes ample space in the z axis (think from the wall toward yourself) I chose to dock my braces with the handle pointing out perpendicular to the wall. That would be consistent with criteria 2 and 3 above.

One of the critical questions for any storage rack is what is the spacing between the centerline of each tool storage slot? To get that answer, I measured the head diameters of the braces, as well as the shafts to determine the lateral space requirements of each tool.

P6-measuring head and shaft

To conserve a few more lateral inches, I opted to add ¾” spacers on top of two of the slots so that the head bottoms could sit above the heads of their adjacent neighbors. That yielded center-line to center-line spacing between brace slots of 2 ½ inches. In retrospect, that made things a bit tight when reaching for tools. So if I had it to do over again, I would allow 3 to 3 ½ inches between slots.

Here’s the design I came up with.

P2-Hand brace storage rack design

The cut list
1” x 6” x 24” alder (1)—(3/4” x 5 ¾” x 24 actual)

1” x 4” x 24” alder (1)—(3/4” x 3 ¾” x 24” actual)

The top shelf is 18 ½” long and supported by a cross brace along the bottom back edge along with two end brackets.

The build


Based on past experience, I do any work on the rack before cutting the slots. That way I don’t get any tear out or, worse, a break. With that in mind, I broke the sharp edges by chamfering them with a block plane, then I ran a smoothing plane over it. Next, I laid out the slots, then glued ¾” spacers over the last and next to last slots from the right. The spacers would allow the tops of two braces to sit under those of their spacer-elevated neighbors.

P5-Rack spacers to keep heads from hitting each other

After that, I cut the slots followed by chamfering the edges a wee bit with a very sharp chisel.

–Rack shelf support

For the perpendicular shelf support, I cut it nearly to length then zeroed in on the final dimension on the shooting board. To make the joint between the rack and support more pleasing to the eye, I ran a 3/8” bead along the top (criteria #5.)

P7-Bead detail shot


To eliminate a blocky appearance (criteria #5) I cut one corner off each bracket front.

P3-Side Bracket

After the pieces were cut and fitted, I finished them with Danish oil, being careful to mask the to-be-glued edges. After the finish dried, I glued up the pieces and reinforced the joints with screws.

P4-Finished Rack

Now that I’ve used it, I like the look and the brace rack works well. It’s a bit tight between braces, and I have to take a bit of care to see that the heads don’t collide. But it’s compact and holds everything just fine. Drill sprawl be gone!


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The New Traditional Woodworker Project #3—Thin planing stop

Planing stops are an essential aid for a hand-tool shop like mine. A tip I saw in some magazine inspired me to make a couple. The first is a ¾” thick stop made with ¾” oak dowel stock spaced to fit in my bench dog holes. I also made a “thin” (5/16″) stop.

P7-thin planing stop

P8-thick planing stop

In practice, the “thin” stop gets the most use in my shop. I’ve obliterated several under the stresses of planing until the sole survivor was the ugly particle board one shown above. It doesn’t exactly make you wax nostalgic when you lay eyes on it does it?

Well, the frailty of my thin-stop along with its red-headed-step-child looks motivated me to whip to page 115 of my copy of Jim Tolpin’s The New Traditional Woodworker. His plane stop tutorial sported a design that looked both sturdy and purdy (think brass bling.) An added bonus was the fact that I could use the dividers I picked up in my East Coast Tool Hunt, to lay out the spacing of four fastening screws.

A trip to a specialty woodworking store provided the Alder S4S ¼” thick stock I wanted. One edge is affixed to a ledger which secures in a face vise. After laying the stock in the approximate position that the ledger will rest in the vise, I measured out a suitable distance to a bench dog hole. You see, the brass doggie will serve as a back stop for the far end of the stop.

Here’s what all this looks like in the vise.

P4-Secured in vise

I settled on dimensions of 5 ½” wide (that’s the width it came in) and 16″ long.

I plucked the ledger from a piece of 1 ½” square oak stock I had left over from a bench hook project.

From here, I beveled the edges of the stop and ledger. By trial and error, I used my Lufkin dividers to find the distance to step off five equal segments.

P3-Using dividers to step off the screw spacing

At four of the spacings, I depressed the sharp end into the wood to act as a layout mark for a screw as well as a pilot hole for my drill.

I’ve always loved brass appointments on tools and projects, so I took Tolpin’s advice and bought brass screws to attach the stop to the ledger.

I drilled pilot holes for the screws. Unfortunately, I underestimated the softness of the brass screws and made my pilot holes too small. This was obvious when I twisted the heads right off two screws. It’s not like they didn’t warn me…they squeaked in the wood before breaking. Nonetheless, a bit of wood glue secured the heads in place and no one but you and I are the wiser.

Three coats of BLO and here’s the finished piece.

P2-Finished stop and detail shots

Notice the 1/16th of an inch gap between the stop and the bench when it’s secured in the vise? Well, my face vise has a slight upper-jaw canter when it closes to ensure a tight fit. And that canter causes the stop to rise up a bit off the bench. A little planing with my Stanley No 5 was all it took to true the canter.

The stop is rock solid and so far has easily stood up to the tensile stresses of planing.

P5-face plane stop in use

And the brass screws and Alder appeal to my bling-loving side.

P1-Project shot

Mission accomplished.


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A utilitarian kitchen utensil holder that’s easy on the eyes

I hate fighting with my better half over kitchen stuff. Take this utensil holder for example.

P76-BEFORE Utensil Holder-Closeup-CLUTTERED view

See how it’s crammed full of spatulas, ladles, spoons, spoons and a spoon with a hole in it? That’s about half of what we’d like to have at hand. But noooooo. That circular ceramic holder just doesn’t have the real estate. And its enclosing circumference has the added frustration of packing the rubber utensil handles together. So that when you try to ease one out, it pulls the others out with it. Then there’s the slick bottom. It’s no good as a stop to prevent anything else around it from slip-sliding hither and yon.

P6-BEFORE Utensil Holder-Side view

So after the latest utensil-spill-that-triggered-an-adjacent-cutting-board-avalanche-into-the-knives, I resolved to build a utensil holder that even my lady wouldn’t mind having in the kitchen.

The available space was tailor made for a rectangular container…with two dividers to make three compartments. One for spoons, one for spatulas and one for…what look like surgical tools and such.

So I gathered up some pine boards, which, of course, weren’t wide enough to give me the desired 6 5/8” of height I sought. You see, if the sides were too low, then utensils would splay all over like petals on a wilted flower. Since that would defeat the purpose of a compact holder, I opted instead to add a 1.5” wide border. What a perfect opportunity to add a nice contrasting hardwood. I set out the options of walnut, red oak, mahogany or cumaru (a Brazilian legume tree) for my lady to view. She went with the latter I suspect because of its reddish hue and beautiful grain.

Pretty though cumaru may be, it sure is a bear to work with in a hand-tool shop. It’s damn hard. Not unlike hickory, which makes it difficult to do anything with it except look at it. It also has some funky grain, which promotes nasty tear out no matter which direction I plane it.

To build it I rabbeted the ends being sure to drill 1/8” holes to accept brass rod “dowels” to reinforce the joinery. The plywood bottom and dividers seated into grooves routed to house them. I stop-dadoed the grooves for the dividers short of the hardwood border to maintain a cleaner look.

After glue-up and finishing, I cut rubber shelf-liner bottoms for each section and epoxied rubber bumpers to the bottom. Final outside dimensions: 14” long x 6 5/8” high x 5 ½” wide. Dividers roughly placed to yield two 4 ½” and one 3” compartments.

P5-Utensil Holder-Top view

The finished product passed Gail’s inspection…

P1-Utensile Holder Project Picture


P2-Utensil Holder-Side view

P3-Utensil Holder-Top view

…and it found a new home atop our counter.

P8-Utensil Holder-Filled for use view

It has room for all the utensils we use. Plus, with the rubber bumpers, it doesn’t slide around, which means it acts like a bookend to keep the cutting boards to the left in check. And it doesn’t bother the knife neighbors either. In fact, it works so well that we’ve stopped arguing over which utensil to put out, or why I knocked this or that over. Such is the power of wood to promote harmony in our house.


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An unexpected meeting with a Lumberjocks buddy

Last September, I received the email excerpted below:

“Greetings Brad, We have a new case study to create. It is with a system builder partner of ours in the UK…”

A fortnight hence, I had finished my work in Leicester, UK, and was traveling the 110 miles south by rail to London with my lady sitting next to me. You see, whenever I go on a business trip somewhere—uh, scratch that. Whenever I go on a business trip somewhere nice (Seattle, San Francisco, the UK) I encourage my girl to go along with me to take a few days extra for a mini-vacation.

After setting up shop in the Thistle hotel, we had an early dinner and crashed early to combat our lingering jet lag.

The next day, our touring began at the Tower of London, where wood-based housing still exists from the time of Henry the VIIIth.

P2-Tower of London-Henry VIIths housing

Some of the grounds’ chambers had open walls which I was sure to snap for my woodworking travel collection.

P3-Tower of London-Inner Wall slatsP4-Tower of London-Inner Wall woodwork

After we finished our tour, we walked back to the hotel, wanting to explore the city on foot and take it in. The thing about modern London is that it has all manner of architecture, ranging from modern skyscrapers to this very old brewery. Copious use of wood trim…

P1-London Brewery

But best of all, London has Andy, aka Brit on the woodworking forum http://www.lumberjocks.com. Turns out that even though he hails from the southern wiles of the UK, he was on assignment in London for an IT project. Better still, he was a 10 minute walk from his hotel to ours.

It would be a woodworking crime to be that close and not meet him. So we emailed, and decided to meet up Thursday evening for some pints and fare. Wouldn’t you know it, we met in our hotel lobby, each bearing a gift for the other (I’ll get to mine below. :)

So Andy, being the consummate host, takes Gail and I to an ancient pub called the Flag and Lamb.

P9-Lamb and Flag SignP10-Andy and Brad with pint at Lamb and Flag

The watering hole got its liquor license in 1623 and sits in the posh Covent Garden district of the city. So with pints of Fuller’s London Pride ale in hand, we settled in and got acquainted. After draining our glasses and enduring a roaming mariachi band’s rendition of When the Saints Come Marching in, we headed to a nice restaurant. There, we talked about travel, woodworking, family, woodworking and all the cool things Andy’s wife has him doing. He was both delightful company and generous to a fault—picking up both tabs that night. When next we meet, I look forward to returning the favor.

A spirit level
At dinner we opened our gifts. I lost my “before” pictures, but it’s a spirit level 10” long by 1 1/8” wide by 1 1/8” high. The brass top plate had that black-gray patina that comes from being decades removed from any polish. I could see writing, but wouldn’t be able to make it out until I got home.

I told Andy I liked it the way it was, but he suggested that I restore it…and I’m glad I did.

P5-John Rabone and Sons Level-Overhead full viewP6-John Rabone and Sons Level-three quarters side viewP7-John Rabone and Sons Level-end view

Turns out it was made by John Rabone and Sons of Birmingham England.

According to Grace’s guide of industrial history, the “company had its origins in Birmingham, as rule and tool makers in 1784. The business was continued by John Rabone and his grandson, Eric Rabone. It operated under the name of John Rabone and Sons c1784-1953.”

The brass plate is a bit ornate, a manufacturing flair that hints at an older 20th century vintage. It does has steel screws to hold the plate in place. Maybe that would help date the tool, but I’m not versed on the nuances of the use of brass versus steel screws and when.

I think that the wood is mahogany, though from looking at various ones around the Internet, some were made of rosewood.

P8-John Rabone and Sons Level-detail collage

I love this level, and keep it on my desk to remind me of my trip to the UK and meeting Andy. It amazes me how commerce and affordable jet travel have shrunk the world we live in. So much so that I may get the chance to show him Colorado’s finest brewpubs. I think that he’ll find that while they lack the century’s history that permeates London, they make up for it with an uncompromising passion for the art of brewing.



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