Making woodwork tools

This post may seem unorganized. It is not, though. It is ordered by time. It shows the process of converting two pieces of maple into a spokeshave, a mallet and a marking gauge.

First the pieces of maple needed to be shaped.

Rip sawing is hard work. I needed a small break.
Roughing out the mallet head shape
Some more cleanup of the mallet head
New tool. Significant improvement.

I could not finish the mallet yet, because I did not have a drill bit of the size needed for the handle hole.

I continued working on a spokeshave. I decided to try to make the plane iron myself. Technically, this is not woodwork of course. But there is a strong relationship with woodwork. And, more importantly, it fit my goal to make things I never made before.

The plane iron is made of DIN 1.2510 steel (equal to O-1 tool steel). I cut it from flat stock using a hacksaw. A cutout was made by drilling several holes and filing with a flat file (no round file available at that point). Finally, I ground the bevel using the DIY belt grinder.

I heat treated the steel in my small heat treatment oven.

  • Preheat to 600 °C
  • Heat up to 815 °C
  • Soak for 15 minutes
  • Quench in peanut oil
  • Scratch test (the top layer always fails because of decarburization, but below that ‘soft’ surface, there is a glass hard piece of steel)
  • Temper twice for 2 hours (kitchen oven)

I first tempered at 195 °C, but after spending a long time with sandpaper there was too little progress. Besides, the edge seemed to chip, so the steel was clearly too hard. I retempered at 240 °C and according to the curve, this should result in a hardness around 59-60 HRC.

DIY spokeshave iron while cooling down after last temper.

I followed Rex Krueger’s example to shape the spokeshave using saw, chisel, knife and sandpaper. And I used a bit brace to drill the hole. It appears to be easier to drill at a right angle with a bit brace (plus visual aid) than with an electric drill.

Shaping the spokeshave

In the meantime I decided to try saw filing. All saws had case hardened teeth, so I took a worn out Bahco saw that had several broken teeth. I tempered it at 300 °C to reduce the hardness of the teeth to approximately ‘spring steel’ and ground off the teeth. The original teeth had a strange shape, at least not the 60° angle needed to use a saw file.

Suggestion: use the belt grinder to achieve this (instead of a flat file), if you wish to see a nice fireworks show.

The spokeshave was finished with boiled linseed oil and wax. I felt it was a pity to remove the nice blue oxide layer of the plane iron, so I only worked on the essential areas: flattened the back and sharpened the cutting edge. This matches well with the overall rustic look of the tool.

Finished spokeshave.

I decided to try to make the marking gauge of an offcut, a semicircle section of maple tree trunk. So the end grain will be the marking gauge face. I had no idea how it will work out. But I liked the idea of trying to flatten the end grain freehand.

Please don’t look for what I was not looking for. I did not select this wood because of its beauty. This tree stood in our backyard. It shared part of its life history with me, which is why it has much more value for me than an anonymous piece of wood, beautiful though it be.

Planed end grain. Very smooth to the touch, even though you can see slight planing marks.

The saw was retoothed as a rip saw. First I destroyed a Stanley triangular file. Each corner of that file was dull after filing less then 10 teeth. Then I switched to a Bahco saw file. One corner of that file lasted the whole saw. So there seems to be a significant quality difference between these files, or maybe the corners of the Stanley file were not suited to file a saw. I cannot check this, because the corners are now flat…

So far the saw performs well. I sawed small pieces of fir, maple and multiplex with it.

Retoothed and set saw

Then I switched back to the marking gauge. The crack now extends to the square mortise, but it does not prevent the tool from working. It is better to have this marking gauge than to have no marking gauge at all.

The cutter was hardened the same time as the spokeshave chisel, but not retempered, so it is extremely hard. I ground the tip round on the belt grinder and finished it on sharpening stones. Maybe I’ll wind some thread around the slot that holds the cutter, for a stiffer connection.

I finished the body with boiled linseed oil, but kept the sticks and mortise bare, in order not to reduce the friction.

Almost finished marking gauge

Then I moved to a workbench. I decided to try to build a Roman workbench, like Christopher Schwarz (Lost Art Press) describes in his excellent book. By the way, this workbench project fits perfectly in this blog post about tools, since in my opinion a workbench is a tool as well: a device used to carry out a particular function. If you think an object cannot be a tool if you don’t hold it, my answer is that I plan to grip this workbench with my legs often enough.

I am making this workbench from fine sawn Douglas fir. It is a great planing exercise. And I slightly underestimate the physical effort involved, working on the floor (I am making a workbench because I don’t have one). It is a perfect upper-body workout.

Wood for Roman workbench: Douglas fir, naturally marked with Roman numbers
Another view of the same wood. Next to it some oak, dust collection systems and a worm composting bin
Waste bin filled with shavings

I glued the benchtop together using as many clamps as possible. Because of the size, the number of available clamps became less and less. For the last piece of wood, there were only two bar clamps and two quick clamps.

I did the glue-up in the house, because it was close to freezing in the ‘workshop’. Below the minimum temperature for Bison wood glue. The low relative humidity caused the wood to shrink rapidly, especially at the exposed end grain. After two days here were several split glue joints at the end of the benchtop. I did not care much about that. But there were also splits along the length of the benchtop… Fortunately, when drilling the holes, I found that these splits were only superficial (a few millimeters deep), so the joints should still be plenty strong. I’m planning to store the bench in the ‘workshop’ now to dry gently and take it only in the house for as long as needed.

Glued together, still 1 to go (on the right)

I ripped two 5×10 cm offcuts into four 5×5 cm pieces to make the legs. The retoothed saw worked very well for this. I cut a round tenon of 38 mm (the size of my largest speed drill bit). Then I used the spokeshave to make a smooth transition between square leg and round tenon.

Compared to maple, this Douglas fir is like cheese… And the spokeshave performs extremely well, besides being quite ergonomic.

Making the round leg tenons
Three legs done

I drilled four 38 mm holes in the benchtop, according to Christopher’s description (not using rake and splay angles, but a sightline and one angle reference). This proved to be a straightforward and predictable way to drill holes at an angle.

Holes drilled for the legs

I sawed oak wedges with 4 degree (inclusive) angle and used my to-be-mallet-head to drive them in as far as they would go.

Legs glued and wedged
Tenons trimmed flush. The piece of wood is to become the planing stop.
The other end of the Roman workbench, before planing the benchtop flat

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