When I was a boy, I learned a lot of what I know about woodworking from my dad. One thing I remember is that he always had a pencil tucked behind his ear. He was a handyman and did a lot of remodeling projects, constructed built-in cabinets, and had worked on some pretty unique projects in his time.
When I started woodworking, I always had a pencil nearby, usually in my shirt pocket. (I could never keep a pencil in place behind my ear. It was always falling out.) Anytime I needed to lay out joinery or mark a cut line, I used a pencil. This was back before inexpensive mechanical pencils became popular, so I had to learn to sharpen my pencil with my pocketknife. And I learned the trick of “twirling” or rotating the pencil as you draw a line so that the line would be a consistent thickness.
When bulk mechanical pencils became available at bargain prices, I switched to using those. I still use them and have dozens of them scattered in my shop. Yes, the leads can break easily but you learn how much pressure to apply when using them and a new point is just a click or two away.
As my woodworking skills increased, I found that a pencil line wasn’t as accurate as I needed it to be at times. This was especially true for making tight-fitting joinery by hand. After all, no matter how sharp the pencil, it still has a width. So the question becomes, which side of the line is the “real” line or do you split the center of the line?
Then I read about marking knives. So I ordered one. My first knife was the Veritas Striking Knife. Yes, it’s a little pricey but I’ve had mine for decades and love it. It fits comfortably in my hand and is easy to keep razor-sharp. There are other, similar knives that perform just as well.
One advantage a knife has over a pencil is that it creates a scribed line that leaves no doubt about the location of the cut line. Another advantage, especially for marking across the grain, is that the knife severs the wood fibers. If you’re using a saw to cut to this line, there’s no tearout or chipping because the knife has already left a clean cut line.
If you want to step up the accuracy and craftsmanship of your woodworking, I highly recommend using a marking knife. During my tenure writing for Woodsmith and ShopNotes magazines, I had the pleasure of seeing the marking knives shown above come about. (Click here to download plans.) They’re great, heirloom-quality tools you’ll always want to have at hand.
As a follow-up to this previous post, once you have electricity supplying your workspace, it’s time to consider the placement of receptacles. There are a few considerations here. First, receptacles should be spaced close enough together to avoid using extension cords where possible. Secondly, consider the height above the floor for locating them. In your home, the standard height above the finished floor (AFF) for receptacles in the U.S. is 12″ (30cm). However, in your shop, figure that the average height of workbenches, table saws, and other worksurfaces averages out around 36″ (92cm). Most of the benchtop or portable hand tools that would be used in your shop will be on a workbench. Plus, floor space can quickly get crowded, often blocking lower receptacles.
For my MiniMax Workshop, I chose to install a two-gang receptacle box on every other stud in the walls. Since the stud spacing is 16″ (40cm) on-center, that makes a total of four receptacles located roughly every 32″ (81cm). For my way of thinking, it’s better to plan for more receptacles than you think you’ll need because you’ll, at some point, wish there was one closer to where you need it. Yes, I tend to go overboard on the number of receptacles, but I’ve never been sorry.
As for the height, I mounted all of the boxes 48″ (123cm) above the floor. This way, they would be easily accessible above worksurfaces and stationary power tools.
Here is my usual disclaimer. With anything involving electrical work, please consult with or hire a licensed electrician. If you’re running the cables yourself, they can advise on how the wire should be installed and fastened, what size wire to use, and how to make the connections. Also, cooperate with your local code officials and obtain the proper permits and inspections. It’s for your safety.
I used inexpensive 2-gang electrical boxes that have a nailing flange on the front. I regret this decision. I found that the boxes can distort, making it difficult to fasten the receptacles and install the cover plate after the wall board is installed. And there’s always the possiblity that the plastic threads will strip. In the future, I’ll spend a little extra to buy metal boxes.
When it comes to running the wiring, I made another decision I sort of regret. Remember from this previous post that I ran two 20-amp circuits to the shop. My original thinking, and the way I wired it, was to dedicate one circuit to the recepactles on the north and west walls, and the other circuit to the east and south walls. The better solution would have been to run both circuits to each receptacle box. This way, each duplex receptacle in the two-gang box would be on a different circuit. This just helps even out the electrical load and prevent overloading in case you have power-hungry tools all along one wall. Again, this where your electrician can help you with how to do this per electrical code.
Another consideration, especially if your MiniMax Workshop is in a separate building, is whether to install outdoor receptacles. I took advantage of the open walls while I was running wires and poked through to the outside to install an outdoor-rated electrical receptacle box. I simply branched off the nearest receptacle box on the inside with the wiring. This outdoor receptacle has come in handy multiple times.
One of the things your electrician may mention to you is the use of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) or residual-current device (RCD in th U.K.) for the receptacles. In the U.S., they are required for circuits used outdoors, laundry rooms, bathrooms, basements, kitchens–anywhere there’s a potential for exposure to liquids. I could have used GFCI breakers at the main panel in the house. This would have protected both circuits going out to the MiniMax Workshop. But these can be pricey. Instead, I opted to install a GFCI receptacle at the start of each circuit then branched off to the other receptacles. This way, all of the receptacles downstream are protected.
After installing all of the boxes and wiring and making the final connections, it was time to flip on the breakers. This is always a sweat-inducing moment for me. But the worst that has ever happened to me is that I had a wire crossed somewhere and the breaker tripped immediately. If the breaker stays on, it’s a good sign your wiring is correct! To be sure, I checked each receptacle with a tester.
At this point, I called for my an electrical inspection as required by the local code officials. They looked at the breaker panel, the underground cable, and made sure I was using GFCI receptacles correctly. I passed the inspection which meant that I could insulate the walls and add the wall covering.
Unless you’re considering doing “unplugged” woodworking using only hand tools, you’re going to want some power in your shop. Even if it’s just for lighting, you need to consider how much power you’re going to need.
Let me stop right here and mention that I am not an electrician. I am comfortable installing breakers and running new circuits. However, I did consult with a licensed electrical contractor and the local code enforcement officials. You should do the same. They can tell you the requirements for cable size and type, breaker sizes, burial depth, and other important information. And certainly, if you feel uncomfortable installing wiring, receptacles, and circuit breakers, please–hire a professional.
What I’m talking about below is the situation where you need to supply power to an outbuilding. If your MiniMax Workshop is in an attached garage or spare bedroom, simple talk to a licensed electrician about options for adding receptacles, if necessary.
Where electrical is required in an outbuilding, there are two solutions for supplying power. One solution is to branch off of the main breaker panel in the house and install a sub-panel in the workshop. This has the advantage of having only one higher-amperage breaker in the main panel to cut off power to the outbuilding when needed. Plus, you can install multiple circuits in the sub-panel inside the shop. This solution definitely requires the services and advice of your electrical contractor and code enforcement official to meet the necessary requirements for breaker sizes and quantity, cable size, and electrical grounding.
The second solution is to install separate breakers in the main breaker panel and run the appropriate sized cable to the workshop. This is the option I chose.
For my MiniMax Workshop, I decided that I could get by with two 20-amp circuits. This would adequately supply the receptacles I wanted to install. Plus, I could branch off of one of those circuits for the lighting.
The problem was, my MiniMax Workshop shed is several feet away from the house. What would be the best method for running these two circuits to the shed? For my situation, the only workable solution was to run the cables underground that connected the breaker box in the house to the shed.
The first step was to apply for an electrical permit. This is required since I’m adding circuits to an existing panel. I had to specify that I was doing the work myself. In some areas, this is not allowed and a licensed electrical contractor must do the work or take responsibility for it.
The next thing you need to do is to call the utility service in your area to mark any underground cables and pipes. In my city, this is a requirement before starting any work that requires digging. The service I used painted the sod and placed flags to mark underground high-voltage wires.
With permit in hand, it was time to get to work.
To run wiring to an outside wall from the main panel, I had to fish cable up into the attic and over a laundry/utility room. The exterior walls of the house are masonry, so I opted to poke through the ceiling and run conduit down to a junction box that would connect to the outside. From there, I had to drill through concrete to connect to an exterior junction box. From the junction box to a narrow trench I dug, I used PVC conduit to protect the cable from weed trimmers and mowers.
For my municipality, I had to dig a trench 18″ (45cm) deep between the house and the shed. The required depth where you live will likely be different.
When I reached the shop building, I again used conduit to run the cable up inside the wall. Then came the task of fishing the underground cable from the shed, along the trench, then up into the internal junction box in the laundry room. Inside, I completed the run using wiring rated for indoor use. Again, check with your code official and electrician for the proper cable to use outdoors and indoors.
Before I covered the cable with soil, I installed “view tubes” or sections of pipe vertically in the trench that stuck above ground. These provided inspection ports for the electrical inspector to verify that the cable was buried at the proper depth. To prevent accidentally cutting into the cable in the future when digging, I also installed a yellow caution tape about 12″ (30cm) above the cable. This way, when a shovel hits the tape, it serves as a warning that there is a cable buried underneath.
Here’s where you may ask, “Why didn’t you run conduit the entire length of the trench?” Underground cable is very stiff and difficult to work with. I had enough trouble fishing it through the short lengths of conduit at the house and shed. The cable I used is rated for burial use without conduit, so it wasn’t an issue.
After this main cable was run, I connected it to the two new breakers in the main panel box. Then it was time to install receptacle boxes and wiring in the MiniMax Workshop. You can read more about that in another post.
Learn about: • Sizes and Types of Bench Planes • The Difference between Bevel-Down and Bevel-Up Hand Planes • How and When to Use a Bench Plane • How to Use a Block Plane • Proper Hand Plane Techniques • Hand Plane Tips and Tricks
Randy Maxey is a contributing editor to WOOD and Woodsmith magazines as well as an author of books about woodworking.
Learning how to sharpen, tune, and use hand tools is an important skill for a workshop of any size, particularly a small shop. Hand tools take up less space than power tools. And in some cases, there’s no more accurate tool for the job than a well-tuned hand tool. In this case, I’m talking about a block plane. Every woodworker needs a good block plane (or two…or three…).
As an instructor at the Florida School of Woodwork I teach a week-long class on using hand tools to create joinery. Surprisingly, the class is becoming more popular. One of the students of the school contacted me and mentioned that he is signed up to take one of my classes. Leonard said that he inherited some hand planes from his father-in-law and wanted to know if I could restore them to usable condition. He wants to use them in my class.
As a side note, when I first realized many years ago that learning how to use hand planes (and other hand tools) could improve my woodworking, I was hooked. It started when my father gave me two hand planes he found in his workshop.
Once I figured out how to clean, restore, sharpen, and tune a hand plane, I never looked back. I started looking for old planes to restore. I get as much pleasure out of restoring old tools as I do building projects. I try to imagine the tools in the hands of their original owners.
About the No. 18
The first of three planes of Leonard’s that I worked on was a Stanley No. 18 block plane. This is an unusual plane for a couple of reasons. (You can read more about it on The Superior Works “Blood & Gore” page by Patrick Leach.) First, the No. 18 block plane has an adjustable mouth. That’s not all that unusual, but I think it’s an important feature on any hand plane. Being able to adjust the width of the mouth opening helps prevent tearout when planing.
One of the most unusual features of this plane is the lever cap. Stanley Tools had tried a number of designs for lever caps for block planes. Most involve some sort of cam that tightens the lever cap. The lever cap on the No. 18 works differently. It’s a spring loaded assembly that snaps closed to hold the plane iron secure. It’s often referred to as a knuckle-joint lever cap. The beauty of it is its simplicity and ease of removing and installing it on the plane. To remove it, simply lift up on the back end of the cap and it snaps loose. Slip the keyhole slot over the screw to lift it off.
Another feature that I found a little unusual, at least to the more modern planes I’m familiar with, was the lateral adjustment mechanism. This lever allows you to change the side-to-side angle of the blade to ensure that the cutting edge is parallel to the sole of the plane.
The lateral adjustment lever is made from stamped steel. It’s a complex curve in that it forms a shallow “C” or comma shape when viewed from above but the tail drops down at the back of the plane to form a finger hold to move the lever.
The lateral adjuster has a threaded hole for the lever cap screw. I found it somewhat odd that this hole is threaded since the lever cap screw is also threaded into the base of the plane. I suppose the logic was to allow you to adjust the vertical position of the adjuster. I found this process finicky since you have to guess how far to thread the screw into the adjuster before threading it into the plane body.
A small steel disk riveted onto the adjuster engages the slot in the plane iron. Moving the lever forces the disk to one side of the slot or the other to nudge the plane iron, changing the lateral angle.
Disassembly & Cleaning
Whenever I restore a hand plane, the first thing I do is completely disassemble it. Every screw and every part comes off of the plane. It’s the only way to assess the true condition of the plane.
The next task involves cleaning. Now, there are several schools of thought on this. For collectors, there is such a thing as cleaning a plane too well. The natural, aged patina adds to the value. Others prefer to go for the “like new” look. I will admit that for my own hand planes, I often try to make them look shiny new.
In the case of Leonard’s hand planes, though, I tried to strike a middle ground. Realizing the sentimental value of the planes, I didn’t want to go to the extent of making them look new. I wanted them to retain a well used but well cared-for look. I would simply try to remove the bulk of the rust and grime.
To do this, the first thing I usually do is use an old toothbrush or inexpensive cleaning brushes to remove the years of accumulated sawdust and dirt. I try to use brushes with nylon bristles on the painted and japanned areas to avoid scratching. The brass and steel brushes I reserved for heavy-duty cleaning on bare steel and cast iron.
I will often use mineral spirits, WD-40, or a cleaning agent like Formula 409 (it’s great for removing grease and oil) on a disposable shop rag to remove any residue. Cotton swabs are great for getting into tight areas. I really like the long, wooden swabs you often see in doctor’s offices. They’re durable and their long reach makes cleaning jobs easier. Put a few drops of cleaner or solvent on them for detailed cleaning tasks.
Once all of the parts are relatively clean, I’ll go to work on removing as much rust as I can. For this plane, there were a few bad spots of rust. But the good news is there was no pitting. It was just surface rust.
For the cast iron parts of the plane body, I like to see how clean I can get the parts with non-woven abrasive pads.
These are made by a number of manufacturers but their color-coding is usually pretty standard. Gray and maroon are coarsest with the green being a finer abrasive and white is used for polishing. I find it relatively easy to remove surface rust with the gray pad.
For broad, flat areas like the sides and sole of a plane body, I’ll often lay a sheet of 220-grit sandpaper face-up on a flat surface like a granite tile, the top of my table saw, or a piece of MDF. Then I’ll rub the plane body on the sandpaper to get an even scratch pattern and help remove any prominent rust, dents, and dings. Then I follow up with a green abrasive pad for final touch-up.
For chromed pieces like the lever cap and brass parts like the knobs, I’ll use the green pad. A coarser grit would leave noticeable scratches. The green pad is great for removing years of built-up tarnish and dirt without leaving deep scratches. I’ll use a brass- or nylon-bristle brush to remove dirt from knurled areas of the brass knobs.
For screws and threaded parts, I’ll squirt them with WD-40 and clean the threads with a brass or nylon brush. An abrasive pad or fine-grit sandpaper does a great job of cleaning up the heads of the screws. I’ll sometime go to the trouble of folding a small piece of sandpaper to clean out the screw slots.
Sharpening the Iron (Blade)
Before re-assembling the plane, I’ll try to sharpen the plane iron. The first step is to make sure the back of the iron (non-bevel face) is flat, particularly near the cutting edge. To do this, I use a coarse diamond stone. You can also use coarse wet/dry sandpaper on a flat surface. The iron on this No. 18 block plane had a considerable crown, or hump, in the back. It took a lot of effort to remove it. One alternative would have been to purchase a new Hock blade. It might have been easier and better in the long run.
Once the back is flat, you can turn your attention to sharpening the bevel. I won’t go into detail here on how to sharpen (that’s for another time). Once that’s done, you can use an abrasive pad to remove any remaining rust.
As I mentioned before, this No.18 block plane has an adjustable mouth. This is accomplished with a movable plate at the toe of the plane on the underside.
You can see in the photo that there was some cleanup that needed to be done. Once I removed all of the debris, I reinstalled the toe piece into the plane body. But I noticed that it fit a little too tightly. It’s supposed so slide freely. So I removed the toe piece and very carefully rubbed the side edges on some sandpaper to remove any roughness, making sure not to round over the edges. After a few test-fits, it was moving smoothly. I added a drop of oil on each side before reassembly.
Before putting the entire plane back together, I’ll wipe the cast iron and steel parts with a thin coat of a light machine oil, like 3-IN-ONE Oil. Just a few drops on a shop rag are all you need. And I’ll add a drop of oil to all of the screw threads before installing them. I’ve had too many planes with seized screws that I don’t want that to happen again. Be sure to add a drop of oil to any pivot points like the blade adjustment mechanism.
One a block plane, make sure to install the iron with the bevel up. Then you can install the lever cap and adjust the tension by tightening or loosening the lever cap screw.
Test the function of the depth adjuster, lateral adjuster, and cam for the toe piece. You may have to do some careful filing or additional lubrication to make sure everything operates smoothly.
Chuck a piece of wood in your bench vise and make some cuts. You should be able to get thin, wispy shavings in no time.