Friday, October 27, 2017

Mortise Gauges

I have several mortise gauges. The marking, or mortise, gauge is an incredibly useful tool; it would be possible to get by without one, but it would make one's woodworking life a lot more difficult.

If you don't know what a marking gauge is, it's used to scribe a line, or in the case of a mortise gauge a pair of lines, accurately relative to the edge of a piece of wood. What you do with it is set the block on the shaft at the distance you want the line, and then run the block along the edge of the wood so that the pin (or pins) in the shaft scores a line.

The top one is the first one I ever bought, and the simplest. It's made of beech, manufactured to quite decent tolerances, but it's not that easy to use as a mortise gauge because the secondary mortise pin is free-sliding, which means that you have to hold several things in place at once before tightening it up. It can often take several tries to get everything properly spaced, relative to each other. However, as a simple marking gauge (just using the single-pin side) it's great. I've modified it very slightly by re-shaping the pins from a conical section to spear-pointed triangles, so they cut the fibres of the wood rather than crushing them — this results in a much finer, more accurate line, but being so fine it can be difficult to see. especially in timber with a pronounced grain like oak.

The middle one I was given as a birthday present some years ago. It's quite old, and very well made from rosewood with brass inlays. It has a screw adjustment in the shaft for setting the mortise width, so it's a lot easier to be accurate when setting the relative positions of the block and the two mortise pins. Its only issue is that, being so old, it's been used a lot, and the pins have been sharpened and resharpened so much that they're mere nubbins. They could be replaced, but I'm not really confident enough of my skills to try it — it's not a straightforward disassembly job, and I fear that I might destroy it in the attempt.

The bottom one is one that I just bought by mail-order. It wasn't expensive, about twenty bucks or so, but it should see me out. It's made of Malaysian ebony with good, chunky brass anti-wear inserts on the face of the block. Like my rosewood one, it has a screw adjustment for the mortise pins

It has (or had) one significant issue though: the hole in the block had been machined too large, so the shaft rode quite sloppily in it. That would mean that you couldn't guarantee that everything was square when tightened up.

I fixed that by adding a pair of copper shims, one on either side of the shaft, to tighten everything up. You can see their ends folded around the face of the block (there's a similar flange at the back) to hold them in place. I cut a shallow recess in the face so that the shim rests below the surface of the block; that just ensures that it doesn't accidentally ride against your work-piece and send your line off its proper path.

I'll probably re-shape the pins the same way I've done on my beech gauge, but I'll give it some use first to see if that's really warranted.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Today I gave my DeWalt thicknesser its very first outing on its shiny new wheely-stand, and used it to plane down some bits of macrocarpa that I had lying around from another project that never got off the ground.

I put together this sitting-stool, which is shown here having just had its first coat of linseed oil. It will most likely end up being another piece of outdoor furniture; macrocarpa is a good timber for that.

Just as an aside: when I was a kid, I thought macrocarpa was a Maori word, not Latin. I thought it was makorokaporo. I have no idea what, if anything, makorokaporo would mean though.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


In my scrap pile today I found a very curly bit of oak. It has grain going about seventeen different ways at once, and was impossible to work with any of the bladed tools I own, so I made this wooden tanto for aikido training entirely with rasps and files.

It's actually a pretty shitty piece of timber for almost any purpose, but I really like the chaotic figure of the grain.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Wooden Router Plane - Finis

I finished off shaping my wooden router plane, and gave it a few coats of shellac and a spot of wax.

It works fine, but it's not going to be taking the place of my trusty Record or Stanley routers any time soon. It'll be purely an emergency backup extra router, in case I should need one.

Part Three
Part One

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Making a Wooden Router Plane

This may not look like anything much, but it's actually a fully functional router plane.

Admittedly, it's not a very beautiful router plane just yet, but it works as one, which is the important thing. It has some shaping to be done as yet, now that I know it works as expected, and I also want to add a couple of tee-nuts so that I can mount a grooving fence to it.

The cutter is from Veritas, and is the same format as that for the Stanley No.70 or Record No.71 planes. It's held in place by a ¼" threaded eye-bolt which passes through the body of the router to a wing-nut at the back.

The wing-nut is functional, but uncomfortable, and I'd like to replace it with a knurled thumb-nut at some stage.

I've learned a thing or two from this so far, and I may (or may not) make another.

The cutter and eye-bolt
The wing-nut
Part Two
Part Three

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cunning Dovetail Jig

 This may not look like much, but in fact it's an amazingly useful and cunning dovetailing jig that makes cutting dovetails a piece of cake. It's a variation on a jig developed by Paul Sellars.

One of the crucial things to get well-fitting dovetails is getting your cuts dead square, which is especially tricky on very thin stock. I've been making a bunch of small boxes out of 8mm thick pine, and 8mm doesn't give you much leeway to gauge your accuracy visually.

The thick base of this jig allows you to get your cuts square every time. Its been marked and cut with one raked cut for a side of the dovetail, and one horizontal cut, for a shoulder. In this instance I only need one tail, but it can be easily expanded for multiple tails.
NOTE: The observant will note that there are actually two shoulder cuts, but I realised that by putting a registration peg out in the middle of the tail I'd only need the one.

The piece to be cut is put into the jig, hard up against the side piece and hard up against the top registration peg(s).

Then the saw is offered into the dovetail cut in the jig, and the first cut is made.

The piece is then flipped over, and the cut on the other side of the tail is made the same way.
Note: I'm not left-handed; this is a posed shot for the camera.
Next, the whole lot is turned sideways in the vice, and the first shoulder cut is made in the same manner.

Again, the piece is flipped over and the opposite cut is made the same way.
Note: that left-hand cut is one I included before I realised that a registration peg in the middle of the tail would give more accurate symmetry than relying on allowing for the depth of the shoulder with the original corner peg.
I didn't time my work, but I'd be surprised if it took more than four or five minutes to complete each piece, with guaranteed accuracy. It would be longer of course if you're cutting multiple tails, but it's still much faster and more reliable than doing it all by eye.

There are a couple of changes I'd make for future versions.

  1. I'd make the jig back-plate a bit wider, say about 25mm wider than the work piece, so that the saw starts its shoulder cut more reliably square. On this one, there's only a couple of millimetres from the edge of the piece to the edge of the jig, and though it worked OK, more depth would be better.
  2. The top registration peg in the corner isn't really necessary. A single peg that sits in the middle of the piece's tail is adequate to ensure that everything is properly registered for cutting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


A5. Black ink pen and coloured pencils.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Saw Conversion Complete (mostly)

The conversion of my cheap gents' saw into a rather nice dovetail saw is pretty much complete.

It's now completely usable, and it cuts very nicely with a good thin kerf.

Alas, it's still moderately hideous from its left-hand side until I can figure out a decent way to hide the captive square bolts. They don't affect the saw's functionality in any way, but they're aesthetically unpleasing.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Saw Conversion

I have an inexpensive gents' saw that I'm converting into a pistol-grip dovetail saw. I'll have to remove the saw's handle, cut off the tang and reshape the plate slightly, and then mount it into the new handle I'm in the process of shaping from a piece of 25mm thick oak I had lying around.

The existing saw is OK, though not great. The steel is decent and it cuts well, but its back-spline is a little light. Ideally I'd like to change that for a good stiff, heavy brass one, but I'm not sure that I'm capable. For the moment it can stay with the existing spline; I can always swap it out at a later date with only minor surgery to the new handle.

This is more or less how it will look when it's assembled. Of course, the grip will be shaped so that it's a lot more comfortable to hold.

One thing that's troubling me is the pair of nuts and bolts that should hold the plate to the handle. Traditionally they should be brass split-nuts, in which the bolt (or rather, machine screw) part of the pair screws into a threaded, capped tube. This gives the assembly a very neat look, but as far as I can find they're just not available anywhere in New Zealand except by cannibalizing some from an old saw. I can get some from overseas, but they're quite expensive in themselves, and the postage being demanded by the vendors is eye-watering — one mob in the UK wants £45 in addition to the cost of the fixings themselves!

Well, they're not essential; I want to use them mostly for aesthetic reasons. It would be nice to have some though, not least because I have some missing from some of my other saws that I'd like to replace.


I finished the shaping of the handle, and gave it a single coat of oil just to seal it.

I drilled a couple of small guide holes where the screws will eventually go; there's no point in going any further with them until I know exactly what hardware I've got for them.