When I first became aware of hollows and rounds I read about the heralded “half set.” A half set of hollows and rounds is 18 planes, nine pairs, that incrementally increase in radius from 1/8″ at the low end to 1-1/2″ at the high end. The half set of planes is generally the even numbered pairs in the previously referenced chart. (A full set is 36 planes, and also includes the odd numbers.)
A half set of hollows and rounds is an extraordinarily comprehensive grouping of planes that allows the owner to produce a range of moulding profiles that exist in the smallest spice box and largest secretary. Centuries ago, the half set was often acquired over time.
For many users, myself included, the half set covers an unnecessarily broad range of work, and represents an undue expense. Many woodworkers narrow their plane choice down to match the scale of work that catches their fancy. For example, if you work only with 4/4 stock, then sizes above No. 8 may go unused. Starting with just a single pair of hollows and rounds – and an efficient method to accurately establish rabbets and chamfers – allows the production of dozens of different profiles.
The simplicity of combining only one convex and one concave arc might seem limiting. There are, however, scores of profiles you will be able to produce with just a single pair of hollows and rounds. These profiles will often contain minute differences – adding a vertical or horizontal fillet, or flat, adjusting the size of that fillet, increasing the curvature or changing the general angle of the profile. These small differences are important and are often glossed over or neglected on a router table.
Adding a second pair of hollows and rounds to your tool chest, a step I always encourage, increases the number of possible profiles far more than two-fold. Not only will you be able to create the 41 profiles shown above in two different sizes, you will also be able to mix the concave with the convex to form various cove and ovolo combinations and ogees. Additionally, you can mix concave with the concave and convex with the convex to form elliptical shapes. It is at this stage that you will unlock the true versatility of these planes.
“To lack experience in a handicraft is to lack experience in one of life’s good things. There are so many qualities craftsmanship can bring into the open which otherwise might remain hidden for a lifetime. Unexpected talent, unexpected ingenuity are revealed only when we begin to draw upon them, and, liberated from their dim lurking places within ourselves, they begin to live and grow. It can give heart to a man just to see his work taking shape. Many of us in the modern world have to live within our minds; many others are able to see only one small contribution made by their hands and to have no unique personal responsibility for the finished product. But we all need a unique personal responsibility for the things we do if we are to feel fully satisfied. The claims made upon us by craftsmanship, the opportunity it gives, not only insist that we shall assume this kind of responsibility but help to develop and enlarge it. When we see what we can do, the earth begins to grow solid beneath our feet. The timid ghost that used to hover within us, never quite sure, is put to flight. Something good and creative has come positively into the open, and life is infinitely the richer, our experience infinitely broader and more rewarding because of it.”
— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, March 1962
The video we’ve recently released, “Roubo Workbench: By Hand & Power Video,” is intended to be a brain dump from me and Will Myers on building slab workbenches. Not only do we show the techniques we’ve developed to make it doable for the home woodworker, we also seek to dispel a lot of the myths and misdirection encountered by the bench builder.
We take the following topics head-on:
You can use (very) wet wood for the benchtop.
The finish can be simple (or non-existent).
The species you use isn’t all that important.
Moving big slabs doesn’t require a forklift or Roman garrison.
You might not need a tail vise.
The lower stretchers are not very important.
This last detail always makes my bench-building students crazy. They go to great lengths to make the mortise-and-tenon joints between the stretchers and legs massive and tight. While I’ll never bad-mouth a good joint, the stretcher joints are not as important as the joints that join the benchtop and the legs.
Early workbenches didn’t use these stretchers (check out the Stent panel for one good example). In fact, I think the biggest job of the lower stretchers is to make it easier to install a shelf below the benchtop for your bench planes and appliances.
As a result, I don’t think the joints for the stretchers have to be massive. To prove the point we used a Domino XL to make one of the stretcher joints on our bench. I probably wouldn’t use a pocket screw or a biscuit for this joint, but loose tenons are an excellent choice, whether you use a router, drill or Domino.
In fact, some Roman boats were built using loose-tenon joinery, and those seemed to do OK.