Below are two handplaning techniques from Robert Wearing’s “The Solution at Hand.” Wearing was one of the foremost experts on woodworking appliances; he wrote extensively about them for Woodworker magazine and published a number of books on the topic. In 2019, we approached Wearing about collecting the best of the appliances for handwork into one new book, and he agreed.
The result is “The Solution at Hand: Jigs & Fixtures to Make Benchwork Easier,” a hardbound book of our favorite jigs from Wearing’s career. The book covers a wide swath of material, from building workbench appliances for planing, to making handscrews (and many other ingenious clamps), some simple tools that you cannot buy anywhere else, to marking devices that make complex tasks easier.
Thin strips of identical thickness, such as may be required for laminating, can be accurately produced by handplaning by means of a simple jig. This consists of a base-block, A, and two rebated side members, B. The space between the two rebates must just allow free movement of the chosen jack plane. A projects below B, to be held in the vice.
The sides are glued and pinned in place using an assembly block with a true face in the plane position and a piece of ply, card or suitable spacing material of the required thickness. The illustration makes this clear. When complete, an end stop, C, is fitted.
Modifications: For the making of stringings for inlaying or musical instrument making, grooves are ploughed or cut on the circular saw in the baseblock A. In this case there is no need for rebated sides. Very thin pieces will tend to buckle when planed against a stop. This is overcome by cutting away some of the baseblock and pinning on the workpiece below the level of the blade. In this case, of course, the components and the jig must be made extra long.
An adjustable model can be made by slotting and screwing on the sides. The adjustment is made using the same method as when gluing on the sides to the simple model. Solid wood keys for reinforcing mitre joints can be produced in this manner.
Handplaning Very Small Components
Very small components can best be planed by holding a plane upside down in the vice and pushing the workpiece over the blade. As this method gives every chance of shaving off the fingertips, a push stick is an advantage. Even better is this simple planing device. It consists of a hardwood base with a firmly secured handle. Guide pieces, thinner than the finished job, can be pinned or glued on so that they can be changed when the aid is used for another job.
The following is excerpted from Chapter 4 of “The Solution at Hand: Jigs & Fixtures to Make Benchwork Easier” by Robert Wearing. The book covers a wide swath of useful material, from building workbench appliances for planing, to making handscrews (and many other ingenious clamps), some simple tools that you cannot buy anywhere else, to marking devices that make complex tasks easier.
There can be few readers who enjoy buying cramps. Unlike some other tools they do not make anything. Nevertheless, they are essential. Generally they are bought and used as four of a size. The major disadvantage is that good iron G cramps are very expensive for what they do, and because four are required, that cost is multiplied four-fold. Apart from the cost, iron G cramps have another disadvantage. They can easily damage the work; consequently wood blocks must be used to prevent this. Juggling these while the glue sets can be a problem for the single-handed worker. The G cramp with its swivelling foot cannot give that light nip at the very tip as can many of the cramps illustrated later. Though obviously G cramps have very great strength, it should be remembered that good joints require only to be pulled, not crushed together.
These tools are much less common than they were a generation ago. Nevertheless they have several advantages over the much more numerous G cramps. They are lighter in weight, they do not damage the work and, of course, they can be made. Jaw length can vary between 12″ (300 mm) and 4″ (100 mm). They are usually square in section and are made from any close-grained hardwood. The screws can be of wood, if a wood screw box is available, or can be of bought metal screwed rod. The latter would be of a smaller size. The metal screws can be screwed, glued and even pinned into chisel-type handles and wood screws can be similarly fitted if it is required to cut out some of the woodturning.
It must be stressed that both the threaded holes are in the same jaw, in this illustration the lower one. In use the through screw makes the preliminary grip then the second shorter one screws into a cavity in the upper jaw, thus increasing the pressure.
Another Simple Handscrew
This derives directly from the traditional wooden handscrew, and from the metalworkers’ “Toolmakers’ clamp.” In addition to the advantages already stated, the handscrew can grip in a depression or confined space, particularly useful in repair work. A variety of sizes is possible using threads of 5/16″ (8 mm) or 3/8″ (10 mm). The positions of the screw holes in relation to the sizes of block is shown in Fig. 2.
Prepare a piece of dense hardwood for the jaws. This should be just over twice the jaw length and planed to the finished width and thickness. Saw to produce the two jaws and square one end of each by shooting board or disc sander. Cramp them together and mark the centre lines for the holes. Separate and square the lines onto all four faces. On one jaw gauge the centres for the cylindrical nuts. Note the positions of these centres. They are not central in the jaws. Drill these holes using a sawtooth, dowel or lip and spur bit. The engineers’ twist drill will not start accurately enough. If this is the only tool available, put through a small pilot drill first. If working entirely by hand, bore from both sides to ensure squareness and avoid later twist when the tool is assembled.
The holes for the screws are marked centrally on the other (top) face then drilled. Note that one hole does not go through. Saw and plane the tapered jaws and round off the back corner slightly. The wood jaws, now complete, can be treated with linseed oil or given several coats of shellac or polyurethane varnish.
Turn or file up two cylindrical nuts slightly shorter than the jaw thickness. Drill centrally then tap for the selected thread. Cut the screws to length and clean up the ends. Clear any burr here by running on an ordinary nut. Make a small metal pellet and drive this into the blind hole.
The handles may be turned or benchmade to a hexagonal form. They are best drilled in the lathe. Grip the handles in the vice and cut the internal thread using the taper tap only. Force in the screwed rod, using two locked nuts. Turned handles can now have two flats planed on them. Assembly is quite straightforward. Finally, close the jaws and trim off any projecting end.
In use try to keep the jaws parallel. First tighten the centre or clamping screw. Then apply pressure with the outer or pressure screw. With a little experience, the operation is quite quick. Grip the centre handle with the left hand and the outer one with the right. Now clockwise rotation of the right hand tightens the jaws.
Two Easy Cramps
The following two cramps, the “Handscrew” and “An Adjustable Cramp,” are both easy and cheap to make yet are really useful cramps to have about the workshop. Furthermore, they need neither special equipment nor skill in metalworking. All the requirements can be bought from a good hardware or DIY store. The reader is recommended to make these cramps four at a time.
The materials to be purchased for these cramps are lengths of screwed rod, 3/8″ BSW or M10, hexagon nuts and washers to suit and 4″ file handles.
Fig. 3 closely follows “Another Simple Handscrew.” Produce the jaws, accurately square and to size. Having cramped them together, mark the hole centres. First complete the top jaw of the drawing. Preferably using a sawtooth bit or a flatbit, bore the two holes for the nuts. These are 5/8″ (16 mm) which is the size across the flats of the nut. The depth is slightly more than the nut thickness. On the same centre, drill through with a 3/8″ wood drill. Enlarge these through-holes to give a loose fit either with a large twist drill or with a round file. Using a piece of the screwed rod, a hexagon nut and a large-diameter washer, force a nut into each hole.
The lower jaw has one oversized through-hole and one blind hole – the hole into which a 3/8″ steel pellet is forced.
The file handles are best bored in the lathe. Tap them 3/8″ (M10) to a depth of 1-1/2″ (40 mm). A tap suitable for a limited use in wood can be made by filing four tapered flats on a piece of screwed rod and then fitting two lock-nuts, very firmly tightened. With two lock-nuts temporarily on each screwed rod, two handles can be forced on. Assembly is straightforward. Remember that the scrap screw needs a washer under the ferrule.
It is unlikely that the nuts will work loose. If this does happen, thoroughly de-grease and return with a dab of epoxy resin glue. In use, aim to keep the jaws parallel for the most effective grip.
Editor’s note: Following the success of “The Essential Woodworker” – our second-bestselling time of all time – we worked with Robert Wearing to republish a book filled with some of his best jigs, fixtures and appliances for handwork. During his career, Wearing had published two books of jigs for woodworking (both out of print), that are filled with insanely practical and simple devices.
Just like with “The Essential Woodworker,” we had to recreate the book from scratch – all of the text, photos and drawings had been long lost to the publishing machine. And once again, the royalties to this book went to help Wearing, who was in an assisted-living home, after an incredibly rich and long career.
The following tools are selections from Chapter 3: Tools, of Robert Wearing’s “The Solution at Hand: Jigs & Fixtures to Make Benchwork Easier,” a hardbound book of our favorite jigs from Wearing’s career. The book covers a wide swath of material, from building workbench appliances for planing, to making handscrews (and many other ingenious clamps), some simple tools that you cannot buy anywhere else, to marking devices that make complex tasks easier.
In all, there are 157 jigs, all of which are illustrated with Wearing’s handmade drawings. The book is designed as more of a reference book than something you read straight through. Already after editing the book, I now find myself returning to it and thinking: I know Wearing had a solution for this problem. And he did.
— Christopher Schwarz
Oil Pad “Park your plane on its side lad.” This is a folk custom dating back to the age of wooden planes. The blades of these planes were firmly held by a tightly hammered in wooden wedge. Following this advice, however, will disturb the lateral setting of an iron plane whose blade is nothing like so firmly held. Instead park the plane on the oil pad made by gluing a strip of carpet to a plane-sized board [Fig. 1, above]. This is a tidy arrangement which both protects the blade and reduces friction. Very little oil is needed.
Beam Compasses This excellent and virtually cost-free tool is shown assembled at Fig. 9 A. In constructing it, first machine an overlength piece of square-section material, say 5/8″ x 5/8″ (16 mm x 16 mm). Cut off five pieces to make respectively, pieces a, b, c and d. All except d are sawn in half. The inside ends of c and d are finished quite square and all other ends are angled. Glue the a pieces to the stem and c and d between the b pieces using a short waxed block cut from the stem as a spacer. Hold the pieces together flat on a piece of polythene sheet. Drill a hole in end B for a pencil or ballpoint, the latter is often better, then drill a small terminal hole of 3 mm (1/8″) and a lateral hole for the clamp screw. A brass roundhead 12 gauge x 1-1/2″ is well suited for the cramp up. Drill halfway at 1/4″ (6 mm). Drill the remaining distance at 1/8″ (3 mm). Saw the slot with a saw having a wide kerf. Screw up and test with the chosen pen or pencil. File off any protruding screw point.
A similar routine is adopted for the sliding point unit. There are several possibilities for the clamping screw. Either put a clear hole halfway through and tap the other half 1/4″ BSW, or metric equivalent. Use a thumbscrew to tighten or make one by soldering a wing nut on to a piece of screwed rod. Or solder a wing nut to a brass woodscrew. Screw in a normal woodscrew first, then replace with the one made up. Or drill clear holes right through and use a 1/4″ (5 mm) coach bolt with wing nut.
The point can be made by grinding up a piece of silver steel of about 3/32″ (3 mm) diameter. Clean up the whole job, lightly sand and finish either with a polyurethane varnish or teak oil.
Awls Of this large family of tools from the days of handwork, only the bradawl remains in the catalogues. The convenient materials for making awls are tool steel, silver steel (commonly stocked in good tool shops) or old or unwanted screwdrivers.
The bradawl, A, is most used for screw holes and is either filed or ground on both sides and after hardening and tempering is honed to chisel sharpness on the oilstone.
Marking awls, B, are made out of thinner material ground or filed to a long, fine and round point. Small electrical screwdrivers with plastic handles convert easily. This awl is not really suitable for work other than marking as it cannot remove wood.
The four square awl or small hand reamer, C, is useful in the bigger sizes for enlarging holes and in the smaller sizes for making pilot holes for small screws. It is filed really square in section and after hardening and tempering is carefully honed to give four keen cutting edges. It can be made from either round or square material.
The hooked awl, D, is particularly useful for marking out the second stage in dovetails. A good material for making these is old-fashioned steel knitting needles.
Turned hardwood handles with ferrules are well worth the trouble taken. Fit the blades into the handles by drilling slightly under size, filing the end of the awl to a chisel shape and then driving on in a vice. If the section is big enough the handle and blade can be drilled through and pinned.
The title of this post reminds me of my magazine-cover writing days. From the higher-ups: “Use numbers!” “Use exclamation points!” “Use the word ‘free!'” If only it were in neon yellow. But it gets the point across, which is simply this: We’ve added four new excerpts to some of our more-recent titles.
In the excerpt for “Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life (Second Edition” by Nancy Hiller, you’ll find the Table of Contents and Chapter 1: The English Years, which includes “Living the Dream,” “The Accidental Cabinetmaker, I,” and “The Accidental Cabinetmaker, II: On the Brink.” I tried to paraphrase these selections but it’s Nancy and you can’t paraphrase Nancy. It’s 27 pages of intimate, funny, intelligent writing, perfect to read with this morning’s coffee.
The excerpt of Robert Wearing’s “The Solution at Hand” includes the Contents, Editor’s Note, Introduction and Chapter 1: Holding Devices. Try out Robert Wearing’s Planing Grip System or Bench Holdfast or Sticking Board. Read about them, build them –– everything you need to do is included (in fact, Chapter 1 includes 34 detailed illustrations).
We’ve also included an excerpt of “Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown” by Christopher Williams. In addition to the Table of Contents, Preface by Nick Gibbs, Editor’s Note and Chapter 2: Introduction to Wales, we also included three columns from Chapter 5: John Brown, in his Own Words, so that you can get a feel for both Christopher’s words, and John’s. Plus you get to see several of Molly Brown’s gorgeous linocut illustrations.
And finally, we created an excerpt of “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years, 1936-1966.” It includes the Table of Contents, From the Publisher and “Charles Hayward Looks Back to the Seamy Side,” a three-part interview series with Charles Hayward, written by Antony Talbot, then editor of Working Wood, in Spring 1980. The excerpt also includes nine columns from 1962, which is one of my favorite chapters (it’s a perk that comes with being the one who makes the excerpts).
Noted woodworker, teacher and author Robert Wearing (1921-2020) died peacefully on April 27 at age 99, according to his son, Dave Wearing.
Wearing was “interested in wood to the end,” Dave wrote in an email.
Wearing was the author of many important books on woodworking, including “The Resourceful Woodworker,” “Making Woodwork Aids & Devices” and “Hand Tools for Woodworkers.” Lost Art Press had the privilege of republishing Wearing’s “The Essential Woodworker” in 2010 and compiling a collection of his best hand-tool appliances for “The Solution at Hand” (2019).
Wearing’s career as a craftsman began after his service during World War II. He was formally trained at Loughborough College (now University) in Leicestershire, England. After graduating, he went on to teach for 50 more years and write countless articles on woodwork and several well-received books.
During our relationship with the Wearing family, we have published two short biographies you might like to read. One, from 2011, was written by Wearing. The other, from 2017, was written by Kara Gebhart Uhl.
“The Essential Woodworker,” originally released in 1988, was the third book Lost Art Press published. It was also our introduction to the rough-and-tumble world of book publishing. After Wearing readily agreed to have us republish the book, it was up to us to get the original materials back from a former publisher.
They were uncooperative, despite the fact that they didn’t own the rights. After a scuffle, they admitted they had lost all the original materials, including the drawings and photos. (This, we have found, is a common problem – or perhaps a tactic – employed by corporate publishers.)
So we recreated the book from scratch with the guidance and support of Wearing and his son David. We reset all the text and restaged all the photos to produce our edition.
“The Essential Woodworker” has always been a strong seller. As I write this, its seventh press run is at our Michigan plant. The only book that has sold better for us is “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”
John and I owe a huge debt to Wearing and his son Dave. They supported and encouraged us at every turn. They took a leap of faith in 2010 when they signed on with a tiny publisher that no one had heard of. Without a doubt, we owe a lot of our early success to “The Essential Woodworker,” which is still a strong seller – a testament to its excellence as a clear and concise path to enter handwork.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. We hope to continue our relationship with the Wearing estate for as long as it is willing for us to remain the publisher. It is entirely too soon for us to enter into negotiations, but we don’t expect to run out of stock on any of his titles in the near future.