Peter Follansbee will spend four days with us to teach a class in carving various 17th-century designs from pieces he’s studied from museums and private collections. This class – suitable for those new to carving or those new to this style of carving – will start with basic techniques and posture, and simple gouge work. Then more gouges will come into play as students delve deeper into patterns, proportions, spacing and the relationship between background and foreground. Each successive pattern builds upon the previous example, adding more tools and concepts.
The class runs Monday, April 17 through Thursday, April 20. Class size is limited to six students – so you’ll get plenty of personal attention from Follansbee. Plus the shop cats (if they deign to visit). The cost is $1,200, which includes the stock (quartersawn oak). Tickets go on sale a week from today at 10 a.m. Eastern (that’s 10 a.m. Eastern on January 12) through our Ticket Tailor page.
Jack planes are the most-used tool in my hands. Hands down, hands forward and hands back. I’m on my third jack plane iron since 1996. I’ve never even come close to wearing out a plane iron for a smoothing or jointer plane.
(I have eaten through some block plane blades, though I blame that on carpentry jobs and nails.)
When students ask for my recommendations for a jack plane, my first recommendation is a vintage Stanley No. 5. I have an old Type 11 from around the turn of the last century. Rosewood knob and tote. Beautiful lightweight casting. Just perfect.
But a lot of students are unwilling to take my advice. They have good reasons.
They don’t have the skill or time to fix up an old plane.
They are afraid that a vintage plane bought through the mail will be a POS.
They don’t know enough to buy a vintage plane.
They just want a tool that works without any fettling. Sharpen and go.
So here’s what I tell them: Get the Lie-Nielsen No. 62. What is sometimes called a low-angle jack or bevel-up jack. Here is my reasoning.
A jack plane should be fairly lightweight and simple to use. The Lie-Nielsen No. 62 fits that bill. It doesn’t have a frog, chipbreaker or lateral-adjustment lever. This keeps down its weight, its complexity and its price.
So what are we talking about when we discuss the weight of jack planes? Here are the ones we have in our shop, from lightest to heaviest.
Wooden jack plane: 4 lbs. 1 oz. Stanley No. 5: 4 lbs. 6 oz. Lie-Nielsen No. 62: 4 lbs. 10 oz. Veritas No. 5: 5 lbs. 4 oz. Lie-Nielsen No. 5: 5 lbs. 8 oz.
In use the wooden jack, the Stanley and the No. 62 all feel about the same. Once the tool tops 5 lbs., I notice the increased weight.
I know some experienced woodworkers don’t like the low-angle/bevel-up planes. But I have found that beginners really take to them. Likely because they are simple to set up. (There are other makers of the No. 62-style plane, including Veritas, Wood River and a variety of offshore white-label brands. I’ve used the Veritas and can recommend its quality, but it is heavy. The other brands I don’t have any experience with. Avoid the modern Stanley No. 62. I have yet to use one that didn’t have a fatal error in its bed machining.)
So why not a wooden jack? I love wooden jacks, and there are some great makers of new jacks out there. It’s difficult to recommend a vintage wooden jack for a greenhorn woodworker because the tool might need a lot of work. Heck, it might need something only a fire can offer.
So my recommendation is based on my desire to get a student going with the minimum amount of fussing with them before class, at lunch and at night.
And when three students show up with this plane, I know I have offended the woodworking gods somehow and must make a sacrifice to appease them.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Scrub planes are too short for the jointing operations I ask of a jack, and its iron has too much curve for my taste. I’m sure that if I started in the craft with a scrub I would love it. But I didn’t. And so I don’t.
One of the most difficult things of late has been sourcing my beloved sugar pine for tool chest classes. It’s “imported” from the West Coast – and with lumber companies struggling to fill demand and the still-high cost of shipping, it has been impossible to get. I’ve heard time and again from my local supplier that “we expect some next week,” but no joy. So I had to find another solution.
I looked for Eastern white pine (another good tool chest choice that’s usually easier to get around here than sugar pine), but all I could find was #2 (at best), and usually too thick (I like a full 7/8″ for the “Anarchist’s Tool Chest” builds). Another decent option is poplar – but it’s harder to cut and chop, so it takes longer for students to work their way through the 52 dovetails that go into this chest (if you go the poplar route, 3/4″ is thick enough – no need for the additional weight). I’ll use poplar for the ATC class if that’s all I can get – but I don’t like to (though it is typically an economical choice). I want my students to have nothing but success, and that’s easier to achieve with a softer wood that has a better “mash factor” – by which I mean you can get away with squeezing a few joints together that really shouldn’t go together because they’re slightly tight, or the cuts aren’t quite straight. Everyone needs a little forgiveness now and then, and poplar has less of it to give.
So, on the recommendation of Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted, I got in touch with the Amana Furniture and Clock Shop. (Amana Colonies is in Amana, Iowa – it’s where Benchcrafted holds Handworks which, by the by, is now scheduled for September 2023.) Amana cuts and kiln dries linden from the property for use in the shop’s own projects, and Jameel thought there might be some to spare some for tool chest kits. He put me in touch with Chris Ward, sales and manufacturing manager, who worked with his team to make a sample kit for me to try out earlier this year.
I was sold, and I ordered 13 more kits – seven for the class that concluded yesterday, and six for my February ATC class (to save money on shipping). I can’t make the kits for less than Amana charges (and right now I can’t even get material) – and they have better facilities and industrial-sized equipment for making the multiple large panels for many chests all at once. Plus they have more than one person to do it! And to be frank, they can produce better large panels than can I, because they have a panel clamp system and a wide-belt sander to level the seams if need be. I have K-bodies and handplanes (which work just fine – but not quickly when there are 28 panels to glue up and flatten). I did the final squaring and sizing in our shop…because I’m anal retentive. But perhaps for my next order, I’ll have their team do that, too; my back is not getting any younger.
But I wasn’t completely convinced on the linden (which is also known as basswood and American lime) until we started cutting the joints. With experience now in a class setting, I actually think it is in some ways better than pine – there are no sap pockets or streaks, so saws don’t get gummy and therefore cut more smoothly for longer (no need to stop and clean them), and it’s a little less fragile on the corners. That makes sense, given that it’s slightly harder on the Janka scale (sugar pine is 380; linden is 410) – but not so much more dense that it weighs significantly more. (I meant to weigh one of the finished linden chest for comparison…but I forgot. But I did help lift four of the six into various vehicles, and I’ve lifted dozens of pine ATCs into cars and trucks over the years, and I noticed little weight difference. I’d guess maybe 5-10 additional pounds.) It also takes paint nicely – much like pine and poplar. I tested General Finishes “milk paint” on an offcut, and was pleased to find that two coats will likely be sufficient (at least in dark blue).
My only complaint is that linden has little odor; I missed the scent of the pine. When seven people are working hard, well, a bit of natural pine air freshener is a bonus (I’ll hang a pine air freshener under every bench for the next class!). And the students did work very hard – everyone left with a chest just about ready for final cleanup (finish planing/sanding) – and they all looked great.
This is a rare instance of me leaving the nest to teach. But I’m doing it for three reasons.
Marc readily agreed that all proceeds from the class, including students’ tuition and my instructor fee, will go to the Roger Cliffe Memorial Foundation, which funds scholarships for woodworking education.
Marc (and Kelly Mehler) were the first two schools that took a chance on me as an instructor. I was a terrible teacher at first. In fact, if you were in my first class at MASW I owe you a personal apology and probably a T-shirt. Yet Marc kept me on there for 10 more years.
This is Marc’s 30th year in business, and he asked many of his past instructors to come back to teach a class. How could I say no?
The class is Oct. 14-15, 2023. All the details are on the MASW website. Hope you will consider joining us.