You say router and I say router

RouterTableWhen I look back on some of my old posts from the joinery shop, I see that we used hand tools to make everything. Now that’s history because Andreu, Michael, Rod, Zac and I spent the last week under the watchful eye of Ian, building tables for our routers.

My dictionary gives the follow definition of the verb to ‘rout’:

cut a groove, or any pattern not extending to the edges, in (a wooden or metal surface)

but this only scratches the surface (sorry) of the capabilities of the router and router table combo; my planes are now gathering dust on the shelf.

The router table went together very quickly, and the router itself was an essential part of its construction. Many grooves not extending to the edges were cut, and even some that did reach the edge (also known as ‘rebates’). When it came to putting the surface on our table tops, there was a bonus: Ian brought out some sheets of walnut Formica that were ordered specially (or was that ‘found in the back of the cupboard’?).

IanWhen we’d built the tables, Ian showed us some of its capabilities; which are quite extensive. You can spend a fortune on router cutters and jigs to cut letter boxes, kitchen work surfaces  dovetail joints, skirting boards, tongue and groove, the list goes on; in fact Axminster have a whole section just on routing (none of their router tables have walnut tops though). While there’s not much that can be done to avoid the cost of cutters, Ian encouraged us to think about making our own jigs as attachments to the table. He showed us a whole range of jigs that he has made over a lifetime in joinery and hinted at some he has made that no one else has thought of yet; but we didn’t get to see them.

My first job after the router table workshop was to shape some more timbers for Naiad. Normally I’d reach for my plane for this job, but I thought I’d see if I could do it on the router table. A fair amount of trial and error was involved, and some of my test pieces got a bit chewed up, but once I’d got it set up, I was churning out shaped timbers at quite a lick (and I still have all my fingers). It got me thinking about my first idea for a jig which would make the setting up quicker; but it’s still on the drawing board; I expect Ian already has one.

Shock and Oar

Broken weld - now redeployed as a handy straight edge

Broken weld – now redeployed as a handy straight edge

The woodworking industry has one of the highest accident rates in manufacturing. Circular saws are very dangerous (30% of accidents), followed by planers (20%), spindle moulders (15%) and bandsaws (10%). They’re all just waiting to have your fingers. We’ve been doing some machinery safety training in preparation for the fact that the reality of boat building isn’t all about spending days and weeks with a hand plane and chisels, however idyllic that might be. Basically you shouldn’t go near a machine without a couple of push-sticks to prod the work through and keeping your hands well out of it. I almost found this out to my cost this week when I used a band saw to cut some waste from my oar. I had it all lined up and ready to go when the weld that joins the ends of the saw blade together failed and the blade spewed out of the machine quite dramatically. Luckily I’d just had my training, and Jon was keeping a close eye on what I was doing, so my hands were well out of the way of the blade. The brake kicked in and stopped the machine quickly, but it was a good lesson learned; a bag of flesh isn’t much of a match for large woodworking machines.

Back in the relative safety (only the occasional plaster) and quiet of the joinery shop, I spent the rest of the week with my spar gauge  planes, spoke shave, draw knife and 3 grades of sandpaper fashioning my Oar1 Oar2 Oar3 Oar4 Oar5 Oar6 Oar7 Oar8 Oar9 Oar10oar out of three pieces of spruce that were glued together. It really does seem miraculous to see the curved shape of the blade and the cylindrical shaft emerge from a block of wood; more like sculpture than joinery. It does take a long time though; but now it’s finished (minus 1 coat of varnish) so at least I’ll be OK next time I’m up the proverbial creek (which isn’t usually a very long wait).

Joiner’s Toys

Catalogue of Chandler and Farquhar, Boston, 1900. Smithsonianphoto 55798.

Catalogue of Chandler and Farquhar, Boston, 1900.

Like many male dominated pursuits, there is a degree of kit fetishism involved with joinery; which in the case of class 111 seems to be centred around planes. There’s a lot of interest in older planes in the group as they can work as well as, or better than new products. Beautiful new planes can be bought from companies such as Lie-Nielsen and Clifton, but the basic principle of operation hasn’t really changed for hundred of years. The earliest known planes date from the 1st century AD, and modern planes would probably be recognisable to a Roman carpenter. The iron bodied Bailey planes shown in the Chandler and Farquhar catalogue on the left were first introduced in the 1870s, and most of them can still be bought as Stanley or Record products with exactly the same design, dimensions and product numbers.

It’s amazing what you can do with a plane. I started off with a cheap no. 3 smoothing plane that occasionally saw the light of day when a door was sticking. Because I never sharpened it, it generally did more harm than good. Now I’ve built up a bit of a collection of old planes; some have been given to me by friends that have found them in sheds, some have been bought for a few pounds at tool sales and some cost a bit more. In the joinery shop we’ve used them in a variety of different ways in the past 12 weeks to create flat surfaces, perpendicular edges, angles, curves, bevelled edges and sometimes just to get rid of waste wood. We’ve used them to make boxes, mallets, bench hooks, oars and even more planes.

The latest addition to my plane collection - a bollow plane

The latest addition to my plane collection – a bollow plane

I’ve just finished making a bollow plane in beech, which will be used to scoop out the blade of a spoon oar, which is my next project. With my bench hook, mallet, dovetail gauge and spar gauge, I’ve now got a small collection of tools I’ve made myself, which provided a feeling of self sufficiency until I remembered that I needed a plane to make the plane and a mallet to make the mallet. So now I’m just wondering how they made the first one.

Zac using Andreu's old wooden jointer plane

Zac using Andreu’s old wooden jointer plane

My plane collection

My plane collection

Edward's Mathieson plane with precision adjustment tool

Edward’s Mathieson plane with precision adjustment tool