Project, Shop

Hand Plane Till

My till holds my full inventory of planes with a little room for new acquisitions.

My hand plane till is finally done!  It looks great hanging on the wall, and fulfills my requirement to hold my full inventory of planes while still providing some space for future acquisitions.  The basic look of the piece is inspired by a till that I saw in an old issue of Fine Woodworking magazine, but I made significant changes to the joinery and tool holding details.  

The cabinet itself is a fairly simple design:  it’s a dovetailed cherry box with a single horizontal divider dadoed into the case sides.  The top section has a piece of cherry plywood to hold bench planes, while the small bottom section is left open as a general storage shelf.  The cherry plywood is housed in dados on all four sides that recline it at a slight angle.  Strips of solid cherry on the plywood surface act as dividers.  I attached the dividers with only screws, just in case I ever want to reconfigure the cabinet.  Realistically, I’ll probably never do this, but it makes me feel better knowing that I have that option.

The cabinet is dovetailed for strength.

One of my most important criteria for this hand plane till was compactness.  I’ve seen similar wall-hung tills that store hand planes on a reclined surface using gravity alone to hold them in place.  That’s a convenient method because it’s easy for the user to remove and replace the planes.  A quick calculation using the Pythagorean Theorem, however, will show you their biggest drawback:  in order to use gravity as the primary means of holding the tools in place, the surface needs to be reclined at a significant angle, making the whole cabinet stick too far out from the wall.  My cabinet is only five inches deep, and I was able to achieve that by reclining the storage surface a measly five degrees.

Since my planes are resting at such a steep angle in this till, I wanted some additional insurance to hold everything in place.  I decided on a two-prong approach: I keep the heel of each plane from sliding off the divider it rests upon with a wooden clip, and I hold the toe of the plane tight to the surface with an embedded rare Earth magnet.  My block plane is small enough that the wooden clip isn’t needed.  Magnets aren’t effective on bronze, so I used a wooden spinner at the toe of my smoothing plane, instead.

So far, so good.  My tool holding strategy makes it easy to access the planes, but holds them securely when they’re in the cabinet.  I wish I had built this till years ago; it makes working in the shop just a little bit more enjoyable!

The bench planes are held with a wooden clip at the heel and an embedded rare Earth magnet at the toe.

Since a magnet won't hold a bronze plane, I made some support blocks for the heel, and a spinner to hold the toe.


When You Work Alone, You're Always the Smartest Guy in the Room

Back in February, 2015, I posted an article about my plans to build an enclosed hanging tool cabinet.  It’s now September, 2016, and I still have nowhere to store my hand tools.  Gather ‘round, my friends, and hear my tale of woe… but fear not!  There’s a happy ending.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s review my short list of requirements from the original article:

  • Keep out the dust
  • Consolidate everything into one place
  • Greater capacity
  • Better protection for the tools

This is a reasonable list of requirements and, when taken at face value, an enclosed hanging tool cabinet should fulfill all of them.  So, I pulled out my pad of graph paper, sharpened my pencils, and started sketching my design ideas.  I sketched, and I sketched, and I sketched.  I pulled all my tools out and piled them up on every horizontal surface in my shop to better visualize the storage needs in the cabinet.  

    I was floundering and needed some inspiration, so I searched my woodworking archive.  I came across an old article by Chris Becksvoort where he described his method of using paper cutouts of his tools to design the interior layout of his tool cabinet.  I traced around my tools and started arranging them on a sheet of cardboard to come up with dimensions, but I was still unhappy with my designs.

    After months of discarded ideas, I finally hit upon my problem.  I had missed the fifth, and most important requirement:  flexibility.  Building an enclosed wall cabinet is a sensible solution if you already own most of the tools that will be stored in it.  Sure, you can always make room in the cabinet for a few new acquisitions, but I was trying to design a cabinet that would accommodate a tool collection that will change significantly over the years. I probably would have saved a lot of time and frustration on this project if I would have talked over my ideas with someone else, but since I work alone in the shop (making me the de facto “smartest guy in the room”), I got caught in an endless loop.

    So, now what?  Well, I’ve changed my strategy.  I’ve decided to move forward with a more modular tool storage solution.  The first piece of my new storage system is a hand plane till.  If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen the progress pictures.  I’m almost finished with the build, and I’ll post an article here on the blog once it’s complete.  I’m amazed at how one simple realization unblocked my progress on this project.  Maybe the lesson learned here is that even when I'm alone in the shop, I’m STILL not the smartest guy in the room!


The Unexpected Journey

An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought.
— Pablo Picasso

It’s funny how projects can take on a life of their own.  I’ll start a project with a picture in my mind of what I need and what activities will be required but, once work begins, the project almost always branches off in unexpected directions.  Eventually, the project concludes and I’m left with a result that is not at all what I intended, and yet the shadow of my original concept is there if I squint hard enough.

I just spent the last few weeks working on a home improvement project that morphed and changed many times throughout the process.  What started out as a simple plan to paint the living room quickly expanded to multiple rooms, had me cutting into drywall, doing electrical work, repairing plumbing, and shampooing carpets. The project was supposed to only take “a few days of work,” but instead ended up taking me weeks of nights and weekends to complete. The end result is so much better - so much grander - than my original concept that sometimes I can hardly believe that I’m the one that did it.

Woodworking projects are no different.  If you’ve never tried it before, come up with a simple concept and just start building.  Figure out the details as you go.  The project will lead you down paths that you never intended, and you might just surprise yourself with the end result.  It’s a lot of fun that you’ll miss out on if you only spend time building someone else’s plans.

Shop, Project

Sawbench - Part 3 (Final)

The finished sawbench.

We’re in the home stretch now!

Since I had the top boards ready-to-go, I started the glue-up.  Each board is held in place by two half-lap joints on the top of the legs.  The short cross rails that hold the base together created a platform to support the top boards across their width.  Gluing up these joints was straightforward; I just needed to ensure that the half lap joints were closed tight and that the top boards were sitting flat on the rails.

Gluing the top boards to the legs.

Boring the holes for the dowels.

I wanted some insurance on all of these half laps since the sawbench will be treated roughly over its lifetime.  So, I decided to peg all the joints with dowels.  I used an auger bit to bore out two holes in each joint.  The auger bit leaves a perfectly-sized hole with no tear out.  I cut the pegs from a 3/8” cherry dowel rod, added a little glue, and tapped them home with a hammer.  I left the dowels extra long until the glue dried and then I trimmed them flush.

Cutting down a 3/8" cherry dowel rod.  I tapered each dowel slightly with a chisel to make it easier to drive it into the joint.

The dowels are glued into the joint to peg it in place.  Notice also that the surfaces have not been flushed up around the joint yet.

Glamour shot #1

Glamour shot #2

The final surface prep was easy.  I used a block plane to flush up all the surfaces around the joints, and I applied two coats of Tried and True Original Wood Finish.  Once the finish dried, the sawbench was ready to work!  This was a fun project to build, and it’s a useful tool to have in the shop.

Shop, Project

Sawbench - Part 2

Final assembly of of the sawbench base.

With the stretchers complete, I turned my attention to the half-lap joints that connect the base to the top.  The top of the sawbench is made from two separate boards spaced apart to allow for a ripping notch.  I wanted to use hardwood for the top of the sawbench since it will have to withstand a fair amount of abuse, so I dug out an old off-cut of sappy cherry.  After I milled down the two top boards, I was able to set my marking gauge off of them, layout the half lap joinery on the top of the legs, and cut the joints using the same methods I outlined in my previous post.

All four legs are cut to join with the top boards.

Smoothing knotty material isn't much fun.

At this point, I had a decision to make.  My brain was in full-on joinery mode and I wanted to charge ahead and cut the corresponding notches on the top boards to complete the leg-to-top half laps.  The spacing on those notches was critical, however, because there’s no slop in the joints.  If I didn’t have the stretchers dry-fit perfectly when I laid out and cut the notches in the top boards, I’d be sunk after I glued up the base.  So, I decided to take a step back and glue up the stretchers and legs to lock in that spacing.  I ran my smoothing plane over all the parts before the glue-up, which wasn’t nearly as fun as it looks in the picture.  The construction grade lumber that I used for the base was filled with knots, which turned a simple task into a frustrating one.  There’s some tear-out on the legs, but this is just a sawbench, so I reached a point where the surfaces were good enough.  I glued up the stretchers and legs and was ready to confidently lay out and cut the notches on the top boards. 

Gluing the stretchers to the legs yields two trestle sub-assemblies.

Finishing up the top boards was straightforward: I cut the birds mouth and smoothed out the cuts with a block plane. Planing that end grain was a pleasure after working with the construction-grade stock earlier.  Finally, I cleaned up both boards with my smoothing plane.

Two boards of sappy cherry serve as the top of the sawbench.

Planing the end grain of the birds mouth on the top boards.

The top boards ready for glue-up.

I completed the assembly of the base by attaching the trestle sub-assemblies together with two short rails.  These rails have half laps cut into their ends, but I didn’t cut mating notches in the legs to avoid weakening the attachment point for the top boards.  I also decided not to glue these two rails on; they are attached with screws only.  This makes iteasier to partially disassemble the bench if repairs are ever needed.  Honestly, though, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever need to do that.  Time will tell if that was a good decision or not.  In the third and final installment of this build series, I’ll attach the top, peg all the joints, flush up all the mating surfaces, and apply a finish!