Sod’s Law states that when you least want it to, a sliding clamp will slip.

There’s nothing worse than a clamp that won’t grip as intended. I’ve just had one slip and refuse to tighten. It’s at the most inconvenient time when I just don’t have the time for a bit of fun fighting a clamp.

I’ve another gripe. There’s nothing to my reasoning that says that an ordinary, basic ‘F’ clamp should cost as much as a decent chisel, which they sometimes do. If they need to be used in pairs, the cost is now the equal of two decent chisels. To my thinking, it just is not a bit of Rolls-Royce engineering to make one of theses things and expect it to grip and continue to grip. I have cheap ones in my collection plus some of the more expensive types, but in the end, sooner or later, it happens…. they start to slip. The head slides on the bar as soon as it is tightened.


I use these four small ones in the picture above quite a lot, especially for clamping several pieces together quickly for marking. These are two pairs, about 4 and 6 inches in capacity, respectively; it’s a size that I find really useful to have at hand. I do like these which were quite cheap, I think I got the lot for a tenner………….but just now I one of them decided to slip  –   in its own way, the clamp is trying to tell me something……..

The reason is quickly obvious. If you look at the picture, ‘F’ clamps consist of a metal foot fixed firmly at right angles to a metal bar; the bar supports a similarly shaped head that is free to slide. It in turn incorporates a hand-screw. In use the head is jammed on the bar when force is applied by the screw, thereby locking onto the object being clamped. The head section should be held by the friction of a series of serrations on each side of the bar. In manufacture, these serrations or ridges are milled; good quality clamp or bad it follows that they all wear with use.


Here’s the culprit……….


…………………..and here’s a fix if they decide not to play by the rules. It works equally for the really cheap ones (like these) as well as the more expensive variety.

It takes a little patience, but I’m about to cut each of the small slots with a small hacksaw held at an angle because I want to end up with a series of small ‘V’ shaped groove laterally and evenly spaced along the length of the bar. Equally, you could use an old file, provided that the edge terminates in an acute angle. Obviously, the bigger the clamp, the deeper the groove needs to be.


Turn it over and do the same to the other side.

Guaranteed not to slip again for a long while.

That was a piece of cake…….Now for the tricky bit………………

I have reshaped the handle and re-cut the teeth in this continuing make-over of an older saw………now I’m about to finish it off by setting the teeth and filing it sharp as a cross-cut.

It may appear that I’m doing this part out of sequence. Normally, with me, the teeth would be set before filing, but in this instance I have re-cut some of the teeth and in the process filed them to a rip pattern simply to get rid of the slight dip in the saw line and to restore all the gullets to a known, even profile. After the teeth are set, I’ll go over them all again with the file, this time sharpening to a cross-cut pattern. This is a one-off deviation from usual practice and any future cross-cut sharpening will take the form of filing to the correct angle in the usual way.

In actual fact, setting the teeth is the least troublesome part. I use the almost universal Eclipse-type saw set (albeit modified by me). It has a circular adjustable anvil graduated from 12 TPI down to about 4 TPI. The first thing to say about this tool is that it works well but don’t take the marked graduations as gospel.

Keeping it simple, I set the anvil to about 10 TPI – the minimal set on this tool and one that I know from experience is adequate for this saw.

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Mounted tight in the saw vice, I’m looking for a tooth that indicates its original direction of set, the direction that the teeth were set previously; I don’t want to re-set the teeth in the opposite direction, potentially work-hardening and weakening the tooth near the base of the gullet. After that it’s a matter of carefully and rhythmically moving down one side, starting at one end and moving to the other applying exactly the same amount of pressure on each squeeze. It is very easy with this type of saw-set to allow the plunger to strike the tip of the tooth and deform the end or sides, so I make sure that it sits fully home and the striker is poisoned in the middle of the tooth.

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When one side is done, the plate can be removed and turned around in the vice, or you can lean across to set the other side. This is also a free-standing saw vice that is clamped in the shoulder vice on my bench, I could rotate the lot in the vice.

Sharpening the saw as a cross-cut:

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This is where the angles come in. There’s reams of erudite stuff written on the merits of gullets and fleams, rake angles, even about varying the pitch along the length of the plate, all designed to heighten your sawing pleasure. Frankly, all this precision makes my eyes glaze over, so I like to keep it simple –  I’m aiming for about 10 degrees all round. That is to say:

  • 10 degrees of rake, (the tilt-angle of the file in the forward-going gullet)
  • 10 degrees of fleam (the forward angle of the file in relation to the side of the plate)
  • 10 degrees of slope (the upward angle of the file).

These are the constituents of a cross-cut saw, but you can vary any one of them to suit your style. You’ll see why it’s far easier to file for a rip pattern!

(in most cases a rip-saw of about 14 -16 TPI or more will cut across the grain with hardly any discernible difference, coarser rip saws can tear out the grain used to cut it sideways on……………….)

Anyway, all these things to remember is a lot to master in one file stroke. Even more to master if you intend to repeat it about 100 times on one side of this saw…. then do it all again on the other side. ( 9  PTI,  22 inches long………. work it out!)

The old style saw doctors did this day in, day out and had an exceptional level of skill. Nowadays there are various jigs and file holders on the market but I have never seen one that can contain all three of those  angles in one adjustable tool. The best I’ve seen maintains the fleam and rake (if you keep the thing on the correct course) allowing the user to concentrate on the slope.

The little wooden jig in the picture is my own…………… a piece of wood with a longitudinal slot cut at 10 degrees to the vertical glued to a piece of ply wood cut at an angle of 10 degrees. The slot sits on the saw plate and as well as allowing me to rest my hand, it means that I can follow the angle of the jig and work at keeping the fie tilted at 10 degrees rake at the same time………… that’s the theory.


Stoning the sides.

This is the optional, and I daresay, controversial part. It makes some woodworkers apprehensive, others may consider it unnecessary. Personally,  it’s not something that happens at every sharpening; I only do it when I have re-set the teeth and I re-set only when needed. Certainly not at every sharpening.

Why do it?

After sharpening and setting your saw, look closely at the teeth with a loupe; you’ll inevitably see a few whiskers of swarf from the file adhering the metal edges. I don’t worry about these because the first cutting stroke of the saw at work will remove them.

What you may also see – looking closely and concentrating on the edges of the teeth – is that although they are set they may not all be exactly aligned,  there may be minute variations in the height of a tooth in relation to its neighbours or even the amount of set – after all, we are doing this by hand, so expect some tiny variations. The practical result in any minute imperfections may not be visually apparent, but it may introduce a bias, that is a tendency to wander from the line or to cut to one side or the other. Stoning the sides can help correct this bias if it is present.

A well-set and sharpened saw will be balanced in the hand and continue in a straight line from the forearm; you provide the forward motion, the saw does the work. In clear wood, it should cut a straight line without deviation.

To test this, try the saw out. Make a test cut, applying straight, even push strokes and make no attempt to affect the bias of the cut. Let the saw do the work. A frequent compliant at this point is that the saw may not cut straight – it may have an inherent bias that favours one side or the other. If it does cut a dead straight line consistently, congratulations – your setting and sharpening skills are very good and you can put the saw straight back to work.

On the other hand, if there is a tendency to bias, cutting to one side, you may need to consider stoning the teeth.


What is it?

It is a single, light stroke on the side tips of the teeth with a sharpening stone. It removes any extra-sharp tips that allow the saw line to deviate. Shown here, I have placed the set saw plate sideways down onto a piece of flat ply. Next I take a fine stone (in this instance an extra fine diamond stone) which is wet with my usual wetting agent. It is placed abrasive side downwards onto the tips of the teeth, of the side that is considered to have the most bias. It sits on and overlaps the teeth by about 1/2″ (12 mm); I take a single light stroke – no more pressure than the weight of the diamond plate – starting at the handle end and going slowly and evenly toward the toe. ONE LIGHT STROKE ONLY.  No more than that.

Try the saw again, aiming for a straight cut. If the bias remains, repeat the stroke with the stone. One or two light strokes with the stone should remove any high spots on the offending side.

Don’t overdo it. If the bias problem remains look for the root cause elsewhere.

There we have it: a good quality older-style saw, rejuvenated and ready for action with a stylish and comfortable handle.

Summing up, I re-shaped the basic, uncomfortable handle to something that I personally found easy to use and sat well in the hand. Because it was acquired second-hand I wanted to shape the teeth, re-set and sharpen the saw to be a cross-cut saw to my liking. I’m not a skilled saw-doctor – what I have written about are the basic skills, but are sufficient to resurrect a good tool that deserves good work.


I have progressed through describing how I have taken an old hand saw – well, it is thirty or forty years old – and remodeled the handle to suit me. Next is how I set up the business-end ready for work.

At this point I’m going to state that I’m not a saw-doctor. Old fashioned saw-doctors – those who can work with some skill on hand saws in particular, are just about extinct in this part of the world, consequently you either learn to use saws blunt, buy a lot of new saws,………….. or sharpen your own

I have reasonable woodworking skills, though I stay clear of metal working because I’m no good at it and don’t enjoy it; it’s fair to say that metal  doesn’t like me much either.

I’ve had no training in sharpening saws and anything that  I know is gained from what is in the public written domain and having to find out how to do it myself through necessity – trial and error and learning the hard way, if you like.

The remodeling of the handle is now finished  and even though the plate was said to be already set and sharpened as a cross-cut saw, I thought I’d prefer to go back to basics and start again. That way the saw is set and sharpened as I want it.

So, here  we go into the dark world of saw sharpening…….


My method for doing this is not complicated, just a bit of methodical work which requires a small amount of patience and of course, the correct tools. These don’t need to cost a lot, though it is essential to have a sturdy means of holding the saw-plate while you work and good, clean, sharp saw-files. Over years of having to do my own saw sharpening I have accumulated an array of the main implements. I tend to think that it is what a normal carpenter, intent on keeping his own saws in good order would have possessed.

Here’s the basics of what I used:

  • See what you’re doing: Magnifying glass, jeweler’s loupe (about 10X mag) magnifying head-set, again about 10x mag.
  • Holding it down: A saw-vice. Don’t beat yourself up on this item if you only do infrequently – you can make a saw holder from a few pieces of wood or assemble something with a few G Clamps  and a couple of off-cuts, but it has to hold the plate firmly and be at a comfortable height that you can see what you’re doing and give a straight stroke of the file. I made the one in the pictures myself from off-cuts of Douglas Fir,  left over from some doors.
  • Filing: Saw files: (for a 9 – 10 point saw, a 6″ fine or superfine).
  • Saw set: This is something that can’t be improvised. Sadly, if you buy a used or new saw-set pliers – unless a previous owner has done the business – they invariably need some modification to get in a usable state without damaging the teeth.

The work involved, in order:

  • Flattening out the existing set:
  • Jointing the teeth with a file:
  • Re-cutting to depth, initially in a rip-cut pattern.
  • Restoring the set.
  • Re-filing as a cross-cut.
  • Stoning the sides (optional)


Flattening the old set:

I prefer a saw to have the absolute minimum of set to clear the plate with the least friction, so as I didn’t know what degree of set it had already, I decided to start again by tapping the teeth lightly with a hammer on the back of an iron vice.

© HandMadeInWood 2014

Very light, even taps on both sides removes the previous set. I don’t want to overdo it or to work-harden the steel. Being too vigorous in this task can lead to damaged teeth or even teeth that snap off when you next apply the set.

Jointing the Teeth:


Now I can introduce the plate to the saw vice to have the teeth jointed (leveled off). The jointer here is an ordinary file set in a piece of scrap with a groove cut into it that is a tight fit – needless to say, the file needs to be at a right angle to the block. This file is reserved for this because it is exactly 1/4″ thick and is a snug fit into a slot made with a 1/4″ plough plane blade. Alternatively you can buy a ready-made one, but this home-made one works just as well.


I’m not a fan of breasted saws because it introduces another layer of complexity into sharpening the teeth so that all the teeth follow in a curved line. I can live very well without it. As it was, the line of teeth had a very slight curve, but the curve was not too low that it could not be taken out with files in one prolonged sharpening. Besides, the curve was slightly concave; I intend to joint it back straight..

The plate is in the saw vice and I’m going over the teeth with a worn-out felt tip marker. You may use engineer’s blue if you have some , but this is what I have handy and it dries almost instantaneously.

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Next comes a single, steady, even stroke with the file………………….. keep the wooden block in contact with the side of the plate for the full length of the stroke.

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………. followed by a look-see to spot where the file has been.

I’m looking for a progression of shiny tips indicating that the file has flatted the blade the whole length. I will repeat this exercise until I see a clear line from one end to the other telling me that the plate is flat. That may happen with a single pass with the file, or I may need two or more passes.

Re-cut and file as a rip-saw:

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Next I spend some time with the file and a magnifying glass to get the spacing even and the gullets at the same depth – this is getting rid of that slight curve.  I’m using a file in a steady cross stroke, level and at  right angles to the plate, stroking each gullet in turn. This needs to have a stroke of the file delivered at the same pressure for the same length of stroke each time. I’m not filing on alternate gullets at this stage. Effectively I’m cutting a rip pattern (not cross-cut, that will come later), with the intention of getting all the teeth evenly spaced and at the same height.

This stage needs to have some attention and possibly require more than one pass with the file on each gullet. It is important to get and maintain the desired 10 degree rake angle along the whole set of teeth. I can’t rush this at all. It needs concentration and rhythm. The radio is off and I don’t answer the phone.

When the whole plate is filed it is best to go away and do something else before returning for a final inspection that the gullets are evenly spaced and level.

That’s where I’ll stop for  a breather and in the final part I’ll describe how the saw was set and re-filed as a cross-cut.


Here I’m starting to do the real carving to this saw handle.

Just to review what I’ve started to do, I have two (almost identical) Tyzack & Turner Nonpareil hand saws, each 22″ (about 550 mm) in length along the plate and 9 points.

One of these I bought about 35 years ago at the height of my house-kit-assembly period, the other dating from the same time was bought second-hand recently. Both are a legacy of the 1960s ‘rationalisation’ of the handle design. Put simply, the saw plate was as good a piece of steel as you could get for the price but the curves and ergonomics of the handles began to be sacrificed to achieve a cheaper product. You have to remember that they began to compete with cheap, hard-point saws at the time and the writing was on the wall for a lot of small British saw manufacturers. Whilst the handles were still made of the traditional blank of Beech they bore no comparison to the well-defined handles that previously fitted the shape of the hand naturally.

I decided to complete what the manufacturers originally skipped and to form the shape of the handle to fit my own hands. There have been two previous parts to this exercise leading up to this carving and rasping spree, so it may be worth having a look at those first, if you haven’t done so already.

There are two elements, in my opinion, to re-shaping saw handles like this.

The first is the aesthetic appearance of the outside – the plate section, the shape of the grip and the form of the horns. Some of the older makers had some fine, pleasing handles on their saws; others seem to have allowed the finesse of the handle to become eroded over time.

The second and more important of the two is the grip itself; this is confined to the part of the handle that is grasped by the palm between the external sections of the horns where they meet the hand. It is essential to get the size right for the user’s hand and to refine the two contact points that can result in serious discomfort and blisters in prolonged use if you get it wrong.

If you go back to the first part and look at the very basic handle shape here, you’ll see what I mean about the rudimentary curves and uncomfortable grip.


I’ve already delineated the rough shape of a Lamb’s Tongue, in the second part, so now it’s time to start to work out the lines of comfort – that is to say the section at the back of the grasp between the horns, shown here by the pencil.

The upper part of this, under the top horn,  is in constant contact with the junction of the thumb and index finger. If you are going to get a blister through poor grip, it’s going to be here at the junction of the back and side of the handle  – the spot where it hits the crutch at the base of the thumb.  There’ s no magic formula – it means that you cut and try… cut and try…. and repeat until you get what seems a good, benign grip at this point. It doesn’t matter that each side may be asymmetrical in shape – my hand certainly is ……asymmetrical!


I’ll mark out the parts on the periphery that need attention and then take it from there.


This part is quite fat – there is a lot of meat to be removed here with a curved rasp before it’s anywhere near comfortable…. so I won’t detain you with the details, but the centre portion under the top horn is to be slimmed down considerably.


I stop regularly to slip it out of the carvers’ chops to try for a fit and you can see clearly here why I think that this junction of the grip is important. That horn still needs more relief to be comfortable.


If you have some large, back-bent gouges, they will reach under the curved parts beautifully. The lower horn also needs attention – this part is in contact with the lower side and heel of the palm, more potential here for an uncomfortable grip. I can remove a lot of material with this back-bent gouge. The curve is almost what I need on the inside of this horn.


Starting on the inside section – by taking off much of the excess thickness where the fingers grip.

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© HandMadeInWood 2014

Beginning now to see where this is going. The best shaping tool for outside curves like this is an old-fashioned spokeshave.

Often overlooked, this little shave is perfect for skimming stock to shape free-hand. It has an entirely undeserved reputation for being difficult to sharpen and harder to set properly. The trick with this tool is to set the blade depth so that the it is slanted slightly along the line of its bed; it prevents the prongs slipping in the stock and at the same time gives a graduated cut  – a thin cut on one side, thicker at the other and a medium cut in the middle…. three settings in one tool.

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I’m starting to get to where I want to go as far as the external fit between the horns is concerned and I have begun the shape the outer sides to increase the curvature. On the original blank this was left pretty much square with only the hint of a fit for the fingers.

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The under side of the horn has been rough-shaped and is now being smoothed, starting with this fairly rough Aluminium Oxide tape, reducing through the range of grits until it is smooth.

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The outside gets the same treatment once the chisel and rasp has done their work.

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There are a variety of implements that can be used to form the shapes on the outside parts of the handle, including this card scraper. I have several of these in various profiles that I have made over the years for carving.

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When the outsides are shaped, I can now remove the thin veneer of scrap that I inserted into the slot reserved for the saw plate. This has saved any spelching on the outside of the slot when I scraped and filed across the line of the grain  with the rasp.

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The handle is finished and awaiting a dip in oil. At the rear is the other saw that I mentioned by the same maker that had the handle reshaped a while ago; it was sharpened to a rip cut.

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The finished handle is receiving a coat of Danish Oil.

Next, the plate will be set and sharpened as a cross-cut saw before being re-united with its handle.

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Continuing with the re-shaping exercise with this Tyzack, Sons and Turner Nonpareil saw from the 1970s, this is how the saw came to me.


Here is it before I took it apart. It’s gratifying to think that the owner before me bothered to line up the screw slots. He also marked it on the blade ” 10X”, which suggest to me that he owned more than one saw and that this one was reserved purely for a cross-cutting – as I shall.

Judging by the lack of wear to the handle and plate it has not done much work in the past 40 odd years. The other side of the plate shows some rust stains and modest pitting which was soon removed but this indicates to me that it has spent a lot of the intervening time lying unused.Saws like this that have been stored for years without attention tend to suffer on one side of the plate at the expense of the other – one side clean the other sometimes has a layer of rust or pitting.

I think that I said previously that I was very satisfied with the quality of the steel in the plate – my contention was with the way the handles were originally  furnished and sold; basically refined blanks with no effort to impart character or comfort in use.

So, I’m going to remodel the handle to match the older handle on the 19th C. saw that I have and that I mentioned in the first part. This will involve adding a lamb’s tongue detail opposite the lower horn where it meets the main stock and to improve the shaping and hand grip to suit my palm. I aim to have a more comfortable saw grip and then to re-set and sharpen the pate as a cross-cut saw. I shall then have two of these modern Tyzack & Turner Nonpareil saws; one sharpened and set for rip cuts, the other specifically for cross-cutting.

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Here’s the line-up. To the right is the original 19th Century saw by the same maker; the 4-bolt layout is different which allows the wrap-around feature of the lamb’s tongue. It’s not much but this adds a tremendous finesse to an ordinary tool handle and was quite common in those days. In other respects you may lay the newer handle profile over the older and see very little difference – the shape remained largely unchanged in 80 years.

The saw on the left was the one that I bought new in the 1970s and much later re-made the handle. It is used as a 9-point rip saw and works very well.

I intend to add a lamb’s tongue, and the pencil lines on the blank in the middle will show where I will add more shaping, especially at the top  horn which relieves the pressure on the junction between the thumb and forefinger. If anywhere will generate unwanted friction and a blister it is this spot.


I’m going to start with a few defining cuts; this one is beginning to shape the lower half of the curl where the Lamb’s tongue will sit. Here I’m using a 7/8″ No 4 straight gouge to lay out the root of this junction.


Laying out the sides of the Lamb’s tongue. The same cuts will be repeated on the other side until I get near the shape that I want, then I’ll begin to slim the profile down. This gives the profile the appearance of slimness without removing much material and affecting the overall strength at this point in the handle.


Because a lot of the rest of the work will be done clamping the block in a vice and cutting across the grain with rasps, I’ve decided to block the plate-slot with a thin piece of scrap. This will prevent break-out on the edges of the slot as I cut across the handle with rasps. As good luck would have it I had this off-cut bit  of pine in the firewood box. By a stroke of even better luck it was the exact width to give an interference fit in the slot. I want it to slide out when I’ve finished without a fight. When it is in place I cut the excess off.


This is where the boring, dusty bit starts. I’ll do as much as I can roughing to shape using ordinary carving gouges, but the final shaping is a combination of various grades of rasps. This part is using the coarsest of the three curved Japanese rasps that I have to cut in the under side of the Lambs tongue.

I’ll work on this part first, followed by all the outer shaping of the top and bottom horns. The next part will be the setting out and refining of the inner part of the handles that is in contact with my palm; this will be done on a cut-and-try basis.

I’m certain that the first glance at any hand-saw will start with the handle…. or tote, if you prefer. Next, you’ll look at the manufacturer and the condition of the plate, but it’s the handle that stands out. Whether we like it or not, it’s the first impression that forms our opinion of the tool before we put it to work.

There are some makers who still produce well-designed handles to suit long periods of work in the hand, but most modern saw handles are a disgrace. I’m including in this sweeping statement the cheap, plastic hard-point disposable saws and to a large extent good quality saws made as long ago as the 1960s which turned a refined commodity of some elegance into a shapeless piece of wood.

Tyzack, Sons and Turner made their Elephant Brand range of saws for many decades from the mid 19th century until the firm ceased to exist – probably up to the 1980s.

They were an old-established Sheffield firm who, over a long period in business, over several generations, made tools of every description as well as excellent saws. I have one of their 6 point rip saws that I know was bought by my Great Grandfather, probably in the  in the 1880s; it is long past retirement now but the shape and form of the handles is superb. It is an excellent user’s saw – good steel, and a well-formed handle. As it was with craftsmen’s hand tools in that era  the users had a pride in and affinity with their tools and he put his name-stamp on it.

Here it is in the bottom part of the picture. When new it was probably about 1-1/2″ deeper in the plate, reduced by years of use and sharpening.  Alongside it, in the centre, is a very good Tyzack, Sons and Turner No: 120 back-saw, which I restored a couple of years ago.  As well as an extensive clean-up, I straightened the straggling line of mis-cut teeth and gave it a re-set and sharpen, I also made a complete new handle for it. The reason being that the original  one really was awful – it was split and splintered; it was an example of fine steel, awful handle, a typically formless wood block fitted onto what was a decent bit of steel dating from the 1960s. The new handle, made of English Walnut, was modeled on a pistol-grip type but extended to become a full frame handle, due to the weight of the saw.


I also have one of their later 10 point saws, pictured at the top. This was bought new by me in the 1970s for a prolonged bout of house-renovation and was used extensively as a rip saw – I had the blisters to prove it. Despite being made of excellent quality steel, it never was one of my favorite tools because of the uncomfortable feel to it.

Look at their evolution, bottom and top. Both are made of Beech which is traditional in Britain for plane bodies and saw handles. The oldest one at the bottom is comfortable for a full size enclosed grip, especially as having small hands I incline, as I said earlier, toward the smaller pistol-grip type purely from a point of comfort and control.

It was a general trend with saw manufacturers that, sometime in the 1940s/1950s, handle design regressed from an aesthetically pleasing piece of carving that sits in the contours of the hand, to a stage where a simple blank with some corners rounded over is all that is considered necessary. You could attribute that to the War economy, but pence saved in the factory were shillings gained in the shops. It saved a bit of money on the sale price. At the time there was a definite movement to factory-hardened and sharpened saws, away from saws that required care, attention and a certain skill in keeping them sharp for work. In those days users cared for their own saws or most towns had Saw Doctors; nowadays I cannot find one Saw Doctor who is still in business so I have to do it myself

Compare the two saws from the same manufacturer in the picture, top and bottom. There is about 70 or 80 years between them.  As far as the steel in the blade is concerned, there’s little change; in the newer saw  it is good quality stuff, as good as any and cuts well. It is the handle that has suffered and it was not just Tyzack who suffered from this regression – all the manufacturers were at it…………. Cost cutting.

I suppose that the first  part to go in this design rationalisation was the fine Lamb’s Tongue below the hand on many a fine saw tote. This seemed to have morphed into a solid bridge of wood from the heel to the lower stock of the saw. Next, the two shapely horns that actually cradle the upper and lower portions of the hand followed suit. What we ended up with as a finished handle was little more than the blank that they stared off with minus a few of its square edges. A poorly fitting top horn in particular is prone to putting blisters on the hand where they are most painful, in the crutch of the thumb and index finger. To be fair, it was not confined to one company. They all succumbed to the temptation, most went out of business and their legacy is as a source of good quality saws on the second-hand market………. sometimes with nasty handles.

The other day I found an identical saw to the 10 point saw from the 1970s going for a reasonable amount and I decided to restore it. The handle would be re-modeled to make a decent fit and the plates re-set and sharpened. The saw I bought in the 1970s is already sharpened as a rip saw, this new one will be set and sharpened for cross-cut as well as a make-over of the original beech handle to suit my particular  grip.

I’m going to start describing how I did it soon.

When I was writing recently about the finer points of the little Record No:043 plough plane I stumbled upon one of its less endearing traits – the ability to choke on shavings.

In the majority of uses involving straight-grained stock they behave well and produce a single, curled shaving through the top of the plane. But to be fair, all plough-planes have a tendency to choke to a greater or lesser degree. In use they don’t like to throw their shavings to the right of the cutter because in the majority of cases the user has left the depth stop plate in the way, but the tendency of some shavings to curl unpredictably can do this – and the result is jamming.

Some depth stops feature a cut-away section against the blade which can help shavings to emerge – but its main function is to allow the fit of wider blades that have an overhang on the right side. On the other hand there’s a temptation for the user to grasp the plane in the left hand by the nose, thumb resting on the front bar, which will also foul escaping waste.

Just as we would when preparing a board by hand we need to look closely at the wood before wading in with the planes, to determine the lay of the land – or, more precisely, the orientation of the grain.

Straight  grained wood seldom presents any issues and will plane well from either direction, coming or going.


This is a 1/4″ (6 mm) blade in a record 043 ploughing through a very compliant piece of straight-grained Mahogany. No problems here; we can set the blade to produce a thick shaving if we need. A pleasure to use.


Turn the wood over and this is the other side of the same board, which indicates that whilst one piece may be easy to work, another part will give some problems. Wavy grain is an entirely different issue. It can dig out, split out ahead of the blade and jam the plane as it has here.

When I wrote about the Record 043 plough plane this was amongst the images I took at the time and illustrates what can be a huge irritation. Even with a blade that tapers backwards on the sides it can get fouled. Pretty soon, jammed like this, the plane ceases to cut. At this point the debris is jammed in so tight that it needs a complete removal of the blade to clear it.

What can we do?

One basic solution is to set the blade to take thin shavings. Make short forward strokes, starting at the far end of the wood and gradually working backwards. Then withdraw and clear any shavings. In some cases as soon as the groove is defined and the blade descends, say 1/8″ (3 mm) the problem tends to disappear, but sometimes it will continue.

Where it does continue and I can predict more persistent tear-out I reach for a mortise gauge and a couple of cutting gauges that I have adapted slightly. If you know the grain is unpredictable before you start, take a Mortise gauge that has sharp, well-defined pins. Make sure that your gauge will adjust down to the size of the blade.

I’ll examine the grain direction, as I would when planing a board flat to determine the position of any rising grain that will tear out. Next, the width  of the blade is transferred to the mortise gauge and the stock is set at the required distance in from the face edge. I always do this. It’s crucial that all markings are made from either the face edge or the face side to avoid introducing any errors. I am going to lightly score the path of the cut – in a descending direction away from the rising grain. The first, careful pass with the plane, starting at the far end and working backwards with each stroke should define the sides of the trench. At this point stop and have a look to  see if it is going to continue tearing out or not.

Some of the larger combination planes, the Stanley 45 and 55, the Record 405 etc. have nicking irons near the front of each skate to score the timber ahead of the blade. Personally, I’ve never been enthusiastic of these little things because the don’t really work. Most of the smaller planes lack them.

The next step is reserved for really obstinate grain with the potential to tear-out. Cutting gauges.

These look like a marking gauge at a quick glance. They have a similar head with an  adjustment screw, long stem etc. but have a small sharp-pointed blade mounted through a hole in the stem, secured with a wedge.

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There are three of my cutting gauges in this line-up; on the left is a Japanese cutting gauge that can be used for defining shoulders on tenons once the end is shot square; it works very well cutting cross-grain. It seems to have sneaked in on the shot because it is the other two that are of specific interest when cleaning the grain for plough planes.

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Typically cutting gauge blades resemble a marking knife with one side flat, the other side beveled, sharpened to a spear-point shape. It’s held i place by a small wedge. In use, it’s customary to assemble the knife so that the flat side forms a straight cut and the body section lies in the waste side.

If you look closely at these two, you’ll see that I’ve arranged the cutters to oppose each other. The cutting blade in each case is shaped as a spear point so that it can be used in either a pull or push stroke. The back of the cutter is flat so that it can register in a cut mark with the body of the blade in the waste. The gauge on the left is assembled with the flat of the cutter facing away from the stock; the one on the right has its flat part facing toward the stock. I’m going to use each of these cutting gauges to score the root of the groove on each side to sever the fibres before advancing with the plough plane. (The ‘root’ is the angle at the bottom side corners of the groove). The plough  does not have any nicking irons so the cutting gauges does this for it – a bit like an old-fashioned dado or trenching plane.

Cutting gauges

Here’s a sketch of what I have in mind. What’s going to happen is that the root of the groove is to be cut in advance of the blade. Score each side then cut with the plane, score again, cut again and so on until you get to the required depth. All done without any annoying shavings jamming.

Don’t have cutting gauges?

You can do the same thing with a sharp, flat-sided marking knife – it just takes a little longer and needs some care to keep the flat of the blade tight against the side wall, but it achieves the same result.

If you’ve read the couple of previous posts about the shaped edges of small metal plough and combination planes you’ll see that I’ve concluded that almost all the original blades from the main manufacturers were not supplied with squared edges that are rectangular in cross-section as you would expect, but are tapered from the back of the blade to the front –  that is to say a trapezoid shape viewed in cross-section.

Blade section


During manufacture, it’s obviously quicker (and ultimately cheaper) make square sections of steel on all sides; cutting an extra shape on it – like a trapezium – costs production money. The original manufacturers didn’t relieve the sides for the fun of it there was a reason – two reasons in fact.

  • First, the blades being mounted at about 45 degrees, a forward motion where only the front leading edge is in contact with the material as it travels presents less friction.
  • Second, less obvious but more important, is the essential cutting definition a clean side edge gives to the work.

Let’s explain that by comparing a plough plane blade with its bigger relative, the smoothing plane iron. Whatever method you use to sharpen a flat-bodied plane iron, it is essential to concentrate on fine-honing the meeting of the two angles along the cutting edge – the back and the bevel, after all, this is the cutting edge. Further, it is customary to ‘rock’ the edges on the stone to deliberately round them over – this relieves the sides and avoids the annoying ‘tram lines’ that edges produce on flat boards. This means that the blade’s cutting  action is deliberately furnished with a faint curve.

Getting back to explaining the second important reason about ploughs, combination planes, and by extension rebate planes, it is a function of the cut that the blade descends vertically in a trench. As well as cutting the base of the groove, the blade also needs to cut cleanly right across so that it leaves a smooth, straight, well-defined surface on the base and side. To do this the corner tips are one of the most important – and often overlooked – parts of the blade. A blunt corner tip will inhibit cutting and leave a ragged wall to the groove. A badly deformed corner can cause the direction of the cut to wander away from its intended course.

Each corner tip comprises the junction of not two, but three edges; that is the cutting edge, the sloping side of the bevel and the point where these two edges meet the back of the blade. In normal use, the bevel and backs are both honed to a good clean surface, so why leave the last one – the side – with the same ragged edge with which it left the factory?

This is the reason why, as well as polishing the backs, honing a cutting edge that is straight and at right angles to the sides, I also advocate stoning a good edge on the top of trapezoid side where it meets the polished back. It is only necessary to go this on the working part of the blade, say the last 1/2″ or so, but makes a huge difference to the performance of the plane and the quality of the cut.

If you use combination planes, I hope that you’ll find that it works for you.

On the subject of small metal plough and combination planes, (Record/Stanley 45/405/55 and the smaller Record 043, 044 050 etc.),   I recall reading recently that sharpening the sides of a modern metal plough (or combination) plane iron to provide a sharp aris was bad news.

The reason provided was that there’s a danger of the sideways thrust of the blade, as it descends in the cut, degrading the side walls in some way.

I can’t say that I followed that argument to a conclusion because all of these metal plough/combination planes work with the guidance of a side fence and all the user has to do – apart from providing the means of propulsion – is to maintain the thing vertical and keep the side fence in contact with the face side or face edge. A depth-stop will level the groove at the required depth and a truly sharpened blade will give clean sides. Sideways cutting either intentional or not is not on the cards as far as I can see………………… but you may have an issue if the blade is not correctly sharpened.

If you have one of these planes with their dedicated sets of blades it’s worth taking them out to have a look at them.

What is there, in general, to note about them? How are they different to other plane blades?

  • First, they are all – across the range of manufacturers – 1/8″ thick and have been for many decades. This means that, although there may be slots or grooves for the several types of fine adjustment, if you go to the plane and remove these adjusting screws, many are interchangeable and it’s easy to adjust the depth of a blade.
  • The metal tends to be softer than you would find in, say, a cabinet chisel of the same width. This makes them a little easier to sharpen; by the same token they blunt quicker. I don’t know why this is the case, though it’s possible to harden the steel if it is a problem (and if you know what you’re doing as a metal-worker!).
  • What about the sides? The probability is that they will not be parallel. With only a few exceptions almost all the sides of my combination plane blades are angled from the back to the bevel side. From my limited knowledge of geometry the shape is called a Trapezium. Some are steeper than others but almost all are angled to some extent. There’s only a degree or two in it, and you need to be looking for it to spot it but the sides and edges of these dedicated blades do not form a right angle when viewed in cross-section.

Don’t believe me? Try it for yourselves. Clean any gunge off the edges and hold three blades, backs uppermost, and view from the front with the sides touching; as they lie with the sides touching you should see a pronounced curve across the tops. It can also seen with a small engineers try-square held against a light.

Invariably, when new, the blades came from the factories with the cutting bevels ground to about 30 degrees; they should have been (and need to be) dead square across the cutting edge; the sides were formed but not ground and, as I mentioned, offset at a slight angle. As an afterthought, a good many of the blades supplied with Record planes had a sort of shellac coating to prevent rust, much of which persists to this day on blades that have never been used.

Here’s an example: three blades made by Record to fit their No: 044 plough plane.


I’ve selected these three from the same set to illustrate the point.

The top one has never been used. It still has the protective coating on the surface and there are a few patches where you can see that it has rubbed off.

The one in the centre also still has its layer of shellac or whatever it is, but look at the edge of the blade. This is how it comes from the factory; both top and bottom faces are parallel, but the side edges are unfinished from the grinder.

The bottom one is the only one to have been used. Although some of the coating remains, it has been cleaned off the parts which men business; the tip is square across, sharp and the sides have also been cleaned on a flat diamond plate; the sharp aris T the junction of the side and back is deliberately left sharp.


It’s tricky to get a good camera view but I’ve deliberately tried to show the effects of the side angles in a photograph. Here are the three blades again, arranged in the same order, bevels uppermost with their sides touching; . If these edges  were square all the way round it would form a flat line against the engineers square. You can easily see the effect of the slightly beveled sides in the pronounced curvature.

© HandMadeInWood 2014

It is the same with these three dedicated Record 043 blades – all the sides slope. All of the blades seen so far have been original to their planes, which means that they are at least 50 years old – probably a lot older  – and the same bevel is present on just about all of this type of blade that I have in the workshop. On some blades the angle is a little more pronounced than on others, but we are only talking about 1 or 2 degrees at the most – it’s very slight.

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……… if to t to disprove the point, here are three blades that are actually square all round and ignore the Trapezium rule. These are very good blades, but sadly not of any age nor original to the planes. They are newly made replacement sets for missing Record 043 blades.

So, that leaves the question…. Why do the old blades have that Trapezium shape?  I think that there’s a good reason for it. ……….. which I’ll ponder until next time.

Ever since I did ‘carpentry’ or ‘woodwork’ as a lad in school I’ve had a soft spot for metal ploughs and combination panes.

In those days the school woodwork teacher had a high desk in front of a glass cabinet full of the trophy-tools that were seldom, if ever, taken out and used. I can distinctly remember that among these was an immaculate No 45 combination plane, all shining Nickel, sitting in splendour like Snoopy on top of its box. I think that my gaze must have been fixed on it each week. I can’t for the life of me remember the teacher’s name (most of them were best forgotten, anyway), but the memory of that plane endures and I cannot pass up a good metal combination / plough plane, so it’s no surprise that I have accumulated quite a few over the years. One of the advantages of doubling up on tools, be it planes like the combinations planes that require fence and depth settings, to simple mortise gauges is that if I make a large piece of furniture using multiple joints or with more than one size of groove I can set each one for a particular cut and lock the settings tight for the duration of the job……….. it goes without saying that each one needs to be labelled! Whilst it may be extravagant on tools, it does avoid the annoying differences setting and re-setting fences and depth stops each time.


Coming right down to earth and up to the present, the Record 043 plough plane (and the little No: 040 as well) has a reputation for being a bit of a toy, probably due to its small size and the fact that they were widely used in schools – that is in the days when schools taught woodwork. In the picture, the Record 043 is on the left, a Marples M40 on the right – this one came with its own pack of three blades.

According to the available information, they were made, (with some restrictions imposed on reserved materials, notably Nickel, during the war), from the 1930’s until the 1970s. Although they have not been made for forty-odd years, Record 043s appear regularly on the used tools market in the UK; A large number appear with their original boxes. Even if they are seemingly scarce and expensive elsewhere in the world a good, lightly used model from, say the 1950s or ’60s and still in its box, will sell for around  £30 to £40 here.  Incomplete and heavily used versions go for a lot less. Originally this one on the left would have retailed in the UK at 34/- in old money; that’s pre-decimal dosh, (sorry, I meant money) before 1971 and translates, literally, to £1.70 today. That’s inflation for you.

Compared to the bigger and more elaborate ploughs from Record, such as the No: 044, No: 050 and  No: 405, they were indeed small in size; only the No: 040 is as small, and comes with only one fence-bar but the blades are interchangeable. If you ignore the various adjustment screws, most blades are interchangeable through the sizes and across manufacturers.

The Record 043 is ideal for small hands because of their size  and excellent maneuverability with short pieces of work which made them perfect for schools. There were almost identical versions made by companies with a connection to record, such as Marples and Rapier and even, I’m told, a 1950s cheap Russian knock-off, though I’ve never seen one.

What can it do?

It can perform drawer-bottom grooves as a matter of course and is capable of quite substantial grooves across the range exceeding the widths of the three small cutters that come with it. Even so, its depth of cut is limited to a maximum of 1/2″ (12 mm) with the depth stop removed. Even so, that’s quite respectable for a plane this size.

Due to its short length, and on the rare occasions when a blind groove is required between mortises in order to hold a captive panel, they can finish blind into a mortise slot, provided that the mortise is cut out first and is as long as the nose section of the plane which is  1-1/8″  (27 mm).

(It is not unknown for the front section of the nose to be reduced slightly by some users, so if you see one on the second-hand market with the front 1/2″ (12 mm) of the nose cut away you’ll know what it’s been used for!)

If I need a single short section of plough, this is the plane I reach for first because it is quick to set up and easy to use. It’s only challenged on wider grooves and large runs; on those occasions I reach for its bigger cousins.

For example, it is ideal for cutting out the stepped profile for short runs of small mouldings. Where I may only need a one-off 5 or 6 feet length run it can do the basic stepped shape that can be the form of the required moulding prior to working to a finish with some hollows and rounds, all done very quickly and without fuss.


So, what did you get for your thirty-four bob in those days?

You received a cardboard box, plus everything in the picture, except the wooden fence – which I consider essential; but any woodworker could make one of those.

A lot of these planes get used without the wooden fence, but in my opinion it really does improve the performance when it sits squarely on the side of the work. This one is a later model, as I said before, probably from the 1960s. Some of the previous types differed only in that the heads of the screws that hold the fence to the sliding rods had a flat head instead of the knurled  nut in this picture – I don’t know why or when exactly they made the changes but I think that the older nuts were easier to tighten with the fingers.

Two side rods 5-1/2″ (140 mm)  long and 9/32″ (7 mm) diameter join the sliding fence to the main body and a depth-stop are attached to the main body. Originally  plane was sold with only three Imperial size cutters: 1/8″, 3/16″ and 1/4″ ( 3.2 mm, 4.5mm and 6.4mm respectively). These dedicated  blades came with plain ends (minus the nibs and grooves for adjustment screws) that were rounded over at the point where they protrude – otherwise the ends of the blades can impact in the palm of the hands during use; believe me – it  can raise a blister or two. However, it’s worth pointing out that any straight bade from any of the various makes of plough or combination planes will fit this tool, within reason limited only by the  hardness of the material being cut. I have used blades that are up to 5/8″ (15 mm)  diameter in soft pine, though there’s a strong case to be made for using a larger plane when you get to this size. It wont accept curved or fluting cutters.


As an example of the extra width from other types of cutters, here it is fitted with a No: 17, 5/8″ cutter from a Stanley No: 45. It’s cutting a wide groove in a piece of relatively soft Mahogany. This was effortless with a good sharp blade, but I would find this difficult in harder wood such as Oak, for example. Additionally, as this plane only has a single point of contact – the skate – it is essential to keep it upright otherwise you’ll get a sloping base on the groove, but there does come a point where you need to reach for a bigger plane.

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The blades are retained by the small curved bracket with a retaining screw in the picture. This blade retainer hooks under a protruding fillet on the main body and the screw tightens down onto the top of the blade. This type of retainer is common to the Record No: 040,  No: 043 and No: 044 and is interchangeable with all these, including the same types of planes made and badged within the Record sphere of influence such as Marple, and Rapier.  They are a loose item they are frequently lost and it is essential to store the plane with one of the blades locked into place. Because the 1/4″ blade is the commonest in use, it’s not unusual to find second-hand versions for sale minus the other two blades. I’ve ‘modified’ mine slightly by attaching the blade bracket to the depth-stop by means of a short piece of braided Nylon cord attached with a pair of cable termination lugs – that way it doesn’t end up in the shavings when I take the blades out. In use the short cord tucks out-of-the-way. Having two of these in the workshop, I can say with some conviction that the two smaller blades, 1/8″ and 3/16″ are seldom if ever used.

Sets of the three blades are still being made for those that get lost or worn out over the years, but replacing the retaining bracket and depth stop is not easy. In short, they are scarce. The newer blades are straight-sided; in other words the rectangular section of the blade is made of 4 corners, each at 90 degrees. You may find that some older blades (typically pre-war) the sides are angled very slightly from the back to avoid friction and jamming in the sides of deep grooves. It’s not always easy to spot unless you are looking for it. Looking at a section of the blade, it resembles a key-stone shape (geometrically defined as Isosceles Trapezoid).  This seems to be a feature that has been largely abandoned nowadays.  You may spot this tapering effect in some older style British-made pig-sticker mortise chisels along the shank of the blade, from the tip to the handle; it allowed the chisel to sink very deep mortises without jamming in the sides.

Will it work ‘out of the box?’

Probably, though a lot of users identify some basic problems. Over the years, the Record 044, in common with many other types of cast metal tools went through – how can I put this politely   –  periods of ‘variations in manufacture’. Expressed another way, they started cutting corners in manufacture.

There are a couple of basic tasks to do to turn it into a precise little plane.

The first thing to consider is that corners were cut and while some of the castings went through a clean up prior to plating, the finer points in machining were gradually dropped. For example, I have not seen an example made after the 1950s where the bottom of the skate (which is in constant contact with the wood) is free of transverse milling marks. Sometimes they are quite pronounced and  resemble the milling on the edge of a coin. All this will add to friction during planing, especially when they fill up with dirt and resin. The fix is simple, just involving a little elbow-grease and a flat plate with abrasive papers. With the blades out, run the base in a straight line, keeping it vertical at all times work down through all the grits until it is straight and smooth from toe to heel. Alternatively, you can use flat diamond plates. As well as getting rid of the marks, this exercise will also flatten the skate along its length. Finally, remove any sharp burr from the skate’s edges. Once done, you should never need to repeat this exercise and it makes a noticeable difference to the plane’s handling.

Next, as I mentioned, you need to fit it with a wooden fence, about  3/4″ to 1″ (20 to 25 mm) depth is sufficient. The metal fence only protrudes 5/16″ (8 mm) below the level of the cutting edge – this is all that’s in contact with the edge of the board in use and can generate some degree of wobble. It has two small holes for screws and although it works without it, this addition  makes a tremendous difference; to the handling and stability of the plane.

Are there any problems in Use?

Straight-grained stock shavings invariably curl upwards and out of the plane but there is no escapement for shavings to the right of the blade and with the depth stop fitted, there is sometimes a problem of shavings jamming.


To be absolutely fair, this occurs with all types of plough or combination plane, not just this one and needs  careful selection of the wood to avoid curly grain, though there are ways to avoid this problem with some judicious pre-cutting.

If you have big hands, it has a tendency to disappear into the folds of the palm. If you look again at the top picture you will see that I have left the rods protruding about 2″ on the right side of the plane; I find that this allow the index and middle fingers of the hand to straddle the plane’s body, resting the rounded ‘handle’ into the palm. You need, of course to ensure that the protruding cutter end is suitably rounded over or padded. This is, in my opinion, the most comfortable way to grip it.

So, is it a must-have tool?

Well, all I’m going to say in conclusion is that it would certainly be in the bag of bits I’d grab if the place went up in flames….. I’ll leave you to judge how good it is for yourself if you manage to get your hands on one.

Nothing to do with woodwork this time, more an exploration of the absurd aspects of some of the comments that crop up from time to time.

As this is a woodworking blog in the main, I do like to keep it all in context as well as relevant to the subject. However, some are completely unintelligible and in their own way, very entertaining.

I have a sense of the absurd and I have gathered a few of the more entertaining ramblings at random, lifted complete, dodgy spelling and all, from the original,  which was trashed.

First up, I think that this one originated in Brazil…..

Do anyone mind basically quote a number of your posts provided that I offer credit as well as sources back internet? My weblog is in the identical region regarding interest while yours and my guests would genuinely reap the benefits of many from the info an individual provide right here. Please let me know within the event that this ok along. Numerous cheers!

Whilst this offering posed an inscrutable riddle:

Do real estate also apply?

I feel deeply for this guy’s anguish………

Glasses were not comfortable in Sun and size was also big for me. It is non polorized glasses thus not as comfortable as it should be

It is neither  ‘Finnegan’s Wake nor Edward Lear………….. but this pinnacle of automatic prose may keep you awake at night.

It took the technology pointing to pouring air into cushion.
There are lots because of art auctions, nearly on the vast web and off, the fact feature this classification of American Asia artwork.


…… and a guy flogging knock-off fake handbags, provided this gem:

Your website each day understand everyone in the family likely carries their best dish, sadly may possibly that everyone will have a totally different belief that that they which experts claim sink in addition.

This one is truly absurd  –  my favourite in some respects:

Hello, I am writing in an unusual case … Some time ago, I used your services, and one of your employees face was familiar to me. At dinner with my wife, it turned out that he was a burglar, who 5 years ago broke into our home!!! This is ridiculous!!! How you can hire criminals? I found at least 3 bad entries for him at website for background check!! I am sure there are more!!! Please do something about it, things like that are ridiculous!!

Then there’s this little gem…..

Bills since 2010 and appeared in 18 games with seven starts during his tenure

I’ll conclude with true erudition………………

When some one searches for his vital thing, so he/she wishes to be available that
in detail, therefore that thing is maintained over here.

I hope that it’s provided a smile…If anyone has any idea as to hidden meanings, keep it hidden!

Socket chisels have been in use for, probably, centuries. If there are very large frames using large mortises these beasts will stand up to the continuous vigorous hammering.

Lie Nielsen brought out their socket chisels some years ago and it seems that Stanley intent on a bit of heritage-chasing resurrected a set of  750  ‘Sweetheart’ clones to compete.

Since then there’s been a few anguished cries about the socket and handles parting company on a regular basis and it’s a supreme inconvenience when your chisel parts company with its handle, resulting in damage to the cutting edge or even bloodshed.

Well, the unwelcome news is that handles are going to do that anyway.  It stands to reason – the tapering conical wooden handle is a friction fit into a tapering conical metal socket. The metal expands with a rising temperature and the wood shrinks as ambient humidity goes down……….. they part company.

The fact is that the socket-handle junction on a chisel was always intended to come apart. Indeed, some of the modern socket chisels are sold, intentionally with replacement handles to enable the same chisel to be used for paring.

Traditionally, frame carpenters making large structures in wood were journeymen: literally free-lance workers journeying from location to location, from job to job, hence the ability to remove handles enables the tools to be more effectively stowed for travel was an advantage.  On a large set of building frames with continuous, heavy hammering it’s not unreasonable to change handles every few days. Some may have been reinforced on the ends with iron registers but most handles were made on the hoof from spare bits of material, shaped to the contours of the socket and replaced when split or worn out.

Unless you have a need to continually batter the daylights out of the things into hard material of need to take them apart for travel conventional, chisels with bolstered tangs are quite adequate. But you can’t escape the cost factor – socket-tools have always been expensive to buy for the simple reason that the forging process is more involved.

I did some big framing once and was able to acquire a few heavy mortice chisels with sockets; they were more substantial than the conventional pig-sticker style mortise chisel and I was able to compare the internal parts of the sockets with some of the newer variety. The older chisels are forged and  the cutting shank is hardened in the normal way but the socket end remains malleable and is either hot swaged into shape or beaten flat and then folded and the seam forge-welded.Made this way, even the factory produced chisels tend to have unique contours; the handle from one chisel will not fit into another.

Invariably the newer chisels are smaller in size and the socket apertures are drilled and milled to a smooth-sided, uniform shape – hence the ability to interchange handles.

All the handles can be loosened, if you need to, by tapping the side of the socket with a hammer; the forged and swaged sockets don’t release the bond with the handle as easily as the new ones, as shown by the regular complaints that they come apart at will and some of the solutions for keeping them together.

I’ve heard of all sorts of ideas put forward to prevent this separation from happening, from epoxy based glues – a permanent fix – to anointing the mating parts of the socket and its wooden handle with hair-spray; (I must confess to a date check when I read that one).

Another very creditable suggestion that I came across involved using proprietary denture-fixing compound, which on the face of it, seems most plausible. I’ve still got my own gnashers, so I can’t vouch for the efficacy of that one, but an old craftsman once mentioned traditional method before carpenters used hair-spray ……………….  but we’ll come to that later.


Here’s a few of my own socket-chisels to illustrate the point that differing forging methods gave differing and quite wide-ranging handle adhesion….. or the lack of it. From the left, in no particular order, I’ve listed the size and the method of making the socket. I did try to clarify the issue with photos, but it is almost impossible to get a clear image down the socket, so you’ll have to put up with my description. There are a variety of makers, though the three mortise chisels at the left probably date from the 19th century, all except the modern production chisel on the right were bought over several years piecemeal, full of rust in junk shops and flea markets.

  • 5/16” Mortise chisel by W Marples. The blade is slightly tapered from the tip; the socket is round and internal lengthwise striations indicate that it was formed with a swage.
  • 3/8” Mortise chisel by Wm Marples. As with the previous chisel, the striations are length wise and appear swaged.
  • 15/32 Mortise chisel with a very faint remaining stamp on the shank that appears to be ‘Butcher Sheffield’. The only Butcher that I can find in Sheffield is mentioned in W L Goodman, in business from the 1820s to about 1900. Probably not in the same quality league as the Marples’ chisels, this socket is an irregular oval shape, with a very rough, probably corroded interior. There is a distinct internal seam, so this socket may have been formed flat and folded with a forged seam along the top, visible internally, but ground away on the outside.
  • 1 ¼” Beveled edge socket chisel by C E Jennings; also with an internal seam suggesting that it was folded and forged.
  • 5/8” Bevel edge chisel by Lie Nielsen. This one is drilled and milled. The internal surface is relatively smooth although there are some horizontal striations. The long handle was made by me to the exact size of the short handle supplied with it.

The perspective in the photo makes the handles appear longer than they are but all in this line-up were made by me. They will all come off if required, though in general the Mortise chisels have a tenacious fit and need a generous tap. Because the new chisel on the right is smooth-bore, as it were, it parts company readily with every handle introduced to it.

For a good fit on any socket chisel,stand the chisels socket-down in some boiling water for a few minutes, whack the handle in when hot and allow it to cool.

……..and the old carpenter’s trick for keeping the handle in the socket?

Smear some linseed oil on the mating part of the handle and dip it into builder’s sharp sand – tap it home and use it.  Either way they’ll stay together and you can keep your hairspray for your coiffure!

It seems to me that there has been some serious money spent acquiring very pricey planes by well-known makers in order to spend hours enthusing about the quality of the shavings produced.

You know what I mean. Perfect micro-ribbons of wood that eventually end up, most probably, in the scrap bin.

Well, for all those wood-shavings enthusiasts, Spill planes are probably the only device that is used to intentionally produce a nice, curly and uniform shaving as its objective – with this thing it’s not the quality of  the surface of the wood, but the substantial shaving as the finished article that’s important.

Before most of us abandoned open fires for central heating, before instant lighting was the norm and at a time when tobacco smoke was everywhere, we had the need for fire…… well, in the main we had fire, but more precisely we had the need for transferring it from one place to another. From the hearth to the candle, pipe or gas mantle.

This is where the spill comes in. At one time spills were ubiquitous. Every parlour and kitchen had them. In the 19th century, matches were becoming available but were relatively expensive to begin with. In the 18 and 19th centuries old soldiers and sailors, on the bread-line and just one step ahead of the workhouse, sold spills door to door for pennies.

R A Salaman describes both hand-held spill planes and those used inverted on the bench or with the fixed cutter uppermost, in his ‘Dictionary of Woodworking Tools’. There are illustrations of four types and he concludes with a brief description of the ‘Presto Patent Spill Machine’ which sounds very much like one made by Edward Preston Ltd.

Some of these spill planes have been seen on the ‘collectors’ market recently that were made by Preston. Edward Preston were one of the finest tool makers around as is proven by the prices that good quality Preston tools command today, even though they ceased trading as a company over 80 years ago. I have some Preston tools and despite some being well over a century old, they perform as well now as when they were brand new. Moreover some of their designs were successfully continued by Record (C J Hampton Ltd.) who acquired the toolmaking side of the business when they ceased trading in 1932.

As well as tools and rules, Edward Preston had a line in ironmongers’ items – or if you prefer implements for the home. They offered tin-openers with a bull’s head motif; corkscrews of all sizes and functionality; button hooks, tweezers, key rings; then there were the kitchen implements; herb choppers, mezza lunas intended for fine-chopping vegetables, cucumber slicers, ice mallets, tobacco slicers…… the list goes on. Finally they had spill planes. These were intended to be fixed to a table top or hooked over the edge in an inverted position, in other words with the blade uppermost. In some respects it resembled a narrow version of the cucumber-slicer. A skewed blade was fixed inside a slot and narrow boards, about  1/2″ to 5/8″ wide slid along producing the spiral spill.

 Carpenters’ spill planes tended to be home-made or converted from other tools. I have seen lots of shapes and configurations, but in the main they resemble a hybrid rebate/chamfer plane where the iron is mounted on a reversed skew, that is with the pointed tip trailing on the right-hand side going forward as opposed to leading the cut as if in a skewed rebate plane. It has a large mouth on the side to enable the spill to be cleanly ejected through the right-hand side, onto the bench and is used on the ‘spring’, that is at an angle.

So, what makes a good spill?  Firstly, it is an overlapping spiral which means that it does not droop in use. Each turn of the shaving overlaps and supports the next in front. Next, the material board used for spiral spills needs to be knot free. A clear, straight-grained  board preferably of resinous pine that will support a flame readily but burn slowly and be probably no more than 18″ (450mm) in length and about 1/2″ to 3/4″ (12 – 20 mm) wide. This will produce a tightly wrapped spill about 6″ – 8″ long. The set of the plane blade needs to be heavy but will be determined by experience in use. You aim to produce spills that are consistently the same length and rigidity. Too thick and they will not spiral well; too thin and they will droop and burn too fast.

Here’s what I mean – going from right to left in the picture below. They were all produced from the same plane, the only change was the set of the blade:


  • The first two at the right are too thick and won’t curl well.
  • The third one is better, but the curl is not good enough – it doesn’t overlap.
  • The next four are too thin but getting there.
  • Finally, after an adjusting tap on the blade, the last three are just right. The start of the spill tapers outwards – each turn overlaps and gives rigidity.

After that it’s a matter of turning them out, one at a time, with the same even stroke of the plane at a constant speed. As I said, a bit of practice gets it right.

Well, after all that, I’m going to own up to the fact that I don’t have a spill plane.

These spills were produced with one of the finest planes that Stanley ever dropped from production (in my opinion) – the No: 46 skewed rebate.


When it is not cutting excellent rebates, here it is in action making spills. As a matter of curiosity I measured a typical spill produced by this old 46 and the thickness is in the order of 0.5 mm (0.02″). The only disadvantage is that the spill emerges from the left – onto the floor! But we can’t expect everything and a large box collects the strays.

Can these be produced with a straight-bladed plane, in other words a blade presented at right angles to the board? Probably not. If the chip-breaker omitted to do as its name suggests and the shaving emerged in one piece, it would tend to come out in a straight curl. Besides, a blade presented to that thickness is hard work to move the plane through the wood. Because it cuts on a slant the 46 is easier to propel and the shavings are a continuous long, self-supporting spiral.

We burn wood every day during the winter and there’s nothing better than an open fire in the hearth. We don’t smoke in this house but getting a large grate-full of wood evenly lit all over without singeing your fingers is fraught….. unless you use the humble spill.


. ………. amidst all that blathering about those ropey dovetails, I forgot to say where they are


For all you box-jointing aficionados, you may admire them at Castell Coch, in Tongwynlais, near Cardiff. (The dovetails in question is in the red box, lower left corner in the second photo in this link) There’s a bit more detail about the long history of the place before the Marquess of Bute got his hooks on it here.

This is just one of the many hundreds of fortified places in Wales, of all ages – from pre-Roman times, right up to this Victorian expression of one man’s wealth and imagination. It would be totally out of the question now, but his architects did commence work on a genuine medieval ruined footprint. I suppose that you can do what you like of you own everything in sight.

Mostly, though, these castles are castles only in name, with many now lost through time and disuse, humps in farmers’ fields, or deliberately ruined in the Civil War. However the ring of Plantagenet period castles built by Edward I in North Wales are spectacular.

In fact, if you look at the banner photo above of the view from my workshop window, there’s a clearing and lump on the top of the opposite hill, which has been identified as a defensive settlement dating from the Bronze Age.

For all the dovetail fanciers out there, here’s a specimen that I spotted recently, in the wild, as it were.

These fine dovetails are not on a piece of furniture, as you’d  expect, but perched high up outside – literally open to all the elements.

On this example, roof-water drains into a lead-lined gutter which, in turn, cascades into a lead-lined box connected to a down pipe The dovetails are part of a wooden enclosure that encloses the lead box. It’s all connected to a metal down-pipe.

Splits in the sides apart, the metal support braces are cunningly arranged in order to keep the whole thing together but why they used dovetails in this external application is beyond me………… perhaps there’s something about old roof-top carpentry that I don’t know!




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