Thursday, April 29, 2010

Making A Good Thing Better

Yesterday, a new tool arrived that I was eagerly awaiting. It was a Lee Valley Veritas Pullshave. I am about to start shaping the seat of the chair that I am working on and I wanted any alternative to my too-flat-scorp (as see below) that I have and also didn’t want to bust out the angle grinder and fill the shop with an inch of dust.

The Pullshave is basically a concave spokeshave with the wing handles replaces with those as you would find on a cabinet scraper. As with every tool that I have bought from Lee Valley, the tool is very well built, affordably priced and arrives a 10-minute-honing-session away from wood-shaving-fun-time. However, I have discovered that sometimes no matter the quality of the tool sometime you have to modify/ tune a tool to get it to work specifically the way you want it to work.

In the past couple of years, I have I bought and restored dozens of used tools- some newish and but most pretty old (mostly from the turn of the century- the 20th century). During my restorations, I learned a lot of tricks about how tune tools to sing like the day they were made, and in many cases better. Restoring tools isn’t for everyone. It takes patience, time, and the willingness to take a file to the tool. For most people that can be somewhat daunting with an old tool, but with a shiny brand new tool it can be outright terrifying. However, sometimes a little grinding or lapping can make the difference between a good to and an outstanding tool.

So what was were the issues with the Pullshave?

Issue 1:
Getting a Handle on the Situation

Just like the Jersey Shore, my handle situation was super cheesy and a bit out of hand.

Despite not being a big fan of Bubinga (a tropical hardwood that looks like pine slathered in self-tanner), the handle seemed too long for my dainty-mits. Also I foresaw issues with shaping relating to tool bottoming out too early before reaching optimal-seat-butt-depth (a technical term). It's the same problem I have with my scorp, which has handles set too steeply.

I went to town on a piece of scrap that I had lying around the shop, and sure enough, as the hollow increased the long handle started making contact the opposite side of the depression and limited the angle of attach required to keep shaping. Not a problem! I grabbed some small scraps of ash and turned a new pair of handles in no time.

The rear handle was a little under half the length of the original and somewhat narrower. I made sure to add enough bulk to the end to get a grip on the tool, but not so much that I would reduce the benefit of a shorter handle.

I chose ash for several reasons: it was around, it’s plenty rough, and I think it’s lovely and complements the tool. I also have a pair of spokeshaves with hickory handles and now they match pretty well. I should also mention, that the ash give it a warm americany feeling to balance out the overwhelming canadianess of the tool (hahaha… seriously).

As far as the threding and what not- Lee Valley actually sells a custom handle kit, but I just used parts I had off the shelf. All the threads were 1/4-20 which made things pretty simple. The rear handle is just a bolt that i cut the end off of and screwed into 3/16 pilot hole. In front knob I used a threaded insert I got from woodcraft a while back.

I also slightly modified the front knob making it a little taller, thinking that it might be nicer if using it backwards to push the tool. I shaped the handles with a little bit of a Miller’s Falls meets old Stanley look. Sehr Schick and Wicked Dappa!

Issue 2: Tool’s Got Too Much Sole

The second issue was a little subtler that the first, and took a couple of my brain cells a minute to rub on. The issue had to do with the profile of the sole near the blade. The sole of the tool is concave in one direction (side to side), but flat in the other (front to back). The sole is relatively shore so when shaping lesser hollows this isn’t a problem. However as the walls get steeper and steeper, the flat section (especially in front of the blade) interferes with the tools ability to cut. You are forced to adjust the blade so far down that the tool starts to chatter in the cut leaving a pretty nasty looking finish with plenty of tears and gauges. Again this is a simple fix, round over the profile… but this time you’ve got to bust out the files.

In my case I have the luxury of a 4x106 wet belt sander (yet another awesome glass coldworking to woodcraft crossover). Before, jumping on the grinder. I marked the region round the mouth that I wanted to remove. The picture below is actually after the first shaping, which was much more dramatic as I removed the sharp corner between the flat in front of the blade and a beveled section. The idea is that you make the entire region, not just the part you are going to remove— that way you can see what you have done and where you haven’t ground. At this stage I am going to remove the remaining flat infront of the blade and relieve the section at the very rear of the sole. This can easily be done with a handi-file followed by some light sanding.

The Result: Outstanding!

After these small modifications the tool was singing and hollowing like the dickens!

A little scraping and you've got smooth place to plant yer butt!

Moral of the story: Rarely (almost never) does a tool work just right out of the box. Almost everything needs tuning or adjusting. The key is to know how it should work, and make sure it is ready to go before you start making the real work. Even most high-end tool requires you to hone the blade before you can make whisper thin shavings. No matter how high quality product, a company can rarely individually-super-fine-tune a tool without driving the price through the roof. Lee Valley makes excellent tools, and this tool is no exception. I am one happy camper. However, a little extra handwork can take a tool up a notch and improve the quality of your work. Going even farther, customizing a tool can give a true sense of ownership and pride that will inspire you to make better work.
Sounds cheesy but I swear it is true!


Emrys said...

You are a true craftsman Niels. Much respect. I can't wait to see the results of all your hard work.

nielscosman said...

Thanks Emrys!
Neither can I.
Many miles... before the 15th!