Archive for the ‘Woodworking History’ Category

The High Cost of Good Hand Tools

January 24th, 2014 by
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In my youth, one reason many builders of fine furniture, amateur and professional alike, turned to hand tools was economy. Hand tools were much cheaper

Two Bailey #04 1/2 smoothing planes

Two Bailey #04 1/2 smoothing planes

than machinery. Stanley probably made more hand tools than any other company, having plants in New Britain, Connecticut and England. The most notable hand tool they manufactured was Bailey Planes. The company bought Leonard Bailey out in 1869 and hired him to supervise production. Stanley made prodigious numbers of Bailey planes between 1869 and the early 1960s. The design set a high-water mark for hand planes and Bailey’s numbering system, sizes 01 through 08 (pronounced Oh and the number) became the de facto standard for the entire woodworking industry. Smoothing planes are 01 though 04; jack planes are number 05, with 07 and 08 being jointers. In 1923, an 05 jack plane sold for $6.05.

In 1898, Stanley introduced an even better plane, the Bedrock. This used the same numbering system, but a 6 preceded the number to denote the Bedrock Line. In the very early 20tth century, the cheeks of the 600 Bedrock Line were squared to further distinguish them from the Bailey Line. Stanley ceased production of the Bedrock in 1943, but craftsmen use and treasure them to this day. Today at least three manufacturers make slavish copies of Bedrock planes. In 1923, a 605 Bedrock jack plane sold for $6.75.

Classic Bailey #05 (foreground);  classic Bedrock #605 (back). Both made during the 1920s.

Classic Bailey #05 (foreground); classic Bedrock #605 (back). Both made during the 1920s.

When I was getting serious about woodworking in the 1970s, plane manufacture had sunk to an all-time low. You could not buy a usable plane anymore. But Baileys abounded at yard sales and flea markets for between $5 and $25. Bedrocks went for $5 to $75, depending on whether the seller realized that Bedrocks were premium merchandise. This happy state of affairs made a used high quality classic cheaper than a new piece of junk. There are those who will only buy new, and they chafed under what was available.

As woodworking grew as a hobby, the demand for decent hand planes became sufficient that companies started making decent ones again. Tom Lie-Nielsen was the first to realize this need and started making a good Bedrock reproduction. Today we are blessed with a host of companies making really good planes; however, they are not cheap!

If we factor in inflation for our 1923 prices from Stanley Catalogue Number 120, we find our $6.05 Bailey would cost $80.49 today and the $6.75 Bedrock would cost $89.80. This tells us that planes, and I think hand tools in general, have gotten significantly more expensive. A 05 Lie-Nielsen Jack today costs $325, which is 3.6 times the price of our 1923 Bedrock.

Some of this price difference can be attributed to manufacturing quantities. As you make more of any product, quantities of scale are reached that significantly reduce manufacturing cost. In the 1920s, Stanley was making planes in the hundreds of thousands, while any manufacturer today is making thousands at best. This would account for part of the price increase. Another factor is that planes, and many other hand tools, are cast iron. The cost for a foundry to meet EPA environmental standards, which are needed if the world is to go on, is significant. Some of the more attractive prices for hand planes may be due to manufacture in Asia, where manufacturing air quality standards are lower than in the U.S.

The good news, I think, is that cost of machinery has seen similar price increases, so hand tools are still a good alternative. What is more: they are safer, quiet and don’t need a power cord. Used planes do not abound anymore, but are still quite available. A decent Bailey can still be purchased for less than $100, making it a very good buy indeed.

Bullets and Black Walnut

September 26th, 2012 by
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Walnut With BulletsLast winter I was visiting a friend in Mississippi near Vicksburg. The farm at which I was staying is located on a road that leads directly to that city’s famous battlefield. In fact, the Confederate army marched down that very road to get to the fight. While I was talking to my host about the battle of Vicksburg and the national park that is located at the battlefield, he mentioned a tree. Apparently, this tree had the unlucky fate of being located directly between significant numbers of soldiers of the two opposing armies. When the bullets started to fly, and then continued flying for a long, long time — the tree was one of the early casualties of the battle. According to my host, so many bullets hit the tree that it eventually fell over from the weight of the lead embedded in its wood fibers.

Not so long ago, I was reminded of that story as I built a table that would be featured in the print magazine. (Woodworker’s Journal, October, 2012 … Walnut Game Table) As I was preparing the stock for the table, I noticed a couple of voids in the wood. Walnut Game TableThinking it was insect damage, I continued to plane the stock to thickness. Then I noticed that the bug holes were shiny.

Turning off the machine, I took a close look and found that the wood was full of bullet holes … and bullets. There were too many slugs to be found in these chunks of wood to be a random shot … my guess is that someone had hung a target up on a black walnut tree. (Unless, perhaps, it was in some less well-known battle!) Now, I’ve found bullets in boards before. It is not too uncommon and, if you surface a lot of wood, you’ll run into some sooner or later. But I have never before found so many bullets in such a small stash of wood. It was an odd but enjoyable event in my shop … and one that I thought you might get a kick out of.

Rob Johnstone

Editor in Chief

 

Historic Collection of Woodworking Projects Now Available

June 25th, 2012 by
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Today's Woodworker  Complete Collection CD

Here at Woodworker’s Journal, we’ve been digging deep in our archives to put together our largest collection to date of almost-forgotten projects, articles, tips, techniques and wood science. But the archives where we’ve been digging aren’t exactly Woodworker’s Journal archives — at least, not really. Confused?

Longtime readers may remember when two different magazines — Woodworker’s Journal and Today’s Woodworker — combined into the publication you know today as Woodworker’s Journal. Once that happened, Today’s Woodworker ceased publication.

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Hough’s American Woods

May 14th, 2012 by
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Hough's American Woods 1

During a recent visit to the Anderson Horticultural Library at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the librarian was kind enough to show me their collection of Hough’s American Woods.  The pages you see pictured do not contain photographs – they’re actually three pieces of veneer for each species, along with a description and information contained in the booklets.

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Be Careful What You Wish For…

December 27th, 2011 by
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Rob Goes CrazyLast summer and fall I found myself orchestrating the filming of a series of DVDs. I consider the resulting videos to be truly significant in terms of teaching woodworking in a manner that is unsurpassed — they are comprehensive, cohesive, consistent and entertaining. In addition, they have supporting content on the internet, all of which blends together to create an interactive product that has been unavailable until now. I also nearly had a nervous breakdown. How did this happen, you ask? It’s a bit of a long story…

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Woodworking: 60 Years Ago

March 23rd, 2011 by
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old wj coverHere at Woodworker’s Journal, a staff birthday (no, it’s not Rob — as he will clearly tell you, his birthday is December 11. That’s De-cem-ber el-ev-enth.) has us looking to the past — 60 years ago, to be precise. What was happening in woodworking back in 1951?

Well, it was right in the midst of the post World War II “do-it-yourself” era, the beginning of the birth of modern hobbyist woodworking. Some of the names in woodworking tools back then are names you still see around today: In 1951, Milwaukee Tool introduced the Sawzall, the first reciprocating saw. Featured in the 1951 Delta Milwaukee Industrial Machine Tools catalog were a new Delta/Rockwell 8″ jointer, which weighed in at 400 pounds without its motor and switch. Those, said the catalog, cost extra. And, according to one source, the Shopsmith used in broadcaster Andy Rooney’s shop today is a 1951 model.

Also in 1951, Walter Durbahn, a locally famed TV woodworker of the day, published Walt’s Workshop, a woodworking manual with the same title as his Chicago-area NBC TV show. It joined the year’s other publications like Make Your Own Modern Furniture by Paul Bry, and the ongoing series of “Deltagrams,” published by Delta Machinery from 1931 to 1959.

And, in 1951, the Sauder Woodworking Company of Archbold, Ohio, made their first snap-together table, thereby, according to their website, “creating the ready-to-assemble furniture industry.”

So, Woodworker’s Journal blog readers: do any of you have memories of woodworking from 60 years ago?