Treasure Hunting

The Journey to Westfield

A couple of weeks ago, SWMBO and I were visiting our friend on Lake Chautauqua (Bemus Point, actually – more about that this week).  There’s a neat little village nearby called Westfield, once home to several really good antique shops. I wanted to drive up and prowl, because I was looking for a Stanley 45 (or maybe 55) in good shape. Not collectors’ grade, but a solid user. It’s not a critical tool for me, but cutting grooves means setting up the router – finding the right bit, disengaging the router from the table to install it, and so on… I’ll moan about that more in a few minutes.

Pat (our lovely friend) warned me that I’d be disappointed. Since the last time I was there, Westfield has apparently fallen on some harder times. Most of the antique shops have shuttered, and only a few remain. But it’s a nice place to hang out for a few hours anyway.

Yeah, mostly gone. But the third shop I walked into was the Westfield Village Antique Center. It’s a neat little antique mall, probably 60 or so stalls and vendors, lots of long cases full of… well, stuff.

SWMBO said “I think there’s some old tools over there,” and pointed to the corner.

A Target-Rich Environment

Actually, there were several things: a couple of brass-bound boxwood rulers. One – a Lufkin 372 with calipers, I snatched up so fast I almost broke my hand. Tight, clean, much easier to read than my fancy-schmancy metric-or-english digital calipers whose battery dies every time I pick them up. Perfectly accurate for what I need them for – finding the right router bit, drill bit, gauging board thickness, and so on. I have no earthly idea about its age, but it’ll outlive me, and I have the feeling it’ll be one of those daily-use tools.

IMG_9597 Next to the rulers was a Stanley #55. Patrick’s Blood & Gore describes it as “a torture that knew no bounds betwixt Gods and mortals“. That may well be true. They’re finicky as all hell, and can take forever to set up. However – this one had everything. It was completely, gloriously intact, including the boxes, all the cutters, every screw and the original printed instruction manual. I’ve never seen one in such condition. It was somewhere between “lightly used” and “never taken out of the box because I didn’t know what to do with the thing”.

Not what I wanted. Several reasons: they’re overkill for the kind of uses I have, I’m not a collector – I’m a user – and it was priced accordingly for such a beautiful find (i.e. way out of my intended price range).

And next to the #55, there it was.

The Treasure

A Stanley #45. Condition somewhere between “lightly used” and “oh-my-God-this-is-so-cool”. Nickel-plated, probably somewhere between 1910-1919 (based on the cutters, the cam screw, and other minutiae).


The rosewood knob and fence are in very good shape, although the fence had a couple of blobs of orange paint on the ends. The handle is intact, solid, and uncracked, but discolored and blemished. There are spots of rust all over the skates, but no pitting that I could see. There are two missing parts: the cutter bolt clip and screw, and the set screw/brass rod for the cam assembly.

Stanley Manual

Its former owner had seen fit to stamp his initials (FS) on every single piece, both wooden and metal. Including cutters, depth stops, and thumbscrews. Well, to be fair, he probably either A) worked in a shop with apprentices and guys with similar planes (maybe with sticky fingers), or B) he had a new set of letter stamps and was having fun. Yes – that is going to lower the collector’s value significantly.

I spoke to the nice lady at the Westfield Village Antique Center. I demurred slightly… after all, it had FS’s stupid initials all over it, and it was missing a couple of parts. She immediately brought the price down, we shook on it and I was done. (Never mind how much, it was way less than anything comparable I’ve seen on eBay.)

The Cleanup

So at the end of the week, I flew home to Gawd’s Country. Yes, the TSA searched my bag. I don’t blame them in the slightest; there’s no way on earth they could have known what it is. Two people during the week asked if it’s a medieval torture device.

Disassembly was easy. I broke it down and soaked everything in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water overnight. In the morning, I rinsed everything, dried it off, and applied some elbow grease via a green scouring pad and some camellia oil. I hit the wooden parts with some sandpaper and polished them on the (still fantastic) Beall Wood Buffer.


The rosewood just glows. The rust spots fell away. I sharpened two of the cutters. 15 minutes on eBay had the two missing parts ordered for about $10. (FYI: The function of the cutter bolt clip and screw is to make it easier to swap bits by holding the cutter bolt in position so the bit breaks loose when you turn the wingnut. Otherwise, you may have to tap it loose when you change bits.)

So two versions of today, as a test of both grooving and beading:

Story #1: I moved my Kreg router table to the benchtop. Removed the router motor , got the two wrenches, selected a 1/4″ bit and installed it. Reinserted the router (no, I don’t have a lift, which would have made things faster). Grabbed the setup bars, and set the bit height. Shifted the setup bar against the fence, rotated the bit to square, and set the distance from the fence. I connected the dust connector nozzle and turned it on. I did two cuts for the groove: one at half-depth, one at full-depth, to avoid tearout. Then I pulled the router out, got the wrenches, changed to the beading bit I wanted, got the setup bars, adjusted the height, and set it up against the fence to do a face cut for beading. I turned the dust collector back on, and ran two cuts again, one at half-depth, one at full-depth. Pulled the board out and put everything away.

Story #2: I got the setup bar I needed, picked up the #45, and set the fence width. Installed the cutter and adjusted the cutting depth. Clamped the board down to the workbench. Eight passes and I was done with the groove. Swapped out the beading cutter for the straight cutter, got the setup bar, and readjusted the fence depth. Clamped the board down again, eight or nine passes, and done.


Guess which one I like better? I’m not running a production shop. If I were, I’d want the dedicated router table and make machined grooves and beads repeatedly all day long. But this is my shop where I build custom furniture and get rid of my stress. No dust collector, no shlepping the router table around, no knuckle-banging bit changes. It’s going to take me some time to really learn how to use it well…  but it ain’t rocket surgery, and it’s fun.

Next step: build a box. I’m out of space in the tool cabinet for another plane. <sigh> I’ll probably replace the three missing cutters, just to have them.

This is not a tool-collector’s saga. This is a solid, flexible user plane that I’ll use to cut a lot of drawer grooves and beading. And it has a story. Gotta love that. And next year when I visit, I’m going back to Westfield.

Ross Henton

September 2019


30 Minutes: Benched for the Day

30 minutes? Dress the top of your workbench.


You know you need to. It gets banged up, linseed oil slops on it, something slips and cuts it. Over time, it shifts slightly and you need to make certain it’s flat. You spilled coffee on it back in 2016.

Waaaaay back in 2011, I built the Roubo du Garage. It’s served well, and there are actually very, very few things I’d change if I were to do it over. But the top is looking its age. Well, it ain’t the dining room table… but it does take maintenance I was putting off.

Unscrew the (sometimes loved, sometimes hated) tool tray. Grab a plane and go to work. Starting (for me) with a Stanley Wood River #5. One or two strokes and I realized I had to touch the blade up. Back at work in under five minutes. Diagonal passes all down the length, reverse the angle, do it again. Remember that this is not fine work, and 2 3/8″ fine shavings aren’t the goal. Hog that stuff off.


Switch to a finer plane (Stanley #4, maybe… or in this case, my wooden smoothing plane) and start long passes straight down the top. The shavings will actually start to get progressively finer as it evens out. But still, it’s not a coffee table. Keep it moving.


Grab those ugly aluminum angles you use for winding sticks, and check occasionally to make sure you’re staying level.



Since you’re done for the day – especially since your arms are tired – give it a thick coat of boiled linseed oil and a wipe down before you shut the lights off. You’ll be glad when it’s over, but you’ll be really glad you did it when tomorrow comes.

  • Time: 28 minutes.
  • Cost: $0.00 USD.
  • Satisfaction: High.

Reflections on Pine:

Back when I built it, Chris Schwarz insisted on his blog and in the greatest of all workbench books that Southern Yellow Pine was stable, reasonably priced, and really, really tough.

I didn’t believe it. I though workbenches should be beech. Maybe rock maple. It was just a cost-driven decision for me.

I was very, very wrong. Damn, that stuff gets tougher over time. Do this with properly sharpened tools, or you’re in for a world of hurt.

Ross Henton

September 2019

Why Tools…

“And it was after long searching that I found out the carpenter’s chest, which was, indeed, a very useful prize to me, and much more valuable than a shipload of gold would have been at that time. I got it down to my raft, whole as it was, without losing time to look into it, for I knew in general what it contained.”

— Daniel Defoe, from “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.”

Ross Henton

August 2019

Because, SCIENCE.

Scrounging around on eBay a while back, something caught my eye. An old rip saw – not rare, not beautiful, not exotic… but in obviously good condition once you saw through the neglect. It is (I believe) a Disston D-8 No. 7, which likely places it somewhere between 1876-1928.

Note: See comments below for correction.


It had terrible rust, but the seller had photographed it well enough to show that the applewood handle is intact and uncracked, the teeth are in fine shape – honestly, I don’t think it was sharpened since it was purchased – and the nib is intact. That doesn’t matter all that much except aesthetically, since apparently nobody knows what the nib was actually for.


I’ve used one of these in the past. Much as I love my bowsaw (not surprising), there are times I need to make long rip cuts where the frame of the bowsaw gets in the way no matter how I juggle. A rip panel saw is a tool I need a few times a year. But there are problems:

  • Good ones are expensive. They’re fantastically beautiful, but I just don’t use it enough to justify the expense.
  • Cheap ones are awful. They come razor sharp from the factory, but they don’t track well, and they’re a grade of horrible plastic handled monstrosities that I just can’t bear to use.
  • Vintage saws often look like this. Often bent blades, broken handles, rust, broken teeth, missing nib. Note that this one is sold as a “decor piece” for about $64 USD.

The one I found on eBay met all my criteria… for $7.95 + free shipping.

The Journey

My goal wasn’t to make it pretty. It’s not a decoration. I don’t care if the blade is shiny, as long as it’s smooth, straight, sharp, and free of rust. Once the handle was removed, I thought about making a new one out of a beautiful piece of burl mesquite I have on hand.

Why? This one is banged up, but is completely intact, and has no signs of rot. I decided I liked the way it felt… so I cleaned the gunk off with some mineral spirits, gave it a couple of coats of danish oil, and ran it across the Beall Wood Buffer. Voilà.


The Science Part

Evapo-rust works fine. I’ve used it in the past… but when I tried it on an old tool with an engraving, the etching came out almost indistinguishable from the rest of the tool – not damaged, just exactly the same color. I couldn’t tell if the blade had etching or not (it didn’t). I wanted to try electrolysis on this one. I’d read about the method for a long time, and I had everything on hand.

I’m not going to write in detail about this technique. It’s covered extensively online.

Short version: Washing soda (not baking soda, or salt, or anything else) at about 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. A chunk of steel (the anode) that gets sacrificed in the process. Leads for a battery charger. Negative lead connects to the tool. Positive lead connects to the sacrificial steel anode.


The Bath

Mandatory points of caution:

  • Don’t let the electrode and the tool touch. That’s a BAD electrical thing.
  • Kinda be careful about electrical leads in water. Like, don’t get your hand across them. Unplug the charger to make adjustments.
  • Don’t smoke. Don’t do it in a confined area. The little bubbles are hydrogen – which can be kinda-sorta-flammable.

How it works: The  sodium carbonate (washing soda) makes the water more conductive. When it’s dissolved in water, it releases becomes sodium ions (Na+) and carbonate ions (CO3 2-) .  These positive and negative charged ions carry the current in solution – the carbonate moves to the anode (positive wire) from the battery charger and sodium moves to the negative wire. The result is that the corrosion and rust moves off the tool to the anode.

Scrubbing Bubbles

Almost immediately after connecting the charger, you’ll see little bubbles rising off the tool. That’s the hydrogen I mentioned earlier. It’s tiny amounts, but I’m still not going to light a cigar around it. After about two hours, the tub looked like this:


That’s rust and gunk removed from the blade. Gross, but not toxic – you can actually dump the water out on the grass (it’ll love the iron). I had to stop the process and scrape the worst of the debris off the anode, so the electrical connection stayed solid.

This is the 24-hour point:


The Result

The rust on the blade is replaced by a black patina. It comes off pretty easily with steel wool or scrubbing pads. It’s harmless, and doesn’t affect the blade. You can scrape it bright or leave some of the patina. For this saw, I wasn’t very picky about making the metal bright again.


The brass nuts cleaned up in a few seconds with a little Brasso. One point – save yourself some fumbling putting them back in by marking which one came out of which hole – they’re not all exactly the same. A wipe down with Camellia oil finished the blade. I may return to the blade later and remove more of the patina… we’ll see.


One stroke with a file was all it took to bring the teeth back to good condition. That’s a good thing… because I HATE sharpening saws, and I’m not very good at it. Rip saws are at least a lot easier than crosscut, but it’s finicky work and I pretty much wrecked a crosscut saw and had to have it professionally ground and resharpened.


At first, this one didn’t really want to track well in the cut. I took an Arkansas stone to both sides of the teeth to take the set down a little, and it cuts fast and accurately.

Since I had a plastic tub on hand, total project cost:

  • Saw: $7.95
  • Danish Oil: On hand
  • Steel for anode: On hand (rebar works just fine for this)
  • Camellia Oil: On hand
  • Battery charger: On hand
  • Washing soda: $4.25

Total: $12.20. And a beautiful day. And a new (not-new) panel saw in the till. Can’t beat that.

Ross Henton

June 2019


The Blog’s Namesake’s Little Brother

One of the first (and still best) hand tools I made was my bowsaw… courtesy of the excellent class at the Dallas Woodcraft store. Howard Hale’s bowsaw class was great, but it’s sadly been discontinued due to unavailability of the blades. But the design was great, and has some distinct advantages over some traditional designs. The blade is fairly big – about 1 1/4″ wide – and works for everything from breaking down stock to cutting dovetails.

But sometimes, I’ve longed for something a little finer – more like a coping saw. Let’s face it; commercial coping saws either A) suck or B) are waaaay too expensive titanium-framed creatures. Gramercy Tools makes an excellent small bowsaw ($150), and sells the hardware separately… just handle pins and blades. The blades are a little unusual; they’re 12″ coping saw blades.

But the construction plans are kind of a pain. It calls for a loose-tenon mount of the stretcher to the frame, and it’s fiddly and often unstable. There’s a tradeoff between stability and flexibility. I found the mount used in my larger bowsaw both easier and more stable, and still allows the right amount of tension. This is the original, and was the namesake of this blog:


Its little brother is for tight curves, but is essentially the same design: U-shaped joints for the stretcher, but with the narrow blade and excellent mounting hardware from Gramercy tools.

wood-11-of-17This is a five-piece project: two side frames (walnut), the stretcher and handles (walnut and ash), and the tensioning pin (laminated ash and padauk). I traced the original frames and printed an 80% size copy to build from. It was a couple of hours work making the parts on a bandsaw and spindle sander.

wood-10-of-17The handles are octagonal, and the pins from Gramercy are set in with epoxy. I don’t really care for the traditional round handles. These just fit my hand better. (And I steadfastly refuse to own a lathe; all I’d do is make toothpicks all day.) One octagon cut on the table saw, cut into long and short handles, then evened up with a plane on the joinery bench I described in the last post.


The pins turn freely in the frame. The stretcher took a slight adjustment in the depth of the joint to allow the right amount of tension to be applied.


The tensioner is wound with some nylon cord. This design will take a lot of tension – you’ll have no problem at all keeping the blade at whatever tension you’d like, and don’t have to worry about stressing the frame. As usual, the parts were finished in a few minutes on the Beall Wood Buff. I should point out that every hand tool I’ve made has been finished the same way, and I’ve never had to retouch one of them – planes, handles, saws, anything.


The result… smaller, lighter – weighs almost nothing – and turns on a dime.


And it works as advertised: the 16 tpi blade turns a 1/4″ circle easily, and will likely go much smaller without complaining.


This is a real keeper. Six hours to make, $25.95 for the pins and three blades, and a trip to the scrap bin for the wood. This one goes front and center in the tool cabinet. And I think my other coping saws go in the next garage sale. There is absolutely no comparison.

Today’s project was brought to you by The Paul Tillotson Trio, Erik Satie, and Bob Culbertson on Chapman Stick.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Ross Henton

September 2016

Benches Rising

One thing about vintage tools… they age more gracefully than I do. I was out of the shop (and derelict in my blogging) for quite a while, but I’m glad to say that I’m back on track. One of the minor projects that’s been lying dormant for a while is a riser/vise for the top of the workbench.  I had originally thought about a Moxon vise, but I had a couple of press screws in the pile and decided to use those instead.


Construction is extremely simple, and a lot of the design was adapted from the bench-on-bench plans at – a fantastic blog.

The top is just sections of fir 2×4, left over from the original workbench build. The screws are veneer press screws (from Woodcraft, I think).  wood-2-of-17

The threaded supports for the screws are buried in the laminations of the top, and the front face vise is some scrap mesquite (if there is such a thing). The riser is about 28″ wide, and will just fit a 24″ board between the screws.

wood-3-of-17Two washers keep the handles from marring the face of the vise, two rubber washers (visible below, just barely) keep the front face in place when it retracts, and I sank two metal collars just larger than the threads into the mounted mesquite block.

wood-4-of-17The stands are just I-beams made out of scrap plywood. The version on uses dado joinery; this is just simple pocket-hole joinery. Two threaded inserts under the top and a couple of threaded knobs let the stands be removed, so the whole thing breaks down for storage. The top has holes for holdfasts for bench dogs. It’s important to make the stands high enough to allow your longest holdfasts to clear the workbench below.

wood-5-of-17If working with longer boards, the riser can be clamped in place with the workpiece registered against the front of the bench. That makes for an extremely stable arrangement.

All told? I think the press screws were about $10 each. Bushings, scrap wood, rubber washers… that was it. The build took an afternoon and an evening (including letting the glue dry).

First impressions are absolutely great. I cut some dovetails as soon as it was finished, and it was much more comfortable – and my accuracy improved by having the workpiece up closer to me instead of down at the right height for planing.

Brought to you by Oscar Peterson’s Night Train, and Pat Metheny’s A Map of the World.
Stay tuned.

Ross Henton

September 2016


A Simple Test

If you’re filing something (like a piece of hardware, as seen here) and it seems to be taking longer than expected, shift farther down the file.


Take short strokes as close to the handle as you can work. If it cuts better and faster, the file is worn out and should be replaced.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? So why did I just waste ten minutes, when I should have checked last time I used it? Looks like I’m off to the store.

How (mildly) annoying.

Ross Henton
January 2014

Sometimes, It’s a Mystery

Yes, I’m late. Real Life Stuff has intruded on my shop work, and when it suffers my blog lags further behind with it. But I’m back – at least until next month (shoulder surgery again – which is going to mean more time NOT making stuff).

But this project may hold me for a little while. For once, I’m not going to talk about what it is first; I’m just going to dive in. I’m also going to try to talk about the design more than the technique. Think of it as the Mystery project, and just bear with me.

So, the story goes: I found a piece of maple. Not your ordinary stuff – waterfalls, birdseyes, beautiful figure – and two big comma-shaped holes in it. I put it in the stack, and used to pull it out and stare at it. There was something that was itching to be built, but I couldn’t figure out what. Perhaps I Was Not Worthy of such a piece of wood.

Three years passed. Four. Finally, it hit me. It needed to be two bookmatched panels. This was a wee tiny bit of a problem, because it had some twist – enough that I couldn’t get a clean enough resaw to get full thickness out of it. So I did what I could, and went to see my buddy Mike Fannin. Mike’s an amazing woodworker, and he has (lucky for me) infinite patience AND a thickness sander. There was no way this piece was going through the planer – it would shatter like glass. The grain and figure of the wood was far too wild. Mike helped me get it sanded down to 1/4″ panels – thick enough for what I had in mind.

Next: off to Wood World, who was amazingly enough having a sale on walnut. I bought enough for what I had in mind, and a piece of 1/4″ walnut plywood for the back. That was enough for the casework (or so I thought; silly me). I let it stabilize a couple of weeks, and decided that 48″ x 32″ x 6″ was a good size. (What was I thinking? It’s enormous. The wife-unit looked at it and said “Well, it’s bigger than I imagined. We’ll see.” No kidding. The Grand Canyon was bigger than I imagined, too.)

The casework is dovetailed, and the top and bottom pieces of the frame overhang the sides by 1″ for the doors. The back is the sheet of plywood, and that’s where the first problem started. Layout hit a minor snag. I’m a pins-first guy (don’t start in on me about it). The problem was in transferring the layout from top to sides because of the sheer length of the boards; I couldn’t just balance one on the other and start marking. I used a couple of metal brackets designed for squaring boxes, and clamped them in place while I transferred the markings. One problem (for me) with marking dovetails in darker wood is that you can’t see pencil lines. You can’t even see knife lines well enough to cut accurately. Chalk pencils don’t work; they aren’t fine enough. I think the solution is going to be to install brighter worklights in my shop. Yes, I’m getting older. ;

The dovetails actually went pretty well – I ain’t an expert, but I’m getting better. Dovetails by hand in walnut aren’t the easiest thing I’ve ever attempted; the wood is hard and a little brittle. I had some minor chips (one fixed with a wedge, as you can see), and one assembly crack. But one thing I’ve learned is that dovetails tend to look like crap sometimes about the midpoint; they’re cut okay, they fit okay, but look a little sloppy. That vanishes with some sandpaper, a block plane, and a few drops of oil. I used to be really, really hard on my dovetails. They were imperfect: no matter how I tried, they just didn’t look quite even, quite perfectly machined. Then a teacher of mine at Woodcraft (Howard Hale, great guy, great woodworker) pointed something out to me. “Of course they’re not perfectly even. You want perfectly even, machined dovetails, go to Haverty’s. This is handwork. It’s slightly uneven. That’s why it costs six times as much.”

Cutting the groove to inset the back left square holes from the notch in the tails, but those are easy to plug. I had a couple of chips and one cutting error (yes, I cut on the wrong side of the line, of course I did) that was easily filled with a piece of veneer dipped in glue.

Once the casework was assembled, I started to look at what’s-good vs. what’s bad: the case was square, everything fit well, the joinery was okay – but the groove for the back panel was just slightly too wide, and the back rattled a little bit. Also, I realized that I had a structural problem: due to the sheer size of the case, it was possible that the sides might warp – and there was nothing to stop that from happening. My solution is something of a Grand Experiment: I cut two slats with dovetailed ends and fitted them sidewise into the back of the case, in hopes of holding it more stable. Since the plywood back won’t expand (in theory), I went ahead and glued them to the back. If I were redoing this project, I’d make the back thicker. The whole piece would be quite a bit heavier with a solid back, but it would also be stronger in the long run. We’ll see.

I added a 45-degree cut french cleat to the top of the back, and stopped the last of the bothersome rattle with a strip of veneer glued into the groove. The case seems solid, tight, and it’s still square. So unless it disintegrates over time, I’m satisfied.

The first panels for the doors are glued together (more on that next time). The Mystery Maple is sitting in the corner waiting. I’m on the clock: surgery is December 17th, and this has to be finished by then, or it sits until spring. Big thing, ain’t it. There’s the chance the wife-unit will look at it, declare “It’s too big for the room”, and it will go up for sale. That’s okay; if it does, I’ll make a smaller one and get past the growing pains of the design.

One other note: It’s been hard being in the shop sometimes this year without my Angus. He was the perfect Bench Dog, and I’ll always miss him. But Monty shows great promise: he’s already been promoted to Bench Dog, Junior Grade. Like the project, he’s shaping up just fine.

Stay tuned. Watch this space.

Ross Henton

November 2012