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The Plane Truth


Tim McTigue

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The garland was done, now to work on the plates. Back first, according to tradition. Of course, I've never done any real woodworking before, especially with hand-tools, so this is all new to me. Especially the sharpening part. Especially with planes. And planing a perfect edge... well, let's just say that learning curve is STEEP! Of course, I'd read a lot about it, and in terms of sharpening, I'd read the Scary Sharp website, and had a book from Stanley (Lord only knows how old, it might be from the 50's). So I set out, with a couple of old stones and a lot of courage (and ignorance). I kept hearing about these nice, long, thin shavings I was supposed to see. Well, the first time I thought I had success, it looked like this:

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Back to the drawing board. And the shooting board. More time spent trying to get a sharp edge, and even understanding just what that meant. Not easy! Of course, none of this is. Then, I get some shavings that start to look like this:

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Doggone, that's exciting! Here's another view:

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It seems I'm finally getting there. This was around April 20, 2007, and I had started my project in February. I felt like I was making good progress, though.

I can say I spent a LOT of time working at this joint, and checking it every so often by turning off the light, setting up the wood in the vise and shining the Luxo lamp at the joint, trying to see if light was shining out the other side. It always was. Then came a time when I thought I had it. So I spent some time seeing exactly how I wanted the flames to match up:

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...and went ahead and glued up the joint. Of course, when it dried, I realized almost immediately that I had goofed. I was hopeful, but eventually had to admit that this joint was not going to work.

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I don't have a bandsaw, so I ended up taking this joint apart with heat and steam - putting a wet towel up against the joint and pressing it with a hot iron (clothes iron, the same one I had used for bending the ribs). It took a while, but eventually the joint came apart. The next day, I noticed that the boards were now somewhat warped, so I set them aside and decided to work on the belly. I spent some time planing that joint, but taking more care this time, and glued it up when I felt it was good. (I'm carving the belly now, and so far it looks good.) Anyway, on April 30, I got the outline of the belly cut out on the scroll saw, and that night I ended up in hospital with complications from a polyp removal. That stay lasted 3 nights and 3 days, and the very next weekend I was back there for emergency gallbladder surgery. I was off work for 2 weeks, and ordered to do no heavy lifting or similar activity for 6 weeks, and during that time I got interested in reading Tom Clancy novels (the Jack Ryan series - seriously good books!), and all in all it was more than 9 months before I got back into the workshop in any frame of mind for violin making.

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