Building a Traditional Coffin Smoother

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By Leif Created 04/15/2004 - 8:43pm

Building a Traditional Coffin SmootherBuilding a Coffin Smoother using traditional methods... I go through the steps I took in building this:

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Building a Traditional Coffin SmootherI've been meaning to build myself a traditional smoother, and while I was going to wait until other projects were completed, but 2004-2010 Norse Woodsmith Page 1 of 29

Published on Norse Woodsmith (http://norsewoodsmith.com) decided I would forego some other projects and give it a whirl now. The photo below is what I'm building on the next several pages - be warned, I tend to write in a "stream of consciousness" style, so forgive any rambling that might occur.

The plane built on these pages reflect closely a classic coffin smoother documented in an instructional pamphlet titled "How to Make Wooden Planes", authored by David G. Perch and Leonard G. Lee (of Lee Valley and Veritas Fame). Unfortunately this pamphlet is no longer available (inserted edit - Garrett Wade might have a few copies left). Another good text on building wooden planes where a similar plane is constructed is John Whelan's excellent book "Making Traditional Wooden Planes", available from the Astragal Press. David Perch has authored another book along with Robert Lee which might interest the reader, titled "Wooden Planes and How to Make Them", available through Lee Valley. I've not read it myself, but it' my understanding it is a well written book. Note: Notes formatted in this fashion were made later. in hindsight when I had a chance to reflect back on what had gone right or wrong. I thought it would serve both myself and anyone else reading this better to learn from my mistakes and comment on them, than just to pass over them. This seems like the easiest way to accomplish that. I am assuming, with this documentation, that you the reader is familiar with the shape of the opening to be cut into the plane if you are interested in making one yourself. If not, the shape is common to most wooden planes, and should be studied first hand before attempting your own. But if there is one thing I have learned about woodworking, it's to jump in with both feet, and not be afraid of making a mistake. The worst that can happen is you end up with some heavily worked firewood, but even that would have to include the learning and experience acquired during it's execution. Also remember, I am no "expert" (easily seen in the forthcoming work)- these are just my experiences in building this plane.Collecting the Material and Preparing the Blank

The first thing I dug up in preparation for this little project was a double iron from a Stanley Handyman #4 size plane. I've never been too happy with that old plane, but always figured I could use the iron for a project like this. 2004-2010 Norse Woodsmith Page 2 of 29

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Note: The iron mentioned here did not end up being the iron I used for this plane. This is because they proved to be quite worthless in the end, and it ended up being a mistake to use it here because of its low quality, and have now proved to myself why I was never happy with that particular plane. But more on that later. Next was to find some wood for the wedge. I found a blank of walnut about 2" x 6" that was perfect - contrasted with the maple and was a bit softer - just the right thing for it. Next was to find a suitable block of wood for the body. I had nothing on hand of substantial thickness, and as it was my purpose to spend absolutely nothing to build this smoother, I dug up some scraps of hard maple I had on hand, and glued them together to make a block of the proper depth. I then squared the block to 2-1/2" square and 8" in length. I tried to orient the grain while gluing up the blanks and consequently while marking out the plane so the outer portion of the tree was to the bottom, and so the grain dived towards the back of the plane.

I mark the plane T for top, S for side, making sure to check for optimum grain direction. I then scribe a line 3" back from the front of the block, followed by a line at 50 degrees to mark out the bed of the iron. I then place the assembled iron against this line to determine the base line of the wedge that will be fit later: Note: It is very important that you make the marks telling you the side from the top and front from back. This was actually the latest round of mark making on the blank because I caught myself doing it backwards... Twice. First I had the side on top then the back at the front. WHAT A PUTZ!

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These lines are carried across the top of the plane, where they define the opening to be cut in the body of the plane, shown marked out by pencil. The outside parallel lines are the width of the iron plus 1/16", and define the outside edge of the wedge pocket. The inside lines are 1/4" inside of each outside line and define the inside edge of the wedge pocket. The wedge will register against these when installed.

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Notice how there are several angles that need to be worked within the opening, which can be hard to keep straight in your head I'll refer to this diagram again.

Mortising

Published on Norse Woodsmith (http://norsewoodsmith.com) I then turn the blank over again and remove a large portion of the material through some rapid chopping with a bench chisel, again being careful to stay well within the lines drawn out previously:

Don't worry, I'll clean it up in just a bit. The object here is just to remove as much material as quickly as possible - I'm simply getting the biggest portion of the material out of my way. Average: No votes yet Rate

MortisingFinishing up the mortisingHaving removed as much material as I dare, as quickly as I can, it's time now to clean up the mortise and start to define it with some light tapping and paring:

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Notice the portion in front of the wedge pocket where it widens the "ear" to the same width as the mouth - can't forget to do that little bit, and now's the time! I accomplished it here with a bed float.

Slotting for the Chipbreaker's Nut

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Then, using a 6" steel ruler, I bent an approximate shape as shown above and marked it with a pencil. Over at the bandsaw, I cut it out, staying proud of the line by about an 1/8". I didn't want to thin out the walls of the mortise too much, so I simply avoided them. Then, to smooth it out, I took a belt sander on it's side after it:

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I actually built a jig for this belt sander (another Craftsman - what wonderful tools - I'm just so happy with them can't you tell?) so that I can use it more like a stationary tool - but alas, the price one pays for having a small shop means jigs such as that are stuck way up behind and under fourteen other things... oh, I'm wandering off subject again. Fortunately, this one has a pretty flat side to rest on the bench that's close enough to perpendicular to actually work.

CosmeticsOnce I get the shape I want, I round all of the outside corners of the plane that are rounded off, and make a few other cosmetic touches. Note: Here is a good place to stop and tune the plane, before the cosmetic touches are added. I know I said it before, above - I just want to make sure I drive this point home.

Everything below the notch made in the side is left square. Next, I'll talk about tuning the thing, what I should have done before the mad rush to the end... Have I made clear the point about how I shouldn't have rushed through this part, yet? Do I seem repetitious about it? Am I annoying anyone with it yet? Average: No votes yet

2004