Lee Laird

Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over30 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. and works for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks as a show staff member, demonstrating tools and training customers. You can email him at lee@lie-nielsen.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/is9582

Dec 132013

For the past few weeks, our bloggers have been hard at work in their woodworking shops. Not only are they working on their gifts for friends and family this holiday season, but they have also been working on their 2013 Holiday Woodworking Tool Wish Lists. In case you are still working on yours (or haven’t even started), here are a few of our own wish lists. And don’t forget to make your own woodworking wish list on our website by CLICKING HERE.

Today we’ve got our regular blog contributor, Lee Laird’s wish list:

1.      Lie-Nielsen #6 Fore Plane – Another replacement for a cool old Stanley plane. Working with both types, it’s just so easy to justify the new plane, with it’s fit and finish out of the box, and the accuracy that comes with no struggles.

fore plane

2.      Lie-Nielsen 7″ Drawknife -Curved Blade  w/ leather case – While I already own two older used versions, its amazing just how sharp these knives are when new. Its also somewhat frustrating just how poorly some of the old used ones are sharpened. There is a great deal of metal that is necessary to remove in order to actually get the correct geometry and a truly sharp edge on the old knives that I own. Also, you can choose between a Curved Blade or a Straight Blade for this Drawknife.


3.      Electric Branding Iron  – Basic Arc  — I’ve wanted one of these for quite a while, and would love to have a consistent branding on the items I make.

4.      Lie-Nielsen Screw Driver Set w/ Case – This set of screw drivers has the perfect tip sizes (width and thickness) to fit the screws on Lie-Nielsen’s hand plane line. It is somewhat of a lost art to have a screwdriver that properly fits each screw. Sure, a different screwdriver can be made to work, but it’s so easy to cam out and bugger the screw head if the driver and screw don’t match.

5.      Lie-Nielsen Improved Workbench – The new design (as of 2011) is such a rocking (it’s truly solid, but just using a colloquialism) bench. With the change to a 4” thick top from side-to-side and end-to-end, it’s so much easier to clamp to the top, and increase the weight of the top. Just find it a home on a level floor, and you’re set. Oh yeah, I need a right-handed version, just to mention since both left and right are available.

Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over 20 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. You can email him at lee@lie-nielsen.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/is9582

Dec 062013

This month we’ll take a look at Lie-Nielsen’s Large Shoulder Plane (073). This is the largest of their shoulder planes and weighs in at 4 lbs. The body of the 073 is made from durable Ductile Iron and measures 8-¼” long by 1-¼” wide. The body is ground very precisely so that each of the two reference sides is exactly square to the sole, as is necessary to create the standard shoulder to tenon relationship. The A2 Tool Steel blade is cryogenically treated, double tempered and is .140” thick and .005” wider than the body, so you can set the plane up with the blade slightly proud on both sides. This allows you to make lateral adjustments without the blade becoming inset on one side. If it is necessary for a specific cut, you can always register the blade flush on one side, but in general it is best to be proud on both. The blade comes with a 25 degree bevel and its bedding angle is 18 degrees. The lever cap is Bronze and along with providing both a good grip and additional mass, it is absolute eye candy. Even though there is significant difference in size between the three planes in this series, the operation and features are the same for each.

As a quick note, since I wrote about the sharpening and setup aspect of shoulder planes in another article earlier this year, I won’t bother including it in this article, too. There is one aspect of the sharpening portion that I’d like to update. While I still use my Kell sharpening guide presently, I plan to upgrade to Lie-Nielsen’s forthcoming sharpening guide. It is solidly and accurately made and can handle a wider range of blades than any I currently own.

The size and mass of the 073 are significant and beneficial. Years ago I purchased a Lie-Nielsen Medium Shoulder Plane, at that time thinking it would give me the best of both world’s (small and large). I would now opt for the Large Shoulder Plane if I were obtaining only one for my shop, as I find the mass helps the plane continue through the cut, once started. It also acts as if it wants to stay connected to the reference surface, but even if it does shift slightly, I think the feedback it provides is more obvious.

The Large (in the back) vs the Medium shoulder planes.

The Large (in the back) vs the Medium shoulder planes.

Irons for the Medium (in the back) vs the Large shoulder planes.

Irons for the Medium (in the back) vs the Large shoulder planes.

The shoulder plane can obviously address shoulders on tenons, create or increase the depth of rabbets, and both remove and clean up additional material from a dado, just to name a few operations. Depending on the operation, you may wish to have a nice tight mouth while taking a very fine shaving, or more readily remove a fair amount of wood and open the mouth for the thicker shaving.

Shoulder on tenon, after using the Large Shoulder Plane. **Note, the score line I made was so light that the pencil wouldn’t stay within, so don’t misread that portion of the photo.

Shoulder on tenon, after using the Large Shoulder Plane. **Note, the score line I made was so light that the pencil wouldn’t stay within, so don’t misread that portion of the photo.

It is extremely easy to adjust the “shoe” of the plane, which controls the mouth opening. The first step is to loosen the screw on top of the front section of the plane by turning it counter-clockwise by about half of a turn.

Red arrow indicates the screw to unlock the shoe.

Red arrow indicates the screw to unlock the shoe.

Lrg shoe adj

Red arrow indicates the adjustment screw location.

After loosening the shoe locking screw, turn the shoe adjustment screw on the toe of the plane to move the shoe. Turning this screw clockwise will bring the shoe towards the blade, closing the mouth opening. Turning the screw counter-clockwise will open the mouth. When closing the mouth, pay close attention to the blade, so you don’t accidentally hit it with the shoe. You don’t want to dull or damage the blade.

Red arrow points to the mouth set to a somewhat neutral position, but large enough for most shavings.

Red arrow points to the mouth set to a somewhat neutral position, but large enough for most shavings.

Mouth is set much more tight than the photo above when working with a very fine shaving.

Mouth is set much more tight than the photo above when working with a very fine shaving.

After setting the mouth to the desired opening, make sure to re-lock the shoe by turning the screw on top of the plane clockwise until snug. To limit any damage to the locking screw head, either use a Lie-Nielsen #4 screwdriver that fits the head precisely, or any other screwdriver with correct tip width and length so there is no slop.

For optimum results, make sure you keep the plane iron shaving sharp. I also like to apply a little paraffin to the bearing surface(s) (sole and potentially the side, too) to reduce the friction, which I find allows for better accuracy since less force is required through the cut.

Even if you already have one of the smaller versions of this shoulder plane (or others), I believe you’ll find this plane a welcome addition,
and you may just find it superseding its predecessor. There is just no way around it; this is one sweet plane!

I hope you enjoyed the article and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.


CLICK HERE to find out more information or to purchase the Lie-Nielsen Large Shoulder Plane (073).

Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over 20 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. You can email him at lee@lie-nielsen.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/is9582


Nov 262013

Ok, so do you have a card scraper sitting around in your shop collecting dust? If you do, don’t think you’re alone. I’ve talked to a large number of woodworkers across the country that are in a similar boat. I’ll provide you with some easy to follow instructions that will hopefully make the card scraper one of your go-to tools from this day forward. Oh, one caveat… The quality of steel in your scraper can absolutely make or break this success. I know first hand, as I had a card scraper in my shop early on, and no matter what I tried I just couldn’t get it to work properly, or if it did, it would only last a few strokes. I finally decided on a whim that I’d buy another card scraper, just to see if it was me or the scraper. Well, I’m sure glad I did, because the second one worked like a charm. I’ve even gone back to the original one (yep, I still have it for times when I want to dig in and do something I wouldn’t really want to do with my good scraper) and applied the same techniques, but to no avail.

When you first get a card scraper, the likelihood is that its edges will be similar to when you buy a new handplane. Not too bad, but certainly not to the level where you get your best results. The first thing to do is to file the two long edges of the scraper. I use a scraper file/burnisher made by Glen-Drake, which provides great results and helps make it easy to accomplish. Before getting started, I made a spacer block the same thickness as the distance from the file surface to the outside edge of the handle (see photo below). Make sure you test your spacer by placing the file on it, while the handle is on the bench. I put a light source behind the block and made sure no light was leaking through towards the handle or the end.


In the photo above, I have the handle of my file resting on the workbench surface and the file clamped in my bench vise. When clamping, I hold the scraper against the spacer so it is the same height above the bench. With the scraper at this height, it’s simple to keep a flat and square surface on the scraper edges. All you have to do is keep the handle of the file on the bench while moving it down the scraper surface with light pressure. One little trick I use is to coat the edge with black Sharpie so I can tell if my file is taking material equally across the edge of the scraper. One other thing I do is hold the file in a similar position to that in the photo, rather than trying to move it down the scraper from the tip of the file to the handle. The way I hold the file tends to have less chatter on the scraper, so less junk to remove later.


Above is a photo of the scraper’s results if used immediately after filing the edge. As you can see, it’s mostly dust, but there are little “almost” shavings. I thought it would be nice to have the comparison between this stage and the final surface.

The next step is to knock down any burr that either previously existed, or is now there from the filing. Depending on the type of stones you have, softer being a bigger deal, I sometimes use the same file with a pass or two to remove the burr. This is simple and quick. Another option is to use a diamond plate or even a hard 1000-grit stone (like the Shapton Glass series). After you have eliminated or at least reduced the burr, it’s time to hit the stones. Place a thin ruler on one edge of the stone so that side of the scraper is lifted ever so slightly, placing your efforts at the opposite edge. This focuses the work where needed, rather than basically working the whole surface of the scraper. Work on your 1000-grit stone first and then move up to 8000-grit or 10000-grit. The end result should be a very narrow polished band at the edge (hard to capture with a camera), on all four long sides of the scraper.

Next, make a wooden block (unless you have a piece of high density plastic, which I like better) that is almost as tall as the scraper is wide, and make certain the edge of the block you use is square to the bottom surface. This is to support the scraper on the stones when up on edge. Again, use the same 1000-grit/8000-grit stones, but make sure the scraper is oriented as if you were drawing a diagonal on the stone, and push as if moving straight down the stone. With the scraper angled to the movement it helps prevent creating a groove in your stones. If the scraper was oriented straight up and down the stone, the grooves would occur readily and by the time you finished, would be substantial. As usual, work each grit until the scraper has a consistent surface (a dull grey on the 1000-grit and a polished surface from the 8000-grit).

Now you’ve finished the prep work, so it’s on to creating the cutting edge. Well, that’s really not exactly true. The cutting edge is already there and you can test this if you’d like. It’s not as aggressive as it will be after the next step, but it will take a shaving. Just remember that the angle at which you engage the wood is different.

Lay the scraper flat on your bench, along the edge, and carefully move your burnisher up and down the wide surface at the edge. If you don’t have a burnisher, a carbide router shank will work, but be careful you don’t accidentally cut yourself on the router bit. This is done on all four edges. **Since I’ve been using the ruler trick on my stones, I’ve omitted this stage and the scraper behaved equally as well.

Clamp the scraper again in the bench vise and get your burnisher.  I usually run the burnisher down the edge, holding it level with very light pressure. I then drop the handle side down ever so slightly and again lightly run it down the edge. I stop when I’m probably around 5 degrees, and it’s surprising at just how little pressure is required on these passes. If you’ve never tried it like this before, give it a shot with just the amount of hand pressure you might apply when shaving. Very light, as you don’t want to dig into your face/leg (men/ladies).

Below is a photo of the same piece of Walnut as in the second photo, which shows the shavings the card scraper produced after going through the full sharpening/burnishing techniques. Decent results after just a little bit of work!


It is also very surprising at just how a little burr does a better job and will last longer than if you create a large burr. Part of that is probably obvious when you think about it, as a thin piece of metal sticking further out is more likely to bend with similar forces.

I hope this helps anyone that has had trouble in the past or for those who have never tried a card scraper before. When you get used to doing the steps it’s usually not more than about 5 minutes to be back to making shavings. If you have trouble getting a cutting edge or keeping one, it may just be the card scraper isn’t of good quality, so just upgrade to a better one and you’re off to the races.

Thanks for checking out my blog and let me know if you have any questions or comments.


Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over 20 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. You can email him at lee@lie-nielsen.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/is9582



Nov 052013

HF full smThe holdfast is a tool that has historically been around for a very long time, but until the late 70’s/early 80’s (if not later) it had fallen off the scope of all but the most devout hand tool woodworker. Luckily, the resurgence of hand tools has helped to bring about this wonderful version from Lie-Nielsen. The Lie-Nielsen holdfast is made out of Cast Ductile Iron which creates a very sturdy tool with enough spring to flex properly in order to either hold your project solidly or retain a batten. The latter is very useful if you are concerned about the risk of any possible compression damage to your work. Each holdfast is 13” long, has a reach of 7.25” and weighs in at 2.15 Ibs. The holdfast has a beautiful hot oil finish and a nice textured surface. The underside of the contact patch on the holdfast is ground to assure proper contact. The holdfast’s shank fits into ¾” diameter holes through your bench, and will hold securely in tops (or legs) of up to 4” thickness. If the top or leg of your bench is thicker than 4”, you may need to relieve a portion of bottom/rearward section to 1” diameter, to obtain a solid hold.

While I’m certain that many readers have seen a holdfast in use, I want to make sure I leave no one in the dark. To utilize a holdfast, the shank is placed into a ¾” diameter through-hole and a mallet or hammer is used to strike the top of the holdfast (green arrow in photo below) to seat it. I’ve used a large wooden mallet and a very small lightweight hammer and both were quite successful seating the holdfast. I have a small flap of leather I glued onto the striking face of my small hammer, so I don’t ding my holdfast, but that’s really just a personal thing. To determine if the holdfast is actually holding securely, just grab it by the head and see if you can move it. If the holdfast doesn’t move, it’s performing properly and nothing more is required until you want/need to move it or remove it.  To loosen the holdfast you strike the end of the head (red arrow in photo below), from the shank side, with your hammer/mallet swinging parallel to the bench. It can take a few strikes to loosen it, so don’t worry if the first hit doesn’t loosen the holdfast. Their ability to handle some jostling, and to retain their grip, is why they work so well in woodworking.

HF close working sm

While there have been a number of holdfast designs over the ages, Lie-Nielsen’s design seems to make the most sense to me. I’ve used other holdfasts that either had a large arc in it’s shape and/or the front section was very pointed in shape. Lie-Nielsen’s has a very low profile on the bench and the front end is fairly blunt. This may not seem as if it would make any real difference, but when you are working on your project, you might be surprised how your hands or parts of planes/tools want the same space as some holdfasts. The somewhat pointed ends on some holdfasts can certainly remind us of sloppy technique or at least spacial awareness, even without causing bleeding.

Obviously, in order to use a holdfast, you will need to add some ¾” diameter holes in your workbench, assuming it doesn’t already look like a pegboard. I find it useful to take a little time to think about the types of work in which you intend to utilize the holdfasts, prior to drilling a hole, laying the holdfast on the bench to help find the prime locations. This would apply to both the benchtop and the front leg opposite of the front vise, if the leg is flush with the front edge of the top and you wish to restrain the rear section of boards, while holding the front portion in your vise. This assessment should help to limit any time wasted on unnecessary holes, while retaining the maximum strength in your bench. I drilled the holes in my benchtop with a quality ¾” forstner bit and it required an extension to finalize the depth of cut. Just take your time and let the bit feed, clearing regularly, and make sure you use a drill that’s up to the task. A square or two (for both planes) is also useful if you have any trouble drilling vertical, as this size bit can grab fairly ferociously if you lose your focus and let the angle wander.

I use my holdfasts (yes, I have a couple, to cover all contingencies) to hold boards on which I’ve already cut the tails and pins for dovetails, while I chisel out the waste wood. I always make sure to have a thin scrap piece of wood to which I’ve applied a thin piece of leather to the side that will touch my project. I use this to prevent any marring or inadvertent damage from the force of the holdfast. I also regularly utilize my holdfasts when I’m planing the face of a board on my bench. I have a stop I installed on the left end of my bench, which I plane against without clamping the work between dogs. There are times where the contact of the stop is insufficient to prevent the wood from shifting or spinning around, even though the stop stretches about 8” across my benchtop. When this happens I’ll use my holdfast to hold a wood scrap, thinner than my workpiece, at either a right-angle to the workpiece, or parallel to it, depending on what works best.

There are a multitude of uses for a holdfast, of which I’ve just scratched the surface, but hopefully this will provide you with a starting point and you’ll let your imagination run wild. I hope you enjoyed the article and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over 20 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. You can email him at lee@lie-nielsen.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/is9582

Oct 012013

034268This month, moving somewhat incrementally up the bench plane scale relative to my previous bench plane article, we’ll talk about the Lie-Nielsen No. 6 Fore Plane. Even though it’s somewhat obvious that this is the next larger plane, compared to the article on the No. 5 (in the standard 1 – 8 nomenclature), personally I find the changes feel more significant than many of the earlier incremental steps in the plane lineup. This is likely due to the extra length and width of the plane’s sole, the increased width of the iron, additional weight, and the noticeable extra room for my hand on the handle. The No. 6 is 18” long, has an A2 cryogenically treated tool-steel iron that is 2-3/8” wide and .140” thick, and the plane weighs in at 7-1/2 lbs. The lever cap is bronze, and adds a visual beauty that complements the cherry handle and knob. The body of the No. 6 is cast from ductile iron, as are all of Lie-Nielsen’s iron bench planes, which is significantly stronger and more durable than the cast iron/grey iron used in the Bailey/Stanley versions of these planes. If you can handle witnessing the carnage of an old Stanley plane’s grey iron casting, take a look at the video Chris Schwarz created a couple of years ago. It’s amazing how the brittle cast iron/grey iron responded to the sharp rap of a hammer, which is not too dissimilar from what could occur from an accidental drop on a concrete floor. Even though we all do our best to protect our tools, the Lie-Nielsen ductile iron planes provide an extra level of confidence, knowing the odd drop to the floor will ding the body rather than destroying the plane.

In addition to the “basic” (really not anything basic about it, but just a way of differentiating) Lie-Nielsen No. 6, you can add higher angled frogs in both 50-degree & 55-degree versions. The “basic” No. 6, with it’s 45-degree frog, is great on the majority of soft/hard woods, but the higher angled frogs can certainly help to tame some tough-to-handle figured woods. A toothed blade is another offered addition, which can be seen as close to a necessity, when working the craziest grained woods.

In my shop, I personally use the No. 6 as if it were a bit of a chameleon. In one form I’ll set it up and use it essentially as a large Jack Plane with the more prominently curved iron, to readily remove material from boards, primarily working across the grain on the initial stages of flattening. The other setup I find useful is what might be categorized as a small version of a Jointer Plane, even though I haven’t found any written history to show with certainty that our woodworking predecessors also used the No. 6 in this fashion. With the size and weight of the No. 6, compared to the larger jointers (No. 7 & No. 8), there are a couple of reasons that it may just be the perfect tool for you. The first could be that the primary work is with wood that is shorter in length, like that which might be used when making small dovetailed boxes, where it doesn’t demand the longest planes to obtain a sufficiently flat surface. Another might be that someone is either a bit slight in stature, or perhaps has an injury/condition that might otherwise prevent the regular lifting of the heavier planes. This might just allow someone to continue his or her trade/hobby, since it could apply less strain/stress to the problematic area, when either carrying or transporting the plane. While the decreased weight comparison is valid, I find it equally important to also discuss the increase in size/weight vs. the No. 5 Jack Plane. I find the additional weight is extremely advantageous, especially when working across the grain, as I find it helps utilize the momentum you’ve initiated, and requires less continued force to keep the plane from “stalling” than a lighter plane. I see the extra mass as even more important when working with a substantially curved iron, as I usually have it set fairly aggressive, removing a thicker cross-grain type of shaving. While I certainly never set this type of curved iron to take a full-width cut, as it would just stop cold, working through the thicker wood fibers is quite a bit more difficult than taking a whispy shaving, common on a much less curved iron. So, depending on the situation, the No. 6 can be represented either lighter/smaller or heavier/larger and it can fit a wide range of uses.

When I setup my No. 6 for jointing type work, I’ll either just knock off the corners of the iron or apply a very small camber (slight radius) to the cutting edge of the iron, both of which helps prevent track marks from the corners of the iron. I usually prefer to go with the small camber shape as it is also very useful, and quick, when I’m using the plane to square up the long edges on a board. When setting it up for use as a Larger Jack Plane, I go heavier on the cambering of the iron, shaping the cutting end of the iron into an arc, to the tune of an 8”radius. I recommend purchasing a second iron for the plane, if you intend to utilize both Jack and smoothing/Jointer functionality, as changing back and forth between iron shapes would waste your time and rapidly use up the iron.

Below are the two shapes of irons side-by-side.

Curved by flat

Curved by Flat

When removing the steel for the larger camber shape, I take light passes on my powered grinder and work back to an arc I’ve transferred to the back of the iron, using a template. Trying to remove this much material by hand, from a fresh square-ended plane iron, would certainly test your patience, your hands, and your stones. The template is easily made. Take a piece of string and tie it around a Sharpie (or whatever you’ll use to draw), and mark the string where it is 8” from the pen.

string marked for arcs

String marked for arcs

You can either hold the string down on a piece of card-stock (or just plain paper), or you can use a tack to hold the string in place. With the string secured at the mark, and stretched lightly so there is no slack, put the pen’s tip onto your paper or card-stock.

holding string at mark

Holding string at mark

Move the pen back and forth while keeping the string taught, and you’ll have an arc pattern of an 8” radius. If this curve looks too dramatic, you can test out other larger radii (below picture shows 8”, 9” & 10”).


Three-arcs by measuring and making additional marks along the string, until you find what works for you. Once you’ve completed your pattern, take a pair of scissors or alternate cutting device, and trim along the arc you’ve drawn. I find it can be useful to lay the plane’s iron on the paper/card stock, and draw along the two long sides, extending these lines so they are longer than 8”.

You can do this by measuring and making additional marks along the string, until you find what works for you. Once you’ve completed your pattern, take a pair of scissors or an alternate cutting device, and trim along the arc you’ve drawn. I find it can be useful to lay the plane’s iron on the paper/card stock, and draw along the two long sides, extending these lines so they are longer than 8”.

Side lines and arc

Side lines and arc

I then attach the string close to the centerline, at one end, and draw my arc. This helps align the arc on the plane iron, so I can get the curve fairly consistent. One last tip is to place the pattern so the end of the arc is at the end of your iron. This will create an arc where you remove very little, if any, from the center of the iron. There is no reason to waste away any more steel than is required for the shape you are after. The A2 iron comes from the factory with a 25-degree bevel. For the best results, a 10-degree micro bevel should be created on the bevel side of the iron with a 1000-grit stone, and then honed to 8000-grit. The section of the back, closest to the cutting edge, is lapped flat at the toolworks with 600-grit. As you likely know, the back of the iron is just as critical in the sharpening process, as the bevel side. With this, you should also hone the back up to 8000-grit. I use the ruler-trick technique developed by David Charlesworth, to facilitate the honing on the back of the iron. This elevates the iron minutely, allowing only the very end of the iron to make contact with the stone. Using these techniques, the sharpening process takes very little time, and provides a razor sharp iron. The crew at each of the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events regularly demonstrate hand sharpening, while describing each step in great detail, as well as the setup process for installing a freshly sharpened iron into a plane. I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and to expand on this, seeing this sharpening process in person would likely multiply this again by 100. If you ever have the chance, find a way to attend a Lie-Nielsen event, as this can help to quickly eliminate any issues, especially with the Lie-Nielsen team ready to answer questions. This information on sharpening is also available on DVDs and on Lie-Nielsen’s Youtube channel.

After sharpening and setting up the plane, there is one other thing I like to do, especially when using a plane with a lot of surface area (but it also works for just about any plane). I take a block of paraffin and rub it on the sole of the plane, both in front of and behind the iron.

plane no wax

Plane no wax

plane wax

Plane wax

Now I’m not talking about getting crazy, and trying to cover every square inch of the sole with wax, just a quick wavy line down the sole. It makes such a huge difference, that I council my students to make sure they hold onto the plane when trying it for the first time after applying. They usually look at me with disbelief, prior to testing the plane with wax, but I’ve seen the look of terror in their eyes when they’ve come close to launching one of my planes off of the workbench. Seriously, the difference this little bit of wax makes is unbelievable!

Whether you intend to use the Lie-Nielsen No. 6 in a more traditional form, or really in any other conceivable iteration, it is a joy to use such a nicely balanced and functional hand plane. It can stand alone or fill a void between your current tools. All in all, you’ll find it a nice addition to your shop.

I hope you enjoyed the article and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Lee Laird

Sep 042013

134083dThis month I’m taking a closer look at Lie-Nielsen’s Mortising Chisels. While most woodworkers, and even many non-woodworkers, will quickly recognize a basic chisel like the bevel-edged style, the mortising chisel looks a little different. So what’s different about the mortising chisels compared to the bevel edged chisels that are more common? The shape of a Lie-Nielsen mortising chisel is somewhat rectangular, with the width less than the depth from the chisel’s back to its top surface. This creates a very strong chisel capable of handling the unusual stresses applied regularly to a mortising chisel. The mortising chisel is used to evacuate wood, while creating a rectangular void in a board, whose name likely isn’t much of a surprise, a mortise. This allows another board with a tenon of the same size on its end to fit precisely, creating a very strong and long lasting joint, the mortise and tenon joint. With this evacuation process, the mortising chisel is pounded (and I do mean pounded, at least after you get going) down vertically into the wood (a square is really useful to test the chisel is truly vertical) and then used to lever out the waste. Both the levering actions and the strong impulse driving are very tough on tools and a normal bevel-edged chisel would likely chip or possibly even snap under the stresses that are common for a mortise chisel. This is why the mortising chisel is made so stout.

The mortising chisel’s width can be used to determine the size of both the mortise and tenon. This is due to the tight tolerances required to create a proper fitting mortise and tenon joint. As you may have experienced, other woodworking techniques allow you to use chisels smaller in width than the final working area, and a smaller tool may work just as well or even better than one that precisely fits the opening. For example, when you are cleaning out the waste wood between the tails and pins on dovetails, you’ll almost always use a chisel that is narrower than the opening. Using a narrower chisel in this scenario is beneficial as a wider chisel requires more pressure to move through the wood, and this operation is one of surgical precision. This is certainly one example where it might be detrimental to use a chisel the same size as the opening. For a mortise and tenon joint, I find it much easier to obtain repeatable results using a mortising chisel that is the width of the final mortise (at least up to ½” or so), rather than trying to use a smaller mortising chisel, which would require multiple passes along the mortise’s width (for example, using a ¼” mortising chisel for a ½” mortise), and hoping to end up with the consistency in the mortise for a solid fit with a tenon.

The sides of mortising chisels come in two basic varieties: those with parallel sides and those where the sides are cut at angles, so the back of the chisel is slightly wider than the face of the chisel. The concept behind the angled sides is that you can twist the chisel slightly when it is down in the mortise to aid in removing it when it gets stuck. The Lie-Nielsen mortising chisels are designed and made with parallel sides, which I find much more useful and easier to control the direction and overall shape I’m evacuating. I’ve used both styles of mortising chisels and personally found the angled wall version felt like it occasionally had a mind of its own. What I mean is after lining it up with my intended direction it would still end up twisted slightly in the cut, and ultimately off line with my intended mortise. Obviously, the chisel shape can be a personal preference sort of thing, but I am absolutely sold on the parallel side version being the easiest and most accurate in use.

Lie-Nielsen’s mortising chisels are made from A-2 Tool Steel and have Maine harvested Hornbeam handles. The chisels have a socket design where the handle fits snugly into the socket with a friction fit. As the wood in the handle can move, it is always a good idea to pick the chisels up by the socket area, so your sharp tool doesn’t find its way to the hard floor. Usually a quick rap of the handle against your bench will seat the handle so it is nice and solid. Some prefer to use glue to make certain the handle never falls out, but there is another choice that is more middle-of-the-road: Hairspray! I know you’re probably thinking I’ve just lost it, but if you test it out you will find it is amazing what a little bit of hairspray will do to keep the handle in the chisel’s socket. And it isn’t so long-term like glue, as you can still give the handle a sharp smack sideways against a bench to remove it from the chisel.

Sharpening mortise chisels is very similar to other chisels with a caveat or two, but it ultimately works best when shaving sharp like all other woodworking chisels. Lie-Nielsen mortising chisels come with a 30 degree flat bevel to which I add a micro bevel of an additional 5 degrees. This both increases the strength of the tip of the chisel as well as allows you to rapidly hone to a razor-sharp edge. When honing these chisels, there are a number of choices of guides, of which I personally own three and I’ll share my thoughts on each. The side clamping honing guides are simple and can work, but I would make a quick test to verify it is holding and presenting the chisel both square and with no twist, before moving forward. If you already own one, place the chisel in the guide and apply clamping pressure, and with the bevel down on a 1000-grit stone, pull straight back away from the cutting edge once! Take a look at the bevel edge of the chisel and see if the micro bevel is reasonably equal across the width or if the edge might only be hitting on one corner. If the latter is the case, you may wish to look at my next honing guide suggestion. My personal side clamping honing guide provided surprisingly acceptable results.

While this guide worked decently, the narrow wheel does require some focus so you don’t accidentally take the chisel out of square. The guide in my collection that I prefer to use for these chisels is my Kell honing guide, which has vertical walls that clamp against the chisel and the parallel design of Lie-Nielsen’s mortising chisels allows for a nice solid connection, with very little chance to move away from square.


The last honing guide I own is one by Veritas, which clamps down on the back of the chisel, applying force straight down. I’ve had this honing guide for 20+ years, so it doesn’t have some of the bells and whistles of their newer versions, and in mine the chisel can shift away from square if I’m not extremely meticulous.

No matter what honing guide you decide to use, whether purchased or made, taking a single pass on the bevel side, on your most coarse stone, is useful to verify everything is good. I tend to do this regularly, rather than forging ahead, removing a decent amount of material, only to find my micro bevel huge on one side and barely touched on the opposite. Why waste time and then spend more in recovery mode, when its so quick and easy to verify before moving forward?

While I’ve talked about the bevel side of these chisels, as if it was the only portion of the tool requiring attention, this is certainly not the case. I always hone the backs of my chisels up through 8000-grit, too. It is important to remember that the definition of a sharp edge is two equally honed surfaces meeting at as close to zero radius as you can obtain. If you decide to omit honing the back, since it arrives looking nice and smooth, just remember this will limit the ultimate sharpness of your chisel.

When creating a mortise and tenon, based on the size of the mortising chisel, I always start out with the mortise. I scribe the two end positions of what will be the mortise, as well as mark for one side. There is really no reason to mark the opposite side of the mortise, as the chisel will ultimately remove the material from the mark to its full width. The first few passes with the chisel, you’ll apply a much lighter blow with the mallet, so you can really focus on the placement of the chisel and keeping it as dead vertical as possible. You’ll also stay away from the very ends of the mortise layout, which you save until the remaining mortise is at full depth, since you end up using this portion to leverage up chips from the bottom. After the beginning passes, the walls of the mortise will start to give the chisel support, helping to maintain the vertical nature you worked so diligently to establish early on. Just make sure to keep your focus, so you strike straight down with the mallet and only lever in the straight forward and back. When laying out the tenon, I use a mortising gauge (some have two pins or blades, that are adjustable, while others are of set widths), which I set to the width of the mortising chisel. When setting this gauge, I’ll lean towards being just slightly thick rather than possibly thin, as I can more easily rasp away a little material rather than trying to add some back on. A good fitting mortise and tenon will go together without pounding, but just a gentle push. You want to have a solid fit, but need enough room for the glue in the joint, too. One thing to remember when using the mortising gauge is to mark which face of the board the fence will ride against. As many mortises are not dead center on the board, but slightly offset, so marking from the wrong face could end up with wasted materials or at least extra work. The board(s) that will have a tenon(s) should also get marked for orientation (which face out and also which tenon goes with which mortise) so the fence of the mortising gauge again is against the correct side.

Lie-Nielsen makes their mortising chisels for joinery in a range of sizes from 3/16” to 1/2”, as well as the 1/10″ size, generally used for making traditional European wooden woodworking planes. If you want to make extremely small scale pieces, or just want to have an area of small components in a full-sized piece, you could utilize this smaller chisel in that manner.

I believe all woodworkers should at minimum make a mortise and tenon frame with hand tools, as the focus and skills required can easily carry over on a range of future builds.  You may just find you prefer creating your mortise and tenon joints by hand, rather than using your power tools/machines.

I hope you enjoyed the article and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

CLICK HERE to return to the September 2015 issue of Wood News Online.

Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over 20 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. You can email him at lee@lie-nielsen.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/is9582

Aug 062013

134110This month I’ll talk about the Lie-Nielsen Small Shoulder Plane (also known as the 041), which is the smallest of the three Shoulder Planes offered by Lie-Nielsen, based on the Record design. The 041 has a body cast from durable Ductile Iron with an adjustable mouth opening, a stylish cap made from beautiful Manganese Bronze and an A-2 tool steel blade. (Remember you can always polish the bronze cap, if you prefer to keep the brand-new bling.) The body of this plane is 5-3/4 inches long, 5/8 inch wide and weighs in at just under a pound and a half. While this design is based off of a Record, Lie-Nielsen has updated these planes for better functionality and feel.

Two of the functionality improvements include a much harder and thicker blade as well as a cap that contacts the blade much closer to the bevel. Both of these improvements work together to provide a better cut with very little, if any, chatter. The mouth geometry has also been modified to allow for better chip ejection and clearing, and the mouth adjustment is much easier. On the feel side of the equation (and actually this fits under functionality, too), the back end of the cap is raised a bit for a better grip during use.

I find this style of Shoulder Plane is one of the easiest to setup, but occasionally a student will comment that they are a bit uncertain as to the adjustment procedure for the 041. I believe some of the uncertainty is likely due to the fact that while  bench and block style planes are pretty commonplace even for many non-woodworkers, the Shoulder Plane is seen with less regularity. I like to show the 041 side-by-side with the Lie-Nielsen Adjustable Mouth Block Plane (60 ½), directly comparing components and layout in order to help make it more comfortable. They immediately recognize both have a spin-wheel under their respective caps that applies downward pressure up close to the cutting edge of the blade when rotated clockwise. Both have a blade adjuster nut towards the back, that allows for precise adjustment of the blade both forward and backwards. Both planes also have a mechanism up front that allows the user to adjust the mouth opening in front of the blade. One minor difference is the 041 requires a screw driver to adjust the mouth opening, where the 60 ½ has a knob to release the mechanism and a lever that then controls the mouth. On the 041, you first need to turn the lock screw, located on the top of the body near the front end, a half turn counterclockwise to release it. Then using the adjustment screw on the front end of the body, turn it clockwise to close the mouth and counterclockwise to open. Make certain you watch the space between the blade and the mouth plate, so you don’t accidentally contact the blade, which will dull it. When you have the mouth size appropriate for the shaving thickness you intend to create, turn the lock screw a half turn clockwise, and it is ready for action. Most users are completely comfortable with this process after performing it a single time. As for the students I work with, after the quick comparison with the plane they already understand, it is as if they’ve met an old friend.

The A2 blade for the 041, which is .005” wider than the plane’s body, comes from the Toolworks with a 25 degree bevel to which I normally apply a 10 degree microbevel with my 1000/8000 grit honing stones. Many of you will recognize that is somewhat standard practice for me when setting up most planes, but the shape of this blade can cause a bit of a challenge for some. Since this blade has what I call a “neck”, which is less wide than the portion that has the bevel, I usually shift to my Kell honing guide.

041 blade sharpening Kell

This guide excels at clamping parallel sides, and since the back of the blade sits on the two guide rods, with attentive setup there is minimal chance for the blade to rock. I mention this because the honing guide I normally use for plane blades, when using the lower contact points, can cause some blades to rock slightly depending on the dimensions of the blade being held. I certainly find it useful to have at least a couple of different styles of honing guides, as I’ve noticed most have their own “sweet spot” and operations at which they aren’t as adept.

When sharpening this blade, it is very important to retain the 90 degree reference of the cutting edge to the sides of the blade. The intent is normally to set the blade flush to whichever side you intend to use, allowing cutting up into a corner while preventing scoring beyond the edge of the body. With very little room available in which to compensate, by shifting the back of the blade over to one side or the other, a square cutting edge is usually optimum. One aspect of the sharpening process that may be overlooked by some novice woodworkers (and even some with many years under their belts), is the application of pressure applied with your fingers/hands. As an example, even with a blade firmly clamped into a honing guide, applying extra downward pressure on one side/corner of the blade will cause the sharpening media (stones/diamond plates/sandpaper) to remove more material on that side. While this technique is very useful when working to bring a blade back into square or when applying a camber, the unintentional application can certainly be detrimental. A light touch, finger positioning centralized on the blade, regular flattening of the sharpening media as well as regular practice can help to obtain and retain the original shape of the blade.

Be sure to regularly check your progress, as it is much easier to take extra strokes than to remove strokes. This is probably most important when building your chops, somewhat like learning to play the guitar, where you or your instructor closely and regularly check to make sure finger placement is good between each placement and the resultant tone is good. Start slow and check regularly and before long you’ll be playing like Les Paul in no time, er, I mean sharpening like the professionals!

As woodworkers, one of the things we usually check is the flatness of the plane’s sole. Unlike a bench plane, the 041’s mechanism that applies downward pressure to the blade to hold it securely can also slightly distort a portion of the plane’s sole. I’m sure you can imagine just how difficult it would be to make a plane take a thin shaving if it had a small bump in the sole just behind the mouth. When you reinstall the honed blade into the plane’s body, and turn the spin wheel on the cap, you can feel just when all slop disappears. This is what I call neutral tension and it is primarily useful in establishing where tension begins. As you continue to rotate the spin wheel on the cap clockwise from neutral tension, increasing the downward tension on the blade, the amount of bulge to the area of the sole below will increase. (The David Charlesworth: Furniture Making Techniques: Five Topics DVD provides step-by-step instruction on this adjustment/modification to this style shoulder plane. You know the old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, this video instruction is exponentially better yet, and you also get an additional four topics!)

After I reach the neutral tension position, I dial in approximately a ¼ clockwise turn as my “ready to use” position. If you plan to adjust your plane to remove the slight bulge, do so with it under consistent tension, so the sole will be flat during use. I use David Charlesworth’s idea of marking both the spin wheel and the body to create this consistency. When the spin wheel is in neutral tension, make a mark on the body and spin wheel, lined up with each other.

041 tension marks

Rotate the spin wheel to the tension you wish to use, and make a second mark on the spin wheel, directly above the mark you made on the plane body. Now you have the positions for adjusting (neutral tension) and regular use. With the blade in the body, but retracted so the cutting edge is not exposed, rotate the spin wheel until you reach your ‘regular use’ tension mark. Securely attach some 600 or 800 grit sandpaper to a known flat surface, like a granite plate or a jointer bed. Apply black Sharpie to the sole of the plane on the front end, the rear and from the mouth backwards about an inch.


It is very, very important to apply consistent light downward pressure to the plane’s body without any rocking, while slowly moving forwards and backwards (in line with the plane’s sole, not side to side) across the sandpaper. Check the sole after every stroke or two, so you can prevent it from getting out of square. You should see the marker disappear equally across the width of the body, and may need to reapply the marker a couple of times to the front and rear before the throat area is complete. If you do not reapply the front and rear sections and continue to work, you lose the feedback it provides and you may as well just close your eyes and pray! When you have removed the marker from the throat area, you are finished. This is a one-time operation, so take your time and keep your focus. When finished, I like to apply a light coating of paste wax to the sole, removing it when it is dry. This really reduces the sliding friction during use and can last a long time.

Lie-Nielsen’s 041 is the baby brother of their Shoulder Plane family, and similar to my views on the choice of bench planes being relative to scale of operation or the size of the woodworker, the Small Shoulder Plane will be very handy for smaller scale work on tenons, rabbets, dados and more. With each side precisely 90 degrees to the sole, this style plane just may have the most precision surfaces on a single body, which facilitates excellent results. Once you have one of these planes, you’ll likely wonder why you didn’t have one before.

I hope you enjoyed the article and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over 20 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. You can email him at lee@lie-nielsen.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/is9582