Tuesday, February 17, 2015

For Olive

My granddaughter Olive's third birthday is next Monday but I hadn't made her anything because I didn't have what seemed like a good idea.  My son told me that she is really into drawing and that her art and supplies are scattered throughout the house.  He asked that I make an open wooden box about 9"x12"x3" for her.  It didn't seem like much of a gift, but I agreed to do it.

My supplier had mahogany on closeout for less than $3 per bf and I bought some.  I have no experience with it but I do know that calling wood mahogany is very ambiguous.  "Genuine mahogany" is from a specific genus while "true mahogany" is from a variety of other genera in the same biological family.  I'm sure I bought the latter but I wasn't able to find out anything more specific.  It would sure be a problem if you ran out in the middle of a project and needed some more.

Planing the mahogany was sometimes a dream and sometimes a nightmare because the grain was unpredictable and difficult to read.  It would plane beautifully and then, without warning, tear out like crazy.  I was able to get it smooth by keeping the blade very sharp and taking very thin shavings.

I decided to miter the corners and reinforce them with splines, leaving the material a full 3/4" thick to withstand the rigors of life in a three-year-old's hands.  As I was preparing to make the cuts on my miter box, something occurred to me which is likely obvious to most of you.  If your miter box is slightly off from 45 degrees when angled to one side, the opposite side will almost certainly be off by exactly the same amount in the opposite direction, so the sum of the two will still be 90 degrees.  You can take advantage of this fact to end up with ninety degree corners regardless of this error.  Let's say one side is 44 degrees and one side is 46 degrees.  Cut one side of the joint at 44 degrees and one side at 46 degrees and you will still end up with a square corner.  Whether as a result of doing this, because my box is exactly calibrated or by dumb luck, all  four corners came out dead on and I didn't even use my donkey's ear.  Now that's handy.

The next thing to do was make a groove for the bottom, which I used my plow plane for (the main reason I used mitered corners).  A known problem with the Lee Valley plow plane is that the fence tends to move, which negatively affects results.  People, including Chris Schwarz, tell you the solution is to tighten the fence with pliers!  Not me.  I was talking to a Lee Valley rep at a show about it and he cleared everything up.  The blade is in the groove so you basically pry the fence out if you tip the plane outward.  The solution, he explained, is to install a secondary fence and register it against something beneath the piece you are plowing a groove in, which helps you keep the plane vertical.  I usually just put the side of the workpiece even with the side of my bench and register the secondary fence against it.  This works great and my fence has never slipped since I started doing it.  I also think that, now that I am aware of what causes it, I could probably avoid the fence slipping even without the secondary fence.  Let go of your death grip on the tote and keep the plane carefully vertical with the handhold on the fence.

The last thing I had to do was plane the rabbets into the bottom with the LV rabbet plane I got for Christmas, and I decided to go really crazy and make a shiplap bottom.  I was half expecting an issue with the fence on this plane too, but it didn't happen.  Since the blade isn't in a groove, you don't pry the fence out if you get the plane a little off vertical.  I think it also helps that the blade is skewed because it keeps the fence tight to the edge of the workpiece.  This plane worked beautifully from the beginning and I am really happy to have it.  You will inevitably be planing against the grain sometimes unless you have a pair of planes and some tearout results but this doesn't matter much for rabbets I think.  In any case, I was able to clean it up with a shoulder plane.  This is also my first experience with pm-v11 steel and I am very impressed, which is saying something because I don't like A2 tools at all.

Here's the box:

and a closeup of a joint:

The splines are maple and they don't contrast as much as I'd like.  After I finished it, I decided it would be nice to make a smaller one to sit on top for her markers, crayons, glue, scissors, etc.  so I made this:

The cleats are there to keep it in place atop the larger box.  They are fastened to the sides and the bottom floats on them so it can still move.  I hope she likes it, but just to make sure we bought some stuff to fill it up with.  Maybe someday when she is older she will use it to hold printer paper and pencils.  As for the mahogany, not as nice to work with as walnut or cherry but takes a really nice finish and has a distinctive appearance.


By request, here is a picture of my secondary fence:

It's nothing more than a scrap piece of oak that was handy at the time.  Nicer ones are shaped.  When I plow a groove, I register the fence against the side of my bench, like this:

Not very elegant, but it works for me and the fence hasn't slipped since I started doing it this way.  As I said, I am not sure I need it anymore as long as I was careful to keep the plane vertical.  As you can see, you can also attach a secondary fence to the rabbet plane, but I don't think it is necessary:

These are very nice planes, a luxury that I really enjoy.


  1. Beautiful! Lucky girl. :)

  2. Nice box you made for her. I like the smaller 'till' box you made also.
    I have never had any issues witht the fence on my LV rebate plane. I have and still continue to have, headaches with the depth shoe staying put. Mostly now I just plane to a line rather then use it.

    1. Go figure. I haven't ever had the shoe slip, just the fence. I always seem to have some hiccup in my technique that causes the tool not to work as well as it could. When I finally figure it out I feel like an idiot. The main reason I went to The Woodworking Show in Portland was to talk to this particular Lee Valley Veritas rep; he was a treasure trove of information about technique. He wasn't there this year, so I won't be going to the show again.

  3. Andy, Would you post a picture of the secondary fence you used for plowing the grove?

    1. Yes I will. It's just a half-inch thick piece of oak that attaches to the primary fence through the screw holes provided.