Workshop Tools: Electric Plane

A plane is a tool for shaping and smoothing wood. In the pre-industrial period hand planes were used to flatten, reduce the thickness of, and dress (smooth) rough lumber. Most of this work is now done by electric planers (aka thicknessers). Special types of planes were also used to cut joints or mouldings. A typical example is the rabbet plane. Today, a router or shaper is used for this work, although – increasingly – specialized tools are used.

In a workshop, the most important use of a plane was to integrate surfaces on workpieces. It is here that the electric plane has taken over, although it is unsuited for many delicate jobs that must still be entrusted a manual plane.

An electric plane is a portable machine that uses rotating knives to smooth a surface. The main reason for using an electric plane is to save time, “In  1918 an air-powered handheld planing tool was developed to reduce shipbuilding labor during World War I. The air-driven cutter spun at 8000 to 15000 rpm and allowed one man to do the planing work of up to fifteen men who used manual tools.” referencing Planing Ship Timbers with Little Machines, Popular Science monthly, December 1918, page 68, Scanned by Google Books:

Meec Electric Plane

Yesterday, was the first time that I have used an electric plane. It is considerably heavier than the manual jack plane that I am used to. While not absolutely necessary, its operation feels better using two hands. It was used to trim MDF board so the same dimensions as the frame underneath. This is not a task that I would even contemplate with a manual plane. One could argue that an electric plane is not essential for this task. An alternative approach would be to use a router with a flush trimming bit. The challenge, in Norway, is that it is impossible to get 50 mm bits. So, in reality there is no alternative to an electric plane.

At the moment I have not had to sharpen the plane knives, although using them on MDF will require them to be sharpened soon.

I have no complaints with the Meec plane. It is solidly built but heavy, weighing 3 kg, despite an aluminum base plate. It offers 900 W of power, with a knife width of 82 mm, allowing it to cut from 0 to 2.5 mm in depth. It operating speed is 16 000 rpm. Unlike many other electric planes, this uses 3 double-edged knives. This means that the knives are reversible. The plane is equipped with a dust port that can be connected to the shop dust extraction system. It came with a parallel guide and a depth guide, as well as a dust bag and an extra drive belt. It cost NOK 600 (USD 78).

In comparison, a Bosch PHO 2000 electric plane has 680 W of power, the same knife width (82 mm), but a maximum cutting depth of 2.0 mm. It weighs 2.4 kg. The Bosch operates at a higher speed, 19 500 rpm. It provides only 2 knives, but they are easier to remove. At NOK 1 200, it costs twice the price of the Meec.




Workshop Tools: Hammer Drill

On 24 June 1996, I purchased a Black & Decker electric drill. Tools at the time were much more expensive than today. This drill cost over NOK 1 000 (USD 200). Until now, I have been happy with that purchase, and the drill works well even after more than 20 years of use. My wife fondly remembers using this drill to screw in all of the boards on the sun deck. Today, this faithful tool was transferred from the workshop to assume new, and less demanding, duties in the house.

Black & Decker Hammer Drill from 1996. It cost over NOK 1 000 (USD 200).

The main problem with this drill is not its colour, or its age. It is its lack of power. With only 450 W it is unable to do the work required of a drill in the workshop. Constructing work benches, I have to connect 48 x 96 mm boards with almost 100 each of 5.0 x 90 mm screws, and 6.0 x 160 mm screws. Both types are self-tapping production screws. The B&D was unable to drive the screws in without pilot holes. Even then, it would stop, refusing to move forward, so that an old man could demonstrate his strength driving the screws home, by hand.

On Wednesday, 7 March 2018, a replacement drill was purchased. It is a Meec Red 000 110 hammer drill. It cost NOK 600 (USD 77). It provides 1 150 W of power. Two other differences are: 1) a keyed chuck, and 2) two gears. Otherwise, both are functionally very similar.

Meec Red Hammer Drill, new in 2018. It cost NOK 600 (USD 77).

The advantages of using this hammer drill were immediately apparent. First, compared to a key-less chuck, a keyed chuck is able to hold drill bits more securely, and it is easier to release them again. Second, rather than attaching masking tape onto a drill bit, it provides a depth gauge attachment. Third, it comes with a grip, so that both hands can be used to hold onto the tool. A related disadvantage is that this new drill is considerably heavier, so there is a greater need for a grip.

This drill was able to take advantage of the self-tapping screws, and was able to power them completely in. There was no need for any pilot holes. In general, this drill seems to be capable of providing the power a portable workshop drill needs.



Getting started …

with workshop activism.

wooden spatula

This post is especially for three ladies who have been subjected to lofty ideas about making geodesic dome greenhouses, when all they really wanted was to learn how to make a wooden spatula.

Minni, the minimalist maker from Finland, shows them how to do it in a three minute video:

MATERIALS: Wood (Minni uses alder), painter’s tape

TOOLS: Pen, spatula template, band saw, belt sander, sandpaper

USEFUL TIPS: After sanding, wet the spatula to raise the wood grain. Let dry, and sand again. This makes the surface very smooth.

SAFETY NOTES: Safety first! Always be careful with dangerous tools and make sure you know how to use them correctly.

MUSIC BY Henbrix

Here is the spatula template from her website:

The Unit One work space has a band saw as well as a belt sander. There is an alder tree on the property, but it is too young and small to be used to make spatulas.

Workshop Layout: Machine Alley

In this Workshop Layout series, I will periodically look at the various machines at the Unit One workshop at Ginnunga Gap, and commenting on some of their features, the challenges of using them, in terms of workshop location. In this first post, attention will be focused on the placement of a rip saw (aka table saw), as its position affects almost everything else.

Being a workshop owner is much like being a kennel owner. The first question begging to be answered is, Who is the owner? Is it a person? Or is it the dogs/ machines? Today, the dogs/ machines may lack legal ownership, but they seem in control. The reason for this is the lack of workshop space to handle materials exceeding  about 2 400 mm in length.

Scheppach HS105 rip saw (table saw), in the same orientation as visitors will see it entering the Unit One workshop at Ginnunga Gap.

There have been four variations of a single workshop design made for Unit One, with machines along one wall, Machine Alley. These are Workshop 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3. In all of these versions, the rip saw’s arbor is positioned at the halfway point of the length of the workshop. The workshop is slightly over 6 meters in length. With the arbor half-way, sheet goods, typically 2.4 meters long, can be positioned on the in-feed table, then fed through the saw to the out-feed table, without having to move machinery.

The basic design of Workshop 1.0 and 1.1 were identical, but with two pieces of equipment changing places. At this stage of development, every piece of equipment was assigned a width of 600 mm, with the exception of the rip-saw (previously referred to as the table saw), which was given 1 200 mm. The basic design was made without any equipment having been purchased. Feed direction was ambiguous in the first design.

Workshop versions 1.0 & 1.1. The only differences are related to which tools are assigned to which slots. The other major decision is to have the workbench against the window wall. There is no indication of rip saw feed in the drawing.

Equipment placement in version 1.1 and 1.2 (in parenthesis where it differs from 1.1): 1 = band saw; 2 = router table; 3 = cross-cut saw, previously referred to as a mitre saw; 4 = planer (drill stand); 5 = jointer; 6 = drill stand (planer); 7 = sander.

With version 1.2 the jointer was removed from the workshop, because it was decided that its work (edge planing) could be performed with a router table, provided that router table was made or purchased with separately adjustable split fences. The main reason why both the joiner and the planer were initially placed in the back half of the workshop was because that made them closer to the dust extractor. With rip saw in-feed at the back of the workshop, the rip saw fence would have been positioned along the wall of machine alley.

Workshop design 1.2 made after a Scheppach HS105 rip saw was purchased. The main deviation with respect to earlier versions is the width assigned to the rip saw, which is 900 mm. With Machine Alley at the top of the drawing, work flow is from right to left, as indicated by the arrow.



Currently, workshop design 1.3 is used for operational decisions. This changes the direction of feed, and changes the position of the rip saw fence to the middle of the workshop. In-feed is improved when the router table, aka shaper or spindle molder is co-located with the in-feed, and more poorly served when a cross-cut saw (aka chop saw, or sliding compound mitre saw) is on the in-feed side. Working sheet materials around a cross-cut saw is much more difficult than having to deal with a router table.

Machine Alley now has the band saw moved adjacent to the entry doors, then comes about 1150 mm of space that can be used for hand tools, portable electric tools and air tools. This is followed by the router table, rip saw and cross-cut saw, previously discussed. Another 1480 long space follows, part of the out-feed area that can be used for sub-component and smaller project assembly. At a future date, this area can be re-purposed to serve as a location for a wood lathe, removing it from its previous proposed location along the back wall. The drill press is located at  the far end of the wall.

The planer, previously given a permanent position, is now regarded as a machine that only requires temporary placement.


While I would have liked to have had the dust extraction system, air lines and even workbenches to be in place, I am very happy that the three first iterations were not implemented. Procrastination has its benefits. The failure to implement the initial design has saved me from having to rip out components and start over, or to accept an inferior design.

All cutting machines, stationary as well as portable, are now all placed on Machine Alley. This simplifies dust extraction.

Weeds: Plastic tablesaw blade guards

Cheap table saw blade guards are seldom worth the plastic they are made of.

One reviewer suggested that potential purchasers of table saws should disregard the saw blade guards that come with the machines. They will probably have to be replaced with more appropriate equipment. Recently, I was happy to have been given that advice. When a 25 kg sheet of Baltic birch plywood crashed into my guard it shattered, with two large broken pieces the result.

A temporary repair involved the disassembly of the two main plastic parts. Contact cement was then used to glue each broken pieces to its main piece. Finally, the two main parts were assembled again. If this guard is ever used again, it will be further reinforced with duct tape. While the repairs were being made, I was building the next iteration of a saw blade guard in my mind.

Here are the four pieces of the broken saw blade guard, along with the screws used to hold each half of the guard together.
The pieces after being glued together with contact cement.
The reassembled saw blade guard.

The guard was actually not fit for purpose. While the guard had its own connection to the dust collector, it was unable to accommodate sheets of plywood because its hose was in the way. Thus, I had to disconnect the hose while cutting the plywood.

Marmot is the brand name of products I make for my own personal enjoyment. During the design process of the saw blade guard, I made 4 iterations of the design, designated V (for version) 1 to 4.



V1 is conceptually the same guard as the original Scheppach guard, but made with 12 mm Baltic birch plywood. The version was made just before I went off to sleep for the night.



In the morning, when I awoke, I knew there were two changes that had to be made to the guard. The first was the use of 6 mm Baltic birch plywood for the side pieces. This reduced the width of the guard by 12 mm. The second was a repositioning of the dust extractor. It now exits the guard horizontally, rather than vertically.



Here the main change was the orientation of the drawing. In terms of materials, I tried to take advantage of the irregular size of Baltic birch plywood. Its sheets are 1220 mm x 2440 mm. When making 600 mm oriented products, this leaves lengths of 20 mm plywood and widths of 40 mm plywood as waste. In this case, this waste can be used to make some of the structural components for the guard, in particular those coloured green in the drawings. No sooner had I made the drawing, than I noticed a logical flaw, which necessitated another version, V4.



To save time, I got out my light table. which made redrawing faster, but slightly less accurate than using a pencil, eraser and ruler. The logical error involved the thickness of the orange pieces in V4. These are 6 mm in V4, but 12 mm in V3. These pieces originate in the isosceles right triangles removed from the front of the 300 x 110 mm rectangular sides. These have a side length of 90 mm, and a hypotenuse length of 127 mm.  Each of these triangles has two additional isosceles right triangles removed to be used to strengthen the front of the guard. Their side lengths are 25 mm, with a hypotenuse length of 35 mm.

The next step will to actually build the saw blade guard, and to test it out.