Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Visit to Czeck Edge Hand Tool and the New Czech Edge Chisel

Cocobolo-handled marking knives from Czeck Edge Hand Tool

Earlier this month I had the opportunity, thanks to some airline mileage that was about to expire, to visit the headquarters of Czeck Edge Hand Tool, a small toolmaking company established by Bob Zajicek. Czeck Edge is located in Marietta, Georgia.

Czeck Edge specializes in marking tools, most recently the Kerf Kadet, which is getting rave reviews from Woodworking Magazine and Canadian Woodworking Magazine. Czeck Edge also just introduced a mid-sized marking knife called the Pattern Pilot. All three sizes of marking knives are pictured above, and below in rosewood.

Bob's attention to detail is quite evident in his tools. The handles, each individually turned by hand, are shaped with comfort and utility in mind, with a heavy nod towards the tool's aesthetic.

The closed-end bronze ferrules are not only beautiful, but also functional--keeping the blade rigid, and providing good engagement with your fingertips.

It's no surprise that these tools are so exquisite in looks and function. Bob is also an engineer with Lockheed Martin Aeronautic's F-22 fighter jet program.

But it's not Bob's exquisite marking knives that have me excited lately. The day I visited Bob is also the day he finished up the first production model prototype of a chisel that I designed last year.

I havn't cut many dovetails completely by hand over the years. Instead, I've used a combination of hand and power methods to accomplish the task. After making a Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw Kit last year, I decided it was time to refine my method using that saw. The problem arose when it came time to chop the waste between tails. I like to hold the chisel near the cutting edge so I can register that edge in the scribed baseline with one hand, freeing up the other hand for the mallet. It's much quicker than using both hands to position the chisel, and less fatiguing as well. I also like to sit at the bench when chopping this waste out. This gets my eyes closer to the work, and it's easier on my back as well.

The problem with typical bench chisels in this application is their unwieldy length. Chopping dovetails typically doesn't require more than 3/8" depth penetration if you chop from both sides of a 3/4" thick case side. Even less if you're chopping drawer sides, which are typically 1/2" or under. So why use a tool designed for paring, with long blades and long handles? Holding a bench chisel like a pencil in this application means you have to balance a lot of steel and wood on a narrow edge, and use the strength of your fingers to keep all that top-heaviness in check while trying to keep a square or slightly undercut shoulder. Not a pleasant task to me.

So I set out to design a chisel that would combine the elements of a fine dovetailing chisel, with fine side grinding that terminates at the face (back) for getting into the corners of pin sockets without damaging the tails, a shorter than normal blade, and a stubby handle than wasn't too small to hold in close, one-handed paring operations--a task commonly encountered when cleaning the little stray bits from dovetail sockets--but also not so large as to become top-heavy when held near the edge.

After tossing around some dimensions and ideas on paper (my first sketch is below) Bob was able to refine some of my ideas with his toolmaking expertise.

We did away with the hooped handle, compensating with special handle materials and construction methods. We also lengthened the blade a bit to allow more purchase for holding the chisel.

I went right from this original drawing to a wood mock-up to check the ergonomics (as far as possible with wood) and aesthetics of the design. This tool also needs to look good, after all!

After nailing down some hard dimensions, a few test blades were produced. These were on display at the Woodworking in America conference last November, albeit without handles. Still, there was quite a bit of curiosity surrounding what appeared to be very fine butt chisel blades. And I hesitate to use that term, since typical butt chisels are about as far removed from our design as you can get.

Finally, after several months of development, Bob made the first working prototype, just a few hours before I arrive in Marietta.

When I first picked up the tool, I knew we were on to something.

Not only was the chisel a treat to look at, with it's steel blade, bronze closed-end ferrule, and polished, stabilized-wood handle (it's impregnated with resin for durability and stability), but it met all my expectations, visually at least, and most likely functionally as well. I have yet to test the chisel, and I will be updating the blog with my results in the near future. The chisel will be available in several widths, and most likely in a different wood than the one used for the prototype. The first production chisels are expected some time in March.

For more information on Czeck Edge Hand Tool, or the new chisel, email Bob at

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Visit toCzeck Edge Hand Tool and Brese Plane

This past weekend I ventured to Georgia to pay a visit to the folks at Czeck Edge Hand Tool and Brese Plane. At the moment, I'm watching Ron Brese build a prototype plane. It's a design that he and I have been working on since last summer. I'm due out in Ron's shop (I'm typing this from Ron's guest bedroom, in a traditional New England style home that Ron built himself, but more on that later) in a few minutes, so this will be a short post. Stay tuned for some upcoming posts about this visit, including some new tool teasers. I'm off to work!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Brese 875 Smoother--"Check" this out

I don't have a sink in my shop. Which means I can't easily fill a humidifier. The temperature for the past few days has hovered around -10 for the high, and last night we hit an all-time record low of -29. The furnace is running frequently, and that's just to keep the shop between 50 and 60. So things in the shop are very dry. I knew better, and instead of keeping my ebony infill blanks in a more humid environment (a box with a wet rag inside would do, how simple, and how stupid of me!) I left them out this past week. My front bun blank has a bit of a check in it, and the glue lines on the wings of the tote have opened up at the corners. Lesson learned. Now to get on with it. I put the tote and bun blank into a plastic bag with a dampened towel. I have some hope for the tote, but I'm not so confident about the bun. From now on I'm keeping the infills in a more humid locale between shop sessions. One thing I also don't want to do is fit the infills in a very dry state. When summertime rolls around, they will swell and cause more problems. Infill planes and musical instruments really do share some of the same challenges.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brese 875 Smoother--Front Bun

Getting some spare time to work on the Brese plane has been challenging lately. But this week I've snatched a few moments during work to process the ebony for the front bun. This chunk was small enough that machine preparation was out. It's been a while since I've had to four-square a workipece completely by hand. Good tools make this job quick, easy, and predictable. I used my Bailey 5-1/2 (outfitted with Lie-Nielsen blade and chipbreaker) to get it real close, then my Brese small smoother to perfect it. After taking the blank within a few thousandth of final width, I laid out the escapement angle and the profile. Next step is to mill the profile in the bun and cut the escapement ramp.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Brese 875 Smoother--Tote Refining

After rasping to final shape I refine the surface and shape with some 180 cloth strips.

I then remove the scratch pattern with a small scraper. This leaves some fine facets, but those will sand out with 220.

Before final sanding I marked the boundary of the wings so I wouldn't sand this area.

I sanded the tote thoroughly, then rubbed with 0000 steel wool. I didn't sand or rub the areas where the wings will be glued, to keep them flat.

I fit the wings to the body and the tote to within about .008" of final dimension. This leaves very little work after the wings are glued to the tote. I used a surface plate to register the parts for gluing. The sides are a suction fit since they were lapped on the same plate. I applied glue to the inside of the wing only, to keep the glue cleanup to a minimum. I pressed the wings to the tote in final position, and held them there for about a minute until the glue grabbed.

I transferred the infill, wings firmly set, to my leg vise for curing. I double checked the alignment of the wings to the tote. One of them is off by about 3 thou. But that should lap out in a couple strokes after the infill cures.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Brese 875 Smoother--Wing Fitting

After fitting the bottom and inside face of the wings I positioned the tote in place and traced the bed angle directly onto the wing. I cut it close with the miter saw and tweaked the angle with a low-angle plane.

With a wing in the body in final position, I traced the outline of the side onto each wing.

And cut close to the line, leaving a bit of extra material for final trimming.

With the wings free of the tote and body, I took the opportunity to sand the curve very close to the body so there is minimal work to do once the infill permanently installed.

Here I'm filing off some bandsaw marks. I bought this file, among several others, from Slav Jelesijevich at the Woodworking in America conference last year. What a great purchase these files were. They are without a doubt the finest files I've ever used. I bought way too many from Slav, but now I'm glad I did. These are sweet tools.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Brese 875 Smoother--Getting Started

The tote is close to final shape, and is a uniform thickness. I didn't document the process of shaping the tote. It's fairly straightforward bandsaw and rasp work, much like the Gramercy Carcase saw I completed last month. The hard part is coming up with a comfortable shape. Actually, that was the easy part, since Ron provided me with a full-size template of his tote shape. I already knew this shape fit my hand perfectly after using one of Ron's 875 smoothers earlier this year. Here I'm planing the ebony for the side wings of the rear infill. After bandsawing this piece, I took it to within a few hundredths of final thickness with my Bailey 5-1/2.

I cut both wings from the workpiece to rough shape.

I then trued up the bottom edge of each wing (the edge that rests on the sole) so it was dead flat and square. I used my Brese small smoother for the task. Set to take an extremely fine shaving, I tweaked the edge until it was spot on.

I then lapped the side of the wing that will be glued to tote on a granite surface plate so it was dead flat. This makes a perfect joint with the tote.

This is going to be a sweet tool!