Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mujingfang Plow Plane, Thoughts and Modifications

Mujingfang plow plane as shipped
For those unfamiliar with the plow (plough) plane, it's a plane primarily used for making grooves near the edge of a board along the grain. If you're going to work without a power router a plow plane is a real necessity when making frames (doors) and boxes (drawers). It's also a lot quieter and a lot less dusty so I think it's just a lot more pleasant.

As regular readers may know, I do some hand tool based workshops and am on the hunt for some plow planes for student use. That's how I came across this one from Mujingfang. At $66 from JapanWoodworker it's definitely accessibly priced but is it any good?

This plane is described as being in the Chinese style. What's the difference you may ask? In most eastern forms of woodworking many tools are pulled instead of pushed like their English/European counterparts. This plane arrives set up to be pulled by a right handed woodworker.

As I'm right handed and work in an English manner this plane has the fence on the opposite side as would be normal for me. It also works against my bench, as it is set up to restrain material against pushing forces. So why did I buy this again? I think with a few modifications it can be a good plow plane for this style of work.

Mujingfang Plow and Veritas Small Plow
 Above you'll see the competition for the Mujingfang (MJF), my personal Veritas Small Plow Plane. I've used this one for years. It's a very competent plow plane that you can get several reviews on with a quick internet search. I'll just mention here that it's currently $275 with 5 irons in a similar range of sizes to the MJF. Can the $66 plane compete?

Those familiar with Veritas planes know the quality is quite good. So how about the quality of the MJF? From my vast sample of one, I'd say it's pretty good. The wood components are nicely made but you can tell it's made mostly by hand. The finish is nice and well applied and the mortices through which the rods fit in the fence and the plane body are accurately sized. The fence locks are a simple kind of affair made with a wing nut and a bent piece of threaded rod that bears on the slide rods when the nut is tightened. That said they work. There is no depth stop, full depth of cut is 3/8".

The irons are hand forged and are sized 1/8, 3/16, 1/4, 3/8, & 1/2 inch. I measured them, curious if they were metric or what. My 1/8 was undersized a couple thousandths, the 3/16 was oversized, and the rest were on size with English measurements. Take note though that the irons have kind of a dovetail shape to them and will get narrower with sharpening. I'm unsure if this is a big deal since when I make panels I end up fitting them to the groove anyway, not relying on a measurement. I can't comment on the quality of the steel at this time as I've only had the plane a short time but it seemed reasonable when sharpening.

Bottom view, showing the skate and an iron. The little groove on the iron keeps it centered on the skate.
Now I wanted to see if I could put the fence on the opposite side, so I could push it and hold it similarly to my Veritas plane. It's not as simple as taking the fence off and sliding it on the rods on the other side. Turns out that end is slightly wider and won't fit in the slots. But it's not that hard either.

Screws removed from the top, rear rod removed.
To get the fence on the other side I removed the 2 wood screws from the top of the plane body, then tapping with a mallet on the end the fence fits on I worked the rods out of the plane body. Finally I reinserted them from the other side, tapping again with a mallet until the hole in the rod lined up with the hole in the body. I then re-inserted a screw. I used new screws since the included ones were a little under sized for the holes drilled. Then I slid the fence back on the rods, now on the opposite side of the body.

Reassembled with the fence on the other side.
You'll notice from the pic that the little taper that matches the rear of the plane body is now in the front. If it's an issue you could probably taper the body and the fence once again to match each other with a little rasping and apply some finish. It doesn't bother me that much.

Proof of operation.
So it plowed a groove and worked well. Is it as convenient as the Veritas? Well, not quite but it's quite usable. Blade depth adjustment is via hammer taps just like any other wedged plane while the Veritas has an adjuster. There is no depth stop as mentioned above. It takes 2 measurements to make sure the fence is parallel to the skate, whereas the Veritas fence sets parallel readily. The fence locks hold the setting well but may wear the rods over time. It takes a little time to find a comfortable hand hold, but I eventually settled on having my left hand fingers pushing the fence into the work and my right hand palm on the butt of the plane with my thumb to the left of the iron and my fingers around the rear rod on the right. It's comfortable but not as obvious as the tote on the Veritas. 

My conclusion is that the MJF is a usable plane and a good value for the price. For the woodworker on a tight budget it may be the obvious choice. I'm going to work on figuring out a depth stop for it so you may see that in a future post. If I can do that reasonably I'll be adding at least one more of these to my student tool kits. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Saw Bench Workshop, Wrap Up

Meant to have this up sooner but sometimes time just slips by. Anyway, here's some more material for those looking to complete their bench. These articles will take you more in depth than we were able to get in our short time together.
  • Here's a link to an article with step by step instructions to build the saw bench that we worked on in the workshop. 
  • Another article with downloadable plans for a saw bench that is pretty similar, it has 2 long stretchers on the outside of the legs instead on one down the middle underneath.
I would love to see photos of any completed benches, anyone who would like to share can send them to the email in my profile, tag @newyinzerworkshop on Instagram, or share them with us on Facebook.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Saw Bench Class Continued...

Breaking down the stock
Wow, what can I say about Saturday's saw bench workshop. It was an honor to work with you all, and your enthusiasm for trying new things was inspiring. Everyone did really well and I could see that sawing skills had really improved by the end of the session! I hope everyone had fun, I know I did.

For everyone who took home a bench that was incomplete. I'm working on a sheet that shows the tools we used, the joint details and assembly, an overall view and a materials list. I should have this available for download later this week.

Now I hope to remember and address some of the questions that came up from everyone during the workshop.

  • For those interested in the saw we were using the Great Neck N2610, here's a link. I think it's a pretty good value in a 10 tooth per inch (TPI) traditional handsaw. There is also the N26S which is 8tpi. Fewer teeth per inch cut faster but rougher. If you're beginning or only have one saw the N2610 is a better choice I think. One of this things I like best about these saws is that you can resharpen them, they are not disposable tools. Restoring a vintage saw is also a good option. 
  • There were lots of questions about the Stanley #5 hand plane we were using in the class. This is commonly referred to as a jack plane. Good new hand planes that are ready to use are quite expensive. Probably the best way to get a plane is to pick one up a yard sale or flea market and work on fixing it up yourself. There's a lot of info on the web on how to do this, here's a good article that you may want to start with from a respected site. You'll learn a lot about planes and how they work in the process. 
  • Sharpening. Ask 5 woodworkers get 5 answers... Anyway, I'll be doing a program on July 18th at the Landmarks Preservation Resource Center on sharpening planes and chisels. I'll discuss more on it later but people will be welcome to bring their own planes and chisels to work on. 
If there's anything that you're curious about that I missed feel free to leave a comment on this post and I'll do my best to provide a decent answer.