Book Holder Episode 1

This will be a thirteen-episode build series on how to make a book holder using only hand tools. After many years of not recording, this is my first video project, and I am optimistic that there will be many more to come. If you haven’t already, please show your support by liking and subscribing to my channel.

Making a Japanese Dai

by Brian Holcombe

This is an extract from ISSUE II of “The Lost Scrolls of HANDWORK” magazine

I will detail the process of making a Japanese plane body, known as a dai, to compete in the annual NYC Kez, hosted by Mokuchi in Brooklyn, NY.   Kez is short for Kezurou-Kai, which translates to ‘Let’s plane’, a competition in which participants compete to create the thinnest wood shaving.

In competition, the shaving must not only be thin but completely intact, it must also be the full width of the board (usually around 2″) and the full length of the competition board which is typically 8′.  World record holders have pulled shavings as thin as 2 microns, which is almost impossibly thin, being far thinner than a human blood cell at 8 microns.

In Japan, it’s my understanding that competitors use Hinoki cypress, while in the US we will be competing by using yellow cedar, which is actually a cypress and very similar in quality to good Hinoki cypress.  The yellow cedar we use is very old and tightly grained.

Competitors often cut their own dai, some choosing exotic materials or laminating their dai in hopes of creating a dai that will wear well, hold their tune for a good length of time and hold the blade with good support.  I’ve chosen to use beech, which is not entirely ideal, especially by comparison to Japanese white oak, but shares some commonalities.  Beech is the traditional western plane making wood, it can grip and release the blade repeatedly without losing its ability to do so.  Beech is fairly stable and very much available.  In my case I’ve chosen beech because of those positive traits and the fact that I can access it locally.

The cut-out process starts by prepping dai blanks, choosing material that is rift sawn and with grain running straight on all faces to reduce or eliminate runout.  I resaw the blanks to the required thickness of 35mm and down to a width of 80mm and 85mm.   I’ve cut multiple blanks, some I will set aside to age and two I will cut out.  One will be used, the other discarded.

I’ve chosen a blade by Shoichiro Tanaka of VAR white 1, Tanaka is one of few makers using VAR white 1.  This would be an ideal blade for competition with exception that it is 65mm and so less ideal than the typical 70mm, but it was made available and so I have chosen to put it to the test.

Next in prepping the dai block, I plane all four sides square, starting first with the sole which I adjust using winding sticks.  The sole of a plane is the ‘bark side’ of the wood block, this is done so that any tendency for the board to cup results in two ‘skates’ on the outside edges of the sole, which are easy to flatten down without enlarging the plane’s mouth and so that blade is not clenched by that same cupping effect.

Once the block is squared I can begin my layout, starting first by marking the mouth line with a knife, then transferring that mark to the side of the dai where I can layout my blade, wear, escapement and bedding angles.

This dai is specifically made for a single blade, meaning it will be used without a cap iron, chip breaker, sub blade, or secondary blade (however you like to call it).  When cutting shavings this thin and on such fine stock, a single blade is ideal.  Few competitors will want to complicate matters by adding a chip breaker, if they do it will be simply so that their normal planes can be used to compete with.

If you inspect closely you’ll note that the wear angle, which refers to angle between the top blade and the mouth opening, is extremely tight.  I’ve shown it being a single line in fact.  The reason for this is that my goal in cutting the dai will be to set the wear angle so tightly that only a fine shaving can pass through.

The escapement angle is transferred back to the sole and used to set the width of the mouth opening.  This is not to be confused with the distance between the blade and mouth which will be next to nothing.

The lines are next transferred to the top of the dai and knife marks are then applied.

I begin chopping out the dai, first cutting the mouth area, then flipping the dai onto its top side to begin cutting the bed and escapement.

The mortise is now formed in its rough shape, and it looks just that.  I’ve remained inside the lines and have nearly come through the bottom of the plane to meet the work I’ve done at the mouth.

Finally, I break through, then close in on my final fit by chopping the bed until it is fairly thin.  Next, I true up the escapement and the wear until a clean surface is achieved and finally I pare the sides cleanly.

Now I can cut the side grooves, this is a fairly critical bit of work.  I use a flush cut saw to form the top of the groove, which is the critical cut, then again on the lower part of the groove.

After which I clear the grooves with an 3mm chisel.

Now I have something to work with, but still much effort remains.  At this point I finish trimming the bed down to my knife lines, leaving the area nearest the mouth quite heavy.

Finally, I can bed the blade, I do so carefully to ensure that I can create a nice fit between the bed and blade nearest the mouth.  If done correctly a ‘smile’ is formed.

At last I detail the dai, rounding over the back, chamfering all corners (except of the front and back of the sole) and finish planing the exterior faces.  I’m ready to begin tuning.

I’ve carefully tuned the sole, as detailed in my previous posts on the subject.  Happily, I was able to keep the mouth exceptionally tight, in this case from the sole it appears to be closed.

However, when we sight down the blade we can see that a shaving will be able to fit through.

The proof is in the pudding as they say, however this pudding would suggest I have a great deal of tuning ahead of me.  The shaving is thin and full length, but not nearly thin enough, a real winner would be revealing a cheese cloth appearance, suggesting that it can barely hold itself together.

Birthday Clock for my Mum

My new Roubo Frame saw

As you all know, I had to modify the frame to make it easier on me to saw with it. After shortening the one arm and bringing the stretchers closer together, I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. I just didn’t know whether this would work. I impatiently started putting it together and because I was rushing, I couldn’t set it correctly. So, I left it and just started working on the finish. I applied a beautiful rosewood mahogany stain with several coats of 1 pound cut shellac and left it to dry overnight.

This morning I said to myself it’s only a saw so get a grip on yourself. I started putting it together and everything fit snugly. Pretty amazing stuff when you’re not overly excited.

Checking for twist

After putting the frame saw together, I made sure the saw blade is dead centred between the two stretchers by measuring from both sides on both ends of the saw between the saw blade and the stretchers. This is important to help you saw in a straight line. Then I tightened the saw blade by hand pressure only by turning the eye bolt. There is a high probability once you tighten the saw blade that it will place the frame in twist and therefore the saw will also be in twist. This is why you need to check for twist before you use the saw. If you use a screwdriver to lever the tightening of the saw blade, you risk snapping the frame or really putting a lot of twist in it. I found the saw works perfectly fine with the saw being tightened by hand pressure only. You don’t need to hear that ping like you would on a scroll saw blade.

If the blade is in twist, I can only parrot from what I have seen on video the people at the Hay’s cabinet shop did to take their frame saw out of twist. They tapped on the blade with a hammer. That’s what appeared to me but I cannot say for sure and I will send them an email and ask them if they can make a demonstration. The way I fixed the previous saw out of twist was by twisting the frame in the opposite direction. It worked but it wasn’t perfect. On this frame it is absolutely spot on which makes me less inclined to build another frame.

I gave it a test drive finally, and I immediately felt the difference. It was lighter and a lot easier to use. What surprised me the most was that the lightness didn’t make a difference in the cut’s speed. There you have it, folks. I think this saw is kick arse and more pleasure to use than a bandsaw.

Here is something else a little off the topic that I found interesting. I flattened my bench today, and I found that the side closest to me was out of flat as this is the side I use. Whilst the other side that isn’t used was dead flat. Go figure I can’t explain it. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

Looks good.

Steel Wool

By Fix it club

Steel wool is a bundle of thin metal fibers spun into a pad. It can be used to remove paints and varnishes, or for polishing and finishing. The softness of steel wool permits its use on surfaces like glass and marble.

Steel wool comes in many grades of coarseness. Always apply the correct grade of steel wool to the work you have at hand, as detailed in the chart below.

Coarse 3Paint and varnish removal; removing paint spots from resilient floors.

Medium 1 Rust removal; cleaning glazed tiles; removing marks from wood floors; with paint and varnish remover, removing finishes.

Medium coarse 2 Removing scratches from brass; removing paint spots from ceramic tile; rubbing floors between finish coats.

Medium fine 0 Brass finishing; cleaning tile; with paint and varnish remover, removing stubborn finishes.

Fine 00 With linseed oil, satinizing high-gloss finishes.

Extra fine 000 Removing paint spots or stains from wood; cleaning polished metals; rubbing between finish coats.

Super fine 0000 Final rubbing of finish; stain removal

I want to finish off by saying I wish you all a happy new year, a safer and prosperous new year.

Principles Essential to the Woodworker’s Success

There is an old saying that a worker is known by his chips. This old saying must have had its origin years ago when firewood was used almost exclusively and many woodchoppers were employed cutting wood for fuel. Some of these woodchoppers would greatly excel others in the amount of wood cut consequently a swift worker would make many chips in a day’s toil while an inferior chopper would make comparatively few, so we have the saying passed down to us, “The workman is known by his chips.” But in these days, it would be nearer correct to say a workman is known by his tools and slightly more to the point to say a worker is known by the use of his tools.

Oriental Workmanship

They say that workers in Japan use some of their tools in a way that seems awkward and somewhat ridiculous to those of us of the Western world. The Japanese when he uses a plane pulls it toward him instead of pushing it from him. The drawing knife he pushes from him instead of drawing it toward him as the name of the tool signifies. They have odd ways of using tools, that is, it appears so to us, and our ways of using tools no doubt appear queer to some foreign-born workmen. With us as woodworkers our ways of using tools are quite uniform. Occasionally a workman, however, is seen using a saw in his left hand. Some are able to use one hand quite as well as the other.

Character in the making of chips, getting a shop reputation, motion study and its worth as a factor in forming workmanlike habits

But passing along from one worker to another in a shop or factory it would appear that all do things in about the same way in reference to their respective trades. Yet frequently we notice much difference in the quality of work done and much difference in the time that one man takes to do the same work in amount and quality compared with some other men. What is the reason for this difference? Why are not all workmen equally good? Why is it also that one man can do so much more work than another and do it just as well? These are quite important questions for with but few exceptions the worker is paid according to his work and he is known in the office and on the pay rolls by the use he makes of his tools. Therefore, how may a workman improve his work and thereby add to his chances?

Fundamental Principles

If these questions were submitted to a company of workers it would be sure to create interest and many and varied would be the answers given. I as one among the great army of woodworker., will suggest a few fundamental principles. First of all the old saying that a workman is known by his chips is obsolete. Chips or shavings are no indications of a workman’s speed or skill. But a good workman as a rule has good tools. If any man can do good work with poor tools the same man could do better work with better tools. The first requisite, therefore, to good work is suitable tools.

Inspecting the New Man

We notice new men as they come into the shop. It is natural that we should size them up by the tools they display. When a man appears with a substantial tool chest or tool case and unpacks a tine assortment of well kept tools we have at once respect for him even before he does any work. We expect him to be a workman that “needeth not to be ashamed.” How different is our views of the man that comes shuffling in with tools in an old battered box devoid of handles or sometimes with a market basket with a few odds and ends, relics of tools that appear as though they may have come from a second-hand store or possibly a pawnshop. Such a man as this the foreman is sure to look upon with some anxiety and suspicion. He does not give such a man very particular work, for judging from the tools the man carries about with him he could not be trusted to do a neat and particular job. If we would become a good workman and command respect among our fellows we should get together a kit of good tools. A worker is not only judged by the tools he may display but by the way be uses his tools. This is the great test of the workman. Workmen, like the rest of mankind the world over, are creatures of habit and the skilful use of tools by which we may earn a good living is largely the result of habits we form as we take up our tools to use them day after day. Much, however, depends upon the kind of start we get while learning the trade. The skill of the pianist depends on his position at the instrument together with expression as conveyed by the touch of the fingers on the keys. Improper position at the piano, awkward movement of the fingers, or a wrong start in learning has made the development of the performer into a great musician impossible. In a measure it is so with the use of tools. Much depends on the kind of habits we form while learning the trade and our disposition to correct errors and improve as we grow older and more experienced in our work. A man is never too old to learn if he is so inclined. But here is the rub. As we grow older our habits, good or bad, have a tendency to crystallize, to become fixed. As woodworkers in the use of our tools we are apt to get into a rut. We may move along in a monotonous kind of a groove. We become a kind of a human machine that goes neither faster nor slower and grows neither better nor worse except like the machine we are imperceptibly but gradually wearing out. It appears that as workmen we may be divided into two classes, those who from the start manifest a desire to advance by improving every available opportunity to become more skilful and those who having learned the trade manifest no activity to learn more only as it comes to them naturally and ordinarily through the performance of their routine toil. I can illustrate my thought best in this way: There was a cabinetmaker in years past who had two sons. They worked on either side of their father learning the trade. The older one from the start appeared quick and handy with tools but was not careful about his work.

Comparisons of Craftsmanship

When in fitting a set of drawers into a bureau he had to be watched and his work inspected frequently as he would plane too much off from the ends of the drawer fronts leaving too much space or play for the drawers. When spoken to by his father about his work not coming up to the standard he would invariably reply, somewhat impatiently, “Oh, that’s good enough.” His bench was always littered from one end to the other. His tools were never sharp, and as for grinding a plane iron or a chisel it was almost impossible to get him to do it. He was a hard- working fellow and always went at things with a rush. But he never could take time seemingly to do anything well nor to keep his tools in good condition. He indulged careless habits. He had no ideal, nothing to look forward to in the way of improvement. Passing from his bench over to that of his brother, who was younger and serving his time with him, we notice a great difference, not so much in the movements of the young men for they both were quick and seemed to do things by the same method. But the younger brother did much better work and just as much of it. He was painstaking. He made no more motions than the older brother but each effort counted. There were no false motions. He kept his tools well sharpened and arranged in good order. He consulted with his father frequently about the best way to do certain things. It was not enough for him to get it done some- how, but availing himself of the experience of those that had been longer in the business he tried to do everything in the best way. And it is needless to state that this young man forged ahead. He was given the best work. This worker was known not by his chips or the shavings he made but by his well-kept tools and the very skilful use of them. The difference between these two brothers which so affected their work and wages is largely the difference between workers the world over.



To ensure enthusiasm of good workmanship among craftsmen, they must be relieved of the hard pressure of circumstance. They must neither be pressed for time nor by want. They must be removed from the necessity of slovenly production. They must be led to perceive and acknowledge the value: that is usefulness or the beauty of the materials which they daily handle; so that waste, that enemy of the workshop, may not enter to create dissension between the employer and the employed. They must be taught to respect the work of their own hands, so that it may com to be for them a subject of great interest, care and love. They must be made to feel their worth and dignity as producers, as one of the prime factors of organised and civilised life.

“Work” a new magazine for the hand tool woodworker


Work was first published in London by Cassel & Company limited on 23 March 1889 and ended on January 14 1893.

There were four volumes released and was named “WORK, An Illustrated Magazine of Practice and Theory.”

There were many authors but the man who begun it all was the first author Ed Francis Young.   The Work magazine filled a hole in the market and that was to create a magazine that covered all trades of the working class man, in modern times this would be regarded as the blue collar worker or tradesmen.

I felt a need to bring this magazine back to life once more, but not entirely with all the contents of the yesteryears, but mostly the parts pertaining to woodworking with a hint of metal work as well.
I will cover most topics I have covered in my blog. As all blogs you have to scroll forever to see all the topics covered, unless your organised and have each topic categorised which I didn’t.

I have spent a great deal of time writing blogs, never ending research and so forth, while, my own work behind the bench diminshed to an almost stop.
I’m hoping that this magazine will free me up from the responsibilities of the blog but not entirely neglecting the blog, just free me up to devote more time to the craft I love so much.

Education is important, and I believe it should be free, we all have a responsibility to pass on the knowledge we learn along the way. By doing so, we keep the craft alive, teach others skill, be that for the amatuer, or professional. To earn a living for himself should he pursue that avenue. This is a responsibility we all share equally and its not just for the privledged.

This magazine will only be available in pdf format and will be available for download through my blog. As I said above, I intend to cover many topics and many projects. It will be much like my blog except in the hope it will be fairly detailed. Every write up will be accompanied by an illustrations and or photographic pictures, and possibly videos embedded into the page.

I have no intentions of charging for this magazine but I cannot say for sure if there will be a charge later in the future, or if I will continue with it at all.   All I know for now, is that I want to bring a first ever hand tool magazine for woodworkers.

I invite anyone who wishes to contribute to this magazine to do so.  Please send your write up in PDF format with your full name so it can be accredited to you to
As the original work magazine is to this date is 128 years old there is no copyright on it. Legal advice has been sought and I have been given the go ahead with it. This means I can repost word for word everything that is written in it. Its wonderful to read into the mindset and work practices of the old. There is much we can learn from them.

As you can see from the screen shot above, I’ve already begun the first write up.

As for now, I also cannot say how often a new issue will be released. Let’s just take one step at a time for now.


A good sawbench

I used to use a saw horse for all my rip and crosscutting, but a single saw horse isn’t just wide enough to support your material.   So the choice was to make one more, but that also posed some problems.  I have to kneel on the board which meant thinner boards would bend under my weight and the clutter of it eating my shop space didn’t sit well with me either.  There just had to be a better sawbench and so I devoured the net for ideas.

I looked at Chris Schwarz saw bench, then Shannon Rodgers bench and finally at Tom Fidgen sawbench.  Well that definitely was a winner for me, the bench stood 20 1/4″ x 12 7/8″ wide with a split top and 35″ long.  I like the idea of a split top, it meant that I can safely rip not so wide material.  It has dog holes for clamping and a fence for crosscutting. I made holes on both sides so the fence can be used on either side.  What I also like about this design is that one side legs are splayed and the other is square.  What this means is that you can use the square side as a reference while ripping while the splayed side provides great support to stop the bench from tipping.

It was a no brainer so I ordered his book “Hand crafted Project for the home and workshop” this book is great as it has so many other beautiful projects and none of which I ever got around to building and I bought this book probably about 2 or more years ago. Hopefully this will change as work outside my hobby always seems to get in the way.

As I was today continuing with the build of the planter box I thought it would be great if I showed you just how fast ripping with a handsaw can be.  This video isn’t sped up and no edits has been done to it, there’s nothing to sugar coat hand tooling is what it is.  It can be fast or slow it all depends on you, you are the machine, the driving force behind the tool.

The saw I’m using is a Disston 28″ 4 1/2 point  with hooked teeth.  This type of saw is mainly used for carpentry and works well slightly damped wood.  The timber I’m ripping is Radiata pine 3/4″ thick.  True not very thick stuff so ripping is made easier plus it being Radiata and not hoop pine also makes ripping easier but none the less whatever material your ripping,  your stamina and muscle strength is something you’re going to greatly rely on.

In the first video this is the full rip and in the second video I’m ripping probably  just proud of a 1/16″ from the line.  You can see as I got very near to the end I used my foot to clamp down onto the work.  Not sure if this is correct but it works for me.

Btw today was scorcher, sweat poured out of me like a running tap and sadly it landed on the sole of my LN hand plane and immediately rust formed on it.  It broke my heart.