After roughly a year of delays, the WMT 2500 Router Plane is coming back into production. We were just able to squeak out a small run of routers for Handworks last weekend and they sold out in a matter of hours. The information that follows is a brief account of what we’ve been up to for the past year and when routers will be available for purchase again on our website.
As many of you know, we’ve been finished with our router design for some time, but casting issues have prevented us from scaling up production. We had to scrap roughly 1/3 of our first production run due to cosmetic defects (pits in the castings) and hoped we could simply talk to the foundry, tweak a few things, and be back in business. That was not the case. The foundry tried to work with us, but it took weeks for them to change their parameters and pour a test batch. When the new parts finally arrived, they were often times worse than before (scrap). This cycle repeated itself several times (more scrap). We learned a lot of the finer points about casting during this time and it became more and more obvious that this foundry wasn’t going to be able to meet our needs. The result was a lot of wasted cash, a lot of lost time, and ultimately a new foundry.
When we switched to a new foundry we started to make some headway, but few people pour manganese bronze these days and this new foundry had to come up a learning curve as well. We changed the patterns several times and adjusted the casting process as well. It took several iterations (again, more lost time and money) but at least we were seeing improvements. The surface quality of the castings is smoother, the letters are more clear, and the pitting has been nearly eliminated. That brings us up to about a month ago. We got our latest batch of routers in and started getting them ready for Handworks. After machining, polishing, and lapping, the only pitting we see is small and restricted to the sole of the plane. The top surfaces are clean and the pits aren’t nearly as large as they used to be. The images below are examples of what we’re getting at this point.
So here’s where we stand today. Casting perfect parts is tough. Casting them in mag-bronze is very tough. This may be as good as we can ever get our castings and if that’s the case, we can live with that at this point. None of our customers have balked at the castings when they see them, the usual reaction is something like, “Is that all?” And if we have to choose between selling them with tiny pits in the sole or not selling them at all, we’re ready to sell them and stand behind that decision. In a way, to scrap every tool with a minor pit would be like throwing out every board in your shop with a bit of grain reversal or a knot. It just happens sometimes and that shouldn’t automatically mean it becomes scrap. Having said that, we’re not going to stop trying to improve them any way we can. We still have some minor things to try, maybe we can reduce the pitting further or eliminate it entirely, but maybe not. Either way, we’re moving forward and ramping up production again.
In the meantime, we haven’t sat around twiddling our thumbs for the past year waiting for good castings. We have already designed and released our set of Compass Guides and have prototypes of our WMT No. 25 Router which we had for people to try out at Handworks (you can see it on our bench in the photo below). The small router has a few little tricks up its sleeve, but we’ll get into that when it gets closer to the release, probably 2-3 months from now.
Finally, when can you order a No. 2500 router off our site? Likely in just a few months. After Handworks wiped out our inventory we’ve come back and ordered another batch of castings. Our plan for now is to upload around 30 routers a month onto our site, when they sell out, they’re gone for the month. But a month later another 30 will go on the site. This will help us deliver consistently each month rather than take on a large number of sales and then have to stop order-taking the site down for months at a time. As the foundry gets more consistent and we have more confidence in our process we can order larger batches and start getting 40 or 50 routers up each month, but we’re going to walk before we run based on how the last year has gone.
So hopefully that helps people understand what’s been going on. We’re not a foundry and this issue has been frustrating and largely out of our control. Finding the right people to work with can take time, but at least we’re nearly through it and for that we are grateful. We look forward to putting these tools in the hands of more woodworkers soon and greatly appreciate everyone’s support and patience in the matter.
Until next time, have a great day. -WMT
In our previous post, we discussed using other manufacturer’s cutters in our 2500 router plane. Why would you want to use another manufacturer’s cutter? Because right now we only have one size, 1/2″ square tipped. We may offer a spear point, possibly one other size like 1/4″, but that may be a little while and we currently have no plans to offer the wide range of sizes companies like Veritas produce. Fortunately, it is possible to use many other cutters in our router… unfortunately it requires a permanent modification to that cutter: adding a secondary notch.
The reason for this second notch is simple; without it you won’t be able to take a cut less than 1/2″-1″ deep depending on the cutter you’re using. That’s not good considering almost any cut you’d want to make with a narrow blade will tend to be very shallow. (This is usually where people ask why we didn’t just make the threaded posts taller like other router planes… it’s because the 2500’s cutter can move to the side positions and a taller post would stick up through the handles, so they have to be somewhat short. This is true of the original Preston design as well.) So, by adding a secondary notch you can use many other manufacturer’s blades. Lie-Nielsen is a no-go because they use a square shank, but any diamond shank measuring around 3/8″ square should fit. To make this notch you will likely need to use a Dremel tool with a grinding wheel which can be further refined with diamond files if you have them. Standard files won’t work (at least not on Veritas’ cutters) as the shanks are heat treated. Work slowly, keep the notch as square as possible, and check your progress frequently.
The notch is technically 0.155″ tall and 0.130″ deep, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is making it just tall enough to fit around the depth adjustment nut and deep enough that it won’t bottom out on the adjustment nut. There should be clearance all the way around the nut when installed and clamped down. The position of the notch is about 0.8″ below the top notch, but that’s on the Veritas cutter. It may differ on other cutters based on how tall the shank is. Basically make the notch such that the adjustment nut keeps the cutting edge of the blade slightly above the sole of the tool (so no cutting occurs) when it’s at it’s maximum height. Then as you lower the nut, you start to take a cut which naturally gets thicker as the nut drives the blade lower and lower. When you bottom the nut out on the body of the tool, you should be able to move back to the upper notch and continue. It’s a good idea to layout the notch and check all these positions before actually cutting the blade.
Now for a few important notes, disclaimers, etc. The most obvious thing to state here is you’re modifying these cutters at your own risk. Second, the Veritas cutters neck-down on the shank width fairly high up which means you aren’t getting the usual amount of support for the cutter when it’s clamped in the tool. As a result, you may find it doesn’t align perfectly straight every time or can shift if pushed on hard enough. For me, this has been a minor inconvenience at the most. I make sure the blade is straight as I clamp it in place, if it’s not I simply turn it slightly with my fingers until it looks good, then clamp it down. At that point it shouldn’t shift. Yes, it’s possible if you push on it sideways with high force, but small blades are typically only going to see light forces and usually take them head on, not side ways. Finally, you obviously can’t rotate the cutter 90 deg in the side positions simply by adding a notch. This is true, but I would ask why would you want to? Smaller cutters are generally for smaller work so using it in the standard middle position is ideal. For larger sweeping cuts where the 90 deg rotation is desirable, use our cutter.
And that’s all there is to it. A small change to cutters many of you probably already own or can purchase at a reasonable price and routing in any sized area becomes nbd (that’s “no big deal” folks).
After making the phone clamp to mount my phone to a tripod I decided to add a boom arm as well. This is extremely useful for top-down shooting, reaching over the bench for videos, or just keeping the tripod farther away so I don’t kick its legs while I’m working. The arm is 30″ long overall and has an effective reach of about 24″. There isn’t much to cover in the general design of the arm. I used one brass insert, installed in the same manner that was described in the phone clamp post. The slots along the arm obviously allow the clamp to get positioned anywhere over its length. One detail worth mentioning is what I call the “head” which is to one side of the brass insert vs. the “arm” which is on the other. You’ll notice I left the head large (about 6″ x 2″ x 3/4″) where as the arm gets thinner, narrower, and has the slot material removed. This is to allow the head to counterbalance the long reach of the arm. It’s not perfectly balanced, but it helps a lot. I can add the weight of the clamp and phone all the way to the end of the arm and things stay nicely in place, however I am considering adding a brass weight to the head to improve the balance further.
These two simple accessories have already made things so much simpler in the shop for shooting pictures and especially videos. Each one took only a couple hours to make so if you’re doing a lot of phone/camera juggling in the shop take some time and make these two pieces. Or don’t. This is America people, what you do in your shop is your business.
I recently got around to making some accessories for my tripod (a phone mount/clamp and a boom arm for said clamp) to make life easier when shooting video in the shop. I’ve wanted to do this for about a year now, but only just got around to it. After sharing some pictures via Instagram I got several requests for selling or sharing plans for these two accessories, but we’re not in the phone/camera business so we don’t plan on selling them. We are in the hope-this-makes-your-life-better-for-free business, however, so enjoy. This first post will cover the phone holder (a.k.a. clamp) that mounts the phone to the tripod. The next entry will cover the boom arm attachment.
Disclaimer: If you make a phone holder/clamp like ours be aware there’s nothing to stop you from cranking down on the nut and cracking your screen… use common sense because we won’t be replacing any phones.
The holder is based on our Drawer Slip Clamps and uses one standard set of stainless steel hardware. The jaws are 4″ long and 3/4″ thick just like our clamps, but to hold the phone they were made wider at 2″ (this was to hold an iPhone 6s, your phone may be different so size the width accordingly). Brass inserts were installed in the bottom and end of the clamp for the tripod attachment plate and a 3/4″ notch was cut out of the sliding jaw to provide access to the Home and Photo button on the phone. Finally, some thick leather was glued (I used contact cement) on the ends of the jaws to provide some extra grip and cushion.
It’s been several months since the last router-related blog post, we were busy finalizing the prototypes and preparing for two Lie-Nielsen events we just wrapped up in Philly and Cinci. So a quick status on the tools: pre-orders are now available on our site as most of you know already and we’re just waiting on our final pattern changes to come in so we can place our production order at the foundry. We will soon be finishing our cutter prototype and ramping up production on everything else. Tools are set to begin shipping in June.
Now for the overview of blade positioning in the 2500 router. This is by far the most distinguishing feature of the 2500 when compared to the #71 that Stanley made so popular. With the 71, the blade mounts in the center and can, in certain versions of the tool, be mounted on the back of the center post to give an open throat or bullnose style setup. Preston’s 2500P could mount the blade in four locations: standard closed throat, reverse open throat (or bullnose), inboard of the right-hand post, and outboard of the left-hand post. When mounted on the left or right-hand post, the cutter could only face to the left, perpendicular to the standard direction of cutting. This allowed the tool to be pushed sideways, presumably for working on narrower edges or in situations where a short-wide sole interfered with something on the work piece but and long-narrow sole did not.
The WMT 2500 router maintains the same four blade positions, but we’ve added the ability to rotate the cutter in 90 deg increments when positioned on the left or right-hand posts. This allows the user to hang to tool over an edge and make sweeping cuts, such as when working with tenons. Many woodworkers have done this with the 71, but you can only go out about 1.5″ before the tool becomes unstable. Then the standard practice is to support the other end of the tool with a block of wood that matches the height of your work piece so the tool doesn’t tip… of course problems arise if the support block isn’t exactly the same thickness of your work piece. You also have to take the time to get a piece of scrap and size it accordingly. With the 2500, you can simply move the blade to the side position, rotate the cutter 90 deg, and hanging the tool out 5″ or more is no problem.
Before wrapping this up there are a few details I’d like to point out. First is simply that the cutter shown in these pictures is not our production design. We are still finishing the prototype and will cover that in more detail once it’s ready. Second is that the minimum depth of cut is limited when the blade is in the outer post positions AND rotated 90 deg. The tip of the cutter needs to stick down almost 3/16″ so that the top of the cutter clears the sole of the tool. At first glance you might think, “Why not machine a pocket into the body of the tool that the cutter recess into?” And that’s a fair question. Here’s why we left it alone. Machining into the sole that deep and that wide breaks through the inner corner of the casting and looks awful. Adding more material in that area to prevent this also looks confusing and poorly designed. Next is cost. Milling a pocket in the side of the tool would require another setup and more time which means more money. But the final and most important reason for not bringing the cutter higher into the body is because it really didn’t seem necessary. Small shoulders (less than 3/16″ deep) are typically found on smaller scale work where the tenons don’t stick out very far, simply use the tool in its normal configuration. Long tenons, where you’d want to move the blade out and overhang the work piece quite a distance, are typically found on larger scale work which means the shoulder will generally be 1/4″ deep or more and the minimum depth of cut won’t pose any problems.
Until next time, -WMT
WMT will be guest demonstrators at the Lie-Nielsen hand tool event this weekend just outside Cincinnati. We will have our prototype 2500 router to try out and will be taking pre-orders. If you can’t make it to the show, orders can also be placed on our website beginning at noon on Wednesday, March 9th. Hope to see you there.
Securing the blade at any given position in a router plane is a simple but critical task the tool must perform. It should be easy, fast, and require no tools as it will be adjusted often. It also needs to hold the blade securely so it doesn’t shift during use. To accomplish these goals a few basic elements of the tool need to be understood. As far as I know, all metal-bodied router planes secure their blades using one of two methods: either using a thumb screw to tighten down a blade-locking collar (typically on larger planes) or by driving a screw directly against the blade shank itself to clamp it against the body of the tool (common on smaller scale planes). Note that wooden-bodied routers often use a wedge to lock the blade.
Next is the geometry of the blade shank itself: round, diamond, and square.
A round shank allows the blade to be positioned at any angle (which is rarely, if ever, necessary), but it can rotate unexpectedly during use which is completely undesirable. It’s the cheapest method of manufacturing, however, as it requires only a simple hole in the body with a screw running into the side of the shank to lock it down. And while this isn’t typically seen on larger tools which see much higher cutting forces in use, it does appear on many small scale router planes where the reduced force is usually not a problem and the blade won’t spin in the body… much. If you are having trouble with a round shank that spins, scuff up the sides of the shank along its length with course sandpaper, that will typically do the trick.
The Diamond shank (where the shank face is rotated 45 deg to the cutting edge) is the most common configuration for large router planes for two reasons. First, the non-roundness of the body means it won’t rotate during use. Second, the diamond, which gets drawn into a V-notch in the body, is self centering and self aligning. It can’t rotate, tilt, or shift side to side.
The only downside is that when the collar is loosened so the depth of cut can be adjusted, the collar tends to fall down the body, sometimes binding on the blade making the adjustment a bit of a headache. Modern manufacturers have resolved this in two ways. Veritas uses a spring-loaded collar so that while the clamping pressure is removed during depth adjustments, there is enough pressure to hold the collar where it belongs and it functions very well. Lie-Nielsen did away with the collar entirely, opting to apply pressure to the shank directly with a brass screw which again, works perfectly. Preston fixed their collar problem by trapping the collar in position with a locating pin which is incorporated into the collar locking screw itself.
The Square configuration (where the shank face is parallel to the cutting edge) is rare. Lie-Nielsen uses it, but they drive a screw against the edge of the shank, not its face. This pushes the blade into the back corner of the body, essentially clamping it against a V-notch just like the diamond shank blades. Preston, however, typically used a square shank with a collar that simply pulls the shank tight against its back face.
The problem with the Preston method is there must be clearance between the side faces of the shank and the notch in the body. As a result, nothing constrains the shank except the friction between the shank and body which is produced by the collar. During heavy cuts, the blade can shift laterally or tilt slightly, neither of which is acceptable. For our design, we’re using the preferred Diamond configuration, but we are going to utilize Preston’s clever pin locator on the collar screw to keep the collar in position when loosened.
Next time, blade positioning. It’s exciting stuff…
Producing handles or knobs for any tool is a tricky thing. Everyone’s hand is a little different as are their preferences as to what “feels” right. It’s not surprising then that with the six router planes we studied the shape, diameter, and height of the knobs were all different. Stanley, for instance, had the shortest and fattest knob while Millers Falls had the tallest and second narrowest. Lie-Nielsen’s knob fell right in the middle of height and diameter and I would say theirs is the most balanced of them all. Veritas, on the other hand, was the most unique with handles that tilt roughly 30 deg off vertical and were some of the tallest in the group.
The Preston 2500P knobs were unusual due to the fact that they are designed to be quickly unscrewed and moved to different positions on the tool (more on that in a later post). The knob itself is not very tall, but its height ends up right in the middle of the other planes because of how the body is designed. The diameter, however, is by far the smallest of the six measuring only slightly larger than 1.5″ where as the others average about 1.7″. That may not sound like a lot, but you can feel the difference as soon as you put the tool to work. This left us with a decision to make; remain as faithful to the original as possible or deliver what we think is the best all-around knob we can. Ultimately we decided to leave it up to our customers. We’re going to offer knobs that are replicas of the original as well as knobs based off the Stanley which are a little over 1.75″ in diameter and have a mushroom style profile. The Stanley was our personal favorite among the all the profiles we tested so we wanted to make them available, but offering the Preston style has historical significance and will undoubtedly be preferred by some portion of the woodworkers out there. We will also be happy to sell either style knob to those of you who may own an original Preston plane with knobs that need to be replaced.
So that’s the story behind the knobs. We haven’t finalized our material yet (feel free to comment on cherry vs. walnut), but we will be offering two styles which hopefully counts for something. Next time we’ll discuss a few changes we’ve made to the original design and how that benefits the user.
WMT will soon be releasing our newest tool, the No. 2500 router plane, which is based on the Preston 2500P. Because there are so many details to cover on this tool we will be sharing a series of blog posts roughly once a week, each of which will cover one readily digestible chunk of information at a time.
I’d like to get the fundamentals out of the way up front before talking about the features and benefits of the tool compared to what already exists today, so lets get started. First are the physical dimensions of the tool. As far as we know, our router plane will have the largest footprint to ever hit the market. When studying several new and vintage planes, most of which are based on the Stanley No. 71, their soles ranged in width from 5-5/8″ to 8-1/4″ with the average measuring about 7-1/2″ wide. However, these planes all have soles that are longest in the center and then diminish as you get towards the outside edges of the tool. This makes the tool less useful when straddling a large surface, such as leveling the face of a tenon. The length of the sole on the Preston, which measures slightly more than 8-1/4″ wide, remains constant over its width (aka: a rectangle). The sole of our router plane was bumped up to an even 8-1/2″ x 3-1/2″.
And while some may think a small sole is no big problem because a secondary wooden sole can be attached to most planes making it any size you want, you’re correct… sort of. A secondary sole is one more thing you have to make and you need to keep it as thin as possible so the tool’s depth of cut isn’t greatly reduced. However, a thin secondary sole that isn’t well supported will deflect, which can make the cutting action of the tool range from problematic to useless. By having a large rectangular sole, adding a secondary sole isn’t as necessary, but when it is desired it is well supported even at a minimum thickness.
The next detail is one of the thing’s we’re most excited about: offering the tool in manganese bronze. Again, as far as we know, this is a first among router planes. The bronze not only looks fantastic, but there are the added benefits of extra weight (this will be the heaviest router plane ever sold) and zero concerns when it comes to corrosion. It was not easy to find a suitable foundry for casting this tool in bronze, but persistence paid off and we’re proud to make it our mainline offering (we may or may not offer ductile iron in the future). The non-bronze components will either be brass or stainless steel, with the one obvious exception of the cutter which will be O1.
One final detail I’ll throw in is our removal of one part of the original Preston design. The doo-hicky (that’s its technical name) on the front is quite confusing in appearance as well as function. It is comprised of a small casting which can move front-to-back in a pair of slots and is locked down with two small screws. Once locked down, a threaded post can be raised or lowered, then locked in position. I figured this could be used as a crude depth stop, but then why make it adjustable front-to-back? I emailed Paul Sellers about this as he’s a big proponent of the Preston style router (and if you don’t follow his blog I’d recommend it) and he said it was designed as a guide when running the tool in a recess to prevent the cutter from gouging the side wall. I still don’t understand why it needs to slide a fraction of an inch in slots though… possibly as a throat-closing device of some sort as I read some speculate online, but this seems like a poor way to go about it and downright unnecessary. The added cost and tools required to make an adjustment made it hard to justify keeping in our version of the tool. It also blocks visibility and isn’t included in Preston’s 1399P model router, so we decided to eliminate it. If you’re wondering why ours is a model 2500 and not a 1399, it’s because we are including the adjust fence which was never available on the 1399P.
That’s all for now, but we still have knobs, cutter configuration, cutter orientation and more to discuss in the following weeks so stay tuned. And as a status report, our patterns are being made and hardware is being prototyped. We should have the hardware within a week, but the patterns will take roughly a month to complete. Then we’ll get our first look at the castings.