Baby Plane Making, part 1

A trustworthy new brass fingerplane will cost you some $50-$70. You need a few different sizes, times two, for flat-bottom and round-bottom. That’s a lot of money.

So make your own out of wood! I love wooden fingerplanes – they are lighter, wooden tools feel nicer in your hand, and they sound a little different from the brass ones.

Here’s what I’ve learned from making my 3 wooden planes. This is a general post, and I’ll go into more detail over the next couple posts.

The type of plane we’re making here is based on the sandwiched Krenov style / crosspin + wedge / whatever you want to call it.wooden finger plane exploded diagram


  1. BLADE. This is your constant. You will build your plane based on the width and thickness of your blade. The sizes we’re working with at school are 3/8″, 1/2″, and 1″ wide, all O2 untempered steel stock that we have to cut, shape, harden and temper ourselves.
  2. BODY WOOD. Something stable and not too soft. Since we are violin makers, maple is plentiful and will do fine (but maybe don’t use that pink streaky low-density stuff we get for our first instrument). Grain orientation for the body is not crucial for tiny planes, but I’ll go into further detail on that in a future post.
  3. SOLE WOOD. If you can manage it, get some quartersawn very hard wood for the sole. Some folks are using bubinga, ipe, ironwood, ebony, rosewood, etc. Most of the dense, tight-grained tropicals are supposed to work well for this, though I did make one out of purpleheart and it turned out to be surprisingly/disappointingly mushy! Keep a little extra of this sole wood for the wedge. Straight grain will make life easier but if it’s interlocking, you’ll live.
  4. CROSS PIN. Use a metal rod of some sort. Make sure you have an appropriate drill bit for it.

Design Considerations

Plane making is really not that difficult. If you haphazardly slap some wood together, chisel out an opening, pin it, and stick a wedge and blade in it, you’ll probably have a functional plane. But if you plan ahead, these little points could make the difference between a plane that functions and a plane you loooove.


On any plane, the area right in front of the throat takes the most wear.

throat wear finger plane

You need to find a balance between supporting that area, and having space to relieve wood shavings. On a small plane, the space for chip relief fills up very very fast, especially if you tend to stick your finger in it.

chip jamming finger plane ergonomics

As you redress your plane, the throat will get larger and larger, so consider ways to minimize that. In violin making, finger planes are used for arching, but they do not produce the finished surface, so a tiny throat (which is supposed to reduce tear-out) is not as important as it would be on, say, a smoothing plane. Still, a giant throat on any plane disturbs me… throat opening from redressingFor a small finger plane, if you keep your plane sole reasonably thick, this configuration is my happy medium for achieving a roomy chip receptacle and well-supported throat that will stay somewhat small with each redressing. chip relief strong throatMy finger planes are mostly for arching and/or some edge work, so I’m just sticking with the traditional 45° bed angle, blade bevel down. Low angle is supposedly better for cutting endgrain, high angle is supposedly better for figure.

Cross pin placement should not be mindlessly done. Factoring in blade thickness and wedge shape, you’ll end up a line of acceptable cross pin placement. Again, you’ll have to strike a balance. The lower you place the pin, the better the support near the cutting edge, which should help reduce blade chatter. Don’t go too close though, or your wedge will have less room to do its job without getting in the way of chip flushing.

The wedge pushes up on the pin pretty forcefully, so consider your final shape and make sure you have enough meat above the pin.

Consider how you tend to grip your finger plane. I hold really really tiny tiny planes a little differently from just kinda tiny planes. Consider how the final shape of your plane and your grip on it could affect some of the other design points.



Next post will be on actual construction.

I’d like to give a little shout out to my friend David Finck, who I met at Oberlin. He is the author of Making & Mastering Wood Planes, which would make an excellent gift for any of your woodworking or luthier plane nerd friends.


Easy chicken coop accessories

There are some fancy schmancy chicken food & water dispensers out there, and they cost a lot of money. There are several different designs out there, but the main ideas behind the good dispensers are all the same:
1. They only put out a little bit of food or water at a time, so the goods stay cleaner, and there is less waste.
2. They hold a lot of food & water so you don’t have to change or refill often. They keep feed clean and dry and protected from unwanted critters and creatures.
3. They are easy to refill when you need to.
4. They are hard to tip over, minimizing waste.

Gravity Feeder

We made a gravity feeder for Maxine’s chicken tractor, and have it hanging underneath the roost so it won’t get super poo-ed. Food is stored in a piece of gutter from Home Depot (less than $3) and a plastic container that held mushrooms from the grocery store.

gravity feeder

We poked one hole towards the lower end of each gutter face, and two holes in each face (except the bottom) of the mushroom container. Then we strung a string through as shown above to attach the containers together. Then we filled it with feed.

gravity feeder

The chickens eat from the bottom, and the weight of the feed pushes more into the bottom for the chicken to eat.

I think this one passes the first three criteria above. If your chickens peck viciously, the bottom tray does tilt a little. Perhaps in version 2.0, we would tie knots to keep the string from sliding around and rearranging the hanging angle.


chicken waterer

This is very low-tech but pretty effective. All it is is a ribbed tin can tied to the hardware cloth. Refilling is easy (just pour water through the hardware cloth and down into the can). Since it is mounted to the angled part of the hardware cloth, birds can’t sit right on top and poo down into it. It doesn’t hold tons of water, but I think it’s better to be changing water often anyway. And you can install several according to how frequently you want to refill it. So, this system passes criteria #1, 3, and 4.


simple way to mount a roost to mesh

These big branches are nice for the birds to hang out on in the run area. But how to attach? Credit goes to my sister for this very simple mounting technique. Drive two screws into the end grain. Lift the stick into the A-frame section and it will grab onto some of the hardware cloth.

Operation help-Max-get-chickens, part 2

The $100 tractor for three chickens

Today we discuss the making of the chicken tractor, without the drama.

chicken tractor overview, with scalies

Bill of Materials

The following chart is what it would cost, not what we paid. We spent a bit more (sorry, Max), because we bought extra of a few things (mainly OSB, due to errors and then design changes). Though we also made use of scrap or leftovers from previous projects.

material unit cost quantity subtotal
Pressure-treated 2×4, 12′ $5.57 3 $16.71
2×3, 8′ $1.92 5 $9.60
OSB 7/16″, 4′ x 8′ $8.45 1 $8.45
Corrugated Metal Roof Panel, 26″ x 8′ $19.49 1 $19.49
1″ Teks Roofing Screws with neoprene washers (box of 120) $9.88 1 $9.88
2.5″ Exterior Wood Screw (1 lb box) $6.71 1 $6.71
1″ Exterior Wood Screw (1 lb box) $6.71 1 $6.71
1/2″ Hardware Cloth, 3′ ~$2.00 / lf ~11 ft ~$22.00
3″ Strap Hinges (pack of 2) $3.27 1 $3.27
TOTAL     $102.82

(Nerd note: I’ve always wanted to use an html table in an appropriate context!!! ie not for formatting my angelfire/geocities pages 10 years ago!)

Other stuff we used that may or may not cost ya:

  • Drill, circular saw, mitre saw
  • Staple gun for mounting hardware cloth
  • Metal-cutting blade for circular saw
  • Egg drawer!
  • Nice big branches for roost sticks
  • It’s a good idea to prime or paint the wood with something, especially the OSB, and especially especially where ever the OSB was cut.

Some Assembly Required

Chicken tractor construction, animated in gifs.

1. Partial A Frame

1 chicken tractor a frame construction
Floor size: 3′ x 6′
Height: ~3′
For 3 chickens, this is a bit on the small side.
The run area is 3′ x 4′.

2. Chicken House Frame-up

2 chicken tractor house frame-up
That OSB wall and its little mini-studs were assembled before sliding into place on the A frame.

3. Perimeter Cladding

3 chicken tractor perimeter close-off
Tediously cut your hardware cloth with wire cutters. Careful! It’ll draw bloood. Staple directly onto the frame.
Roost access door is strap hinged.

4. Corrugated Metal Roof

4 chicken tractor corrugated metal roof installation
This was our first experience with sawing through metal and using those Teks screws with built-in squishy stuff to prevent leaking through the roof.

5. Egg Drawer

chicken tractor egg drawer
We ripped this drawer from my sister’s old kitchen counters. The box itself is about 11″ x 18″.

6. Insert Chickens

chicken tractor just add chicken
The coop is a bit tight, but miraculously, even the puffball Buff Orpington can fit down the 8″ ramp, and through the tiny door (which is maybe an 10″ high triangle.)

More Photos

chicken tractor construction

In case you forgot, it rained, so we took the job inside.

chicken tractor construction i can't fit through the door

Peek-a-boo. See? The tiny door prevents human-sized predators from crawling in and attacking them in their chicken house at night.

chicken tractor outdoor roosts

Ameraucana and Buff Orpington hanging out, and a shy Rhode Island Red hiding inside.

chicken tractor overview

Ta-da! All nice and… half-primed.

I’m still on session break from violin-making school, so violin-related posts will resume next week. Can’t wait to see my möbius strip bass bar!

In the meantime, next post will STILL be about chickens — troubleshooting and accessories.

Operation Help-Max-Get-Chickens, part 1

I spent the last week in New Jersey, helping my sister get started with chicken-keeping.

This was the plan. It was supposed to be easy.

the original chicken tractor-building schedule

But of course, things don’t always go as planned.

the actual unfolding of chicken preparation events

We originally meant to get a flock of Orpingtons and/or Rhode Island Reds, but the farmer lady had an Ameraucana. I hadn’t recently researched it, but I remembered it was a favorite of many. So after the hour-long high-speed chase, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read this:

ameraucanas love to escape, apparently

So that was my week. With a haircut by my sisters and a trip to New York squeezed in there somewhere.

Next time I’ll go into detail about the tractor itself.