Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part Two–Block Planes

The Best of the USA and the Bundesrepublik Deutschland

These are some of my most used planes. and two actually live in the tool tray on top of my work bench. They are that useful. To make this brief, they are a Stanley #60 1/2, a Stanley # 18, and an EC Emmerich wooden block plane with a sole of lignum vitae. Now it’s time for my closeup, Mr. DeMille. (Sunset Boulevard ref).

60 1/2

The least used is the Stanley 60 1/2 “low angle” block plane, though there is some debate over how low angle it actually is. It has an adjustable mouth, which is the key feature. The only reason it isn’t used more is the crappy blade that Stanley put on these planes. Therefore, it spends its time in my green woodworking tool bucket. I am eventually going to spring for one of those fancy Veritas plane blades, and at that point it will be look out, wood.

Germans, They are so Clever and Industrious

This beauty I would never have bought for myself, but I opened a package one Christmas from MJ, and there it was (She is of mostly German and Swedish extraction, and knows her woodworking tools). This E.C Emmerich block plane came with one bad mother of a plane blade, so no upgrade was needed. It’s built like a modern German Bundeswehr Panzerdivision, and cuts like it means business. It’s partner is hiding behind it, and that’s one of only three planes I have ever had in new condition–an old Ulmia Scrub Plane, which happens to be the only bench plane that I have personally purchased new. Those definitely live in my tool tray on the bench.

The Crown Jewel

This Stanley #18 knuckle joint plane gets a workout ever time I make something. Like all things over a hundred years old (such as myself), it has a secret weapon.

That Means Oil Hardened

Yep, that’s the extra thick and hard Lee Valley blade, made in Canada. Those things are worth far more than the money they cost. It does make this dingus as heavy as a sea anchor, but as my friend Torsten Fisch used to say, in his thick German accent, “Size matters. Bigger is better.” Of course, he did work for Mercedes.

Cherry Computer Desk

Corporate America, Beware of MJ

The giant Alabama based corporation Melanie Jane works for has rusticated her indefinitely, and possibly permanently. Then they tell her last week they have ordered her yet more computer equipment. Time for a new desk and some extra space. It’s not exactly Virginia Woolf’s a room of her own, but it is pretty nice.

I have one of the finest scrap wood piles in history, this having been salvaged from it. The Black Cherry wood is over fifty years old. How do I know that? Because the tree this wood came from fell on me. Hereby hangs a tale, as the Bard of Avon might have said.

Home Office, with Two Shelves of Cookbooks

The new corporate office above is overseen by a framed program featuring none other than actor Cleavon Little, who played the sharecropper Nate Shaw at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, in the play All God’s Dangers. Unlike Bob Marley’s song, Nate shot the Deputy, but he did not shoot the Sheriff. But it was in self defense.

At any rate, back to the story. My grandfather was one of the finest loggers for the brand new Tennessee Vally Authority, as they were building the giant chain of lakes on the Tennessee River in Alabama, which would be Wilson, Wheeler, and Guntersville. He would tell tales about trees so large that they had to weld two two man crosscut saws together, just to cut them down. So old growth forests were replaced by water, and the valley could have cheap electricity, and the world’s finest fishing for smallmouth bass. Everything is a trade off.

We had this beautiful tall Black Cherry tree by our house, when I was a small child. It produced massive quantities of black cherries, which were inedible for anything other than birds. The birds would eat them in mass quantities, and then crap black cherry colored crap all over the clothes on our clothesline. Note: no one we knew owned a clothes dryer back then.

My mother pronounced a death sentence for the tree. My father was dispatched as the executioner, and he grabbed his double bitted axe, and drove his old Plymouth down for me to sit, on, and witness his skill as a lumberjack. I was instructed to sit on the hood, and watch the remarkable display of skill.

Remarkable, it was. He managed to make the tree fall in exactly the opposite direction than he intended, and I was transfixed as the tree headed straight for my head. Only the limbs hit me, but the Plymouth took a strong blow to the roof.

I forgot about the entire incident, and soon enough went off to college for ten years. My father went on to join the choir invisible during that time, and so his sheds full of goodies remained untouched. I returned home for the summer before I started my first professorial job, and there they were–a double bitted axe, and a giant pile of cherry lumber, that had been drying for over twenty years. As a victim, I claimed all of it.

I was looking in my outdoor tool closet the other day, and found the axe. I had put a new handle in it, and I am about to grind it sharp, so I can also cut down trees in the wrong direction.

This reminded me of the great poem by Gary Snyder, “Axe Handles.” Here it is (copyrighted by Gary, btw).

Axe Handles

BY GARY SNYDER

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
                 the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-—in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Indeed we do (my comment).

Optimus 11 Explorer/Trangia Mashup. Gott in Himmel!

Bring on the Bacon

This rig has been years in the making, as I lacked the extra long control knob for the 11. I have had the Trangia/Optimus adaptor for the Trangia windscreen cook set combo forever, but didn’t bother with it because I couldn’t regulate the stove easily. Then I saw this 4mm control knob on Fleabay, made for an Optimus 8r, 99, 111, or 199. Guess what, it also fits an 11.

It came from South Korea very quickly, and it turned out to be mostly solid brass. It’s a quality piece of equipment, and I now have a whole list of things to order from that same vendor–shockingly, they all have to do with Swedish camp stoves.

I did have to alter the bottom windscreen to allow for the 11 to settle properly into this contraption. All you need is a drill, and the courage of your convictions. And a bit of stupidity.

Ugly

I will file and polish up that hole. The wind was blowing pretty hard when I lit this thing, and the stove took no notice, buried in all that Swedish design. This could be the ultimate combo for the backcountry chef, or even for the backyard ranger.

Fortunately, I had someone to supervise this project.

Emma the Aussie, and Cyclamen

One day I will try and teach her how to cook.

Chickens and Brooder Design

Ready for Birds–Almost

Even though we are down to four hens, after two of ours were killed by the neighborhood Bloodhound, we still can’t eat all the eggs they produce. At last count we had 27 eggs, and the number expands daily. So naturally, we are going to buy more baby chicks, four Rhode Island Reds, as an insurance policy against any more dog attacks. Excess is the American way.

My brooder design is the product of some research. It consists of a plastic storage container, a lid made of scrap wood and chicken wire, a couple of commercial feeder/waterer devices, some perches, and a heat lamp. Each was chosen for a reason.

After I stopped laughing at all the experts on the internet who said that plastic boxes were more of a fire hazard than cardboard boxes, I quickly decided the real fire hazard was the heat source, which is usually an infrared heat lamp bulb. I went instead with a ceramic “lizard light,” which is a standby for reptile owners. Mine has both a heat control and a digital thermometer, and it emits no light, so the chickens do not lose their ever important circadian rhythm. The ceramic socket on the lamp is also a must, as those lamps get roasting hot, and melted plastic socket is a disaster. The chicks stay plenty warm with this lamp.

Warm and Safe

The waterer and feeder are both Little Giant brand, made by Miller in the US. They are superb, and all you need are some mason jars to go with them.

The last part of the chick’s crib are the two perches. The long one is some drift wood of Mountain Laurel. The big practice one I made from scrap trim. Waste not, want not.

The bottom will be lined with newsprint, then paper towels, then pine shavings. The chicks will be able to scratch, perch, eat, and drink. Kind of like me. And then I had a McGyver moment.

Extra Insulation

If it gets really cold, I just pull out this old countertop piece to keep the heat in. Now Melanie Jane and I can sit in the basement and watch Law and Order, while the chicks grow up next to books such as History and Class Consciousness, A Southern Renaissance, and The Savage Mind. That last one was written in French, and the title is possibly the greatest pun in history. La Pensée Sauvage can mean either The Savage Mind, or Pansies for Thought.

So we will have chicks chirping behind us, while we are entertained by the semi-fictional mayhem of NYC. Another favorite book of mine is The Country and the City. I’ll take the country, and the city can remain an image on the TV.

Imperia 150 Pasta Machine

Get the Sauce Ready

Thomas Jefferson loved pasta. He and his chef James Hemings are said to have introduced macs and cheese–or at very least, popularized it– to North America, and for years he and his family imported pounds and pounds of pasta every year from Italy. Undoubtedly, the first American recipe for macs and cheese was in one of his relative’s cookbooks, Mary Randolph’s 1824 book, The Virginia Housewife.

Jefferson also owned a pasta machine, which was purchased in Naples. His description of it is as follows:

The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, and not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. A paste is made with flour, water and less yeast than is used for making bread. This paste is then put, by little at a time, viz. about 5. or 6. lb. each time into a round iron box ABC, the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF, comes out, and forms the Maccaroni g.g.g. which, when sufficiently long, are cut and spread to dry. The screw is turned by a lever inserted into the hole K, of which there are 4. or 6. It is evident that on turning the screw one way, the cylindrical part F. which fits the iron box or mortar perfectly well, must press upon the paste and must force it out of the holes. LLM. is a strong wooden frame, properly fastened to the wall, floor and cieling of the room.

N.O. is a figure, on a larger scale, of some of the holes in the iron plate, where all the black is solid, and the rest open. The real plate has a great many holes, and is screwed to the box or mortar: or rather there is a set of plates which may be changed at will, with holes of different shapes and sizes for the different sorts of Maccaroni.

Papers of Thomas Jefferson

So even back in the day there were machines for making pasta, and the Greeks said that the god Hephaestus/Vulcan himself made the first one. I’ll stick with this Italian made Imperia machine.

Double Cutter

The double cutters are particularly handy, and this one makes both spaghetti and linguini. A large number of single cutters are available also.

Single Cutter

This cutter makes pappardelle, a nice thick pasta for equally thick sauces. The machine itself can make sheet pasta in six different thicknesses.

Parts and Pieces

The machine did not come with an instruction manual (naturally), so I had to jimmy with it to see the options. The dough tray clips to the front, which is the side the sheet pasta comes out of. The front will also hold a single cutter. The back side works best with the double cutter. Or, you could just leave all that stuff off, and make sheet pasta at the thinnest setting, or even dumplings, at the thickest setting.

Lasagna Sheet

Bill Buford wrote that the Italian introduction of the egg into pasta making was their greatest contribution. I nominate this machine for second place.

Optimus 11 Explorer–One of the Last of the Great Swedish made Multi-Fuel Stoves

Fire, Walk with Me

Sweden has also been overtaken by globalization, like everyone else, and the once mighty camp stove manufacturing centers have been reduced to one, the great Trangia company. Perhaps the saddest of all is the Optimus company, which manufactured some of the most sought after stoves on the internet. Even the most iconic Swedish stove, the SVEA 123, has had production outsourced.

Maybe I did over prime my Optimus 11 Explorer for dramatic effect, but that stove can take it. I’ve cooked literally hundreds of meals on this stove, and it is a hoss. Possibly even a boss hoss.

Old and New both get Happy

This is the stove before the conflagration. It has the classic Sherman tank of a Cobra silent burner, combined with a miraculously clever modern fuel storage system. No plastic pumps here–This one is almost all metal.

On means Ready to Cook

Strangely enough, the other side of the pump says “Off.” To turn off the stove, simply flip the bottle over. That system also allows all the gas in the fuel supply line to burn out, which means no spilling when the stove is disconnected from the fuel bottle, and packed for travel (The stand folds flat). And this stove is designed to cook, from simmer to blow torch.

The Classic Blue Flame

The stove burns kerosene as well as it burns white gas, and apparently is more than adequate at burning alcohol. It certainly puts out the heat, and is the hottest burning outdoor stove I have, other than my 30,000 BTU propane cooker, which will deep fry a twenty pound turkey–the difference being that the latter requires a giant tank of propane to do that. The 11 only needs that one small fuel bottle.

These stoves are somewhat scarce as they had a short production run, preceding the equally trailblazing Optimus Nova. One half-witted reviewer found the stove to have too many parts. If a writer can’t handle two main parts, a stand, a windscreen, and a regulating key, they shouldn’t be left alone with even a tent stake.

The review that sold me on buying this stove as soon as it was introduced, marveled at its bomb proof construction. It is also very simple to maintain and rebuild, after it has been scorched by a few hundred meals. The review concluded that this stove would be “a friend for life.” Those are always a good thing to have.

Optimus 45–The Boss of Kerosene Stoves

One Mean Cooking Machine

Being a gear head is better than being an alcoholic, in that the gear is still there after you finish playing with it. This Optimus 45 is technically my Christmas present, but Melanie Jane wanted me to test it out before it got boxed up until December 24 (yes, we are both of German extraction, and Christmas Eve is when the celebration really happens).

All I did to this ancient Swedish made device was lube the pump, and soak the burner in mineral spirits. No repairs necessary. And boom! It was burning in no time. And does it ever burn.

That’s just Priming

The stove is primed using alky-hol, but is powered with inexpensive kerosene. In many places, this was more of a household than a camping item. Elizabeth David, while she worked in Egypt in the 1950’s, had a Greek chef who did all of his cooking on two of the practically identical Primus versions of this stove. A great design is timeless. Strangely enough, this stove is engraved in English, Swedish, and Arabic.

Alas, these are no longer made in Sweden, but ebay has loads of them. This design is also popular throughout Asia, and near identical copies are manufactured in India and Malaysia. I am considering buying one of the silent burners for this made in India, but right now, I just love to hear this thing make noise. They don’t call the burner a roarer burner for no reason.

Mouli Shredder, aka Mouli Julienne

Who is Julie Anne?

Here’s another Mouli French beauty, this one the Shredder, as it was marketed on this side of the pond. I was looking for the larger model, but this was mint, and dirt cheap (I like dirt cheap). We had the larger one when I was a child, and it churned out literally gallons of coleslaw–think seven children, and innumerable cousins, none of whom lived more than a mile away. It wasn’t a safe place to be a cabbage.

Choose your Texture

I also have the full component of five shredder wheels, or plates, or what have you. My food processor now sits in the cabinet, lonely. I can only remember using it to make bread crumbs in about the last three years. The Mouli is just too easy to use.

Yes, I did almost set my cutting block on fire. That’s not an upside down Amazon smile.