In Praise of Gas Stoves

Bertha!

I fell in love with gas stoves with our first one, which we named “Bertha,” because of the fact that she was probably too big to be moved out of the house we bought. This was in the wild lands of southern Alabama, in Pike county, which had a total population of 14,000 people (many of them students at the University where I worked,) and a literacy rate of fifty percent. In a county like that, cooking ranked as the top form of entertainment.

This stove was made by Home Comfort, and it had two ovens, and a warming chamber. One oven was propane, the other wood fired–not a combo we wanted. Therefore, cogito ergo sum, we never used the wood fired oven. The stove itself sucked down propane like nobody’s business. We had to order propane right after we moved in, and the propane delivery guy was a typical character who could have come out of a Walker Percy novel. He handed us his business card, and his professional name was–Slim Dicks.

Recently, having been rusticated for a year now, my chief form of entertainment has been reading the cooking “experts” on the interwebs. Their latest talking point is about how bad gas stoves are for the environment, and that we should all switch to sweet thing electric stoves. We learned in Physic 102 that the least efficient thing you could do with electricity was generate heat. Then there is this, from al.com:

“Alabama Power’s James H. Miller Jr. plant in Jefferson County is once again the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country, according to an environmental policy non-profit organization.

According to the report, the Miller plant produced nearly 19 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 – equivalent to more than half of the electricity generated by all of the power plants in California.”

Have a nice warm summer. Welcome to the real coal burning world.

Bertha up Close

Our current gas stove, strangely enough, was made in a Unionized factory right across the river from where Bertha was made. It’s a Premier Pro, and we bought it for two reasons: It was Union made, and most importantly, can run completely without electricity. Not only does Alabama Power pollute like nobody’s business, they also can’t be relied on to keep the lights on.

Bertha Jr, with the same Tea Kettle as Bertha Sr

This is a fine piece of equipment–A simmering burner, and three flame throwers. The oven will hit almost 600 degrees–I burned out the clock above the top on it, experimenting. We have used the cooktop so much we burned out three of the four piezo lighters. Melanie Jane found the following ingenious gadget on the interwebs. I think I like it more than the piezo lighters.

Come on Baby, Light my Fire

That’s an Arc lighter, that works off of a USB charged battery, so I can recharge it with one of my solar generators. Alabama Power charges a fee to people who admit to having solar panels attached to their house (seriously), so I have this to say about that–my panels are not attached to my house. However, the top question on Amazon about this arc lighter is–can I light a bowl with this?

Young people these days. You light a bowl with a Zippo lighter. Everybody knows that. While I don’t smoke, I inhaled enough second hand Cannabis smoke at the honors dorm at UA to give me lung cancer. Which brings me to the best prank I have ever witnessed.

My best friend was 100% Hungarian, as his parents were both born in Hungary, in Budapest. I asked George if they were born in Buda or Pest, and he was amazed that I knew it was originally two cities, separated by the blue Danube. I told him I just knew stuff.

At any rate, George’s problem was that he was 6′ 7″ tall, and our dorm had been a women’s dorm, and the doorways were only 6′ 6″ tall. It was a problem for his forehead.

George could pull some pranks off with perfection. He showed up one day with a huge bag of seeds, which he claimed he found in his dorm room closet. Not likely, as it was all cannabis seeds.

He had a plan–we were right behind the President’s mansion, which was one of the I think four structures that survived the Civil War (UA is almost as old as UVA, the first US public University). The rest of the campus was burned down by Union troops, who started by burning the Library. That’s always the best way to restore trust in Democracy, with a good book burning.

At any rate, he decided to sow all the weed seed around the President’s mansion, and our President happened to have been a member of Tricky Dick’s presidential cabinet. I offered to help, but he insisted that it was a one man op.

A month later, the largest group of gardeners I had ever seen came in for a massive weeding job. It took them days to get rid of all the weed plants. We laughed the whole time.

George went on to Columbia Law, and became editor of their Law Review. I went to Illinois, and both my schools have a chance at the NCAA basketball title this year. Fight, Illini, and Roll, Tide, Roll! Hopefully, we will meet in the title game.

Optimus 45 Retrofit–Tilley Cast Iron Burner Grate

Hippy New Year!

Knowing that I have a not wholly rational obsession with camping stoves, MJ gave me this little ring of cast iron for Christmas. It came from South Korea, so I assume it was made there, or possibly nearby. If we ever get a day where the high temp is below 60 F, I will crank it up with the following top:

Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate.

The ultimate hand warmer, or possibly an infant Dalek. Only Dr. Who nerds will get that reference.

Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part Four–Miniature Planes

She is small, but she is fierce–Shakespeare

For your perusal is an assortment of small planes and spokeshaves, the latter of which are actually small specialty planes themselves (or at least function as one). The green plane is a Kunz #100 made in Germany; the middle plane is a Lee Valley copy of the Stanley #100 1/2, with a curved sole, made in Canada; and the last plane is a Lee Valley copy of the Bailey/Stanley #50 Little Victor plane, which caused quite a stir when first introduced a little over a decade ago. The small brass spokeshaves are no longer produced, but occasionally turn up on fleabay. If I remember correctly they was sold by Garret Wade, and were made by a small manufacturer in Detroit.

Kunz #100

This “Squirrel Tail” plane is just about an exact copy of the old Stanley #100. It has a flat sole, and is excellent for trimming and general work with small or green stock. It lives in my green woodworking tool bucket, as the red paint makes it easy to find should I lose it in the woods. The price is also right for a German made plane.

Lee Valley Squirrel-Tail Palm Plane

This is only one of the superb palm planes manufactured by Lee Valley in Canada. A take off on the Stanley #100 1/2 plane, this has three major improvements. The materials are far superior, the design is more useful, and the machining is about the best there is. To be specific, the handle is larger to accommodate the overgrown beasts that we have become. The blade adjustment is based on the old Victor plane adjustment–more on that in a second. The machining matches that of the innovations introduced with the LV Little Victor plane.

The curved sole makes this ideal for chair makers, though it works just as well on large carved bowls. The Stanley #100 1/2 was marketed as a “modelmaker’s convex plane.” The ease of adjustment on this new model is mind blowing, circa 1877.

Lee Valley Little Victor Plane

This is not an exact copy of the 1877 Bailey #50 Little Victor plane, but it is pretty close. Leonard Bailey introduced a newly designed set of planes that year, under the Victor name. A series of lawsuits with Stanley, Bailey’s former employer, resulted in Stanley gaining the rights to the designs. They promptly canceled the entire line of planes.

When introduced, this little plane was considered a marvel. Both the sole and the blade are machined practically literally flat, to the point that the plane could be used right out of the box. One woodworking magazine editor had the entire staff convinced they should order one the day he received it. They all did.

So it is small, but it is fierce. I used this extensively while I built the “great wall” in the previous post, and it qualifies as the leader in the race for the perfect pocket plane. Nothing is better at trimming pieces of millwork.

Brass Spokeshaves

Project too small or curvy for a mini-plane? Look for some of these little brass planes, in used condition, on the interwebs. The set has one with a flat sole, and two with varying degrees of concave-convex-osity.

I use mine constantly when carving spoons, and even when making bowls. They hang in a leather pouch I made just for these three, right next to my shaving horse, which is spoon carving central.

Here is a definite case where bigger is not better. These take up almost no space in the workshop, and if needed the whole set could fit in a tool belt. For someone who has a shop as buried in shavings as mine always is, they also create small shavings that are easy to clean up, for those of you who actually clean up your shop occasionally.

Kitchen Invasion

What a Great Wall–Richard Nixon

It happens. This is not a kitchen intervention or a kitchen rescue, this is about when your kitchen begins to invade the rest of your house. We have at least three living spaces where the kitchen is slowly creeping in. I will mention two, but describe one in detail.

In detail–I made this dough bench intending that it be used strictly for bread making. The USA made maple butcher block top is oversized to accommodate clamped on tools–too bad it’s too thick for any of them that we have. Instead, I have a clamped down meat grinder, an Enterprise #22. Which leads to the four tasks this unit now performs.

Meat Grinding/Sausage Making

The #22 grinder is such a beast that it requires a bolted down installation. The clamp on version is much less common, and less useful. This will grind pounds of meat in a matter of minutes, and in a variety of grinding thicknesses/textures. It’s clamped on with a giant c-clamp.

The sausage making tools are stowed beneath the butcher block. Essentially, these consist of a sausage plate and three sausage stuffing tubes of different diameters to accommodate different sized casings. The world of sausage is infinite, and worth the trouble, for as Bismarck reportedly said “The less you know about how laws and sausages are made, the happier you are.” He was reffering to bought sausages and purchased politicians.

Wine Storage

It’s far better to have good drinkable wine than fancy wine storage. Jacques Pepin once showed off his homemade wine storage, and it was essentially plywood boxes in his basement.

Our little portable rack is all we need, what with our regular trips to the good wine selection at our local Publix supermarket. Most of our wine is Italian, French, or German, as all three countries have strict wine regulations.

Pecan Cracker

An antique but portable item, this old pecan cracker that belonged to MJ’s grandparents has a definite 1900 industrial look. The only thing it won’t crack are hickory nuts, but I have a 23 ounce framing hammer for those. Not too many people have a Pecan cracker in their living room, but sometimes nuts need to be cracked.

Dough Station

And it sometimes is even used for what it was intended! Everything ensconced on the top can be removed quickly. If I am making my usual Creole French bread, there is not even the need to do that. Even the French baguette pan is housed directly under the butcher block top.

The last two invasions: our dining room literally has an entire wall covered with dishes and glassware. Even the bookcase next to the dough bench is being invaded, as it is now 1/8 food books. In amongst my two first edition works by Henry James are food autobiographies by Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, and Barbara Kingsolver, and sausage making books, which are handy for task #1. I should also add that MJ’s corporate home office is overseen by two shelves of cookbooks, stacked in various configurations, one of which is a strong 19″ high.

And then there is the rolling pin hanging on the wall, which is soon to be joined by another. Every living room needs a couple of those.

Stanley #82 Scraper

Scraper, Meet Kitchen Floor. Another Justus Traut Masterwork

As it is time to refinish our kitchen floor once again, I needed a tool upgrade. Our dogs take a few years to do the damage, but there is practically no finish they can’t ruin–one of them even ate the grout out of a tile floor. Therefore, it was time to hit the dreaded fleabay for a classic tool, and as usual, this hog found an acorn.

I found that the old Stanley #82 scraper has something of a cult following. A chief writer for one of the best woodworking magazines stumbled across these on fleabay, and liked them so much he ended up buying something like nine of them, giving most away as gifts. The kicker was when one person pointed out that this scraper could reach into practically any corner. Try and do that with a random orbit sander.

I bought one that was listed as a “planer,” whatever that is. Some WD, sandpaper, and a micro abrasive and the thing was bright and shiny. I also renewed the wood handles with some wax polish.

As there isn’t much detailed info about these available, I was intrigued by the original scraper blade, which has two edges bent at ninety degree angles. A couple of swipes with sandpaper revealed the Stanley logo. No big surprise there.

Double Threat

Then the extra words began to appear: “Rough” and “Finish.” After a little inspection, the two edges were finished differently. The Rough edge is curved, while the Finish edge is flat. Traut must have been a genius at multi-tasking.

The final feature is that many many scraper blades can be used besides the original one. I have already tried a high quality Swedish made Sandvik blade in it, and it scrapes like nobody’s business. The dogs will be banished from the kitchen for a good long while.

Enterprise #5 Meat Grinder

Everything Old is New Again

After swearing that I would not buy another grinder, I bought another grinder. Temptation was too strong with this one. I would describe the condition here as mint, and this is straight out of the Fleabay box. I haven’t done so much as wipe the decades old dust off of it.

After a little investigation, I decided that the grinder was not mint–it was unused. The first clue was the state of the inside, working part of the grinder. There was not even a scratch on the grinding mechanism.

#22 and #5

I put the grinder plate from our #22 next to the #5 for comparison. We saw a television show about a small sausage factory in Cambodia whose only machine was a motorized #22. (Pulleys are still manufactured for the #22 and #32. You have to provide the motor.) The #12, #22, and #32 are all bolt down grinders–The #5, #10, and #20 are clamp to a countertop models. The #5 is a much more practical size for weekly use in a kitchen.

Back to the final evidence for why this was unused–it couldn’t have been. I took the machine apart, to inspect the condition of the cutter. The cutter is the essential part for decent grinding. This cutter had not only never been sharpened, it hadn’t even been ground to the point to where it had a beveled edge. It was exactly as it had been cast. The best it could have done was to make bread crumbs out of toast.

Appropriately enough, I ground it on my hand cranked grinder. I then sharpened it with a diamond coated metal plate, then a hard Arkansas natural stone, and finished it with a truly hi-tech 3M micro-abrasive sheet, with a grit of 15 microns. I’m not a complete Luddite. Just mostly. I couldn’t work without WD-40, either.

At any rate, this thing is ready to grind, and I love bright shiny things as well. The new model of these–they are still being made–is around a hundred bucks, and has an (ugh) epoxy finish on it. Although I have sworn on the Picayune Creole Cookbook that I will not buy another grinder, it will be hard to resist one in this condition. Especially if it’s the same price as this was–$6.

Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part Three-Combination Planes

Yes! American Ingenuity! Brought to You by a German Immigrant!

Justus Traut was one more inventor for the Stanley Tool Company. At one time he was known as the king of the patent, as his production of designs was so prolific. None, however, are as famous as his series of combination planes, two models of which are pictured here. The small one is a Stanley 50, and the two larger ones are the famous Stanley 45, though two versions made in different decades. Alright Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my closeup.

1903 Patent Date

The smallest of Traut’s planes is the Stanley 50, which is the perfect size to throw in a tool box, and carry around. It was alternately marketed as a beading plane or a plow plane, though it will do both. The great thing about this old version is that it is simple to make new cutters for it. Just slice up an old plane blade, and grind out any profile you need.

Here’s the classic

Moving Parts

This is essentially the final form of this plane, and it has more bells and whistles than a steam engine. (The early one in the middle of the top picture has a patent date of 1894). This design helped to kill off the wooden plane industry in the US, as it will replace a cabinet full of various other planes, with only one.

The Business Side

I have to admit that I paid a whopping fifteen dollars for that plane, as I bought it at a Flea Market in Scottsboro, Alabama, from an ignorant seller. He wanted eighteen dollars for it it, but I offered fifteen. He took it, and MJ just stared at me like I was a criminal. As I am not exactly a Kapitalistenschwein, a capitalist pig, I brushed it off. I saved us three bucks.

The problem with these jokers is there are any number of parts. Here’s my box, and that is a bare minimum. The long fence in there is a bead stop, used to replace the rosewood lined fence when making tongue and grove bead board.

Pieces Parts

Those parts are for both the 45 and another Traut design, the Stanley 66 Hand Beader. While not technically a plane (it’s actually a “scratch stoch,” in that it scrapes instead of cuts), it does have multiple cutters, and I happen to have all of them. The cutter that is in the picture cuts reeds, which are multiple beads.

Scrape On

I also am about to have a complete set of the beading cutters for the 45, as I just purchased the missing link on fleabay. The complete set of these cutters will be about six times more valuable than what I paid for the actual plane.

Pouch instead of

I made this leather pouch to keep these difficult to sharpen cutters from getting damaged in my box of parts. It also looks cool hanging on the wall of my shop.

These planes will all come in handy for my Christmas presents project list, parts of which are already finished. I am certain there are more that will pop up between now and then.

Mallet, Part I–Dogwood Root Club

Seriously Hard and Dangerous

At the University of Alabama, I lived at the Men’s Honors Dorm, a somewhat notorious institution called the Mallet Assembly. It was home for everything from high minded intellectuals to infamous perverts. I prefer to think that I was in the former category.

So now I have undertaken several projects of making mallets. My first is every traditional woodworker’s dream, a splitting club ( aka, a maul), made from unbelievably hard dogwood root. The club is used to strike the back of a froe (pictured), which is a wood splitting tool. Mine happened to be made by the Amish.

One of our many thunderstorms this year blew over one of our big dogwood trees, and actually uprooted it. All I had to do was cut the root off with my old double bitted axe, and shape it right there on my shaving horse (also pictured), with a drawknife and a spokeshave. This club is full of heavyosity.

The first trial run was that piece of walnut, which it split with only four whacks. The second run was on some hornbeam, which is impossible to split. I did it anyway–after cutting through ninety five percent of the hornbeam log.

Cookbook Bench

Let’s Cook

MJ wanted a bookstand for our cookbooks that can be moved around in the kitchen, so I dove into my scrap pile and came up with some goodies. My total cost for new components for this stand was 9 1/2 cents.

Most people make these out of plywood, but I had some 1/4″ thick poplar boards in the scrap pile, along with some cherry pieces parts, and I made just a very few saw cuts. The molding on the front is actually some crown molding, which I grooved with an old Stanley 45 combination plane. I used the same plane to cut the bead at the top.

My contribution to the design was to drill eight holes in the base, and use handmade French nails as a means of keeping the books open. There are actually sixteen possible arrangements for the nails, to accommodate different sized books.

Because there are three different varieties of wood used, I finished it with a dark amber shellac, which was also made by yours truly. I did have some help from the lac bugs, which is where shellac comes from. It is also used in making candy like Raisinettes and Jelly Beans, so there is another food connection. I doubt that people who eat those even know that they are eating bug parts.

That’s it in action with one of my favorite cookbooks. You have to like a book that has both a cow and chicken on the cover.

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.