Shop's Log #20: How to Make a Handplane Tote

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Blog entry by terryR posted 02-01-2015 05:55 PM 34536 reads 16 times favorited 26 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 19: Hock Marking Knife Part 20 of Shop's Log series Part 21: Alabama Snow and the Meaning of Life »

Hi everyone, as usual, I’m behind on uploading blogs…just too slow of a typist. :(

I wanted to share a few different techniques on how to make a handplane tote…in case your shop is like mine…sans router table. Also, my Ryobi drill press lacks much of a quill stroke, which makes boring and counterboring a challenge. So, I’ve nixed that tool from the build as well.

And, for entertainment value, let’s make new totes for some one year old Lie Nielsen planes from something exotic! Cocobolo would be the first choice in my dream, but I don’t have the stock on hand, and cannot afford it now. But, I have a ton of Wenge! That’s plenty dark to hide dirty hand prints in the shop, and rare enough to be exotic. So, Wenge, I chose…

Before going into this build, if you’re planning to make your first tote, I highly recommend printing out the pattern from Lee Valley, gluing it to a pretty piece of wood, and following the instructions. I did…2 or 3 times! It’s just too easy.

Using this pattern, and having it attached to a square piece of wood, sure makes it easier to comprehend the process the first few times…

However, there are no patterns online for LN wood, so we go without…

For me, if I plan to shape more than TWO of anything, I make a template from 1/8” hardboard. It always comes in handy down the road…

Note the entry holes for the through bore are marked with small cut outs at the top and bottom of the hardboard. This is crucial for alignment of drilling.

Then, the template is traced onto 1” thick wood…hoping the completed tote is 0.9” thick. YMMV. Here you can see our pattern traced a handful of times…nice to see if you have enough Wenge for ALL before making just one! The drilled holes make removal of each tote blank easier at the bandsaw.

I think most folks use a larger Forstner bit, and carve some of the tote while drilling those holes…but I stay outside the lines. Just my preference.

To layout the actual tote on my wood, here’s my procedure…

First, starting with square lumber, mark a knife line squarely around the workpiece.

Then, lay the template on your wood, and align the knife line with our cut outs on the template…both at the top and bottom…

...and carefully trace the outline of the template onto the wood.

Now, using a marking gauge, mark the center of the board’s edges. Here I am marking out for several at once…then using an awl to define the crossing of center lines. This is where the drill bit will enter.

After a quick trip to the bandsaw, I had a blank for my tote. A few seconds at the disc sander let me shape the top and base very close to my pencil line…I try to leave 1/16” extra for later…

Now, time for the most difficult part…the holes needed for the hardware. Gotta pull that off now, so if it’s screwed up, we didn’t waste all that extra time shaping the tote!

I’ve made a handful of plane totes, and the long bore and needed counterbore always frustrate me with my cheap drill press. There’s just no way to raise the chuck for different size drill bits, and still keep the workpiece in place to ensure an accurate hole on the second entry. I knew there HAD to be a better way!

Upon reflection, I remembered drilling a few pipe stummels on the lathe while the workpiece was off-center, and thought about doing the same for a tote!

Here’s what I had in mind…

The wood held by 2 of 4 jaws in a chuck, and the drill bit in the tail stock. Wow! It worked flawlessly! Drilling the through bore was now simple…1/2 way from either end now met in the center without slop. And the lathe makes it so easy to place as many drill bits in the center hole as you wish. Sweet…

Here is a closer look at the bowl jaws I used:

Some folks refer to them as ‘tower jaws’, but I’m pretty sure most vendors just sell them as bowl jaws. I cannot remember the size since all my jaws are out of the box, but it’s the portion that protrudes from the rest that is important to find if you’re shopping.

The devil is always in the details…no difference here. That tote must be aligned perfectly, with the center line lining up with the tailstock, AND the center of the jaws. There’s no marking from Nova to indicate the centerline of the jaws, but I’ve placed sharpie lines to show mine…

...not visible in this photo, of course! LOL. I need a more permanent marking system for metals.

And at 300 rpm…

Careful to watch your fingers!

But, this is how I’ll drill totes from now on. Probably saw totes as well…

Anyhow, once the through hole and counterbore are done, I turn my attention to the base of the tote. It needs to fit over that raised boss…which happens to be oval shaped on this 164…but the boss is at a 90 degree angle to the base. Different than the through hole.

I find this easy enough with the drill press. I just keep the base of the tote square with the drill bit. Here, I started with a 9/16” Forstner bit, then enlarged the hole with a small rasp until the tote fit snugly on the plane’s boss.

Locating the correct spot for drilling the front hole in the base of the tote was accomplished with a screw in the plane’s base, sharpened at the tip to leave a point in the wood.

Although, I found this method tends to place the hole too far BACKWARDS by the amount shown above. So, I fudged the alignment like this…

Worked for me.

As it turned out, on these LN totes, there’s no way to drill this hole from above due to the overhanging top. No big deal on the hole itself, but the countersink which allows the screw to rest into the tote was a pain, and had to be shaped with a hand-held drill bit.

At least, this will now allow us to test fit the wood to the plane…

Sometimes the wood will not make contact with all the plane’s bed, leaving a small gap. If so, that’s why we left that extra 1/16” way back when…a quick trip to the disc sander will re-flatten the tote as needed. Looks like the front screw could be sunk a bit deeper here, but from here on out, only shaping to fit the hand is needed.

No router…so get out the colored pencils…

I marked the centerline, and my intended roundover with green pencil, and chose handtools to remove the excess wood.

First, a small chisel to remove small chunks…

Then, a slew of rasps…using the original tote for influence…

And, of course, the usual hand-sanding from 80 to 1,000,000 grit!

Oh, I think I stopped at 800 grit this time, since de wenge was wearing we down. LOL. A hard coat of buffed wax, and this tote was finished!

Not an exact replica of the LN version, but I’m more than happy with the results! So, onto the 62 Low Angle Jack…and a different method of shaping the wood…

Same procedure as above for laying out the desired shape, and roughing out the blank on the bandsaw. But, the base of the tote is where things change…

Note, there’s no raised boss cast into the plane’s bed, even though the cherry tote from LN has the counterbore. Yeah, they source out the wooden parts…and I’m certain it’s cheaper to just make them all as close to the same as possible. Although, I discovered that FEW of my LN totes are the same size!

Regardless, I skipped the counterbore on my tote for the 62…one less step…and makes mine custom-shaped! LOL.

Same steps for the front hole on the tote: marked with the sharp screw, drilled at the drill press, then countersunk by hand.

But, for shaping, I wanted to try another tool which has been shoved to the dark recesses of my shop since becoming a hand tool addict. This Foredom rotary carver:

Awesome tool! 1/3 HP, a flexible shaft which accepts multiple shaped carving bits, and a foot pedal to control the variable speed. These yellow bits are actually ‘fine toothed’ but eat wood extremely quick. Note the vacuum hose! Best use of my bench’s enormous apron I’ve come across yet…

So, 5 minutes with the Foredom…then another 5 minutes with this power sander…

The Guinevere sander from King Arthur Tools, which sports chucks on either end and can accept anything that fits in the chuck. Sweet. The best part is again a flexible shaft, and this tool came with pneumatic sanding drums that don’t remove curved features or small details when sanding. Perfect for removing the carving marks on our tote…total savings in time vs. rasps? Probably 2 hours! At least.

Downside…the dust. There’s always a trade-off for using those power tools! But, in the end, I was able to finish this 62’s tote in about 4 hours…took about 7 hours for the previous! So, maybe the decision whether to use power or hand tools, just depends on how many you gotta make, and how long you have?

With two totes down and two more to shape, I decided to use the power tools to hog off material, and clean up with my rasps. I just love shaping wood with a fine rasp! The feeling is similar to making fine shavings with a well-tuned plane in that the final product isn’t always as important as enjoying the journey.

Oh, that’s deep…

As I mentioned earlier, my LN totes are slightly different in size…the 62 is just a tad larger than the 164. And the 4 ½ is much larger than either of the Low Angles. Add to that the fact that my 112 is tiny compared to any of the above, and that meant a couple of more templates for me to make. Luckily, the blanks still came from the Wenge that I had drilled all those holes in. Whew!

The largest problem I encountered was dealing with the horrid tearout from the Wenge. The darker growth rings are very dense, while the brown rings are quite soft…so the wood tends to de-laminate under stress of power tools and chisels on the lathe. In retrospect, it’s a very tough wood for shaping into totes…and later the knobs! I would actually NOT recommend it for lathe work due to the incredible amount of time it took to sand out the tearout, despite all tricks to prevent it.

However, since I had started, I HAD to complete this build. I intended to add another Blog on turning the knobs, but that is probably not needed. If you have a lathe, you probably can turn a knob. If you don’t have a lathe, you just need a buddy who has one. LOL.

Of course, I start with a template of the original knob as shown below. This allows me to draw those pencil lines on the project at any time, and measure my progress with calipers…

And, here’s a good shot of the tearout I mentioned while turning the Wenge…

My solution was to use chisels to shape the wood to withing 0.010” of final dimensions, and sand to the final size. Lots of sanding! :(

And, a few poser shots after all the cherry was replaced with Wenge…

All for now…thanks for following along through all those photos! Time to actually build something now with my custom planes. LOL!

Comments and suggestions are always welcomed.

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

26 comments so far

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 3204 days

#1 posted 02-01-2015 06:17 PM

Wow Terry, that’s some amazing work and valuable information. Thanks.

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

4073 posts in 3494 days

#2 posted 02-01-2015 06:30 PM

Lots of details and great information. Great looking wedge totes and knobs!I find that drilling the hole through the tote at the drill press while it is still square is easier, but I haven’t tried your technique with the lathe yet.

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 3728 days

#3 posted 02-01-2015 07:07 PM

Very nice looking. Wenge is a bit hairy for my liking, but you seem to have done just fine with it.

-- Brian Timmons -

View SASmith               's profile


1850 posts in 4230 days

#4 posted 02-01-2015 07:16 PM

Great blog, terry.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

View Don W's profile

Don W

20180 posts in 3810 days

#5 posted 02-01-2015 07:20 PM

Well done Terry. I love the wenge tote. I trick I’ve found for marking the forward hole is spread some oil on the plane and set the tote down where it goes. Screw it right in place. When you remove it, there will be a nice “dry” circle. I still like my drilled threw broken Stanley base, but it only works for Stanley planes, I haven’t even made one for Sargent yet, so they still get the oil treatment.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View yuridichesky's profile


624 posts in 3207 days

#6 posted 02-01-2015 07:35 PM

Classy work, Terry, very nice!

-- Yuri (10x4 -- yeah, that's my tiny shop!)

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 3250 days

#7 posted 02-01-2015 07:40 PM

Looks good Terry. Nice tutorial

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Tugboater78's profile


2796 posts in 3435 days

#8 posted 02-01-2015 07:50 PM

Nice writeup terry! Still loving the walnut tote and knob you made for me. :)

-- "....put that handsaw to work and make it earn its keep. - summerfi" <==< JuStiN >==>=->

View CL810's profile


4176 posts in 4231 days

#9 posted 02-01-2015 09:11 PM

Wow Terry – great knowledge and technique! LJs for years will benefit from this. Great job!

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View socrbent's profile


1048 posts in 3512 days

#10 posted 02-01-2015 10:54 PM

I have two Ohio Tools wood planes that need totes. Having never made a tote and not done a lot of research I am wondering why you did not arrange the grain of the wood to follow the bulk of the tote – off vertical but not horizontal?

-- socrbent Ohio

View terryR's profile


7656 posts in 3551 days

#11 posted 02-01-2015 11:27 PM

Thanks, guys!

socrbent, usually the grain is allowed to run along the axis of the beaver tail sticking out the back to add a bit of strength in this weak area. I’ll make certain these planes never see the floor of my shop, so the grain orientation isn’t really crucial IMO. I’d imagine your Ohio tools totes have the grain similar to mine?

Sounds like a good tip, DonW. Will scratch that down in my brain…

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View CFrye's profile


11361 posts in 3083 days

#12 posted 02-02-2015 09:27 AM

”the usual hand-sanding from 80 to 1,000,000 grit!”
Hahaha your OCD is showing, Terry!
Beautiful totes and knobs! Thanks for sharing.

-- God bless, Candy

View ToddJB's profile


8790 posts in 3373 days

#13 posted 02-02-2015 02:25 PM

Great blog, Terry, thanks!

Drilling with the lathe – can you use just about any drill bit, or do some kinds lend themselves better to the process than others?

-- I came - I sawed - I over-built

View terryR's profile


7656 posts in 3551 days

#14 posted 02-02-2015 02:54 PM

Yeah, Candy, hard to hide OCD amongst this group! LOL.

Good question, Todd. I failed to mention that I tend to start holes with a Forstner bit since they don’t wander off-center. But, they don’t clear debris well, so I switch to brad points after the initial 1/2”. Drilling on the lathe is more time consuming, but very accurate!

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View ToddJB's profile


8790 posts in 3373 days

#15 posted 02-02-2015 02:58 PM

Awesome. Thanks, Terry.

-- I came - I sawed - I over-built

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