If you are new to my blog or missed any of the previous articles you can find them here. Making a Plane Tote Part 1 8/7/2012. Make a Tote Part 2 11/1/2012.
In the last article we cut the bottom angle on the tote and finished the drilling operations. It is now time to saw out the profile. I use a 3/16” 4 TPI blade in my bandsaw, but a scroll saw or coping saw would work as well. Line up your template centerline with the centerline on the blank and trace the pattern. Now cut the tote shape with the saw of your choice staying as close to the lines as you can. Don’t cut the top profile yet. You will need the flat top surface of the blank to hold the tote for further shaping to come if you wish to use a router table for the round over operation. If you are going to shape the tote completely by hand from this point then you can cut the top contour also at this time, but save the offcut from the top. You will use it later.
Next you need to finish shaping the front and back contours to your layout lines leaving half the line. This can be done with a combination of edge tools, chisels, spokeshave and such or with a drum sander. I use a sanding drum mounted in my drill press, but an oscillating spindle sander would be better. Take your time on this operation. You want a smooth line from the bottom to the top on both the front and back. Any irregularities, bumps or hollows, will be transmitted to the finished tote. So take your time and do your best work here. Once you are finished with the contours and all the curves have been faired it is time for the round over operation.
The next operation is rounding over the sharp corners of the front and back of the tote. You can do this by hand if you wish or you can do it, as I do, on the router table. I use jigs that I designed especially for this purpose, but this is not necessary if you are only occasionally making a few totes. I have used my large wood handscrews to hold the tote for the round over operation as can be seen in the picture above. To do this you will need the offcut that you saved from the angle cutting operation in part 2. To prevent the offcut wedge from just slipping out of the clamp when the clamp is tightened glue #120 grit abrasive paper to both sides. I have tried contact cement and PVA glue, but both allowed the abrasive paper to creep. I recommend hide glue. Either hot hide glue or liquid hide glue will work and this glue will eliminate the creep. The finished wedge can be seen in the above picture.
The picture above is a close-up showing the tote and wedge clamped in a large handscrew. Use a corner rounding bearing guided bit that has a radius that is approximately half the thickness of your tote. My totes are over 1 inch thick so I use a 1/2” radius bit. Cut the round over so the bit cuts into the side of the tote about 0.015”. Round over all four corners. When you are finished with this operation you can bandsaw the top profile and sand it smooth to whatever grit you wish to finish with. I sand to P400 grit. Save the offcut. You will use it later.
In the picture above you can see what your tote should look like at this point. Every tote maker I have ever seen stops the process at this point. From here the tote is sanded to whatever grit you choose and your favorite finish applied. This is what other tote makers do and this will provide you with a good useable tote, as good as any other. However, if you want to take your tote to the next level of quality, fit, and feel then read on.
From here we are going on to the shaping operation. To proceed draw a layout line from the top of the tote to the bottom, centered between the front and rear profiles. To draw this line I place hash marks at the eyeballed center between the profiles, at close intervals, from top to bottom and then connect the dots. This layout line is very important and is used in the shaping operation which is next.
The picture above shows the rasp and files that I use. They are from left to right. A Gramercy ¾” wide, 7” long half round. My original rasp was a Nicholson #49 pattern makers rasp, but it was too wide for this job. Once I tried the Gramercy the Nicholson got put away. The Gramercy fits the job better and is a better quality rasp than the old Nicholson. Next is an 8”, half round 2nd cut, American Pattern file. A Swiss pattern file would work better at this task because they taper in width to a point and fit inside radii better. Eventually I will replace this file with one. Third is an 8” half round smooth cut American pattern file. Here too a Swiss pattern would work better. The last file is a 6”, half round #1 cut Swiss pattern file.
The upper picture above shows the tote holding jig that I use to hold totes for shaping and sanding. For doing the occasional tote you can attach it to a piece of wood with a long lag screw. Re-shape the offcut you saved from bandsawing the top profile so it does not overhang the edges of the top where it would interfere with the shaping and sanding of the tote. Use this offcut to secure the tote to your holding setup.
The lower picture above shows the setup that I use to hold the tote for shaping. For sanding I just hold the jig in my end vise. You could also hold the jig in the front vise for the shaping operation. I use the setup above because it allows a lot of flexibility in positioning and this is important when you have a lot of different sized tote to do.
Once you have your tote held in a position that you are comfortable with it is time to start the shaping. You will work one quadrant at a time through the rasp and three files. Work from the layout line to the centerline of the tote. What you are trying to achieve here is a tote with an elliptical cross section so picture ¼ of an ellipse in your mind as you start. Begin with your rasp. Start the stroke at the apex of the radius, approximately midway between the layout line and the tote centerline, and move the tool through an elliptical path working to about ¼” from the layout line and the centerline. Continue this process working through your files getting closer to the layout line and the centerline with each finer file. This is like working through finer and finer grits of abrasive paper. Be sure to remove all the marks left by the previous tool before moving to a finer one. The last file should take you to or slightly past the tote centerline and within about 1/32” of the layout line. A small flat at the layout line is fine. This will be rounded during the sanding. The lower picture above shows what your are looking for. When you are finished with the first quadrant rotate your jig a half turn in your vise and repeat the process on the second quadrant. When you are finished with this quadrant your tote should look like the one pictured above. Now you relocate the tote to the other end of your jig so you can repeat the process to the other side of the tote.
The final step is sanding and finish sanding. The picture above shows the setup that I use. You can find more information on the holding vise in April 2011 article. I start with P120, then go to P150, and then P180 for the first sanding. If you can’t get your tote smooth with P120 then you didn’t get the tote smooth enough in the shaping operation. For the first sanding I sand in the same direction as in the shaping operation. For the finish sanding I continue with P220, then P320, and finally P400. This time sand the tote ninety degrees from the first sanding, or from top to bottom back and forth. This way it is easy to see when you have removed the scratches from the previous grit. You don’t have to sand to P400. You can stop wherever you feel the tote is smooth enough for you.
Your tote is now ready for the finish of your choice. I like polyurethane varnish because it is the most durable finish for use on tool handles.
As always thanks for stopping by and feel free to ask questions or leave a comment.