Simonds Files


Shop Fun with Scott Grandstaff


The tote's the thing...


Ok let's face it.  It's the tote. Sure we love brass and iron and steel and paint, but when it gets right down to the heart of it, is there a one of us who didn't come here by the tote?

I don't know where the tote came from.  Where it started. It's not just a piece of wood.  It's a symbol of some kind.  A goal to reach for from a far away time.  You don't need to hear the story.  You know it.

Scraping a tote must have been a symbol or proof of achievement somewhere along the line.  I mean a tote does not want to be scraped.  It just doesn't.  It will change grain directions in a wink.  And back again quicker.  Before today I had always copped out somewhere in the proceedings.  Always resorted to sandpaper which wasn't available once.

There was once a time when nothing else would save you.  It was you and a piece of plain steel against a pretty tough customer who was ready to foil your every attempt to get a good polish on it.  Every square inch is covered with end grain, every which way.

I don't know how I got started scraping today.  I bought one of the new totes (all right 2) from Mr. Bordanaro through the museum.  I purchased them instantly after I read the first report.  I mean totes for sale.  It gets my attention right quick.

I think they're great. I bought the unfinished models mostly to see how they were machined.  They are machined beautifully as far as I'm concerned.  The shaping is as close as I could hope for if I was making it, that's for sure.  They are hot.  Tolerances are tight in the area of the holes, so to speak.  I've scraped one of them so far.  It is a trip.  I found out how they did it once.  The whole story told itself as I was working on the new tote.

I have made a small number of totes in my life.  All from scratch.  They have each been a project. I sort of fell into it today, just now.  I trudged downstairs (tah dump da dump dump).  Picked up the new tote and looked at it.  It was shaped by machine, but shaped it was.

Possibilities, plain and simple.  I happened to grab a scraper that was old to me.  First scraper I ever bought.  Darn near the last too, but that's another story.  I have become fairly adept at getting a pretty decent finish on wood right off the file.  Drawfile the scraper, go to work.  It is possible I assure you.  I'm sure it was expected of the semi-unskilled for a thousand years.  Probably expected for almost as long as rubbing which was the most brainlessly (just kidding) time consuming job of polishing wood of course.  But scraping had to be close.

All this just came to me as I was continuing to scrape the tote.  I'd started by actually sanding the scraper.  After my customary filing I took the scraper to a stone and stoned off the perfect enough, but rough, burr I'd just made on it.  I somehow knew scraping a tote would mean more than that.  After the stone I went to scary sharp paper (a copout from original equipment of course, but please, don't cut my throat entirely.  Give me a few small advantages any way I can get them).  I dutifully rolled a big burr with the burnisher on one side and a small one on the other.

It's the pull stroke for this job.  Lay the scraper right down flat on the work. Instead of holding at a sharp angle, you lay it down.  Slowly raise on each stroke until it cuts. After that it's a minute to minute tightrope walk.  Any and every slip will be evident in the end.  One direction and then the other way faster than I can tell anyone about it.  Light fast strokes.  Edge just lightly dancing over the wood.  Shaving and then scraping.  The shaving is first and dangerous.  The scraping usually attacks from the opposite direction.

I did it right on my lap.  I've tried other things.  I do know what cramps are.  It wasn't going to work.  If you want to scrape a rosewood tote clean with a scraper there is no other way I can find.

I almost gave up a dozen times.  Almost resorted to help.  Just kept at it and I can't even tell you why.  Just wanted to see what it would be like, I guess.  It's not easy. Don't let anyone ever tell you hand finishing a plane tote is easy.  Guess you knew that instinctively as I did, just in case there was ever any doubt in your mind, let me have a moment...

I now have a new tote with a not frightfully unacceptable finish.  I'm glad I bought the unfinished ones.  Not sure how many I want to do, but I'm glad I did.

I'm also happy I didn't get or put any coloring pigment on it.  I think the wood is beautiful.  Who doesn't love rosewood?  The stuff is clear and fairly tight grain.  You gotta love it.  I couldn't imagine a mineral pigment that could improve it.  It'll get dark enough and soon enough for me.  I don't plan to help it any.

I'll polish it on a buff.  Polishing is not a new or unGalootlike job.  I believe there were semi clothed guys squatting in the dirt, rolling the arbor with their feet polishing stones for the emperor of China quite some time ago.  I'm not certain people really know exactly when, but it goes back there.  Polishing on metal, hide, cloth. Use the best cutting compound you can get and go to work.  It's just that accomplished skill is lacking in today's world.  A bad polish job is not a thing of beauty.  A good polish job is not a matter of accident.

Give it a try. What you got to lose?  It feels good.  Like finally making it to grownup in a long ago time, even though that comes with sadness too.

yours, Scott
, 2006,
in Happy Camp, CA
email:  Scott Grandstaff


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