The Handsome & Co Educational Taster: Scratch Stock
Whilst only relatively new to the Handsome and Co team I’ve come to greatly anticipate and enjoy the educational tasters run each term. They’re kind of like the tea break we have each class but for the term, a chance to sit back from the work at hand, to contemplate a different topic and undertake a new task.
This term, the first of 2016, was my turn to organise the educational taster. I ran with the concept of it as being something that can challenge both student and tutor, something not familiar to me, which brings us to the scratch stock. An old tool, probably older than most in both concept and action and one which I had entirely zero experience with.
The scratch stock, a piece of steel, not too hard that it can’t be shaped by a file and not too soft that it will deform under working conditions, held in a piece of wood. Simple? In some ways yes, many of the processes used to make scratch stock were not new to a few of the more experienced students. Some aspects however, like graduated drilling operations more suited to small batch production, which most students will not be familiar with were a good insight for all the students into how to drill holes in wood with consistency, accuracy and repeatability.
Onto the bandsaw next for a few stopped cuts then back into the bench room for the remainder of the lesson using only hand tools for both wood and steel. We chiseled and filed, sawed and chopped. The shaping of the long, bevelled edges, under which juts the steel blank, was probably the most challenging part for most. We tried a number of techniques with the many tools available. A chisel, with the bevel down can be used to cut wood in some of the trickier places. We also used saw kerfs and a small chisel to establish a nice reference surface where we could use a block plane, the first time for a number of students, to carefully plane down to our marking gauge lines. Whilst some students were busy with shaping their scratch stock, others got down to the business of installing the hardware needed to clamp the steel cutter in place.
I think most of the students had never heard of or seen a threaded insert before, it can be a finicky little piece of hardware to install, requiring just the right amount of downward and turning pressure to get the threads to bite and wind into the wood. However for what is normally a tricky operation we had success all round.
With our beech blanks almost finished and the hardware installed it was time to get down to the fun stuff, filing. There is a knack to filing metal, using a file like a saw is a common mistake for those unfamiliar with the tool. Careful marking out of the profile, with a scribe, or fine pen onto masking tape is needed to cut and file accurate profiles in metal.
We created a wide variety of profiles, some delicate, refined and traditional, others more complex and wacky in design. With blanks filed and carefully secured into the scratch stock we set to it on some practice pieces. Like the first time many students used a marking gauge, they soon realised that a light start, slowly working their way down to the final profile will ensure the best, clean result.
What a hoot, bring on the next taster.