Monthly Archives: March 2009

How I Set a Bench Plane

There is no single best way to set a bench plane to take a proper shaving. I’ve seen
people do it by eye, with their fingertips, using scraps of wood and even working
on live stock and making adjustments on the fly. This last technique takes guts. It’s
like working on a car while the engine’s running.

I’ve tried every single method above and can do them all with great ease. There is
no secret to unlock any particular method. Only practice.

The following is how I prefer to set a bench plane to take a shaving. It’s in more
detail than I usually go into on the blog, but here’s the dirty little secret about
that: The reason I started writing this blog in 2005 was to create a way for me to
answer common e-mail questions. Want to know the difference between bevel-up and bevel-down
planes? Instead of answering that question six times a week, I could paste this
into an e-mail six times a week instead. Oh, and the blog would serve as
a way to remember when I got my last tetanus shot.

Before we get to the good part, let me shove a little dogma down the disposal with
the evening’s chicken bones. All of my bench planes (the fore, jointer and smoothing
planes) have irons with curved cutting edges (so does my block plane, but that’s another
). I camber the cutting edge to keep the corners from digging into the work
and to allow me to remove material from selective areas on a board. People who disagree
with my approach are encouraged to come to our shop in May for the Lie-Nielsen
with their torches and pitchforks.

The good news is that the way I set a bench plane works for any plane (even joinery
planes and moulding planes). So don’t flee yet.

Step One: Kentucky Windage

The goal is to get the iron centered in the mouth of the plane. The strongest part
of the curved edge should be in the middle of the mouth, and the corners of the iron
should be tucked safely into the body of the plane. If your curve is too pronounced,
you’ll take too narrow a shaving. If your curve is too flat, the corners will still
dig in.

First you want to sight down the sole of the plane. Gaze at the toe of the sole and
advance the iron until it appears as a black line across the sole. If your bench is
light in color, you can use the benchtop as a background. If your bench is bubinga,
do this against a sheet of paper.

Adjust the iron laterally until the black line appears consistent across the mouth.
The camber on a smoothing plane and jointer plane isn’t really visible, so you’re
looking for a consistent line.

Use a Scrap to Refine

Retract the iron into the body of the plane and start advancing it. Use a small shim
(1/16″ x 3/4″ x 1-1/4″ is nice) and run it across the mouth of the plane as you advance
the iron a bit. Where the iron is cutting, you’ll feel it drag against the shim. It’s
not dramatic – more like a tug. I first got this trick from David Charlesworth. Thank
you, David.

Where do I get my shims? Well you could send me $20 and I’ll send you a bag of them.
Or you could look in your garbage can for waste that has fallen off from your rip

The end result is that you want to feel zero drag at the corners of the mouth and
a little drag right at the center. You can adjust the iron using the lateral adjustment
lever (if you have one), but I prefer hammer taps using a small Warrington or tack
hammer. These are love taps and are unlikely to mushroom your iron. I’ve been tapping
one iron on one smoothing plane for about five years. I’ve almost used up the entire
iron and still have yet to find a mark from my tapping.

Final Adjustments

Then I start planing – either on scrap or live stock. Likely the shaving is too thin.
And that’s OK. Advance the iron until you get the shaving you want from the plane.
Then take a quick look at the shaving and where it is coming from in the mouth.

The shaving should be centered in the plane’s mouth. And the shaving should look like
this: It should be thickest in the center and fade away to nothing at the edges. And
it should be as wide as possible. That’s the sweet spot.

If I’m a little off-center at this point, I simply tap the iron with my baby hammer
to move the shaving into the center of the mouth. Then I get busy.

— Christopher Schwarz

Email Yourself Reminders From Launchy [Ubergeek]

Reader Ryan writes in with his ubergeeky method for sending emails to himself directly from Launchy—a very useful trick to quickly send yourself reminders.

To accomplish this hack, Ryan assembled a visual basic script (VBS) file that sends the email using Gmail's SMTP server—the email addresses are hard-coded but the subject line can be entered directly in Launchy.

If you want to use this trick for yourself, there's just a few steps to follow along—first, create a new *.vbs file and paste in the following contents, modifying the bold text with your own values.

Set iMsg = CreateObject("CDO.Message")
Set iConf = CreateObject("CDO.Configuration")
Set Flds = iConf.Fields
schema = ""
Flds.Item(schema & "sendusing") = 2
Flds.Item(schema & "smtpserver") = ""
Flds.Item(schema & "smtpserverport") = 465
Flds.Item(schema & "smtpauthenticate") = 1
Flds.Item(schema & "sendusername") = "MYACCOUNT"
Flds.Item(schema & "sendpassword") = "PASSWORD"
Flds.Item(schema & "smtpusessl") = 1

With iMsg
.From = "NAME <EMAIL>"
.Subject = wscript.arguments.item(0)
.HTMLBody = message
.Sender = " "
.Organization = " "
.ReplyTo = " "
Set .Configuration = iConf
SendEmailGmail = .Send
End With

set iMsg = nothing
set iConf = nothing
set Flds = nothing

Now that you have your script created and ready to go, open up Launchy’s Plugins tab in the options panel, and create a new Runner command pointing to the script. The key step here is to use "$$" in the arguments field—the quotes are important!

Since the example uses “tome” as the command, you can just type “tome” into Launchy, hit the tab key, and then type the subject of the email message. If all goes well, you should see a new email in your Gmail account with the same subject line.

This tip can be used for much more than just sending yourself emails, however—you can make a copy of the script and adjust the To field to quickly send emails to Remember the Milk or any number of other services that accept new items via email. You could even modify the script further to pass in further parameters to your RTM tasks if you really wanted to get geeky with it.Thanks, Ryan!

If you’d rather use your web browser, you can open a new Gmail compose window directly from Launchy. For more on Launchy power tips, read our feature on taking Launchy beyond application launching.


Guantanamo Bay is one of the world's controversial prisons. This may be its final chapter. With unprecedented access, National Geographic has the story you haven't heard. Both sides, told from the inside, before its doors close forever. Click to learn more and go Inside Guantanamo >>


Italicize Your Unread Tabs in Firefox without an Extension [Firefox]

If you’re a fan of Tab Mix Plus, you already know how handy having your unread tabs italicized can be—but you don't need to install an extension for this useful feature.

You can run a tight ship and keep extensions to a minimum by editing your userChrome.css file to achieve the same effect. The userChrome.css should be located in the sub-directory /Profiles/Chrome/ wherever your Firefox installation resides. If you’ve never tinkerer with your userChrome.css before, check out our previous post about where to find it and how to edit it. Open it up in your favorite text editor and add the following line:

#content tab:not([selected]) {font-style: italic !important; }

Save the file and you’re all set. There is one caveat: The tweak doesn’t distinguish between selecting a tab to read it and selecting a tab to drag and drop it to a new location on the tab bar without actually reading the contents. If that’s a deal breaker, aforementioned Tab Mix Plus does distinguish between the two and keeps the tabs “unread” until you actually look at them.


Guantanamo Bay is one of the world's controversial prisons. This may be its final chapter. With unprecedented access, National Geographic has the story you haven't heard. Both sides, told from the inside, before its doors close forever. Click to learn more and go Inside Guantanamo >>


GMinder Puts Google Calendar in Your System Tray [Downloads]

Windows only: System tray application GMinder gives you quick offline display of multiple Google Calendars—and even alerts you of upcoming appointments.

The application was created by reader Greg Todd, who wrote the application for his own use—but decided to release it for the rest of us to enjoy. Using the application is simple—just enter in your Google account information, click the Download button to get your list of calendars, and then select the ones you want to display. The only small issue is that Windows Vista users will need to select a different sound file in the options panel since the default one doesn’t exist on Vista—a small price to pay for an excellent application that bridges the gap between Google Calendar and your Windows desktop. Thanks, Greg!

GMinder is free and open source, available for Windows only. Google Desktop users can also check out the powerful Google Calendar gadget, and readers using Firefox should check out our own Better GCal extension.

MailBrowserBackup Backs up Browser and Email Profiles [Downloads]

Windows only: If you use multiple web browsers and email clients, MailBrowserBackup allows you to backup your profiles for each in one swoop.

Currently MailBrowserBackup supports Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and SRWare Iron in the browser arena, and Mozilla Thunderbird in the email arena. According to the author’s release schedule the next release will increase support to include Opera, Safari, and Internet Explorer. Backing up Firefox and Chrome took only a few seconds on my system and the results were stored neatly in the directory I specified. Restoring was just as quick. The application is portable, but does require Microsoft .NET 2.0+ or above. MailBrowserBackup is open-source, Windows only.

Introduction to Protocols

What follows is a quick introduction to working with protocols. This is good background information to understand as protocols are common in various Cocoa frameworks. A protocol is means to define a list of required and/or optional methods that a class implements. If a class adopts a protocol, it must implement all required methods in the protocols it adopts.

Cocoa uses protocols to support interprocess communication through Objective-C messages. In addition, since Objective-C does not support multiple inheritance, you can achieve similar functionality with protocols, as a class can adopt more than one protocol.

A good example of a protocol is NSCoding, which has two required methods that a class must implement. This protocol is used to enable classes to be encoded and decoded, that is, archiving of objects by writing to permanent storage.

@protocol NSCoding - (void)encodeWithCoder:(NSCoder *)aCoder; - (id)initWithCoder:(NSCoder *)aDecoder; @end

To adopt a protocol, enclose the name of the protocol in <> as below:

// Interface @interface SomeClass : NSObject <NSCoding>  {   ... }   // Implementation @implementation SomeClass   -(void)encodeWithCoder:(NSCoder *)aCoder {   ... }   -(id)initWithCoder:(NSCoder *)aDecoder {   ... }

Defining a Protocol

You can create both required an optional methods within a protocol. What follows is a definion of a protocol named ‘Fubar’:

@protocol Fubar - (BOOL)send:(id)data; - (id)receive; @optional - (int)status; @end

To use the protocol, as with the example above, specify the protocol in the interface and write the required methods in the class implementation:

// Interface @interface AnotherClass : NSObject <Fubar>  {   ... }   // Implementation @implementation AnotherClass   - (BOOL)send:(id)data {   ... }   - (id)receive {   ... }   // Optional methods - (int)status {   ... }   @end

If you are from a Java background, protocols should look familiar as they are analogous to an interface.

Skype for iPhone Arrives Tuesday [IPhone]

First a rumor, now a confirmed launch—Skype is bringing its VoIP client to the iPhone (and iPod touch) App Store tomorrow, with BlackBerrys following in May. Big drawbacks—only works with Wi-Fi, and no text messages. [Gizmodo]

Finished Aurora Table

62After two coats of a dye mix and numerous coats of satin wiping varnish, the Arched Aurora End Table is serving us well in our living room! I would like to thank Darrell Peart for his design and instruction. This was an incredibly fun project and a great learning experience. The table is made primarily of African Mahogany with ebony plugs. The handle is actually mahogany, but I dyed part of it so it would look like ebony. I thought it really needed this contrast.

24 And I am sure many of you will be interested to know the exact finish system I used for the table. I basically used a modified version of the recipe published on Darrell’s blog. Darrell’s mixture calls for 7 parts orange and 4 parts medium brown. I decided to try adding 1 part yellow in an effort to increase the highlights. There definitely was a difference on my test boards, but now that I look at the final piece its hard to tell how much of a difference it really made. The topcoat is 6 coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Satin applied using the same methods I discuss in my DVD, A Simple Varnish Finish. Check out the links below if you need a source for these finishing materials.

Product Links:
General Finishes Water Based Dyes
General Finishes Arm-R-Seal

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Hive Five: Five Best Mind Mapping Applications [Hive Five]

Mind mapping is a great way to add structure to brainstorming sessions and visualize your ideas. Check out the applications your fellow readers use to do their best brainstorming.

Earlier this week we asked you to share which mind mapping application helped you brainstorm most effectively. The votes are in and we’re back to share the results and arm you with the tools to make your next think tank meeting that much more productive.

MindMeister (Web Application, Free)

MindMeister is by far the most simplistic mind mapping tool in the top five, but its simplicity is definitely an asset. Once you’re logged into the service, you can create a fully functional mind map using little more than the directional arrows and the Insert key to add new nodes to your map. Additional customizations like font size and node colors are available for when you want to go beyond the basics. In the upper right corner is a navigation window, handy for when your mind maps become larger than the display space. Exporting is also a strong point for MindMeister; you can export your files to a text outline, PDF, JPG, PNG, or GIF. MindMeister’s history function lets you view past versions of your mind map and revert to them if you desire. You can share your maps for public collaboration or hand-select collaborators. Upgrading from the free account to the premium account gives you some handy additional features like map searching, offline editing, and the ability to export your maps to popular software like FreeMind and MindManager.

Mindjet MindManager (Windows/Mac, $349)

Mindjet MindManager isn't cheap by any means, but you get more than your share of value and sophistication for the hundreds you spend on the program. The interface and feature set of MindManager are very polished, and the primary menus are set up like the Microsoft Office Ribbon. After the initial installation, MindManager walks you through the creation of a sample mind map—helpful both to familiarize you with the interface but also to show you features you may have overlooked. MindManager is definitely oriented towards corporate environments, including extensive integration with the Office suite and support for linking your mind maps directly into common database formats like MySQL and Access. Finding information in large mind maps is easy thanks to topic sorting, filtering, and text search tools. Mind maps can be exported in a variety of formats, but most notably in interactive PDF files and embeddable Flash animations. MindManager is available as a 30 day trial.

XMind (Windows/Mac/Linux, Free)

XMind is the kind of free application that makes you forget you’re not paying for the privilege of using it. The interface is simple and intuitive to use. You can quickly move through your entire mind map with only a handful of keystrokes or jump over to the outline view for even quicker navigation. In addition to a basic mind map you can also create fishbone, organizational, tree, and logic charts. You can export charts as HTML, images, or text, and XMind comes a free account on which allows you to share your charts online and embed them into blogs and web sites. There is a professional version of XMind which expands on the functionality of the base application and allows you to create online charts and collaborate with others. XMind Pro is $49 per year, but most people will find the free version more than robust enough for their mind mapping needs. Portable versions available for all three supported platforms.

FreeMind (Java, Free)

One of FreeMind's strongest selling points is a Java-based implementation. Whether you use it on Ubuntu or Windows, the features and user interface remain consistent. FreeMind is keyboard friendly with the core functionality well covered by keyboard shortcuts—I made the sample mind map pictured here without ever touching the mouse. The visual elements of your mind maps are highly customizable, including custom icons for flagging nodes on the map, color coding, grouping, and more. Mind maps created with FreeMind can be exported as HTML, PDF, and PNG files, among others.The support wiki for FreeMind is extensive and goes well beyond simply explaining how the application functions, covering things like how to add your own keyboard shortcuts and how to make the application portable.

iMindMap (Windows/Mac/Linux, $99-295)

iMindMap can claim two distinctions among the top five tools. First, it's the biggest download—weighing in at 135MB. Second it's the only application on the list developed by Tony Buzan—who lays claim to being the inventor of the mind map. iMindMap takes a different approach to mapping than the other applications in the list. Rather than create new nodes off the main idea by adding boxes, nodes are created by clicking in the center or the main idea and drawing away from it with the mouse. Each new idea is a branch off the center. Strangely, many of basic feature available in free mind-mapping software are only found in the more expensive versions of iMindMap, like the ability to expand and collapse branches. Mind maps created in iMindMap can be exported as PDF, JPG, PNG and text outline; a 7 day trial is available.

A small aside: Although we didn’t include it because the topic of this Hive Five was mind mapping software, it bears noting that nearly 20% of the votes went to analog methods like pencil and paper and using a whiteboard. For all your geeky ways, many of you have much love for good old fashioned analog brainstorming.

Now that you’ve seen the contenders for the crown of Master of the Mind Map, it’s time to log your vote for your favorite:

Which Mind Mapping Software Is Best?
( polls)

Agree with the spread? Can’t believe your favorite mind mapping tool didn’t make the top five? Sound off with your opinions in the comments below.

Firefox Tip: Get a Better Access to about:config with gui:config

GUI:ConfigFirefox is now in version and the new versions of old add-ons are doing pretty much their job (and quite well). Anyway, this gives us a chance to revisit some of the power user tips we’ve had over here and perhaps offer tips and tricks for the old dog (fox) to learn.

If you need to tweak Firefox’s behavior more to your geeky likings, all you have to do is to access the in-depth configuration by accessing the about:config page. However, staring at all the properties and values in the page can still confuse users old and new alike.

Code wizards may be okay with the way the about:config page looks like but Firefox noobs might be quite intimidated by it. And intimidation always kills the curious cat.

Here’s a plug-in you might consider trying – gui:config. It organizes all of the options into tabs, options, checkboxes and lists. It gives you a more presentable (ergo palatable) about:config page.

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