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    Seeing the Light.... Then Breaking the Bulb

    July 20, 2017

    Hi guys, hope all is well. I have been getting some great questions from all of you and I will keep posting them tomorrow, but I felt inspired to take a second and address a couple of related things that have happened recently. First, I have a great customer, we will call him "Joe", since I haven't asked his permission to use his name. Joe has been with me since the beginning. He was one of the first people to actually travel to one of my classes, he owns 4 of my planes, many more saws and has bought numerous old tools from me as well. About 3 weeks ago Joe writes me an email to pick my brain on something. This was what he wrote me;


    "Paul, I have a proposition for you. I have decided that what I'm missing in my tool collection is a nice wooden smoother. I saw yours last time I was at your shop and meant to ask you about it, but we got carried away doing something else. I have two of your low angle planes and two high angle planes that I use for smoothing tasks, but I own nothing in the way of a "standard" 45 degree bed angle plane. I guess I could buy a Stanley, LN, or Veritas to fill the void, but I want something different. Do you use that woodie on your shelf, would you be willing to sell it or make me one? Is a wooden plane going to let me down after using my infills?  I'm sure I could do it, but you make planes and know the mechanics better than myself, so do you think you are up for it?"


    I responded to Joe, of course getting way far off into the weeds with tech crap that nobody but a tool-maker needs to know, but then I stopped, truly thought about it and deleted all of the stuff I had written. I ended up simply saying, "Yeah, let me make something for you. I will start on it in a few weeks". The reason I didn't go into a lot of details is because we sometimes think that what we know is interesting, but it truly isn't to most people, Joe included. Joe is a person of means, he can buy what he wants and be done with it. But what he definitely doesn't want is a tool that's a headache. See, we sometimes think about things in the totally wrong way. Let's talk about smoothing planes for a minute; I have stated before and said it until I'm blue in the face, I make smoothing planes because they are the one tool that makes the biggest difference in the outcome of your work. If your smoother isn't the last thing touching your work, you are using it all wrong. I get that sometimes we need to break an edge or clean up one thing or another, but in reality it should be, hit it with the smoother, wipe it down, start your finishing. Chris Schwarz said something that struck me as so true, yet so wrong. When speaking of a Krenov Plane, he said, "A sharp iron properly bedded in a 2x4 will sing", and Krenov may be the ultimate proponent of that. But there are variables that make a difference. Properly bedded is definitely key, but the bed angle means a lot on most woods. Attack angle is another. The hands that hold the tool mean something. A truly sharp iron, ground right, honed right. The heft of the plane means a lot to someone like myself who contorts their whole upper torso to hit the wood just right(think Krenov). James Krenov used the smoothing plane in all the right ways, which made the tool work exactly how he wanted. He didn't simply run the plane parallel with the grain and call it a day, he literally polished the wood, sometimes using a circular motion, sometimes pulling it, etc. This all equals one(well, many) thing(s); Variables. The easiest way to get the solution to a problem is to eliminate variables. The less you have to deal with, the better off you'll be. Now, here comes the shameless plug(hey, it's my site). Let's think about my Medium Smoother for example. It's heavy, regardless of the configuration, the bronze on the sole helps it skate across the wood and into the grain. Again, taking the advice that Krenov gave us, it's low to the work, it can be held in numerous ways. The mouth is tight, the iron is EXTREMELY sharp and holds an edge. The bed is flattened on a surface plate before installing, leaving no room for error or voids under the iron. It has the finest adjuster of any plane ever made; Your thumb and a mallet, and probably the most important thing, it holds it's setting. So by now you're asking, "what in the world is this guy trying to say?!?" Well, if I had to sum it up I would say that I cannot agree with the "2x4 singing" analogy. In the right hands, any high quality, properly tuned tool can do good work. But there are factors that cannot be changed on some tools, i.e. the bed angle for different woods. I would rather have one high angle smoothing plane that may be "harder"(using this term loosely) to excel through a cut, but will work on anything as opposed to a lower angle plane that will need multiple irons ground at different angles to complete the same tasks. Take one variable out. Then we have the adjustments. Stanley Planes and newer copies have their place and I truly enjoy the LN and Veritas Planes I own. Had I paid full price for all of them as opposed to trading my labor, I would say the only one I would buy again is my LN Block Plane(I actually just ordered another because I love this tool). There are lots of moving parts on "iron" planes. All of them are there to make setup and adjustments easier. Do they succeed in doing so? Sure, but only to an extent. If a part is made to move, it will move. Period. With an infill plane such as mine and anything lacking a Norris Adjuster, a proper lever cap and screw will hold the iron without losing it's movement very often, if ever. Does the setup take more time? At first, yes. Probably a minute or three. But once you learn to do so(I have a video that will be up shortly showing how to set my smoother) it's only a few seconds to perfect cuts. Take another variable(s) out. Now for the heft of the plane. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the plane being used. On a smoother, I have yet to ever think that a plane was "too heavy". It is made to take such a light cut that the weight should be the only thing you feel. That feeling turns into momentum quickly, which is a plus. If we're talking about a larger plane such as a jointer, a lot of weight can become tiring fast. Wooden planes have a charm to them and yes, with a sharp iron and proper setup they can do beautiful work. I have used Scott Meeks Planes before and they are great. I also own a large 55 degree coffin smoother that is set and tuned perfectly, but due to the bed angle it can be tough to power through cuts, even shallow ones, on tricky grain without having to severely skew the body. Skewing the plane can be proper form on certain woods, but I don't necessarily want it to become a habit. Remove another variable.

    I guess I could keep going with things, some being advantages in opinion and/or practice, but this is a way to go about it with a common sense approach. Does this make my plane or anyone else's infill a superior tool? You can decide for yourself. I have to honestly say that for myself, yes, this makes a superior tool.


    In closing, I can tell you that yes, I do use my Krenov Style Smoother I made and I have found a place for it in my arsenal. I will make Joe his "Woodie" and he may love it or hate it. But if we were playing "Desert Island", my 55 Degree Medium Smoother is coming with me and all the rest will be left behind.

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