Saturday, November 22, 2008

Clark & Williams

Thank heavens I purchased and watched the Clark & Williams dvds: "Traditional Molding Techniques: The Basics" and "Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes" prior to attending the WIA conference, otherwise I would have sounded like a complete nincompoop while conversing with Don McConnell and Larry Williams.

One of the questions I had intended to ask (before I watched the dvds) was "What are the future plans for your business; do you plan to offer complex moulding planes like ogees and astragals?"

Their booth displayed a page from "The City and Country Purchaser's Builder's Dictionary", a book originally published in 1726. Of particular interest is the explanation of Round and Hollow Planes: "curious artists have 16 sorts of these planes, of different sizes, from half a quarter of an inch to more than two inches, wherewith, by the assistance of the snipes-bill, and the rabbet-plane above mentioned, they make the various sorts of mouldings."

The first Clark & Williams dvd explains how to do just that*—create virtually any moulding with those few types of planes, all of which are offered on their website. Virtually any moulding....including ogees and astragals. Oh.

I was not at all familiar with the snipe's bill plane which Don told me is not only used to define and accentuate elements of mouldings, but to strike a gauge line and create a shallow ledge upon which a rabbet plane can ride. Rabbet planes are used to make fillets, but it's difficult to maintain a straight line without first creating a small channel in which to start the cut.

In the first dvd, Don shows how removing most of the waste with rabbet planes prevents wear and tear on the hollows and rounds that are used to finalize the profiles. Don prefers square rabbets, rather than skewed, which enable you to work in both directions when you happen upon rough grain. He also lays the rabbet plane on its side to clean up shoulders.

The second dvd shows in precise detail how to make hollows & rounds, including shaping, heat treating, and tempering the irons. You might be surprised how much work goes into making these planes, but to make your own is very rewarding. I made one a few years ago in a class and had intended to make more. This dvd provides the perfect refresher course.

Clark & Williams carefully replicates the elegant features found on the bodies of 18th c. planes but they use a modern finish—minwax antique oil—which protects the wood but allows moisture to flow through it freely, making it easier to acclimate to your shop's environment.

I asked Don why they made a video that shows how to make the products they sell. He explained that it took them a long time and a great deal of research to discover the intricacies of 18th c. planes and how to make them since there were no written accounts to follow, and that Clark & Williams wanted to document the process for future generations to use. Wow.

The planemakers have another soon-to-be-released dvd which covers the use of gauge lines to guide a snipe's bill plane as well as making more complex moulding, like those displayed along the top edge of their booth in the photos above. And you can bet I'll watch it before my next encounter with these two skillful, benevolent craftsmen.

*The dvd shows how to layout and shape a corinthian ogee, after which it becomes obvious how to make other types of mouldings, like astragals.