Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wooden Planes: Personality Plus

Since I mainly use wooden planes in the shop (four I made, one I bought), I've gotten to know them better than the couple of metal ones I use. And by getting to know them, I mean just that—each one has its own personality.

I believe that no two wooden planes, even the same style of plane, made with the same materials by the same planemaker, will work precisely the same way. Not only that, but the same plane used by two different people will handle differently.

My quirky crew consists of a block plane, a smoother (masquerading as a jack), a jack (masquerading as a smoother), a jointer, and a scrub. Each one has different capabilities and each one has mood swings (no doubt affected in part by the user’s state of mind).

New wooden planes (at least the ones I've made) seem to have a break-in period, where the parts—wedge, pin, iron, body—get settled into their optimum positions.

Your hands and the wooden body also have to get to know one another, and the more you use it, the more the plane will start to feel natural, like an extension of your hand. In use, it’s slowly being rounded and shaped to fit your grip. Have you ever seen an old, well-used wooden plane with an indentation from a thumb on its side? I have. And I hope my planes develop similar marks someday.

Over the years, I've come to appreciate my planes' particular characteristics.

Take Eddie, my overly-sensitive block plane. He’s a tough little sprite on the outside, but gets choked up at times. Chuck, the bruiser, who started life as a smoother but turned into a big mouth, proudly wears a scar on his cheek, takes on the toughest grain and says “Knot on my watch!”

Then there’s Jack, the jack. He’s a smooth operator. He shoots, he glides, he talks nicely to the workpiece and makes it shine. Hans, the scrub, is a scrappy fellow. Feeds on wood fiber like piranhas on a cow.

And last but not least is Devereau, the jointer. The only female in the bunch. She’s sleek and attractive, but the least predictable. One day she’ll produce a gossamer shaving and the next, she’ll take a wicked bite out of your board. Or conversely, completely ignore it and refuse to remove even a whisper of wood.

I use only two metal bench planes in my shop and haven’t experienced any attitude problems with them. They’re trusty and stable, like Ward and June Cleaver.

Who ever said woodworking is a solitary hobby?*

*Or is it a sign that you need solitary confinement if you anthropomorphize your handplanes?

34 comments:

Dean Jansa said...

Kari --

You are not alone. While I haven't named my planes, I know their personalities well. Each plane requires a bit of together time to learn its quirks; I suppose it is a bit like any fine wood instrument -- the owner needs to learn how to make it sing. And, the worst thing you can do is to stop playing. Planes work best when they are working often.

-Dean

*Strangely, all of my planes are female...

Joey said...

Hi Kari

I have two wooden planes and a wooden scraper I made. I have a block plane and a skewed rebate plane, both I am trying to get use to using. I like them, but they are a little more finicky that there metal counterparts. My scraper I find myself using quite a bit and find it pretty user friendly. I love the look and feel of the wooden plane and hope to get more acquainted with them in the future.

Joey

Larry Marshall said...

Am I a bad person for coveting your planes? Doesn't that break a commandment or something?

I love Devereau. Does she have a 1 1/2" blade? Looks fairly narrow. I'm wondering if a narrow blade makes it harder to laterally adjust things properly to achieve predictable results. What say you, my hero?

Cheers --- Larry

Anonymous said...

Devereau has an awesome looking rear. Looks like it'd fit hands ...I'd better stop there. Is she finicky only after you play with one of the boys?

-Shawn

Tom Fidgen said...

great post Kari-
and your timing is perfect; I just finished re-reading David Finks book on wooden hand planes this afternoon and was thinking about making myself another one sometime soon.
keep well.
Tom

Dyami said...

Nice post, Kari. And nice planes too. When I finally get around to making tools, planes will be at the top of my list.

Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

What lovely children!
I like that you have an adopted one too,there are so many in need of a good home.
Charlize & Paul say hi,they are very excited at the moment as they are getting a new sibling any day now...
You have to name them,how else do you expect them to respond in a positive way?

Klausbird said...

I'm so jealous Kari. I am not yet to the point of making such beautiful tools and having these experiences. But, with every post, I look more and more forward to that day. Thanks for the inspiration.

- Klaus

rgdaniel said...

Like they say, just as long as they don't start talking back... B-)

John Cashman said...

OK, so you name your planes. That's . . . normal. I would never name my planes, ever. Imagine how crazy jealous my saws would get.

What are the bed angles on these? The block plane looks low, the jack looks higher than the jointer, and the smoother I can't tell.

Nice work. Are you still thinking of the design for the 15th century smoother?

Grover said...

I really would like to make a couple of planes. Do you know of any good resources or plans for any kind of plane. I want to build up an arsenal of them :)

Darnell said...

Where's Chip?

Ian W said...

your planes have wonderful lines. Did you develop that shape yourself or learn it from someone?
Ian W
www.walwoodwork.blogspot.com

The Village Carpenter said...

Dean, that's a great analogy with the wood instrument. But don't you think it's time your little ladies were given monikers? ; )

Joey, nice to hear that others can relate to the finickiness and the look & feel of wooden planes. I'm sure you've found how much fun they are to make.

Larry, don't covet, just make more friends for the plane you already made. :o) Devereau has a 1.5" blade; Jack's is 1.75"; Chuck's is 2"; and Eddie's is 1.25".

Shawn, hadn't thought of that! Maybe I just need to give her a little more attention.

Tom, David's book is truly the best. I was fortunate enough to take a class with him on making these planes.

Dyami, they aren't difficult to make and if you don't already have David Finck's book, I highly, highly recommend it.

Black, my boys and girl look like awkward teenagers next to Charlize and Paul, their refined and elegant Scottish friends. Can't wait to see your new creation. Do you have a name picked out?

Klaus, I was intimidated to make a plane at first, but it's not as hard as I suspected. A friend bought Ron Hock's plane kit and built up his courage to make one on his own. All the pieces are cut for you so you can see how they go together. You could always use that as a template for when you make planes. The only thing with Ron's kit, though, is the pin is perfectly round. It's better to have a flat on one side--it secures the wedge better than a dowel.

Bob, what, um, what happens if they do? Not that they do, mind you....

John, that's a good point. My saws have been looking a little...vexed of late. All the planes have 45º beds. I'd like to make one with a higher bed, maybe 55º for figured woods. I so infrequently work with anything other than domestic hardwoods, that these guys rarely have trouble.

Grover, David Finck's book "Making and Mastering Wood Planes" is the BEST if you want to make Krenov style planes. He wrote an article some time ago, I think for FWW, that was an abbreviated version of his book. Some bloggers, like Larry Marshall (woodnbits.com/blog), have written posts about making them.

Darnell, that's a perfect name for the little coffin smoother I made recently. Thanks!

Ian, these planes are based on James Krenov's planes. He came up with the idea of laminating 4 pieces of wood, plus pin and wedge, to make a plane, rather than using a solid piece of wood and hollowing out the bed and throat. Once you build your plane, the outside shape can be anything you want, so you can personalize them. I didn't deviate too far from his original designs, though.

Don Peregoy said...

I have one of Hans little cousins or perhaps its wicked twin. I keep it safely stored on a high shelf in the cabinet - only bringing it out when the full moon has passed.

It all started late one night when I was getting tired ( always the way). My technique began to falter and my little finger to drift downward. Finally I took a hard stroke and my finger slammed into the edge of the board. The crack echoed through the basement. The first thing that came to mind was –Gee ! I hope my wife didn’t hear that. It took a longtime to heal (you would be surprised how easy it is to re-break your little finger) and even longer before I could use the plane.

Hope Hans treats you better.

Roger Nixon said...

Seriously, Kari, you shouldn't anthropomorphize your tools. They really hate that.

gchpaco said...

I have Finck, Whelan and Perch and Lee and two videos on making side escapement planes (Herli and Williams) and of the lot my favorite is actually Perch and Lee. Finck's book is very good if you know from the get go that you want to make a Krenov-style plane, but if you want to make joinery planes I find Perch and Lee more useful. The Krenov planes can be very attractive, though.

vittorio said...

Hi Kari
give the names to your tools, know their character and parhaps you speak to them, your tool cabinet is babelled in latin, for me you are a philosopher woodworker.
You don't need solitary confinement bat you must communicate your good ideas.

Michael said...

Kari,

I recently had need for a low angle miter plane with a wide blade. After a quick email to Ron Brese I had the design I needed. The end result was an offshoot of his design only in wood. This is the first plane I have made, all my others are metal bodied versions.

I have been meaning to get my blog back into action but just haven't taken the time. This might be a perfect subject to get back into the swing of things.

Jerm said...

Learned the hard way or should I say the sharp way about a round pin in a wooden plane. Built the plane, made and sharpened the iron thanks to your blog, I'm not afraid of propane =), went to use it and the iron slid through the mouth and into my hand.

I consider working in my shop solitary confinement an love every minute of it, well except for some glue-ups =)

The Village Carpenter said...

Don, ouch! I've had a few finger accidents with planes, but none as painful as a break. I actually planed a finger one time. No blood on the plane, though. whew.

Roger, they tell me all the time to stop doing it. hee hee

gchpaco, thanks for clarifying about Finck's book. It's only for Krenov style planes. I also have Whelan's book and Herrli's & Clark & Wms videos, which are all excellent.

Thanks, Vittorio. :o)

Michael, that's a good idea--a lot of people would appreciate a step by step blog post on making a plane.

Jerm, a friend made his plane with a round dowel and had the same problem with slippage. I wonder if you could file a flat on one part the entire length of the pin and then make a thicker wedge. The last plane blade I made with torches went a little easier--I didn't break out into buckets of sweat! haha

Gary Roberts said...

I would not leave Jack and Devereau on the same shelf. You might find a litter of block planes in a month and half...

ahardslojdlife said...

Very good! That´s how it is!

Woodbloke said...

Kari - at least you don't open the door to the 'shop and greet them...

"Morning guys"

...or maybe you do? They'll be coming for you soon (and me!) - Rob

The Village Carpenter said...

Gary, actually, that sounds like a splendid idea. I'll put the Barry White CD on....

Thanks, Niklas!

Rob, if there's no video footage--didn't happen. ; )

Woodbloke said...

'Rob, if there's no video footage--didn't happen'

...and you expect all your fans to tow that line? Nice try, but no cigar! - Rob

Doug said...

I think the same can be said for my old iron Stanley planes; most of which are pre-WWII. My #7 is a courteous gentleman, my #5 is a stout workhorse, and my #3 is a precocious child. Most of this likely has to do with the user and his quirks and imperfections. Good tools, I believe, earn our respect in much the same way that good people earn our respect, and, like a trusted friend, we learn to overlook their imperfections at the same time we admire their best qualities.

Jonathan said...

I love how you smooth with your jack and get down and dirty with the smoother. Who cares what the tool is called or "supposed" to do. Just get the job done with whatever you can. Awesome...“Knot on my watch!” Perfect.

The Village Carpenter said...

lol@Rob. :D

Doug, well said, my friend.

Jonathan, I couldn't agree more. If a tool works for a particular task, then go for it. I draw the line at chisels, though. They may look like they'd be good at prying open a can of paint, but....

Artie Hasslefactor said...

Kari, great post - and I'm delighted to discover your blog!

Incidentally, my Festool RO150 sander (Marv) and his dust extracter (Wendell) would like to add that they strongly support anthropomorphism for power tools as well.

;-)

The Village Carpenter said...

Artie, they sound like quite a team! :o)

Dana said...

I think I've been bitten by the wooden plane bug. I'm off to buy some books and please consider doing a blog so you can walk all us uninitiated through building one. All of your work is beautiful.

The Village Carpenter said...

Dana, there's no going back now. Once you've been bitten by the wooden plane bug, you're a goner. ; ) I learned to make these planes from David Finck, author of Making and Mastering Wood Planes. It is THE book if you want to build Krenov-style planes. I guarantee you that David can show you how to build these much better than I can. BTW, I benefit in no way from the sale of his book.

The Village Carpenter said...
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