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?