Infill Planes

L-R: four shop-made planes, dated from 1984 to 2018, and two Scottish infill planes, c. 1870-1880

As a student of James Krenov I make wooden planes and teach others how to make them. I also like old things, so I have a modest collection of metal Stanley/Bailey bench, block, and specialty planes, most about 100 years old now. I recondition these for use, and I do use the specialty planes and a few of the block planes. I rarely, though, use any of the bench planes, which I find not as friendly or versatile as my wooden planes. 

At the Handworks event in Iowa in 2017 I had the opportunity to meet Konrad Sauer and to try the infill hand planes that he has been making for a dozen years or so. If you’re not familiar, see Sauer and Steiner to see some of his work. Based on tools made by Scottish/English makers Spiers, Mathieson, and Norris, in the 1800’s, Konrad’s planes are exquisite objects, made entirely by hand, with dovetailed bodies of steel and bronze with infills of rare and exotic woods. Besides being exceedingly handsome and well made, they are very fine and satisfying to use. At that meeting in Iowa, I was taking microns-thick shavings from highly figured maple and leaving a perfect surface. 

While I would dearly love to own a piece of Konrad’s work, unfortunately it’s not a practical option for me (read: I can’t afford it). But my interest in infill planes, as a type, was whetted, and so I started looking at antique tools.

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The plane pictured above is a “handled smoothing plane” made by Stewart Spiers of Ayr, Scotland, in about 1870-1880 (it’s very difficult to date these with any precision). The iron is by Robert Sorby, of Sheffield, and the chip breaker by Thomas Mathieson of Glasgow. These may or not be original to the plane, but are of the period regardless. The iron is clearly laminated (i.e., a piece of hardened steel forge welded to the softer body). The steel sole and sides of the plane are dovetailed together, and the Brazillian rosewood infill blocks are through-pinned in place. After flattening the plane sole and back of the iron, and grinding and honing the cutting edge, the plane performs well. With more fine tuning we’ll see if it can come anywhere close to Konrad’s tools.

I also picked up a similar Mathieson plane of about the same vintage and construction as the Spiers (some tool historians believe that Spiers actually made many of the Mathieson-branded plane bodies until late in the 19th century).

More to come …


Inoue Hamono

Several years ago my friend Tak Yoshino, a master chairmaker in Fujikawaguchiko, introduced me to Tokio Inoue. Inoue san is the proprietor of Inoue Hamono in Sumida, Tokyo. “Hamono” roughly translates to “edge tool” – so a shop where one would find knives and/or woodworking tools. The shop was started over 100 years ago by Inoue san’s grandfather, later managed by his father and now himself. His son is involved in the business, which bodes well for the shop for at least another several decades.

I was in Tokyo again in the fall of 2018, visiting my son who has lived there for seven years. And when in Tokyo, I never miss the chance to visit Inoue Hamono. On this occasion I was joined by my friend and fellow woodworker Glenn DeSouza, who was near the tail end of a stay in Tokyo of several months. Glenn is a fine photographer, and provided these photos from our visit. Inoue san, his wife, and son are gracious hosts, extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Glenn and I indulged our passions for fine tools by purchasing a few items 				</div>
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Hand Planes — January 2017

One of the first things we did with Jim Krenov at the College of the Redwoods was learn to make and use a hand plane. 30+ years later I’m still making them, and introducing others to the experience. This session was in early January, 2017, with Christine, Josh, Mo, and DJ, and was among the most successful and satisfying classes I’ve held. Their planes were made from 12/4 hard maple, with walnut pins and wedges, sporting 1.5″ x 3.5″ Hock irons. The 3.2oz brass adjusting hammer heads are made in the shop, fitted to handles shaped by the students.

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Plane Essentials — January 2017

Hand planes are simple tools that need to be set up and maintained properly to work effectively. The definition or details of “properly” can differ, but in general it means a really sharp blade and a sole that is flat. Tangent factors such as chip breaker setting and fineness of the mouth opening certainly come into play, especially in certain circumstances, but for practical purposes sharp and flat are the essential qualities. With the blade set fine and parallel to the sole, great things happen. John, Mike, Josh, and I spent the weekend of Jan 21-22 sharpening, tuning, and using a variety of bench planes that they brought in.







Blushing, a little …

In addition to teaching small classes on my own, over the past eight or nine years (see Schedule), I also teach classes in the Fundamentals of Traditional Woodworking series for the Southwest School of Woodworking here in Phoenix. Jamie Hanson, one of my students from the spring 2016 class maintains a blog, and wrote about his experience at the Southwest School. He included a few kind words about me, which I appreciate very much:


The man who taught my class was David Fleming (he has his own site here).

David was my kind of teacher: he has a mastery of his subject, and he has the sense to know how much of that subject a novice needs to know. He was very good at communicating just the right amount of information — enough to keep me interested, but not so much that I became bewildered or discouraged.

He was also laudably patient: answer every question and never making me feel like a dumb-dumb (e..g, when I confused camber and camphor).

Thank you, Jamie — I enjoyed working with you very much, and hope to have the chance to work with you again in the future.

You can read Jamie’s entire post and review of the Southwest School here …


& Tenon Workshop">Mortise & Tenon Workshop

The latest Mortise & Tenon workshop was held October 3-4, 2015. For this class we make a pair of Krenov-style shop stands, using both blind and through mortises and a bridle joint. These stands are remarkably useful and utilitarian, most folks end up making several pairs for use in the shop. We used some 4/4 ash in this case, I’ve made them from maple, oak, cherry, poplar, even kiln dried spruce 2×3’s from the big box store.

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David Finck, Woodworker

David Finck

David Finck

David Finck and I were bench mates at the College of the Redwoods for two academic years (’85-’86), studying with James Krenov. David has lived in North Carolina for many years now, building furniture and guitars, teaching, and more recently building violins. He is a consummate craftsman with a gentle but uncompromising approach to his work and attention to detail. He is perhaps most well known for authoring the book, “Making and Mastering Wood Planes”, now considered the authoritative work on making Krenov-style wooden planes.

David and his wife, Marie Hoepfl (also a 2-year alum of CR) have two daughters who are violin prodigies. After making a number of guitars over the years, David decided to have a go at making a couple of violins for his girls — keepsakes, if not exceptional instruments. Except, as it turned out, they were exceptional instruments, and David caught the violin making bug. He has made a number of violins by now, and these have enjoyed wide and high praise from people prominent in the violin world. In more than one prestigious blind comparison, David’s violins have been judged superior to iconic instruments made by recognized masters from the past 2-3 centuries.

Violin by David Finck

Violin by David Finck

From our days studying with Krenov, David has carried over and — if anything — intensified his devotion to precise, uncompromising craftsmanship in his furniture and his musical instruments. He has been an inspiration to me, and to many others. It doesn’t get any better. Visit the links below for more information …

JK's Last Cabinet, completed by David Finck

JK’s Last Cabinet, completed by David Finck
Making and Mastering Wood Plane (book)




Dovetail Boxes – August 2014

I was joined by students Jared Reasy and Dr. Ed Perlstein for three days of dovetail box making, Aug 15-17. Our goal was a simple but elegant hand dovetailed box with a removable, solid lid. We used some nice cherry for the boxes, with a touch of sapwood around the bottom, and a bookmatched cherry lid. We made a pile of practice joints before diving into the real deal, with excellent results. Dovetails done well are all about care, patience and technique. This class was a real pleasure, one of my favorite things.

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Small Cherry Box

June, 2014

I enjoy making small dovetailed boxes like this one, which is similar to what we make in my Dovetailed Box class.

The wood in this case is cherry, the inner tray is Port Orford cedar, and the finger grips are desert ironwood. The cherry is what I call ‘box-matched’, a method of bookmatching that results in the grain pattern running continuously around the outside of the box, meeting (nearly) perfectly at all four corners.

This box was donated to the Furniture Society’s 2014 Silent Auction, held at the conference in Pt. Townsend, WA, and now happily resides in the collection of my friends Roz Young and Alan Wilkinson of Hawaii.

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Cabinet With Spalted Panel

This cabinet is similar to the one we make in my Cabinetmaking class – in fact, this one remained unassembled for a couple of years while it served as the teaching model. I finally decided it was time to finish it, put it together and hang it on the wall. Often when you cut joinery but leave it unassembled for a period of time, nothing fits quite the way it’s supposed to. I was lucky in this case, the Honduras mahogany behaved nicely, as did the spalted maple and Port Orford cedar panels.

The spalted panel is a bookmatch, which deserves mention. Often the fungal pattern (“spalting”) in wood moves so rapidly and unpredictably, and without regard to grain structure, that when bookmatching a piece the two faces seem to have little relationship to each other. In this case — a 19mm board found in some wood shop or another — I could see that the spalting pattern remained fairly consistent  through the board, and I was rewarded with a fair match. This particular piece was very punky and fragile. It absorbed many, many coats of shellac before any finish build was noticeable.

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