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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.

[See image gallery at www.dfcabinetmaker.com]

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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Woodworking Overseas is a Rocky Road

This week I’m headed to Germany to teach a couple classes at Dictum in Bavaria. I don’t teach much anymore, but I make a grand exception for Dictum for several reasons. The biggest reason? The woodworkers overseas are much more hardcore than those in North America. Amateur woodworkers in the European Union (EU) have an uphill battle for the following reasons (and many more): Wood is much more difficult to […]

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The Best Hardware is Cheaper than You Think

The hardware you use can make or break your project. Crappy hinges, lightweight pulls or cheesy locks have no place on a piece that you slaved over. While there are still some great hardware companies out there that sell new hardware (Horton Brasses, Ball & Ball and Whitechapel Ltd. to name a few), their range is obviously limited. That’s why you should never forget eBay.com as a source for hardware. […]

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Medieval Method Can Improve a Modern Design

I recently finished building an Enzo Mari table from the 1970s as part of an article for Popular Woodworking Magazine, and I have only one worry about the project. It looks great. It feels stout. But I’m worried that the joinery might not last forever. The joinery? Lots of properly installed wood screws, with diagonal bracing to reduce or eliminate racking. But screws can come loose and might allow the […]

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Don’t Sand – Burn off your Machine Marks Instead

Shou sugi ban – the Japanese finishing process that chars the outside of wood – is an ideal surface finish for some furniture pieces. One of the unsung advantages of burning the wood is that you can reduce (or even eliminate) sanding or planing your boards before finishing them. There are limits to this, of course. If your jointer, thickness planer or saw leaves deep marks, this won’t work. But […]

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An Enzo Mari Table – and a Puzzle

“Mari is right, everyone should have a project: after all it is the best way to avoid being designed yourself.” — G.C. Argan, L’Espresso, 1974 In 1974, Italian designer Enzo Mari published a series of furniture designs that were free to the public. People were encouraged to use his drawings to produce tables, chairs, beds and bookshelves. What’s more, Mari designed the pieces so they could be made from standardized […]

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John Brown for the 16th Time

Every time I read John Brown’s book “Welsh Stick Chairs,” I latch onto something different. When I read the book for the first time in the mid-1990s, I became obsessed with the Welsh stick chair’s form (and I remain so to this day). After a few more readings, I became obsessed with the history of Windsor chairs and wondered if JB was right that the origin of American and Welsh […]

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Objections to David Charlesworth’s ‘Ruler Trick’

The first time I used David Charlesworth’s “ruler trick” on the backside of a plane iron it took an act of sheer will to do it. I had watched David’s groundbreaking 2004 video with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks “Hand Tool Techniques Part 1: Plane Sharpening” and had thought about the ruler trick for a few weeks before I could muster the courage to try it myself. I couldn’t come up with any […]

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Video: Folding the Folding Bookstand

The June 2018 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine features an article I wrote about making a folding bookstand using scraps and copper rivets. It’s a design based on 18th-century pieces that were popular among British military officers. Several readers have requested a video that shows how the bookstand folds and unfolds. So here you go. Though the mechanism looks complicated, it’s not. If you have a drill press, this project […]

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