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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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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.

[See image gallery at www.dfcabinetmaker.com]

 

 

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.

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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:

A WORD IN PRAISE OF MY TEACHER

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.

[See image gallery at www.dfcabinetmaker.com]

 

 

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

www.davidfinck.com
www.davidfinckviolins.com
Making and Mastering Wood Plane (book)

 

 

 

The Gallivant

In May 2014 a group of woodworkers from New Zealand and Australia traveled to the North America to visit woodworkers and tour woodworking-related sites in the US and Canada. The trip was organized by my old CR classmate, John Shaw, who is a principal at the Centre For Fine Woodworking in Nelson, NZ. His five companions have been either students or teachers (or both!) at the school. They are Lachlan Park (Aus), Ben Percy (Aus), Katalin Sallai (Aus), Ian Gillespie (NZ) and Pat Oughton (NZ).

After arriving in San Francisco, the group rented a van and drove through Yosemite NP, Death Valley NP, Las Vegas and Grand Canyon NP before arriving here in Scottsdale/Phoenix. While here we visited Taliesin West, Bob Howard at the St. James Bay Tool Co., the Heard Museum, furniture makers Doug and Rhonda Forsha of De La Madera, and more. From here the group flew over to Philadelphia, with me in tow.

In Pennsylvania we based out of Oxford, PA, an hour west of Philly. World famous Hearne Hardwoods is located in Oxford, and Brian Hearne (one of the family owners) was a student at the school in NZ several years ago. Hearne Hardwoods specializes in large, flitch-sawn lumber that is often highly figured. Brian and his father Rick buy logs from around the world, as well as locally, and ship them to the yard where eventually they are opened on the big (67″?) bandsaw, a chain mill capable of cuts up to 9′ in width, or a WoodMizer bandmill. It’s an incredible place. We had the pleasure of serving as the sawmill crew for one day, on the big saw, slicing up a maple burl, a couple of Tasmanian blackwood logs, a big English walnut and even bigger Black walnut log. (see images below)

While in Oxford we took day trips to visit the Nakashima workshop, in New Hope, PA, where Mira Nakashima graciously gave us a tour, and the Wharton Esherick home/studio in Paoli, PA. To anyone spendingt ime in the Philadelphia area, I highly recommend visiting all of these incredible places – Hearne’s, Nakashima’s and Esherick’s.

After a visit to the Center for Art in Wood, in Philly, to view the Bartram’s Boxes Remix exhibition, I took my leave from the group and returned home to Phoenix. They spent several more days in Oxford before setting out on the road to visit Falling Water, Frank Loyd Wright’s masterpiece in eastern PA; Certainly Wood, the veneer supplier in Buffalo, NY; Niagara Falls; Michael Fortune, the well known Canadian furniture maker and teacher near Toronto; Lee Valley Tools in Ottawa; and Peter Korn’s Center For Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine. After that they spent some time in New York City before flying back to San Francisco. There they took a couple of days to visit the College of the Redwoods (our alma mater), up the coast in Ft. Bragg, CA, before flying back home to NZ and Australia.

[See image gallery at www.dfcabinetmaker.com]

 

Krenov in the Renwick

JK ash cabinet

Cabinet, ash and pernambuco, 1985, by James Krenov

The Smithsonian Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. had long sought one of James Krenov’s signature pieces for their collection, but had neither a suitable piece nor the funds to purchase one. In the fall of 2012 Dr. Oscar Fitzgerald, professor of Art History at George Mason University and the author of several important books on furniture history, in addition to his work with the Smithsonian, approached David Welter at the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program with a proposal: If an amount of money could be raised by donation, Oscar and his daughter Molly would match the amount to create a sum sufficient to buy a piece for donation to the Renwick,  should one become available.

Welter got the word out to the school’s alumni and within two or three weeks had raised a considerable fund from Jim’s former students and supporters. Oscar and his daughter chipped in an equal amount, and the search for a piece was on. Few Krenov originals come into the market, and eventually the search led right back to Ft. Bragg.

During the spring, summer and fall of 1985, at his bench in the CR classroom, Jim built a version of his “cabinet of old Swedish Elm” (published in his book The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking), this time out of ash wood. We students in the room had the privilege of watching this piece take shape, and observing a great craftsman at work. He explained to us that, when revisiting an old design, he never intended to replicate a previous version exactly. With each iteration, he allowed his eye to determine the proper dimensions, proportions and details for the particular type and character of wood that he was using. Jim didn’t work from a drawing – rather, he designed and built on the fly, by “composing.” He’d make a sketch of a piece after it was complete and only then make note of the primary measurements and details that his eye had led him to. Later, after he had made a new version, he would compare these sketches to note any differences. Rather than trying to improve a previous design, he simply allowed the new piece to take shape as organically as the original.

JK at work

Jim Krenov shaping a curved leg of the ash cabinet (1985, photo courtesy Jim Budlong)

My classmate Roger Moore (CR ’86) and his wife Jan bought that ash cabinet from Jim, some time after it was complete, and it remained part of their collection at their home in Ft. Bragg for years afterward. When word got around in 2012 that a piece was being sought for the Renwick, Roger and Jan decided to offer theirs for consideration. The cabinet was evaluated by the experts at the Renwick and deemed suitably representative of Jim’s work, and would be accepted into the collection if donated.

Early in 2013 the necessary hoops were cleared, the purchase made, and the piece was shipped off to Washington, D.C. for presentation to the gallery. Oscar Fitzgerald was asked by the Renwick to give a “gallery talk” about Krenov and the ash cabinet, which was scheduled for March 20, 2013. As it happened, my wife and I were planning a trip to the D.C. area at about the same time, so we adjusted our plans to allow us to be at the Renwick for Oscar’s talk. David Welter made the trip from Ft. Bragg, representing the school, and Larry Hinckle, another alumnus who lives not far from Washington, also attended the event.

oscarFitzgerald

Dr. Fitzgerald

For me, personally, having been in the room when Jim created the piece, finding it in the magnificent setting of the Renwick was moving. Oscar talked not only about the piece, but about Jim and the personal relationship they had developed in the last few years of Jim’s life. Considering the substantial personal sacrifice Oscar made to see that one of Krenov’s pieces assumed its, and its maker’s rightful place in the pantheon of American studio furniture, there’s no doubt of Oscar’s considerable regard for Jim and his work.

*Books by Dr. Oscar Fitzgerald include: Four Centuries of American Furniture (1995) and Studio Furniture of the Renwick Gallery (2008). Also of interest will be Dr. Fitzgerald’s interview of Jim Krenov for the Smithsonian (2004)