In the Beginning…


Two smoothers

June 2012

You’re looking at the first two working double-dovetailed infill smoothing planes I made, and I emphasize the word “working,” since the truth of the matter is that before I made these, I had already consigned three other enthusiastic but crude efforts to the shelf in my shop marked, “This Is How You Don’t Do This Stuff, Schmuck.”

I look at that shelf pretty much every day mindful of the many, many opportunities one comes across for screwing things up when making handplanes. This is useful exercise, since it makes clear that I have availed myself of every one of those opportunities, and many of them more often than once, since I made the two planes you see here in January, 2012.

I like to look at these particular planes for another reason, however: They were pretty good workers, all in all.

I followed something akin to conventional wisdom in designing the plane with a tote insofar as I made sure that it had a tote, for one thing, and a bevel-down iron bedded at 45 degrees, for another, and a half inch steel frog directly behind the mouth, for yet another.

The plane measured roughly 2.5×10 inches and weighed about 4.5 pounds, and it had a low center of gravity and excellent mass. I used 3/16-inch steel for the sides, mating them to a 5/16-inch steel sole with double dovetails, cut and filed by hand and peened together with care, one by one.

The wood on this plane, like that on the other, was probably myrtle, though I picked it up at a garage sale and can’t be sure. I shaped the infill to support the iron half way up its length, to avoid chatter. The throat opening was vanishingly small – a mere sliver.

I ignored conventional wisdom with the second plane – my tote-less baby.

It measured roughly 2.5×9.5 inches and weighed about 4.5 pounds, with an iron bedded at 25 degrees and beveled also at 25 degrees. This plane also got a frog behind the mouth.

The throat, however, was no mere sliver. In fact, it gaped open at about 3/8 inch, or quite enough to make purists gag. How come? Well, the sole of this plane, like that of the other, measured 5/16 inch thick, and I wondered whether that might give the iron too much of an overhang, leading to chatter. What to do?

As an experiment, I filed the sole all the way through at 25 degrees, so as to support the iron right up to the point where it touched wood.

The trade-off worked reasonably well, since the plane cut a pretty nice shaving – against the odds, to be sure. But I blush and rush to tell you that I did not walk down this particular primrose path in making my third plane. Indeed, I had no idea why this plane, like its kissing-cousin toted plane, cut a decent shaving. But I saw the risks inherent in any prolonged effort to ignore conventional wisdom when you’re new at something and decided that henceforth I would not sneer at conventional wisdom until I had good reason – and knew enough about planemaking to justify my breaking of the rules.

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