The Cyma Curve

The tote you see here, made from English walnut given to me by my friend Will Richter up in Berkeley, will go into one of my shorebird planes, a No. 4, so-called because the crown flips upward, giving the whole thing the shape of a shorebird’s head seen from the side. I’ve written about the first shorebird plane I made about a year ago. I’d studied a photo of one of Ron Brese’s planes with a crown that seemed to disappear into thin air behind the plane, and I wondered: What happens if I flip the crown upward?

I liked the result despite the risk that a delicate crown can break. Later on, at one of the Lie-Nelson hand tool events, someone saw in the shape of the crown what I hadn’t seen myself – the head of a shorebird, possibly a godwit with a short beak – and I realized that the inspiration had come from the Sunday afternoons that my sweet wife Elise and I spend on the shore north of here, in Pizmo Beach, gazing at the heaving sea and the godwits and other small shorebirds skittering across the sand as the waves slide back into the sea, searching restlessly for food.

At that same Lie-Nielsen show someone else asked whether the curve created by the design was a cyma curve. It wasn’t, as I discovered once I got home and analyzed the drawings, but it was close. I’ve made maybe five planes since then with shorebird crowns seeking a cyma curve that pleases my own eye, and I think I nailed it on this plane: The radii of the arcs are in the proportions of a golden rectangle – the result of many hours thinking and drawing and making cyma curves.

In making the plane into which this tote will go I will put into practice one other really important thing: Having identified the rear edge of the frog as a reference point, I have shaped both tote and steel body so that everything matches up – the rise and slope of the shoulders, the slope in front of the tote on which the iron rests, and so on. I have also refined the mouth and frog and fashioned several jigs, at the moment pretty crude, to enable me to make repeatable chipbreakers.

The tote for a No. 4, in English walnut

The tote for a No. 4, in English walnut

All in all, these things mean that in making this plane I will reach the goal I set for every new plane: that it be substantially better than the last one. My job now is to find ways to make the next plane substantially better than this one.

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