Honorable Mention at Del Mar

IMG_4172Here’s happy news. This No. 3 in Honduran rosewood won an “Honorable Mention” ribbon last week in the “Design in Wood” juried competition at the San Diego County Fair at Del Mar, said to be one of the toughest, most prestigious woodworking competitions in the country.

As is true of all the planes I make these days, this one has 1/4-inch mild steel sides dovetailed and pinned into a base of 1/4-inch O-1 tool steel. The iron – 1/4 inch thick, 1 3/4 inches wide – is A-2 steel pitched at 50 degrees and beveled at 30 degrees plus microbevel.

The rosewood got a hand rubbed coating of Tried and True Danish oil topped by three coats of Myland wax.

The radii on the tote’s cyma curve, incidentally, are in the classic proportions of a golden rectangle, and the design of the tote as a whole is deliberately radical in service of my theory about planing boards.

In my view the job really boils down to an effort to balance the plane fore and aft on the all-important point where the tip of the iron meets wood – and the more natural and relaxed the motion required to get the job done, the better.

To that end, I design the totes on my planes so that the hand comes to rest not behind the tote, as it would on a plane with a traditional tote, but above and behind it. This creates a straight line out of forearm, wrist and hand vectoring directly at the tip of the iron. To emphasize the importance of this, I suggest that my clients hold the plane as if it were a pistol, with the first finger not wrapped around the tote but rather outside the tote pointing at the blade.

There is, I tell them, a kind of zen in using my planes; everything focuses on the only thing that really matters – getting a good shaving.

Mine are not traditional planes, whose design almost forces you to crouch down over the work piece and push the plane largely from behind. Because the tote stands more or less upright on a traditional plane, you must cock the wrist in order to move the plane across the board. The good news here is that the stance gets the whole body into the work of planing the board. The bad news is that this is totally unnecessary, if only because resulting stance is unnatural, and the motion of the arms, shoulders, body and legs in using a traditional plane is, to say the least, less than relaxed.

The better idea, it seems to me, is to let the mass of the plane do the work, not the mass of the body, and to design every element of the plane with this goal in mind.

Like the tote on my planes, the gaping mouth on the bun seeks to make my theory tangible. I want the fingers of the one hand to wrap into the mouth of the bun while those of the other hand come to rest with the web between thumb and first finger nestled right under the horn of the tote, or as I call it, the crown.

In this way, with either or both hands you can push down, push forward, or lift up as necessary to create the shaving you want, and the motion involved in planing a board becomes relaxed and natural, even easy, despite the mass of the plane (about four pounds in the case of my No. 3 plane).

All in all, I seek to marry design to mass in a coherent whole focused on getting the job done as quickly and easily as possible – and if in the meantime I end up with something that’s also nice to look at, that’s all to the good.

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