A No. 4 in snakewood, without doubt the most ornery wood I ever worked

IMG_4593I finished work just yesterday on this No. 4 in snakewood, without question the most challenging wood I ever laid tool on. The stuff is gorgeous – and it splinters, cracks, explodes, and otherwise gives you headaches once you start asking it to do what it doesn’t want to do.

The tote you see here is the second one I made for this plane. The first cracked wide open after I had shaped and fitted it to the body of the plane and was drilling the first of two holes sideways through plane body and infill to contain 1/8 inch steel rods which, when peened, would secure the tote to the body of the plane.

My bad. I used an ordinary drill bit with shallow spirals for removing waste and didn’t back it out to clear the waste often enough. I heard the snakewood pop, and my heart sank.

Rest assured, though, that I went at the snakewood very, very cautiously the second time around, taking care to keep the wood as far away from my machinery as possible and instead doing most of the work by hand.

More fun that way, to be sure, but no less difficult or, for that matter, less stressful, as I surely did not want to go back to my client, who had given me a small snakewood cant for the infill, to ask for more.

In the end all went well, and as I closed in on finishing this baby, I breathed more than one heavy sigh of relief.

The sides are mild steel, the base 0-1 tool steel; they are joined by dovetails and pins. The iron is A-2 tool steel, one quarter inch thick, pitched at 45 degrees. I make the irons myself but have them professionally heat treated.

I outsource the basic shaping of the body to a machinist shop with a waterjet where I live, in Santa Maria, CA. With that exception – and the heat treating of the irons – what you see is entirely the work of my hands, as usual.

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