Something old, something new…

I’m finishing work on four No. 3 infills to take to the Lee-Nielsen open house next month in Maine – two in Honduran rosewood, two in Gabon ebony – and the wrinkle on the prune is that two of them come with more-or-less traditional knobs in front, displacing the “gasping fish” buns that have graced or, as some would have it, defaced my planes until now.

Here are the two in ebony:


And the two in rosewood:


The rosewood fish-mouth plane won an honorable mention last summer in the Design in Wood competition at Del Mar, and as I happened to glom onto a quantity of ebony earlier this year, I decided to make a second No. 3 to match it, more or less.

I had some rosewood, too. So, what the heck, I decided to make a plane with a knob – actually, two planes, one in ebony and one in rosewood. With lots of help from Nick Obermeier, who makes replacement totes and buns for Stanley hand planes, I tested out maybe eight different iterations of knobs before settling on the design you see in the photos, which Nick turned for me.

I had the new planes in running order, more or less, two months ago – “running order” meaning capable of spitting out a decent shaving. But I wanted better; I wanted gossamer shavings. And I remembered what Raney Nelson told me some time ago – that I’d reach a point in my planemaking after which everything would be in the details.

So I had no choice but to sweat the details on these planes. Lying awake at night I went over every step in my work processes seeking points at which I might change this or that task and possibly end up with a substantially better plane. For starters, this meant taking great care in bedding the irons against the tote so that at no point could I get an .0015 inch feeler between one and the other. It meant filing the front of each mouth at a 15 degree slant to give the wood shavings room to escape.

It meant taking six hours out of my day to drive to Los Angeles and back to buy a craigslist surface plate – a fine Starrett Grade A specimen, 18x18x4 inches – on which I might flatten the backs of the irons and the soles of the planes. It meant laboring hours and hours over many days to get the finish I wanted, starting with half a dozen wet-sanded coats of Tried and True Danish Oil polished to a high luster, then four coats of Tru Oil brought to a high shine with rottenstone and baby oil, and finally four coats of Mylands wax.

Last but not least, it meant working the irons to give them identical shapes, and chamfering the chipbreakers at identical angles, and giving identical shapes to the brass lever caps, and milling flat areas into the curve of each lever cap on which to stamp my logo.

Does all this amount to overkill? I think not, because I like the result. Here’s what one of the planes did with some ornery black locust:


Here is the same plane working against the grain:


Which is not to say that I am wholly satisfied with my work on these planes. Indeed, I’ve already made a list of things to do to ensure that the next plane I make will be better than these.

Meanwhile, I can’t wait to get to Warren, Maine, to see what folks think who come to the Lee-Nielsen open house.


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