The maker of an infill hand plane must use different skills and tools to marry two wholly different materials, metal and wood, into an integral, harmonic whole – a tool that will smooth boards.
It’s easier said than done. The work requires different skills and different tools, and the maker must remain mindful that because the materials, tools and skills required to make the tool differ so much that a small error committed at any one point can – rather will – have a big impact on the others. Indeed, in plane making, small errors are like rabbits. They multiply.
I have the sides and sole of each plane cut on a water jet, and the good news is that water jets cut steel rapidly without generating heat. The bad news is that the cutting agent, a sand-like abrasive, leaves a rough surface and, worse, produces a cut not precisely perpendicular to the surface of the steel, making it necessary to spend hours shaping the dovetails by which I join the sides and bases of my planes on a mill/drill and refining the fit with close hand filing.
In addition, a water jet can’t produce the angled cut that locks pin to tail, once again requiring careful milling and hand work with files. All in all, having spent only minutes getting the basic shapes cut on a water jet, I spend hours on my mill getting a good fit, followed by more hours working the plane with files to get a precise fit.
The next step is to cut and rivet a steel frog to the inside sole of the plane. The front edge must sit exactly on the edge of the mouth without gaps at precisely 90 degrees to the sides of the sole. This, too, is more easily said than done, as it means drilling precisely located holes for the rivets through both frog and sole and and then peening carefully, checking all the while to make sure that the frog remains correctly positioned.
Next come hours of wielding a ball peen hammer to lock the plane’s sides and sole together. It’s a noisy process, so after I mount the sole and sides of the plane on a heavy peening buck of solid steel and secure them with clamps, I lug everything – plane, peening buck, hammer, files, clamps, anvil and odds and ends of other tools – to a local park and get to work on a picnic table of heavy concrete far removed from any houses.
I am happy to report that, having spent many hours wielding a ball peen hammer since I made my first plane many moons back, I know that steel can be made to flow if you remember that tap-tap-tapping beats hammering any day. I also know that if I hold my elbow against my side and tap-tap-tap with the wrist and forearm only, not the shoulder and upper arm, I will move metal into the gaps between dovetail pin and tail without marring adjacent surfaces.
Peening dovetail pins and tails, however, is but prelude to making the joints disappear with files and abrasives, not to mention shaping the wood infill and fitting everything together.