Around the time that I began as a woodworker I read The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking by James Krenov. His discussion of sensitivity to the material and to the work itself struck a chord with me. He felt strongly that using hand tools reinforced and enhanced this sensitivity. He also suggested that wood that has been cleanly cut with a sharp blade reflects light in a completely different (and superior) way to wood that has been sanded, no matter how finely. Last year Ed Brown and his daughter Elisabeth spent a week in my shop with me. Ed built a small windsor bench and Elisabeth started a three legged stool which I hope she’ll come finish one day. Ed brought me several Krenov books as a present which I’ve been reading on cold days this winter when it has been uncomfortable in my shop.
Krenov made his own wooden hand planes. He loved the sensation of working with them; both the sharp blade cutting the wood cleanly, and the wooden sole sliding smoothly over the work. I’ve been using planes for 40 years, but I’ve used mostly metal planes. You can see some of my planes in use in some of my other posts. My favorite plane is a Record #10 rabbet (rebate) plane that I used to make most of the joints in timber framing my house. I love it because using it taught me a lot about adjusting and sharpening planes, and because it did so much valuable work for me. It’s a perfect size for me and is beautifully balanced; a joy to use. In fact, I’ve sharpened it so often that I am pretty close to needing to buy a new blade for it. Here it is adjusting a tenon recently.
Re-reading Krenov made me want to make a small smoothing plane in his design. This is easily done, as he gives pretty good directions in his books, and even more detailed descriptions are provided along with excellent two-piece blades by Ron Hock (http://www.hocktools.com/). I decided to use a 1 1/4″ wide blade – smaller than any other plane I have – to use for making very clean cuts in problem areas where I probably resort to a cabinet scraper now. Ron Hock makes a kit that supplies all the parts for this plane cut in exotic hardwoods in case you don’t want to start from scratch. I made my plane from an especially dense piece of walnut with some red oak for the sides. Here are some photos of the construction of the plane according to the Krenov and Hock directions.
Cutting the pieces out on the table saw is pretty straightforward. The recess in the bed of the plane for the cap iron screw head was made by locking this piece securely in a drill press vise at the correct angle and drilling a line of overlapping 3/4″ diameter holes 1/4″ deep with a forstner bit. The center marks left by the bit and the outside circles made by its teeth are clearly visible. The small webs left between the holes were cleaned up with a chisel. The pin which locks the wedge is 1/2″ square: the 3/8″ round tenons on either end were turned on the lathe: I gently rounded just the corners of the pin. It’s already been finished as it doesn’t get glued: it rotates to line up with the wedge. The holes at the ends of all the pieces are for 1/4″ alignment dowels which will be cut off when the plane is finished. Here is the dry fit.
Since everything looks good – here it is with glue.
Yes, I used a few more clamps. This was a cold day and you may notice that I’m doing this inside my house. Some of the alignment dowels can be seen sticking out of the ends. These were made of cut off pieces of the walnut used for the body of the plane. I cut 1/4″ square pieces on the table saw, cut them into short pieces a little longer than the drilled holes on the band saw, and drove them through a Veritas dowel plate. When the glue was dry (24 hours) the clamps were removed. I cut the outside profile on the band saw. The sole was smoothed and flattened using Lie Nielsen #4 1/2 smoothing plane. This also achieved the correct mouth opening. By the way, that’s dried beeswax not rust on the cap iron, blade, and sides of the Lie Nielsen plane. I got a little carried away applying it some time ago as I’ve had a problem with moisture in my shop: it dried in streaks. The shavings can be clearly seen as a mix of walnut and oak.
Finally the sides were thinned somewhat and were squared to the sole by running the body over the jointer. The sharp edges on the sides and back of the sole were chamfered with a block plane and the top edges were rounded using a spokeshave. A little Tried and True oil and wax finish and you have the picture that began this post. To the upper right you can see the wooden hammer I made to tune my wooden planes. The wood being planed in that picture is a piece of hard maple. You can see light through the shavings: a little patience and you can adjust it to make lace.
In the video below I have just sharpened and adjusted the plane, and have selected a cut off scrap of walnut to see what kind of surface I can create. At the start of the video you can see the saw marks and even some burns on the freshly cut surface of this piece of wood. The first couple of cuts show clearly that I am planing against the grain so I turn it around and start over. Right away the surface begins to clear. James Krenov would, I think, suggest you pay attention to the sound the plane makes when it is working with the wood, not against it: quite a difference. Since these are light cuts, it requires several passes to remove all the saw marks and the rough grain torn up by the initial cuts. Close inspection reveals a very nice surface, but a few saw marks on the left edge of the board. Moving under the light reveals some other flaws that need a little more attention. After finishing with the plane I briefly admired the fine shavings. (One of my pet peeves is the excessive attention paid to shavings and not to the finished surface: the shavings will be swept up when all is done. Japanese woodworkers even have a competition where they try to create the thinnest continuous shaving from the edge of a board with a finely tuned plane. They measure the shaving with machinists calipers and don’t even look at the surface that has been planed.) Finally, I applied a little paste wax which I then buffed to show what the piece might look like with finish.