Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lessons in Plane-Making

Once our tools were sharp, and the process of sharpening was ingrained in our heads, we began the process of making our own planes – and we spent most of a week doing it, building a smoothing and jointer plane. One is designed to prepare final surfaces for the eye, the other to flatten edges of boards for joining, or jointing.
There are rules in plane-making but there is also a freedom.
 The rules revolve around the specific angle for the throat and ramp, the amount of space between the blade and the mouth, the spindle and the blade assemble, and the flatness of that sole, etc.
But beyond that there’s a freedom. The planes could take any shape that suited the maker.
Some people sketched out the shape, then cut them on the band saw, using it as a carving machine to leave big, rough cuts and stylistic jagged edges on the final product.
Others went into great detail in their designs, with fancy curves, handles and etchings.
And others followed the Krenovian approach, with all the artistry contained in the relationships between the different components -- the body of the plane little more than a block of wood with slightly rounded edges and a rough symmetry.
All were beautiful and useful in their own way, and each reflected the owner’s personality in some measure.
Our instructor Greg told us about a plane Krenov himself made, one of many, but which performed well for years and became a favourite.
“He just got it right on that one – I don’t even think Krenov himself could really tell you why,” said Greg.
There was just something about it, he said. The angles, the geometry, the relationships between the various parts. It worked, as Krenov would say, like a fine instrument.
Mine, just a few days old now, have already become an extension of myself. The way they fit in my hand, the finicky way the blades need to be tapped, backed out, tapped again, tried and tried until the perfect shaving is produced, the way they seem to jump to the work when tuned just so.
But more importantly, it’s the effect they have on a board that is so incredible. A piece of wood, surfaced in a planer or jointer in the machine shop and appearing perfectly fine to the eye, comes alive when the hand planer is used.
Something happens. The board begins to glow, the facets reflecting the light and revealing a warmth that was always there beneath the surface but that a machine simple didn’t have the ability to unveil.
It’s a beautiful thing and a blessing to hold the tools in my hands and know that these things, built to do work, are successful at that objective. I want to be that way too.

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