I just took this plane for a test drive a few hours ago, and I have to say - it was a rather incredible experience. It reminded me of the first time I used my A5ss
. I should back up a bit.
The goal of this plane was to be a “narrow, nimble, extremely balanced Try-plane”. Here is what we changed. Most panel planes have a “Norris” bed angle of 47-1/2 degrees - we opted for a York pitch of 50 degrees. We also decreased the width of the iron from 2-1/2" to 2-1/4". These two seemingly minor changes were not pulled out of the air - they were hunches based on our mutual experience with the A5ss. Geez... I need to back up a bit more.
The first A5ss was completed in November of 2006. There were a few new variations to this plane that in the end influenced the A1ssT. Up until this point, the sole footprint of the A5 was 7-7/8" long but I was looking for a way to shorten it to around 7-1/2". A york pitch allowed this to happen. Changing the bed angle from 47-1/2 degrees to 50 degrees gave me the extra room to push the handle close to the mouth opening while still allowing for a wide variety of handle sizes.
At the same time, I opted to make a narrow version - with a 2" blade instead of the usual 2-1/4". The net effect of these minor changes was amazing. The plane had an incredible balance to it - it was not toe heavy at all. This may not seem like a big deal - but a toe heavy plane will strain the wrist on the return stroke - even if you are a “dragger”. What happened was the balance point of the plane moved closer to the handle - putting more of the planes weight in your hand - literally. When you pick up the A5ss it feels like an extension of your hand. The coffin shape also factors into this. The narrowing of the plane at the toe reduces a fair amount of material from the front bun. This keeps the toe as light as possible not to mention is a much more ergonomical shape than the square bun of an A6.
Not long after the A5ss someone commissioned an A5 with a York pitch and a 2-1/4" wide blade. This was the perfect opportunity to compare blade widths and determine if blade width or bed angle (both had the shorter 7-1/2" footprint) was the larger factor. The wider model was as well balanced as its narrower brother - which suggests that moving the handle as close to the cutting action produces a more balanced plane.
In hindsight - this makes perfect sense as an unhandled smoother - the No.4 - is one of the most comfortable planes to use - your hand is as close to the cutting action as you can get.
Now - back to the A1ssT. We were curious to see if changing the bed angle and
moving the handle close to the cutting action would have a similar effect on a large plane like a panel. We were also interested to see the effect of reducing the width. Obviously it would be lighter overall - but would it influence the balance point due to the change in bed angle and handle position?
I have only used the plane for half an hour or so - so this is by no means a scientific conclusion... but this plane is more balanced than my 14-1/2" Ebony filled A1 panel plane. Of course the length may be factoring into this - but there is certainly a difference in balance. There is also a difference due to the narrow width. The plane feels more like a long smoother - it is faster (the reduced shaving width=less effort per pass) and does feel more nimble. I am not sure if that is a factor of the narrow width or the balance - but whatever it is, I am thrilled because that was one of the goals of the plane.
On a bit of a side note, there were quite a few other alterations largely due to the loss of 1/4" in width. The most notable change was to the front bun. I typically have a 1/4" wide shoulder that transitions from the top of the sidewall to the main part of the bun. I was worried this bun would look too skinny if I kept this shoulder 1/4" so opted to reduce it to 3/16". I also added in a second cove to the front of the bun - just for fun. This second cove is always on the jointers - but I was curious to see how it would look on a panel.
I am most pleased with how it all worked out in the end. I will take the plane for another drive before I ship it to its new home - but my first impressions are this plane will become a regular variation in the line-up.