Thursday, 20 October 2011

Re-visiting weight - an A1Ti panel

Titanium sucks.

Well... it sucks to work with at least. It does not like to be cut, filed, bent, piened or lapped. If it was not for a very good friend asking me to make this - I don’t think I would have. This is not my first Ti plane - I made a small XSNo.4Ti a while ago. It was a nightmare too.

There were several reasons for making this plane. My friend is doing some extensive restoration work to a Mahogany sailboat and is working by the ocean. The sea air makes rust free tools mission impossible. He also wanted something lighter in weight. I was curious to see just how much weight could be reduced simply be changing the sole and side materials. That and the fact that the idea of a titanium panel plane sounded pretty cool.

Dovetailing the XSNo.4Ti was a total nightmare so the thought of dovetailing a plane 3 times as long felt insane. So I didn’t.

It is welded.

My friend Hugh Black from True North Cycles makes wicked custom bicycles - often with Titanium frames. He was willing to try welding the shell for me. The welded shell sat around in my shop for a few months and everyone commented on how amazing his welding job was.

As a point of reference - it normally takes me about 3 to 5 minutes to pien a typical 01 tool steel cross pin (the pins that hold the infills in place). It took at least 15 minutes to pien each end of the 3/16" titanium cross pins. I was worried they did not pien properly to be honest. I decided to switch to 303 stainless for the cross pin that holds the lever cap. There was no way I was going to risk trying to pien a 5/16" titanium pin! The 303 pin worked perfectly and while it is tight - you can see it because it is a different material.

Lapping took 4 times longer, required 10 times as much abrasive paper and three-quarters of a water cooler bottle. Half way through the lapping, I became keenly aware of just how good Hugh is at welding... the evidence was completely gone. Thanks again for an amazing job Hugh.

When all was said and done, it felt noticeably lighter than any other panel plane I had made, and I was dying to know just how light it was.

My A1 panel plane is infilled with Ebony, and has bronze sides. It weighs 3.914 Kg’s (8.629 Lbs). This A1Ti filled with Rosewood weighs 3.04Kg’s (6.702Lbs). It is somewhat shocking that this plane is a full 2Lbs lighter!

This got me thinking (again) about the weight of planes. When most people talk about infills, they usually comment on the weight and how much heavier they are than non-infill planes. This perception of weight is usually identified as a benefit, and that it adds to the plane’s function. I am not convinced that weight is a desirable thing, and - I think we are usually confusing weight with what we are actually experiencing - how solid the plane feels.

One of the things that makes an infill ‘feel’ the way it does is that there are no moving parts and the blade is so securely held by the lever cap, that the blade has no choice but to take a shaving. I would describe this feeling as solid - heavy does not necessarily factor into this. The best example of this is how a plane from Old Street Tools feels. If weight were really that important - these planes would feel horrible. But they don’t - they feel amazing to use. This is because they have some similar characteristics to infills. Namely, that there are no moving parts and when the planes bed, the blade and the wedge are precisely mated - the plane feels really solid. This solid feeling also comes from the fact that most handled infill planes have closed totes. A closed tote is not only stronger, but it also means there is no flexing when the plane is being used. This translates into improved feedback and a tactile sense of the wood being cut that is pretty amazing. I am also realizing that I wrote about some of this last year and will end before I start sounding like a broken record.

Another interesting side note to plane weight. Many people have commented that they are pleasantly surprised by how light the K13 is, and I am often asked how much it weighs. Until this morning - I have never been able to answer that questions. My K13 weights 2.704Kg’s (5.961Lbs).

Two pics added for Pete - the welded shell;


Blogger Richard Wile said...


This plane looks as amazing as I thought it would. Being a cyclist who only rides Titanium, I really like the look and feel. The welding job was amazing but the lapping moreso, looks very smooth and clean - love that titanium colour.

On your point about solid/feel/weight, I think that the weight is definitely part of the feeling of confidence one has when using an infill; I think the weight exaggerates any tilting or movement and provides better feedback and thus control to the user. A lighter plane you do not feel its position as much, because there is less mass to feedback on - my 2 cents anyway.

21 October 2011 at 11:02  
Blogger Steve Kirincich said...

Hi Konrad,
It has been written many a time that wood soled planes glide over wood with less friction than a metal soled plane. Are there any subtle differences between the different metals you have used on your planes?


21 October 2011 at 12:22  
Blogger Chris Knight said...

What a fabulous piece of work Konrad!

I think you ad better figure out a way of making them faster - plenty of folk are going to want one...


21 October 2011 at 13:19  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Richard,

Hugh did an amazing job with the welding. Most of the uneven surface was lapped out within the first few rounds - which is pretty amazing when you consider how abrasive resistant Ti is.

I agree that some weight is nice, but I do like the way a wooden try plane feels too. An interesting point about the weight factoring into the feeling of tilting over - I will pay closer attention to that next time I am doing some edge jointing.


21 October 2011 at 20:00  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Steve,

A great question. I am not sure to be honest, but will play around with the Ti plane a bit more and see if the material feels different. I know that 01 feels very different than a cast plane - you may be on to something here.


21 October 2011 at 20:01  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Chris,

I do have enough Ti to make a few more - and another one is already in the works.


21 October 2011 at 20:02  
Blogger Pete said...


Very nice post, but as a hobbyist welder I'd love to see a pic of the welded shell before you worked your magic on it!


24 October 2011 at 12:40  
Blogger Konrad said...

Here ya go Pete. I hope these are helpful - they are the only 2 shots I have of the welded shell. You can click on them for a larger view.


24 October 2011 at 17:00  
Blogger Matt Owen said...

That is one gorgeous plane. Not only is it beautiful, it's probably indestructable :-). As always, great work Konrad! On your next one, in-process photos would be much appreciated. Thanks!

25 October 2011 at 10:45  
Blogger JW said...

Just for the sake of stirring the pot some more...

A few years ago, I was at a class being taught by Larry Williams, and got to use some of the wedged coffin smoothers that he brought with him. After that, I started to think that the reverse is true about being able to gauge tilting and feedback.

I think it's easier to tilt a heavy plane, precisely because they're so heavy. But the advantage of the coffin smoother wasn't in the weight... it was height, and in the way the plane is held. Because the fingers sit on the vertical side of the plane, instead of twining around the handle, and because the plane was so tall, I found that it was easier to feel the plane tipping, or not, as compared to a handled plane.

27 October 2011 at 09:14  
Blogger Konrad said...


Pot-stirring is always welcome.

The issue of a heavy plane tilting is a very valid one. I agree with you in principle - but it may depend on how you edge joint your work. If you are edge jointing a rough sawn edge - then a heavy jointer may not be ideal (rough edge not square, flat or level). But if you have a mechanical jointer and use a jointing plane to get the edge perfect - then a heavy jointer may offer an advantage. When I am truing up and edge - I take advantage of a camber in the blade so I can keep the sole of the plane positively registered on the work. In this case, heavy feels like an advantage because it sticks to the surface. Trying to balance a heavy plane on a high edge to bring something into square is a bit of a nightmare and I would certainly prefer a lighter plane than a heavy one in this instance.

Your observation about a taller coffin shaped smoother is right on the money. Larry and I talked quite a few times When I was developing the XSNo.4. The additional height of the rear infill helps fill out ones hand and does help with feeling of square. It also keeps your fingers from being crunched up.


27 October 2011 at 11:49  
Blogger Pete said...

Hi Konrad, thanks for adding the extra pics- I have a TIG welder and have considered welding up a shell, glad to know it's certainly doable!

It looks like he welded the inside corner as well, but perhaps didn't use any filler so that you didn't have to somehow grind that corner square before adding the infill? Or did you chamfer the bottom edge of the infil along most of the length, and leave the infill square at the heel and toe of the plane, where it's visible? I can see that he stopped welding the inside corner short of those areas.

Thanks again,


27 October 2011 at 13:16  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Pete,

Glad they helped.

The insides are welded as well - and the welds were deliberately kept away from the visible ends and inside the mouth. The infills were chamfered on the edges to fit around the welding, but were left square on the ends so it looked right. Good eye!


27 October 2011 at 16:06  

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