Wednesday 21 September 2011

Seeing - part I

Several months ago a friend of mine stopped by with his typical ‘goodie’ bag. Some of it was for sale, some was just for show & tell, and some was part of the ongoing lending routine (for which I am very grateful). This plane was one of the ‘lenders’. There were 2 reasons he brought this plane. First was because of the very unusual marking on the lever cap (which we were both pretty excited about).

The other, closely related reason, was to get my thoughts on who might have made it. I had an opinion on the maker question immediately. He had concluded the same thing. We compared notes about why we concluded the same name - it was an interesting exercise. What was most interesting is that we were both looking at the form of the plane - the lines, the shapes and the design details. We used that information to identify the maker (as opposed to a great big SPIERS or NORRIS stamped in the lever cap).

I have been thinking about this issue for a very long time - what details distinguish one makers work from another? I have talked about this topic with a few other planemakers over the years and it is always fascinating and informative, and is something very near and dear to our hearts.

I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag too fast here (as tempting as it is), so I would like to get some feedback from anyone who is interested. I have taken several photos of this plane from a few different angles to offer as much detail as I can. I would love to hear from you as to who you think made this plane, and most importantly - what details of this plane did you use to help identify it (or were you considering when identifying the maker)?

I should also mention, that as far as I know - this plane has not been positively identified or attributed to a known maker, so there is no right or wrong answer here. Depending on the interest in this topic, I am willing to venture further out on the plane design limb.

So... who do you think made it?

The below two photos have been added as per Peter McBride’s request.


Blogger Rollo said...

I'm guessing Norris, or at the very least not spiers. My rationale is not even based on geometry, but on the adoption of mass production methods, which seems to be what this plane may represent. Using a single plane as a testbed to approve irons would probably have been adopted by postwar Norris once they tried to make a more mass produced infill, versus prewar spiers and Norris, who matched their caps to their irons to their chip breakers to their bodies to their infills. My guess, anyway.

21 September 2011 at 23:34  
Blogger Peter McBride said...

Have a look at this plane marked Mathieson on the front infill.
It is very similar to yours, and yours is only the 3rd like it I have seen that has the sloping rear.
It seems the more of these infill planes I see, the less I am confident about who made them.
Can you add some pictures of the inside of the lever please? I think that is where the answer might be.
I have 15 or more planes I am confident were made by Spiers & marked with another name, and 5 or so of them are marked Mathieson. They have a distinctive lever cap design seen from the back. I have another 2 or 3 marked Mathieson that I think were made pre-war by Norris, including this one, and yours perhaps.
However I am by no means certain, the more I have, the more I see conflicting evidence.

Peter McBride

22 September 2011 at 08:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this excercise, please continue.
I also would say Norris based on sidewall shapes and front bun, but then the rear tote looks a bit odd not becoming the frog, so I'm not 100% any evidence of it being a mongrel? besides the broken front bun, are the top of the sidewalls mushroomed? it seems like it may have been altered by someone.

22 September 2011 at 11:32  
Blogger Jay Christian said...

I think Rollo's comment is very intriguing, but I would actually use that logic to speculate in the opposite direction. My guess (and it's only that) would be that this is an early plane produced by maybe Spiers or Mathieson when they were acquiring their irons and cap irons from outside suppliers like Ward and Howarth. If they were purchased in sufficient quantities, it would make sense to me that Howarth, for instance, might have a test plane to fit and test irons before sending a batch to Spiers.

As to specific maker, I would guess Mathieson, based solely on the saracen cap screw and the rounded back, but that's far from an educated guess.

Very interesting! Thanks for the post, Konrad.

22 September 2011 at 14:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess Mathieson for no good reason. I am not that skilled but when I first saw the picture I thought Mathieson, then saw the blog entry.\


22 September 2011 at 19:35  
Blogger Richard Wile said...

Not being schooled in the finer aspects of old infill plane design, I did what any self-respecting tech geek would do - did an Internet image search. And while it may seem like piling on I too felt it was a Mathieson, mostly based on the design of the lever, with the undercut front. Also the tail treament, and the shape of the sides where the bevel begins and ends. I found one very similar on the gallery on The Best Things site.

My 2 cents...
Richard Wile

23 September 2011 at 06:50  
Blogger Geoff said...

I'm going to say it is Norris, based on the profile & chamfering of the sides and the infill. In particular the rear of the front infill and the tote right behind the iron.

Interesting, will be looking forward to the experts' opinions.


24 September 2011 at 21:10  
Blogger Jason said...

That cap iron is Norrissy.

7 October 2011 at 12:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mathieson.about 1933. looking at the shape and looking at the following link...

18 October 2011 at 20:06  
Blogger Richard Wile said...

I still think Mathieson, and I agree with Anonymous' post for the catalog.

As a side note, I looked into the prices from the catalog Anonymous posted. The 845 - 16.5" Panel Plane was 76 shillings/10 pence in 1933. I spoke with a friend of mine from England and he tells me his father was working as a plumber at that time and earned 50 shillings/week, meaning that plane was a lot of money even back then. So as near as I can tell this roughly equates to 175 pounds today which is more or less the price of a premium (LN, Veritas) plane today. Useful, no, interesting? I think.

30 October 2011 at 21:28  
Blogger Peter McBride said...

Anonymous musn't have seen any earlier Mathieson catalogues. The drawing is the same in 1899.
And for that matter those pictures of other plane sellers like Norris, Preston, Buck, Spiers, Tyzack show characteristics seen on the plane in question.
The point is...who was the actual maker of a plane marked with or without a makers name?
We cannot assume that a maker's name actually identifies the maker. After looking at many of these planes I have come to the conclusion that a plane marked Spiers was made in Spiers workshops.
All the rest were not necessarily made by the makers who's name appears on the plane.
I have more than 5 or 6 planes marked Mathieson that were made using Spiers construction techniques, and parts from the same casting patterns as Spiers used. Also other Mathieson marked planes that have very Norris like characteristics. So the question is more like ... was Norris making for Mathieson, or Mathieson making for Norris....or both of the above at diferent times, which I think is a more likely truth.
Soon I will have some comprehensive web pages available to show some of these examples, but as I do it and talk to other collectors, the water just gets much more muddy.
Here is some work in progress


8 November 2011 at 17:46  

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Thursday 1 September 2011

End of summer report

It is hard to believe it is September already.

We had a good (and busy) summer this year - here are some of the highlights.

I had the great pleasure of attending the Lie Nielsen 30th anniversary open house on July 15th and 16th. I took a somewhat indirect route - Maine via New Jersey. I know - sounds kinda weird, but it was a perfect trip. I flew to New Jersey and connected with my friend Raney Nelson of Daedtoolworks and we drove to Maine together. We stayed at a wonderful B&B - Blue Skye Farm with fellow toolmakers, Ron Brese, Tico Vogt, Jameel Abraham, Father John and Huna and Peter Follansbee for good measure. The setting was wonderful, the food was fantastic and every evening we sat around enjoying each others company. It was marvelous.

This was the first time I have been to Lie Nielsen, and I was very impressed. Everything was well organized and everyone at Lie Nielsen was extremely helpful and generous in helping us get settled in. They took great care of the demonstrators and I am sure all the people who attended received the same level of attention. From the wood fired pizza, to the lobster bake, to the tour of the facilities - we were all well taken care of. My deepest thanks and congratulations to Thomas Lie-Nielsen and the rest of the fine folks at Lie-Nielsen. This trip was a highlight of my summer.

Another highlight was an opportunity to work with my friend Noriko Maeda. Noriko is a Japanese calligrapher of the finest order. I have gotten to know Noriko over the last several years and jumped at the chance to collaborate on a project with her. She has an exhibit at the Warm Springs Gallery in Charlottesville, VA. Part of the exhibit includes a series of 6 lamps. Noriko explored the word Asobu, which means “to play like a child”. She produced the paper shades and I had the honor of creating playful bases for them. It was a wonderful project that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The shop has been a busy place too. I have been working on some planes with very striking and unusual infill material. Here are 3 of them.

First up is a Snakewood filled XSNo.4. This was my first experience with Snakewood and it was a real pleasure. It is a strange wood beyond its appearance. The wood itself is very brittle and I can imagine would produce some horrific slivers. It works beautifully and the end result is quite spectacular. The customer and I had a really tough time deciding between a bronze lever cap or a stainless steel one. We were both on the fence about it and could not make a call. I threatened to let Riley decide.

Riley chose bronze.

It was the right call.

The bronze really highlights the lighter tones in the snakewood and helps connect the infill to the metal. I think a stainless steel lever cap would have left the infill somewhat disconnected.

This next plane is a Desert Ironwood burl filled SNo.4. I have worked with Desert Ironwood before, but this was a particularly nice piece. The lever cap for this plane was a no-brainer.

And last, but certainly not least, is a Black & White ebony filled SNo.4L smoother. The “L” in the name is because this plane is 1/2" an inch longer than the standard SNo.4. It has the same blade width, but is just a bit longer - 7".

I have had this Black and White Ebony for years and have been dying to try it out in a plane. These photos were taken after the 8th coat of french polish was applied. It is amazing how the color has changed as the french polish has built up and as the wood has been exposed to light. My understanding of Black and White Ebony is that the cream colored sections will darken a bit in time, but will retain most of the light color.

Working this material was really fun. It works just like Madagascar Ebony but without the annoying coal dust everywhere and has a softness like English Boxwood.

For some reason, I looked at the clock on July 10th at around 8:20 and was immediately struck by the fact that exactly one year ago at that moment, I was in the hospital waiting for my finger to be stitched up. It was a strange realization, and I have to admit the rest of the day felt a little odd. I was keenly aware of every activity in the shop and paid extra special attention to being safe. I breathed a sigh of relief as I crawled into bed that night - injury free.

August 16th - the much anticipated opening of the Lee Valley store in Waterloo. I have a running list of Lee Valley items on the chalkboard in the shop, and I held off on ordering in anticipation of picking them up in person at the new store. The store opened at 9am and I figured I would geek out and see how close to the front of the line I could get. Riley and I were the 4th people in line. Rob Lee was there to keep us company as we waited (he capped Riley’s Timbit quota at 10 - I re-negotiated it down to 8). I have been back several times already - it is so great (and dangerous) to have a Lee Valley store less than 10 minutes from home!

The grand opening of the Waterloo store is being held the week of September 19th and there are a few of us that will be demonstrating at the store. I will be joining Dan Barrett of D.L. Barrett & Sons and Chris Schwarz from Lost Art Press for demonstrations and seminars on Thursday the 22nd, friday the 23rd and Saturday the 24th.

The following week, Joe Steiner and I will be driving to Cincinnati for the 2011 Woodworking in America conference. Last years conference was an amazing experience and I cannot imagine this year will be any different. We are looking forward to seeing everyone again and please stop in and say hello if you are going to be attending.

I am working on the first 2 K13’s right now - one infilled with African Blackwood and the other infilled with some incredible Desert Ironwood. I should be posting photos shortly.


Anonymous chris Bame said...

Konrad, Your timber pile continues to amaze me. You come up with stuff that is unheard of. Can't wait to see the upcoming K13 with the African Blackwood. I found some nice pieces to use on my first attempt at a infill plane. Mind if I email you with questions.
Great work as always!!

5 September 2011 at 02:25  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Chris,

I know I have said this many times before - but it really is all about the wood for me. I always choose to “invest” in the finest materials as opposed to a surface grinder.

By all means - send me an email with any questions you might have. I will do my best to answer them.


7 September 2011 at 09:40  
Blogger FredW said...

Konrad, As always what beautiful lanes. Hmm, I may need to try something in that black and white ebony. Of course the snakewood is also almost impossible to resist. So, what I am saying is cease and desist, no more new woods. :o

8 September 2011 at 16:02  
Blogger Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

Beautiful patterning on both sides of the infills, too. Most Snakewood I've managed to snare has decent figuring on one face but is quite bland on most other faces, this is fine for inlay or box sides but not great for 3 dimensional work. It is great to work with as a mirror surface is possible without much work. The stripy Ebony is something to behold, too, quite striking. Look forward to seeing another speedboat, this time bedecked in the sexiest of Dalbergias...

8 September 2011 at 16:57  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Fred,

Although I cannot agree to your request - new woods will always be sought after and used whenever possible:)


8 September 2011 at 17:48  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Black,

It was a pretty amazing hunk of Snakewood and lucky to find one with figure on all the faces. There is enough left for 2 or 3 more XSNo.4’s or maybe even a SNo.4.

The speedboats are coming along nicely...


8 September 2011 at 17:52  
Blogger Richard Wile said...

Love that Desert Ironwood Burl Konrad, will have to order one of the smoothers with some of that!

11 September 2011 at 20:53  

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