Tuesday 11 November 2014

The ‘we can do this’ plane

Joe Steiner stopped by the other night to continue working on a plane he is making for himself. He commented on the previous blog post and the first planes we each made and how magical that experience was. This lead to talking about our early beginnings and all the challenges and excitement we both felt. It was really great to reminisce - there were a few details I had forgotten about. 

One thing I asked Joe was if he remembered the plane that stopped us in our tracks when we had finished it. He answered right away, and it was the same plane I had recalled. That plane was for our third customer and went to California. That plane, an A6, was significant on many levels. 

It was the first plane we made using old, stunning wood (and it was not Cocobolo). This plane marked the beginning of a career long obsession with finding the finest infill materials possible - working with this wood was just that inspiring.

It was a plane we were shipping to someone across the continent, and was commissioned by someone we had not met in person. It felt like a monumental project - it was a monumental project. There was immense pressure of getting it just right along with a deep sense of gratitude towards our customer and the risk he was taking with us. 

That plane has an identical twin - my own A6.  This pair of planes have several important first. These were the first adjusters we used - were made by Ray Iles in England.

They have bronze sides - as opposed to brass. The lever cap screws are also much more refined with much better knurling and overall shape.

The handle shaping had essentially been finalized and has not changed since, although the K-series of planes represents another evolution.

This plane has an 01 tool steel sole - we spent the extra money and started using a more appropriate steel than mild steel.

We continued to try different bed angles - in this case, 47.5 degrees. This is often called a ‘Norris pitch’ because Norris used this bed angle splitting the difference between the common pitch at 45 degrees and the 50 degree ‘York pitch’.

The sidewall profile also changed and the shaping of the front bun started getting better, both ergonomically and aesthetically.

We had always stamped the bed with a serial number and a maple leaf ( a stamp purchased from Lee Valley) and Joe and I started using our own unique serial numbers for our own planes. KP-12-03 stands for ‘Konrad’s Plane, No.12, made in 2003’.

One of the challenges with adding an adjuster was positioning the lever cap so there was enough clearance for the blade and lever cap to be removed from the banjo or cup. The head of the screw in the cap iron is captured in the banjo and is what allows the adjuster to move the blade and cap iron as shown below.

When Joe and I finished this customers plane, we sat on my workbench and just stared at it. Neither of us spoke for several minutes. I am not sure who spoke first, nor what exactly was said, but with this plane, we both knew we could do this - and do it well.


Blogger Bartee said...

What a GREAT story. I always read your blog. It is so personal at some levels.

You are one of a group of tool makers who truly make a difference.


11 November 2014 at 11:55  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Bartee - for the very kind comments and the encouragement.


11 November 2014 at 11:59  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great story-; )
thanks Konrad.

11 November 2014 at 15:02  
Blogger Chris Bame said...

And they keep getting better and better.
Proud to say I own one!
Great post Konrad

Cheers Chris

12 November 2014 at 10:03  
Anonymous Wiley Horne said...

That A6 was my first infill plane. It turned out to be a wonderful adventure, because Konrad (and Joe at that time) customize every tool. I felt--and was-- engaged in the process all the way. He had me scan a palm impression, so he could get the tote just right. Then there was the infill wood, the bedding angle, the side metal to choose, the mouth gap, the choice of steel for the iron--all customer choice. Progress photos every week or two. The excitement builds. You get bonded to the plane while it's still being fabricated. I like that Konrad kept the twin.

Years later, it's a fabulous plane. It always will be. Built for many lifetimes of use.

For me, it was the 'I need another one' plane--a 16-1/2" blackwood panel plane, also at Norris pitch. Magnificent! I'm looking at the two of them right now. Over the years, there were more adventures to come, yet the first planes were never outshone by the later ones. They're all the best.


16 November 2014 at 17:59  

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Sunday 2 November 2014

P-01 - the first plane

It was interesting to pull the first plane down from the shelf and look at it again after so many years. Part of me was aghast at how primitive it is - but I was also able to look at it and be a little proud too. For a first plane - it was not bad. Better than ‘not bad’ I suppose - this effort is what encouraged me (and Joe) into plane making, and was good enough ‘right outta the box’ that it was comparable to my first infill - an unhandled Spiers coffin shaped smoother. I can still remember installing the blade at 3am and taking that first terrifying shaving. I don’t think I slept that night out of excitement of actually making my own plane!

The sole and sides are mild steel - a horrible material for planemaking really. The metal deforms like crazy, it is very prone to rusting when compared with 01 tool steel, and does not look so great. There are only 2 benefits - it is really inexpensive, and very malleable... but for anyone interested in making a plane for themselves - please, spend the extra money and use 01 tool steel.

The blade is 2-1/4" wide and at a 45 degree bed angle. I think this is one of only a couple planes I ever made at 45 degrees. I did not make the cap iron, but I cannot recall where it came from. 

The plane is infilled with Cocobolo. At the time, that was all Joe and I could find. And we got really, really lucky with this piece of Cocobolo. I bought it from Unicorn Hardwoods in Toronto - I don’t think they are in business any longer. It was a rather large piece that was sitting on their showroom floor. It was dusty and pretty crappy looking. I picked it up not because I knew any better or how to evaluate the age of a piece of wood... it was simply the only piece we could afford.

I say lucky because it was fairly dry. Again - we did not really know any better - but it has shrunk surprisingly little in the 14 years I have had it - other early Cocobolo prototypes have not fared so well.

If you look closely at the above photo, or click on it for a larger view, you can see the shrinkage to the front bun. Not too bad considering we had no idea how important old, dry wood was!

The lever cap was cast at a small foundry in Cambridge Ontario - I am not sure if they are in business either. They did a decent job, but had a tough time being consistent with color over the years, so I eventually switched to using solid bronze stock.

The screw is the most embarrassing part of the plane - not even knurled! The threads are terrible too - a regular V-thread as opposed to the ACME thread I use now.

Overall, the plane is not overly refined, but there are several things about it that I recognize as good early decisions, and are still present in my current work.

The first one is the relationship between the screw and the lever cap. There is roughly 1/3 of visible threads below the lever cap (contacting the cap iron), and 2/3 above. This may not seem like a big deal, but in my mind it is. It just looks nicer. It looks more secure - more tidy. And is way easier to ensure positive contact across the front edge of the lever cap when they are kept close together. Along those lines is the tip of the lever cap screw. It should be rounded over so it does not dig into the cap iron and start to cam out.

The other aspect is the shape of the handle. I can remember spending hours and hours shaping this one - I had never shaped a handle before. This one still feels pretty good. There have been quite a few little changes over the years, but this first handle still feels pretty nice.

The front bun is really uninteresting, and compared to the front bun on a recent plane, this one looks really crude.

The piening went well enough that there were not any gaps between the dovetails. That was a big relief and looking back on it, I think I got fairly lucky right out of the gate.

Oh, one other issue with mild steel - it is fairly soft and scratches much quicker than 01 tool steel.

The fit of the rear infill and shell is still holding up quite well - there is a little shrinkage in the infill, but not too bad.

The fit of the overstuffed infill on the radius is pretty good too. This first one took hours and hours to get just right.

P-02-02 - the second plane. There were several changes to this one. The most obvious being the brass sides. I was very interested to see what was happening during the piening process and using 2 different metals allowed me to see exactly how things were moving around. I also liked the idea of seeing the joints and construction of the plane.

This one also has a 2-1/4" wide blade, but the bed angle is 50 degrees - a ‘York pitch’.

It also has a new cap iron with a soldiered brass nut for the screw.

The Cocobolo infill came from the same block as the first plane and has also had surprisingly little shrinkage.

This plane taught me that piening 360 brass is not fun. It chips and work hardens very quickly... and it does not patina well.

This handle is a little nicer than the first plane - the shape is a little more consistent and fluid and overall nicer in the hand. 


The lever cap screw is now knurled (not very well mind you) and the screw has ACME threads.

Both planes have nice tight mouths on them - something I still firmly believe in.

There were several other early planes that Joe and I made that did not make it out of the shop - a few more steel sided smoothers, a couple panel planes and a jointing plane. There were constant improvements at an exponential rate.

There was one early plane that really stands out for me - a plane for a customer in California. After we finished it, we just sat on my bench and stared at it - almost surprised at what we had done. With that plane, we knew we could do this. I will post photos of that planes identical twin a little later on.


Blogger raney said...

Fascinating to see the origin planes, Konrad. I agree - there's a lot to be really proud of on these, nearly a decade and a half on. The peining was the part that really caused me the most grief early on, and your attempts are much much better than mine.

More interesting to me personally is the design vocabulary. These are certainly not nearly as evolved as they became over the next 10 years, but I can already see in the sidewalls what they would be refined into. The front-heavy lean, relatively high recess behind the front bun, and the subtle radius at the elbow behind the bed. These are all things I can still see in your later 4, 5, and 6 series planes.

What I most notice, though, is that visual 'lean' you managed to get on these. Really well balanced, and honestly I can almost see how these eventually led to the K series bursting out of your brain. I think pulling off the degree of lean in the K series is something, design-wise, that you could only have done after a decade of refinement, but I can see the predilections in these early planes too.

Good for you for having the stones to put these up. I think it's hard sometimes to air early attempts (I know I've kept a lot of planes out of the sunlight) but it really is a great exercise to look at this. I'm not sure I can completely 'see' how amazing the designs would end up, but even P-01 and 02 are really in rarefied territory design-wise.

I also agree - the totes are spectacular. I think the base join to the rear infill looks a little light for my tastes, but I also know that is true with every open-toted plane I've seen. Yours looks pretty comparable to a Norris 2 and the Mathieson's if memory serves.

I much prefer the closed totes (and I suspect you do too).

Thanks again for showing these. Maybe I'll pull a few of mine out of the graveyard for my blog one of these days. If I still have em, that is...

2 November 2014 at 17:39  
Blogger Carl Jara said...

Amazing to see your own progression isn't it? Thanks for sharing this with us!

2 November 2014 at 23:09  
Blogger John said...

Boo hoo about the glitches in your first effort. It's still an awesome piece of work and a display of genuine talent! Now I am truly embarrassed that I emailed you a photo of the first plane I tried to make. I think I'll go hide under a rock for awhile.

3 November 2014 at 17:52  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Thanks for sharing this, I'm amazed to see your planes evolution and roots. These first planes would be something any galoot would be smug to have in their arsenal, but unsurprisingly a decade+ of focused practice has taken you way past a very respectable square one (the tool scene was a lot different back then) and on to world-class. I have an interest in tool making and have made a few pieces (including my latest project), but can see the only way to become top-notch is to turn up the volume (pieces) and continually one-up your last attempt.

4 November 2014 at 09:26  
Blogger Kevin Brehon said...

I hope that my first infill (if it ever happens) can come remotely close to what you did. I agree with Raney that there are similarities to later planes that you have made. These originals just seem a little unfinished compared to later versions. It makes me wonder, does the effort that went into these first planes feel like more or less than your current planes?

6 November 2014 at 21:57  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hey Raney,

Thanks for your comments. We have talked about plane design countless times over the years, but this is the first time about our first work. I appreciate your insights and what you 'see'.

Like you - I am a firm believer in closed totes. They are stronger but almost more importantly, they don't flex and loose power or the tactile feedback we all enjoy from our tools. I am always stunned when I see open handles still being made today.

now back to work!


11 November 2014 at 10:21  
Blogger Konrad said...

thanks Carl - absolutely agree - always interesting to go back and revisit early efforts.


11 November 2014 at 10:22  
Blogger Konrad said...

Yes John.... poor me:)

Don't be embarrassed about your first plane - you got over the fist hurdle - which is also the largest one... just trying. And for the record, your first plane is great. It looks good and it works - it does not need to be anything more than that.


11 November 2014 at 10:24  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Jeremy,

You are right - 10 years of constant building and studying the same forms over and over again takes its tole - in a good way. One-uping (is that even a word?) is what it is all about really. It is also important to see other peoples work - and people who you feel are better than you are. It can be depressing because you then know how much further you have to go - but also very inspirational too.

good luck turning up the volume.


11 November 2014 at 10:27  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Kevin,

First planes are very inconsistent and are often not a good indicator or where someone will end up. I have seen some pretty amazing first planes and some seriously dogs breakfast planes. Some of those great efforts do not improve too much over subsequent planes - and some dogs breakfasts evolve very fast. The thing to avoid is continually making dogs breakfasts, and the key to avoiding that is learning to see and being critical of ones own work.


11 November 2014 at 10:29  

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