Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Planemakers

As I push harder and harder into the world of making planes, especially wood ones, I can't help but be humbled by the people that are out there today keeping up this timeless craft. Unfortunately in the day of modern power tools we have seemingly lost the respect for the toolmakers themselves. There was a day when the toolmaker was as well respected, if not more, than the craftsman that used their works. Nowadays the tool maker is just another supplier that takes manufactured parts, assembles them into something larger and ships it to an unknowing customer. That customer simply repeats that process, taking other pre-made parts and assembling them into something else larger.

I myself am slowly, and seemingly in a methodically unstoppable way, becoming more toolmaker than woodworker. Sure, the two are related as I do make tools from wood, but at some point you're more one than the other, at least in my mind.

This is a craft that must not be lost to the ages but unfortunately much damage has already been done. The century long decades of disposable tools from mass production effectively killed several thousand years worth of knowledge, trade, craft and art. Below are some of the modern plane makers that I have come to deeply respect and hope to learn all I can from. The people here are doing more than their part to keep this craft alive and I intend to help them.

This is by all means not a complete list, if you know of others that should be included here by all means let me know, I'd love to see more people that are committed to this work. If you have the means to do so, please support them by purchasing their tools, I can guarantee you won't regret it. I've heard people balk at the price of a new, hand made, wood plane but it comes down to this: instant vs. long-term gratification. Remember these are hand made tools from quality craftsman, you get what you pay for so buy the best tool you can afford and do it one time.

And remember, without the toolmaker how will you work that piece of wood?

  • James Krenov. I'm not sure any list would be respectable if it doesn't mention Mr. Krenov, perhaps the original modern planemaker. Not only did he bring laminated planes to the forefront (some believe he invented them) but he introduced that entire class of plane to us: the Krenov style plane. Even though he's passed his work and style lives on through people such as David Finck who I might add is a fine planemaker in and of himself. If you don't have his book on making planes, go to Amazon and buy it now. Immediately. Really.
  • Karl Holtey. Perhaps not entirely a wood planemaker but he is generally considered a living legend amongst the trade members. I have never personally touched one of his creations but quite often have dreams of doing so. 
  • Old Street Tool, formerly Clark & Williams. These two gentleman helped to create the current renaissance in hand tools and especially in wood planes. Their classic design, choices in top notch materials and seemingly fanatical attention to detail have landed them in the modern plane maker hall of fame (if there were one). One only has to look at Chris Schwarz's writings on them to understand the deep respect they have earned. Unfortunately these gentleman are gathering years of age as much as they are knowledge and are not accepting new orders. THose of us that don't have one of their planes might not ever get to purchase one from them.
  • M.S. Bickford. Another fine example of a younger gentleman that's continuing the age old craft. Another DVD here that's on my short list to get my hands on. If I can't wait for shipping there's always the streaming option from Lie-Nielsen...
  • Philly Planes. Boy do they make some fine tools, and rightfully so given the background of hand plane toolmakers across the pond. They have about the most "complete" product line I have ever seen from hollows and rounds, to ogee and moulding and rebate planes. Just looking through their gallery is a delightful experience.
  • Tod Herrli. I recently purchased his DVD, "Make A Custom Ogee Plane" and must say that I learned a ton from it. From the design to bringing it to life in wood he exudes planemaker through and through. He's not as well known as some other mentioned but he's earned an A+ in my book. I plan on buying his other DVD very (very) soon.
  • Caleb James. Another relative newcomer to the trade but producing fine work none the less. In addition to his fine planes he has made measured drawings available to the rest of us. I have yet to try one of his designs but it's certainly on my list of planes to make.
  • Jeremiah Wilding. Here's one to keep an eye on, the Schwarz wrote about him recently and has nothing but good things to say. I don't see any prices listed on his site but I'm sure they're representative of the time it takes to make wood planes by hand but is still fair to the rest of us.
  • Scott Meek. And another relative newcomer to the trade that also has a DVD on making smooth planes. I have that one and it's good if you want to learn more about making Krenov style planes. I'm not sure how his traditional wood planes are since I haven't seen much from him in that area, he seems to make more Krenov style planes.

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