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Last autumn, I met Konrad Sauer at an exhibition of woodworking and woodworking tools held at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire. He’s a plane maker and let me try out the small smoother (shown in the photograph below) on a piece of American walnut. It wasn’t a highly figured piece of wood but the grain was far from obliging. The plane worked perfectly, taking a full width, tissue paper thin shaving and leaving a surface that required neither scraping nor sanding before applying a finish. Even more impressive however, was the plane’s performance when I turned the board of walnut around. The finish this time wasn’t quite as polished – how could it have been? – but the fact that here was a tool that could take a shaving against the grain without leaving areas of roughness and tear out was a revelation. For a guitar maker constantly needing to work highly figured tropical hardwoods to a perfect finish, it was almost too good to be true. Of course, I asked him to make me one and though I try to be patient, I check his website from time to time hoping to read about progress.

The website is full of interesting things but it’s especially worth reading the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ section for his discussion of why he makes his planes almost entirely with basic hand tools. Some of the reasons are obvious: such tools cost less and take up less space in the workshop. Others are more subtle: working by hand, although apparently slower than working with machines, means that an error can be caught before it turns into a costly mistake. Taking an extra shaving with a handplane is much more controlled than using a machine with a cutter head revolving at 3,000 rpm – not to mention safer and quieter. And working by hand allows him to adjust the plane that he is making by, say, making its handle a bit smaller or its blade angle a bit steeper, so that it’s exactly as his customer want it. These are just the same reasons why I build musical instruments by hand.



One Comment

  1. Cool text., dude

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Small smoother « Finely Strung on 25 Jul 2008 at 5:49 pm

    […] plane making, smoothing plane, XS smoother Back in February, I wrote about meeting the Canadian planemaker, Konrad Sauer, and trying out a plane that he had made. It performed so well and I liked it so much that I […]

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