Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Present Perfect




If you know me, you know I have tool problem.

Aside from the problem I have that tools seem to keep following me home, I have a problem with tools that try to do too much and don’t do anything well. You know what I am talking about, the tools that usually fit on a benchtop and claim to be the only tool you’ll need for every task. There’s usually some lasers or GPS involved.
However, I am pleased to say I have absolutely no issues with the most recent member of my tool foster-family, a small wooden smooth plane made by Don McConnell and Larry Williams of Old Street Tool.


This little plane is a perfect synthesis of simplicity and performance. A traditional 18th century wooden smoother has only three parts: body, blade, wedge. There’s no glue, no dowels, no chipbreaker, or no adjustment mechanisms, just three parts are formed, fitted, and finished to perform one function, flawlessly. It’s an elegant weapon from a more civilized age.

The first time I used a plane like this, I had the feeling of sticking my finger in an electrical socket. The designer’s acronym K.I.S.S (Keep it simple, stupid) rang through my brain as the simple little plane palmed in my hands swooshed over the work. With a gentle amount of resistance, the tool obediently presented lace like shavings and a finished surface, which if not for the warm touch, could be mistaken for glass or marble. In that moment, all my metal planes looked bloated, clumsy and overly complicated (but don’t tell them I said that). The act was intimate and uncomplicated, approaching sublime.
Like I said, I have a tool problem.


Admittedly, the smoothing plane is a bit of a one trick pony. For the amount of work done by the other bench planes ( jacks, fores, trying planes, block planes etc), it is almost joke. Where a fore plane might take dozens of meaty of 0.1” cuts truing a surface, the smooth plane might take several swipes of 0.001” or less. That being said, those little wispy shavings will ultimately reveal the final surface of a piece and therefore, could arguably be the most critical cuts of the piece.  It might just be Jedi mind tricks, but I am glad to have this pony in my stable.

This tool is special. I feel very privileged to have it in my keep and feel that it demands my best efforts in return.






2 comments:

jamie bacon said...

Great planes. I've been able to acquire two Clark and Williams smoothers on the used market, a 2005 with a 1 5/8" iron and another which they no longer offer on their site, a 1999 with a 2 1/4" iron and a 7 3/4" long body.
I'm always on the lookout for one of their jointers, try or fore planes.

nielscosman said...

Hi Jamie,
Yup. There's a trying plane in the works with my name on it. I am fast becoming a true-believer!
Cheers,
Niels