I’m a mediocre guitar player. But because I’m a fair judge of craftsmanship, I have an immense respect for real-deal lutherie.
Have you seen one of Jameel Abraham’s ouds in person? They walk that fine line between something that looks and feels both handmade and perfect. On the other side of the equation are musical instruments that are neither, such as my Gibson OP25 acoustic guitar.
I’m telling you all this because earlier this year I got to pick up one of Matt Hodgson’s infill planes and got that same feeling from it. It was decidedly handmade, but was at the same time perfect to the hands and the eyes.
So it came as little surprise to find out that Hodgson was a custom guitar maker before he started making tools to sell , he sold his first plane about 18 months ago. Since that time, Hodgson has shifted his efforts from guitars to infill planes. Hodgson works under the name Gabardi & Son, a tribute to his father who was a cabinetmaker and introduced him to the world of woodworking and toolmaking. Hodgson made his first plane when he was 12 from a 2×4 and file.
“Making tools was just part of what we did,” Hodgson says.
Though Hodgson decided to go to college and had a career as a sales and marketing manager for Marriott, he was snapped back into the shop by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He decided to move his family back to his native Utah and take up the craft so he could travel less, be home more and make something he valued.
As he started making guitars, he also started making his own tools, like his father did, including a 6″ parallel-sided smoothing plane. A customer saw it and asked to buy it, and from then forward Hodgson began to change his focus to tools.
In addition to his family tradition and training, Hodgson has other advantages, including a cache of 1,000 pounds of 50-year-old rosewood that his father brought to Utah’s desert climate from Brazil. Some of it is perfectly straight-grained, which is preferred for guitars. Some of it is incredibly curly, up to 40 curls per inch.
“I am,” Hodgson says, “reluctant to part with it. It’s the highest quality wood.”
Since opening his toolmaking business, Hodgson has been making lots of custom tools, including infill panel planes. But most of the planes he makes are unhandled infill smoothing planes. His other major project is trying to find a way to make a cast infill smoothing plane that is more affordable (he’d like to hit $500) than the dovetailed ones.
In 2009 he made a run of 24 cast planes that were 5-1/2″ long with parallel sides, but he really wants to make ones with a traditional coffin shape, which is on the drawing board now.
I’ve spent several months using an A5-style smoother from Hodgson that I borrowed (it’s his personal plane) and have since sent back. In general, I prefer little unhandled infill smoothing planes and have placed a deposit on one. Guess I need to take a few more teaching gigs in 2010.
I’ll be writing a review of the smoothing plane for a future issue of Fine Tool Journal and Popular Woodworking Magazine. And I’m sure you’ll be seeing it here on the blog as well.
In the meantime, take a look at the Gabardi & Son web site to see some of Hodgson’s nice work. But just realize that it’s much like a musical instrument. Looking at it is only half the joy; the music you make completes the experience.
– Christopher Schwarz