Back in February, I had the chance of a lifetime to tune up and use an entire arsenal of exotic infill handplanes that came from the collection of John Edwards, a Michigan woodworker and tool collector. The result of this bacchanal of brass and rosewood was the article in our August 2006 issue “Test Driving Exotic Infill Handplanes,” which compared the planes and tried to convey what it was like to use tools that were worth more than my car.
And now, in the final twist on the whole story, many of those planes are now up for sale.
I chatted with Edwards this morning on the phone and he said that his health hasn’t been 100 percent lately. So he’s not able to really put the tools to use and enjoy them in the shop. And he’s also weeding his collection of duplicates.
“How many smoothing planes does one man need?” he asked.
So, if you’ve ever dreamed of owning one of these really stunning handmade tools, this might be a good opportunity. Many of the makers of these planes have a long waiting list.
Edwards (at right) has quite a few tools he’s selling himself (the Bill Carter A1 jointer plane shown in the article will be featured in an upcoming Brown Auction). Here are some of the highlights of the planes Edwards is selling, including the Sauer & Steiner plane shown above. Note that all the prices quoted below were the retail prices at the time I wrote the article. Contact Edwards directly for his selling price if you are interested.
Karl Holtey’s 11-S: A High-angle Solution
This new model from Karl Holtey isn’t based on an old plane , it’s one of his original designs. When I first saw it I thought it looked as comfortable to use as a brick. And on that point, I was mostly wrong. The 11-S (the small plane in the photo at right) is easy to cradle with your hands and to control, thanks to its diminutive size. After a lengthy planing session my right hand began to rub on the back edge of the blade, which was annoying, but not awful.
The high cutting angle (called the “pitch”) of the tool made it a remarkable smoothing plane. There was nothing in our shop that it couldn’t handle with ease , and I rooted deep into our scrap pile. Unlike Holtey’s signature A13 (shown at right, though already sold), the iron is bedded directly on the wooden infill and the lever cap is removable; it hooks around a pin that passes through the sidewalls of the plane. This feature makes it easy to remove and install the iron.
The only disappointment with this tool is one shared by many of Holtey’s tools, and that’s the particular alloy of steel used in the plane’s cutter. The alloy, called S53, wears astonishingly well. But I found it difficult to sharpen. Some of my stones wouldn’t touch it, and I had to resort to diamond stones to get a keen edge. Even then, I wasn’t confident I had gotten the best edge. This is a personal opinion, but I prefer steel that is easy to sharpen, especially with smoothing planes.
Compared to other Holtey planes, the 11-S is a bargain: about $1,500 with the way the dollar is trading. This is a sweet little tool that cries out to be used. I hope it doesn’t sit on a collector’s shelf.
Holtey No. 98: A Design That Changed the Rules
The No. 98 (about $2,900) is another of Holtey’s original designs and it was a groundbreaking tool when he introduced it. It was one of the first modern “bevel-up” smoothers, and Holtey’s trailblazing has led to a surge in the popularity of this style of tool.
That said, for a variety of reasons, the No. 98 was my least favorite of the Holtey planes I tested. The adjuster, while ingenious, is fiddly when it comes to installing the iron in the tool. The iron is bored with a series of holes. You drop the iron onto a pin that projects from the plane’s adjuster. Because the hole and the pin have a tight fit, it took me a good deal of messing about to get the iron in place on the pin.
In use, the tool is remarkably balanced and has a sleek modern look that appealed even to my traditional tastes. And it performed admirably. With a steep 38Ã?Â° microbevel on the cutting edge, the resulting 60Ã?Â° pitch made it a formidable smoothing tool. In all fairness, it’s also one of Garrett Hack’s favorite planes. Hack, who wrote “The Handplane Book,” suggested to me that it takes a couple weeks of work with a smoothing plane to really unlock its true potential. I didn’t have that long a time with the No. 98. So I think this was Hack’s nice way of saying that my opinion is in error.
Sauer & Steiner: New Kid on the Block
Konrad Sauer is a graphic designer turned furniture maker turned toolmaker. And all three of those traits are evident in his world-class workhorses. Sauer, who lives and works outside Toronto, incorporates classic touches from historic infill planes such as the venerable Spiers and Norris brands. But he blends them in a way that makes his tools both classic and distinctive. All of his tools look unmistakably like they are in the same vein, even his custom work.
As far as workmanship, Sauer’s planes are at the top of the heap. I could find no flaws in the four bench planes that I inspected closely (two panel planes, one unhandled smoothing plane and a jointer plane). The metalwork was excellent. And the wood showed off Sauer’s strengths as a furniture maker. The infill material he selected was itself astonishing, and the small details , fillets, curves and chamfers , were gorgeous.
But how do his planes function? Remarkably well. Everything clicks and fits together in a workmanlike manner. There’s no fussing with this or that. The adjuster is precise yet not precious. The iron is well bedded on a massive steel throat plate and wooden bed. And the tools (all of them) are a joy to push. Naturally, the high pitch and impossibly tight mouth relegate the panel plane I tested (about $2,800) for smoothing large surfaces, which it does with great aplomb.
Sauer’s business, which has kicked into high gear in the last couple years, will surely flourish because of his energy and the exquisite finished product. Edwards says he’s selling the two panel planes (14-1/2″ long and 17-1/2″ long and the jointer plane, shown above).
On a personal note: I’ve bought tools from Edwards myself (nothing fancy , a sweet D-8 ripsaw), and he’s was very easy to deal with. And before you ask , no I don’t get a commission on the sale of any of these tools (I wish!). And no, I’m not going to be buying any my self (I’m still saving up for a new table saw guard for my saw at home).