Karl Holtey, Plane Pioneer
by Kieran Binnie
There is no straight path between a childhood spent in a camp for displaced persons in Germany’s Black Forest at the end of the Second World War, and a workshop in the Scottish Highlands making some of the most desirable handplanes in the world. Nonetheless, that is the path that Karl Holtey (of Holtey Classic Hand Planes) has walked, and after only a few minutes of talking to Karl it is clear that his singular approach to planemaking is born of his equally unusual life. As Holtey nears the end of his final run of planes – the 984 panel plane – now is the ideal time to reassess his career and in particular the impact his innovations have had on modern planemaking.
Changing the Landscape
While Holtey might not view his planes as perfect, his peers beg to differ. Planemaker Wayne Anderson characterizes Holtey as having “an ability to produce a plane with utter precision, like a Formula One race car [that is] second to none. When I first started planemaking, I printed several of his plane photos to remind me that perfection is an achievable goal,” says Anderson.
Nor have the benefits of Holtey’s innovations been confined to the purchasers of boutique infill planes. Holtey is widely credited in leading the way in utilizing alternative tool steels; Christopher Schwarz says, “there is little doubt that Karl’s efforts are what gave us the choice we have now” – particularly the now widespread availability of A2 steel blades. Similarly, Holtey’s work with bevel-up bench planes prompted a resurgent interest in such designs, culminating in the affordable line of bevel-up bench planes from Veritas. “If it weren’t for Karl, bevel-up tools would still be a backwater of aborted tool designs,” says Schwarz.
Article: “Test-driving Exotic Infills,” by Christopher Schwarz.
Website: Visit holteyplanes.com for a gallery of Karl Holtey handplanes.
Blog: Read the author’s lutherie and woodworking blog at overthewireless.com.
In Our Store: “Handplane Essentials,” by Christopher Schwarz.