In Chris Schwarz Blog, Handplane Techniques, Handplanes

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Cincinnati is not a tourist destination like nearby Big Bone Lick, Ky., So when people come to visit our shop I try to accommodate all their requests so they consider their journey to “Porkopolis” to be worth the gasoline.

This weekend, one of the visitors to our shop pointed to the anvil by my workbench and asked:

“Is that the anvil you used to beat those planes with a hammer?” they asked.

“Yes, it is,” I answered.

Then someone at the back of the crowd said one fateful word: “Huh?” They hadn’t seen the video. So I pulled the anvil out from under the bench and fetched the plane bodies we’d tested with a hammer, including the Wood River plane and the Veritas plane.

I showed how the ductile Veritas tool had survived a couple good wallops. And I showed how the Wood River block plane (which I think might be cast steel , more on that in a minute) also took the same licking with equal aplomb. Both plane bodies were remarkably durable compared to the old gray iron planes that would shatter like glass when dropped from bench height or struck with a hammer.

After explaining all that, I was out of stuff to say. Awkward silence. So I said what I always say when I do demonstrations:

“Wanna try it yourself?”

And they did. Several readers gave the planes a beating with my trusty Hamilton hammer, while many other readers took photos like they were crime scene photographers.

Then Thomas Lie-Nielsen wandered into the shop to see what all the noise was about. He asked to see the results of our “experiment,” which had all the scientific rigor of the bone-beating beginning of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

I asked if he could tell if the Wood River planes were cast steel or ductile iron. He said he wasn’t sure if you could tell that using household equipment.

“Would they sound different if you tapped them with a hammer?” I asked.

He didn’t know. So he took my hammer and gently tapped the sidewalls of planes from Veritas, Borg, Stanley and Wood River. The ductile iron had a deader sound than the Wood River planes, which had more of a ring. But he concluded that could have as much do to with the shape of the casting as anything.

So if you see photos of Lie-Nielsen, a hammer and a competitor’s plane, don’t jump to conclusions on what is happening. He didn’t try to destroy the planes and wasn’t beating them out of spite or glee. He’s too much of a gentleman I suspect.

But I’m not. I was the kid who built model World War II airplanes, painted them with care and applied their period-appropriate decals. Then I blew them up with M-80s down by the river.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 7 comments
  • marcb

    Why don’t you just spark test them, steel and iron give off very different tracers

  • Pat Lukas

    As a youth I built model ships only to set them afloat with cherry bombs aboard. Still vividly carry the memory of one with a short fuse. But it never progressed to the level of destroying gazillion dollar planes.

  • Scott from Los Angeles

    Here I am trying to muster up the financial courage to purchase a Veritas plane and here you are bashing one with a hammer. Your "test" is compelling in a limited way, but otherwise frustrating (for me) at the same time.

    PS: I also built scale architectural models in my adolescence only to blow them up in a brilliant display of pyrotechnics. The difference is that those models of my youth cost me less than one tenth the price of a Veritas hand plane.

    C’est la vie…

  • i would like to know more about cabinet making with hand tools.

  • Richard Dawson

    I’m still thinking about the kid in the movie, The Ice Storm, who flew model airplanes from the rear deck of his house. They carried lit firecrackers.

  • Jonas Jensen

    I still don’t quite agree with idea of pounding at some innocent tools.
    brgds Jonas

  • Mag from Indy

    I was there and witnessed this plane beating "frenzy" myself. I had to look twice to make sure all the beer bottles under your bench were still unopened. I believe a Clark & Williams was laid upon the guillotine when the mob came to its senses.

    Actually, it was great time Chris! Thank you. I was thinking, collect a bunch of old planes, anvils and some hammers and you have the makings of a very popular woodworking class. Guaranteed sellout.


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