The first time I ever met toolmaker Ray Iles, we got into a conversation about the planes made by Karl Holtey. I asked Ray: Have you ever used one of Holtey’s planes? How do they work?
“Use one?” Ray replied, with a dismissive tone. “Why, they’re just bloody perfect!”
Ray’s comment confused me. That was about 10 years ago, and I didn’t get to actually lay my hands on a Holtey plane until about five years later. It was then that I understood what Ray meant. Holtey planes are tools in the same way that the Lotus Elise is a car. Yes, the Holtey plane does everything that a perfectly tuned plane (or Oldsmobile) should do. The Holtey cuts wood with unerring precision. It produces flawless surfaces. It stays sharp for a long time.
Anyone who has two neurons to rub together can get a plane to do all those things and spend about $50.
So what is a Holtey plane? It’s like a Brian Boggs or Sam Maloof chair. It’s like a James Krenov cabinet. It’s like a Phil Lowe highboy. An Alan Turner knee-hole desk. A Holtey plane is a small chunk of the man’s life energy.
These tools take tremendous time to produce. Don’t believe me? Visit Holtey’s meticulously maintained blog to understand everything that goes into one of his planes. You might think he goes over the top with fit and finish. You might not like his designs (I happen to like them). But I doubt that you can deny the fact that they are priced appropriately when you figure out the shop rate.
This week I have Holtey’s No. 982 on my bench, a loaner from one of Holtey’s customers. It is the best-looking Holtey I’ve seen yet. And after setting it up (easy-peasey), I put it to use on some reverse-grain cherry in a raised panel.
“Bloody hell,” is about all I managed to say.
– Christopher Schwarz
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