Smooth Operator

 Make a traditional double-iron coffin smoothing plane.

by Steve Voigt
pages 46-55

From the Middle Ages until the dawn of the 20th century, wooden planes were the dominant bench plane form in the Western world. But when I started woodworking (in the hand-tool dark ages of the late 20th century), this traditional form seemed practically extinct. As I became interested in planemaking, I found plenty of information on laminated Krenov-style planes, but very little on traditional mortised planes.

Eventually, as I began to wrap my brain around these planes, I came to realize how enormously sophisticated and ingenious their design is. Virtually every feature has some functional purpose, even if it might not be immediately apparent. I came to think that traditional planes, in particular the British and American designs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, represent the peak of the planemaker’s art.

Making a traditional plane poses challenges, but it’s a great way to hone your hand-tool skills. It requires a small tool kit, and while a few specialized tools are needed, they are of modest cost (and you can make most of them, if you’re so inclined).

I’ll walk you through the design and construction of a traditional double-iron coffin smoothing plane (so-called because they resemble coffins, not because they were used in the mortuary industry!). A well built coffin smoother is an extremely useful and versatile tool – mine is rarely out of arm’s reach on the bench.

Website: Visit
Article: Make a wooden panel-raising plane. (to come)
Model: Download the SketchUp model for the coffin smoother. (to come)
In our store: “Handplane Essentials,” by Christopher Schwarz.

From the November 2017 issue, #235