In Shop Blog, Techniques, Tools

We may receive a commission when you use our affiliate links. However, this does not impact our recommendations.

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

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Recommended Posts
Showing 10 comments
  • charles watson

    I own several of Karl’s planes. Every one is a masterpiece. I use them all although rarely use my 28 1/2 inch A1 jointer.

    I suppose it is an indulgence to have bought them but then someone has to otherwise there would be no Holtey planes!

  • Mitchell

    Man, what an amazing display of ability. At those prices, though, if you buy one and your wife finds out, Chris, your Ghia will be history.


  • B.L.Zeebub

    Mr. Holtey’s planes are a wonder to behold and I’m sure like the Rolls-Royce, a wonder to drive. But, I’ll just have to satisfy myself with your astute observation and compliment as I push my well-tuned vintage Stanleys across my projects.

    All I have to say to Mr. Holtey is, "I’ll putting in an order just as soon as I hit the lottery."


  • Ethan

    Don’t forget to mention that Karl is one of the most friendly people you’ll ever not meet (unless you’re lucky enough to meet him – then he’ll be one of the most friendly people you’ll ever meet…).

    He’s always quick to answer any questions you might have and he comes across as a real down-to-earth kind of guy.

    I suspect he has a flair of OCD in him, though – probably what sets his planes apart from the rest.

  • Derek Cohen

    No beating about the bush now, Christopher … which of these planes would you most prefer to own .. Holtey #982, Groz #4, or Kunz #4?

    Will we see a review of the latter at some stage?

    Regards from Perth

    Derek 🙂

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I’m going to write up a full review of my impressions for The Fine Tool Journal.

    It is … everything. The adjuster itself is an engineering marvel. I’ve never used one quite as perfect. Everything fits together with an almost-obscene (in a good way) perfectness.

    Planes are planes. They all cut wood. This one is simply better made than anything else I’ve used.


  • John Walkowiak

    Hi Chris,

    Don’t keep us in suspense! What about it makes it perform better than some of the other premium planes you have? Such as an Anderson or the Sauer & Steiner? Was the end result on the wood better, did it just do the job with less fussing, or is it just an esthetic attraction? If you knew nothing about how it was made, would you rate it as highly?


  • Bruce Mack

    Thanks for the observation. Mr. Holtey sets the standard for performance and esthetics. Others too make outstanding planes. Bless them!

  • Rob @ Evenfall Studios

    Hi Chris,

    The cool thing about Karl’s blog is not just the window into his approach to the work, but also his intimate familiarity with it. Even filing and shaping the bun is nearly a religious experience as he notes how the lighting makes things look in the differing camera angles.

    You can just tell that he really loves the details, right down to the small ones. Kinda neat to find one’s calling in life, eh?


  • Gregg

    WOW! I just looked at his planes on his website. I am no even worthy to hold one of those.

Start typing and press Enter to search

Simple Sawhorse Project