A Smoothing Plane for When Grain Gets Nasty
Lately I’ve been planing stuff that has been a lot nastier than your typical run-of-the-mill cherry, oak and walnut. First Senior Editor Glen D. Huey tried to torture me by bringing in some curly maple for the blanket chest on cover the Summer 2008 issue.
Then I built the cover project for the Fall 2008 issue from some walnut that should have been on the burn pile. Honestly, I had to go through about twice as much material as usual to find enough wood to build this 18th-century wall cabinet.
Then, this weekend I had to plane some rowy mahogany while teaching at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking. Kelly had prepared mahogany pieces for the project that the students built (a Shaker utensil tray). And a lot of that was rowy , which is when the wood has rope-like bands of grain through it where the grain reverses in each rope.
The tool that has kept me away from the wide belt sander these last few months has been my little Wayne Anderson smoothing plane. I’ve had this tool for more than two years now and have published an article on its long-term performance in the most recent edition of Popular Woodworking, the August 2008 issue.
Below is the text of that article, plus a link to download a pdf slideshow presentation that shows the evolution of this form of plane using pictures supplied by Wayne himself. Enjoy.
Despite the amount of bronze, iron and beech in my tool cabinet, most woodworkers need only three bench planes: A fore plane to reduce the thickness of boards, a jointer plane to flatten them and a smoothing plane to prepare them for finishing.
That’s in a perfect world. In reality, we work with a material (wood) that is unpredictable, cantankerous and vexing , like my first redheaded girlfriend.
During the last few years, I’ve gradually folded a fourth plane into my arsenal, and now I cannot imagine working without it.
It’s a small smoothing plane with a steeply pitched iron (a 57Ã?Â° angle of attack), no chipbreaker and a mouth aperture that a gnat would have a hard time squeezing through without damaging his Dipteran hinder.
This is my plane of last resort. When my smoothing plane leaves nasty torn grain in its wake, I pull out this plane. It doesn’t care if there’s a grain reversal in the board. Or if I’m planing against the grain. Or if the grain is interlocked, curly or worse. When set for a fine cut, this plane almost never fails me.
This plane has become a staple of Wayne Anderson, a custom planemaker in Elk River, Minn. (andersonplanes.com or 763-486-0834). This form of plane started out several years ago with Wayne’s interest in high-angle planes without a chipbreaker. He built this version for writer Kerry Pierce to test for a competing magazine. Then I bought the plane from Wayne. (Despite the fact that it was a used tool, I paid full price.)
Since that time, I’ve fallen head-over-heels for the plane, and Wayne has pushed the tool’s design in new directions for other customers. If you’re not familiar with Wayne’s work, he’s a bit different than other custom makers. He seldom makes the same tool twice.
The profile on the rear of the iron might change. Or the shape of the sidewall or lever cap will morph. But the tool still looks like itself , like a fraternal twin.
As to the function of the tool, you could set up a 6″-long block plane to do the exact same job, but there’s no way the tool will look as good or fit your hand so well.
With this small smoothing plane, the coffin shape of the body lets you squeeze the tool right in the middle by its mouth. And having mastered the tool, I find I can change the depth of cut merely by squeezing and pressing at the center of the tool, or by releasing that pressure. The weight of the plane (2 lbs. 2 oz.) keeps the tool in the cut without chattering (try that with your block plane) even when I use little-girl pressure to control it. The result: Thin shavings; no tearing.
The rear bun is rounded nicely so it feels good against my right palm, and the tall iron keeps my hand right where it should be.
The short sole (about 5-1/2″) allows you to plane in areas that longer smoothing planes can’t get to. When I say this I don’t mean tight little spaces inside a cabinet, I mean the small and large hollows that occur on any flat board. A small tool rides the gentle waves of a board where a longer plane skims off the peaks instead. And when you’re trying to get a tabletop looking right (perfect flatness be darned) a short plane is invaluable.
If you’re thinking of investing in one custom plane, this plane would be an excellent addition to any standard lineup. These tools start at $825.