Konrad Sauer Reinvents the Panel Plane
Whether you love them or hate them, the English form of the infill plane has remained almost unchanged since it was invented in the 19th century.
An infill plane is a metal shell that is stuffed – or infilled – with beautiful wood that supports the iron and helps you grip the tool.
Perhaps this form was so exceptional that few people saw fit to mess with it. The Scottish made some flashy adjustments to their custom infills. And the Thomas Norris company added a famous adjuster. (And yes, I know about the Roman planes and iron-lined 18th-century planes that were the forerunners of the infill.)
But other than some small improvements, infills have been infills. In fact, during the 20th-century renaissance of infill planes, most makers have copied or have been heavily influenced by the traditional forms.
So all this pretext is to say that Konrad Sauer is going to go down as a major innovator in the design of infills – or perhaps his efforts will be an an interesting but evolutionary dead end. In 2011, one of Sauer’s customers challenged him to reinvent the traditional panel plane, a tool that has all the sexiness of a crusty Victorian governess.
It has a front bun that is a flamboyant representation of classic moulding design. It has four sharp corners on the front bun that are beautiful, upright and completely blood-letting. The sidewalls of the plane are a combination of traditional (and beautiful) classical curves. The rear tote of the tool is like a classic razee plane. It’s a good-looking form, like a traditional Hobart kitchen mixer – but is not something you would do shots with on a Saturday night.
Sauer redesigned the tool so it looks like a 1950s car blazing down the highway and blowing the doors off the upright Victorian velocipede version that so many people love.
The front bun is low and menacing – sloping like the head of a shark ready to speed forward and take a bite out of your mahogany. And all the other lines of the tool are sympathetic to this dynamic. Even the lines of the tool’s lever cap are beveled in a way to suggest that this plane should be pushed forward – at every opportunity.
Last week I had the privilege of visiting Konrad’s shop in southern Ontario and taking his new plane – called the K13 – for a lengthy test drive. I went into the situation fairly skeptical. I do not love the traditional form. I actually think it’s fairly useless. So redesigning a useless form such as a panel plane is like trying to make an old meat grinder into an object of lust.
But that is exactly what Konrad has done. The K13 is a crazy success in my book. It turned a Mary Poppins-type plane into a Katy Perry tool that makes your heart beat faster. And in the process Konrad made a tool that is lighter in weight and far more usable than the ponderous panel planes of the past.
I’ll be writing more about Konrad’s new K13 in an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. But until then, take a look at the plane in this video and listen to Konrad talk about it in this short video.
— Christopher Schwarz
Do you like handplanes? Then don’t bother reading any further. Do you love handplanes? Then I recommend you take a look at the book I spent five years writing: “Handplane Essentials.” It is a massive brain dump on this form of tool. Hardbound. Printed in the United States. Sweet dust jacket. And the information is good, too. Get it here in our store before this press run runs out (this is a hint).