What started 25 years ago comes full circle.
SHOP OWNER: John Pappas
LOCATION: Denver, CO
These planes were made in the mid-to-late 70's with mixed results. One turned out to be a fairly good plane, the other two were just so-so. There were several attempts made to improve the two so-so planes, but with limited success. Last June, I received Garrett Hack's "The Hand Plane Book" as a gift. It is a wonderful book with a great deal of interesting information; but, more important, it inspired me to look at these planes again to see what I might do to improve them. This time it has been a successful effort.
I was just beginning to develop an interest in woodworking when Fine Woodworking began publication in 1975. My first issue was probably the third or forth issue published. I was excited to see a quality woodworking magazine and ordered the back issues that I had missed. In the first issue of FWW was an article about wooden planes and how to make them. I was working in a small basement workshop, and my tools consisted of a table saw, a router and router table, and a few hand tools. A wooden plane sounded like something that would be fun to build and it would also be useful.
My first plane was the small plane on the left. Its shape is close to the one shown in that FWW article. I did some additional shaping to the back of the plane to make it more comfortable for my hands. This plane is about 8 1/2 inches long, made of maple, with a 2" iron, and a bed angle of 45 degrees. It worked quite well, but had one problem: the mouth was too wide. At one point I added a sole to correct this, but still managed to cut the opening too wide. It was better, but not right. My current modification to this plane was to accept the wide mouth and convert it to a scrub plane. I ground a mild curve of about 1/16" on the iron. Now this plane is a nice compliment to an Ulmia scrub plane that I also have.
The second plane that I made was the jointer plane. It is about 22" long and also made of maple. This plane has really evolved during its lifetime. The original shape was basically a block of wood with very little shaping done to it. The handle was positioned too far back and it was difficult to use. The first change I made was to remove the handle and rout a groove along the side. The idea was to be able to grip the body of the plane. This proved to be a failure, so I again added a handle...this time further forward. Still this plane was awkward to use and while it was used, it was with little affection.
From Garrett's book I got the idea to make this into a "Razee" plane. (The name taken from ships that have had part of the upper deck cut off.) So, the recent modification to this plane was to lower the back part of the plane which places the handle lower and closer to the cutting action. The previous groove on the side became part of the design when the back was lowered. The front portion of the plane was also lowered a bit and shaped to make it more comfortable to hold. The effect of these changes has been dramatic. It has good balance and is easy to control.
My third plane was the small plane on the right in the top photo. It is about 7 1/2" long with a 1 3/4" iron. The shape was inspired by a Krenov plane. I was still a novice woodworker when i made this plane ... heck, I didn't even know that cherry changed colors as it aged. But I was very lucky on this plane. The mouth on this plane was fairly tight, it really worked very well, and I have used it extensively over the years. The only current modification to this plane was to add a thin shim (business card thickness) to close the mouth to about 1/32". I have planed some walnut with funny grain without any tearout. I could add a throat inlay to make a really tight mouth ... maybe someday.
Of course, no plane is really good unless the iron is sharp ...very sharp. I am happy to say that my sharpening skills have also improved recently, adding another level of enhancement to these planes. Finally, these have become truly nice planes. For me, their evolution has been rewarding.
. . . John Pappas
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