BUILDING AN INFILL PLANE
A Conover Workshop class erases the doubt for this woodworker.
SHOP OWNER: Brian Gray
LOCATION: Sandusky, OH
Last weekend, I attended a course at Conover Workshops where the entire class of eight students built infill planes. The owners and operators of Shepherd Tool Company, Ben Knebel and Doug Evans, were the instructors. We had a choice of building a #7 Spiers smoother, or a 1 1/2" shoulder plane. These were our choices, but any builder could do pretty much any plane that they offer. Perhaps the panel or jointer plane would take more time, but you could still get most of the plane done within the two-day course. To see what's available, check out http://www.shepherdtool.com/.
I have very little experience with metalwork. I had a big hang up regarding this process. I just couldn't wrap my mind around how we would actually put together a complete infill plane in only two days. I understood how the dovetails in the sole are constructed by peening. I thought that this process would take forever, and any slight mistake would lead to gaps and imperfections in the dovetails. It turns out that all told, my plane (the Spiers #7) only took me a total of about nine hours, and only I can really tell where the dovetails are - they pretty much disappeared.
Before getting involved in this project, I had quite a misconception of the difficulty involved with creating these dovetails, which turns out not to be the most important and precise operation of successfully building your own infill plane.
The concept that escaped me is that if your dovetails are not perfectly fit, it doesn't really matter; you are simply going to peen the gaps together. As a woodworker, I'm not used to a material that can spread like metal. If my wooden dovetails are a little off, I need to either live with it, or create a small patch. With metal, just peen. I would guess that your dovetails could be off as much as 1/32" or more, and you could still peen those gaps away. This is the only obstacle that really kept me from buying my own kit without taking a course. I just didn't think that I could do it. I was very mistaken. Actually, I now find putting together metal dovetails easier than wooden. Moreover, here's the kicker - if you happen to make a major mistake on the dovetails, Doug and Ben will replace the sole and/or sides free of charge (there is an exception if you choose a brass sided plane - they will charge you to replace brass).
The guys at Shepherd Tool have done one major step for the plane builder that dramatically increases the construction process that I haven't mentioned. They have laser-cut the soles and sides so that they are almost ready for fitting. All that the builder has to do is file the 15 and 5-degree bevel into the pre-cut sole, and then fit it. Since this process has been done in advance, they have saved the builder a step. All that's needed is the fitting and peening.
The only other skill that was new to me was peening rivets, which turned out to be very simple. Insert the rivets, peen one side, flip the plane, and peen the other side. Once you have sanded or filed the rivet away, it disappears.
Actually, the most difficult part of this entire process is not making seamless dovetails, or seamless rivets. It was filing the wooden frog so the iron seats perfectly flat, and filing the mouth opening. This makes sense, since the performance of these planes really depends very heavily on how the iron seats on the frog, and how large the mouth is. I simply took my time and filed carefully. The result was perfect.
So after all this work, how does an infill that I built myself perform? I got home from the course, and ran straight to the shop to get my new plane tuned and compare to my other planes.
I took my Lie Neilson #4, my Lie Neilson Low Angle Smoother, my Lee Valley #4 1/2, the Spiers #7, and tuned them to perfection. Next, I took four boards from the same piece of cherry, and put them to the test.
I can feel a definite difference in the texture of the wood itself and the feel of the planes during the action of planing. The two Lie Neilsons, and Lee Valley plane work and feel just as well as they ever have. The Spiers is much heavier, feels better in the hand, and the surface that I achieved is like glass. I can tell a difference in the feel of the four planes, as well as the wood texture. The Spiers is far superior.
I remember a while back, when my wife asked me why I bother with these crazy hand planes for woodworking. I brought her out to the shop, sanded a piece to 320 or so, and then used my Lie Neilson #4 on a board. She was astonished at the difference in the way they felt, especially after applying oil. Well, when she felt the boards after my test, her eyes went wide when she felt the board that the Spiers plane did in comparison to the other planes.
So overall, I've always been convinced that infill planes were the best ever made, but I never thought that (A) I could afford one, and (B) that I could build one. At $249 for the Spiers kit ($299 for the Spiers brass kit), you can't beat this deal, and the building process is tons of fun. In addition, if you're not confident in your metalworking skills (like I was), you can get the block plane kit for $69. This way you can try your hand with an easier and less expensive kit.
If I could do this all over again, I would probably look into the brass plane. It really offers no functional difference but the contrast of metals showing off the dovetails is what appeals to me.. . . Brian Gray
CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO THE INDEX!
SEND US YOUR "SHOP SHOTS"
This is the place to share views of your shop, woodworking tips and methods,
mug shots, special tools or machines, finished work--you name it!
We prefer digital images via e-mail, but prints or transparencies will do. Include your name, address, phone number and a paragraph or two explaining the photo(s). Not every entry will be used, we reserve the right to edit for length and clarity, and we will not return photos.
P.O. Box 493
Springtown, PA 18081