Friday, November 18, 2011

Haven't Made One Like this for a While, New Version 875

Usually when people order an infill plane they're sort in for a penny in for a pound, if you know what I mean. Most woodworkers, and thank heavens there are exceptions, will typically order one infill and it will typically be a final finishing plane which explains the popularity of smoothing planes as compared to other type hand planes.

I offer walnut as a standard infill wood but I seldom build a plane with that infill wood. I stock walnut that I purchase from a supplier in Idaho. This material is harvested specifically for gun stocks and is air dried in the high desert environment. For this reason it is typically more interesting looking than your average walnut and the color is typically quite good as well.

But I digress, most customers decide that it's worth it to spring for the more exotic and dense woods for this type purchase so I seldom make a plane with walnut infill.

When I first selected the walnut for this plane I wasn't particularly impressed. I chose it because it appeared evenly grained and this plane is going to a shop in Chicago and shops that are close to major lakes typically need this consideration. However once I started the polishing process on these bits it did what wood commonly surprises you.

I was applying a polish of garnet shellac and as this process progressed the contrasting colors of this walnut became quite apparent. Actually this piece was rather unusual with lighter golden colors contrasting with the darker brown areas of this wood. I had certainly underestimated the character if this piece.

This plane is a bit different in other ways as compared to the 875 Model planes that I've made in the past. Those planes had the model numbers 875-250 and 875-W50. The 875-250 plane used a 2" wide iron and was pitched at 50 degrees and the 875-W50 was the same configuration but accommodated a wider 2.25" wide iron.

I always preferred the plane with the 2" iron. Yes, I'm one of those people that like a narrower smoothing plane, plus I like to maintain a mass to iron width ratio that makes a plane easy to push thru the cut. Planing should be a pleasurable experience especially in the final smoothing stage of your work. A time to relax a bit after the hard work of using planes we rely on for the heavier wood removal required for straightening and flattening.

My recent design emphasis has been to find the ideal ratio between mass and iron width and to refine the balance of the elements that make up the 875 plane. The plane pictured above is the result of this work. The older version 875-250 typically weighed right around 6 pounds with a dense exotic infill and just a few ounces lighter with walnut infill. This new version which is now Model 875-50S uses a 2.125" wide iron and weighs 5 pounds 5 ounces with walnut infill and will probably have a weight of 5 pounds 8 or 9 ounces with dense exotic infill.

In the new configuration this plane now has a wider iron than the 2" wide version and weighs 1/2 pound less. A half pound is quite a profound weight reduction for plane of this size.

So how did I increase the width and take 8 ounces of weight out of this plane. The largest surfaces on this plane are the sole and the iron and those are the best area to look for weight reduction. The sole went from .375 thick to .312 thick and the iron went from .250 thick to .218 thick. The result is a plane that is easy to push thru the cut but doesn't tug on your wrist in the return stroke. It was this slight tug on your wrist that I was looking to eliminate.

I've been using this plane for the last couple of days since it's completion and I have to say I think it is a very refined version of this plane.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Product Development, T-Shirts? Best Laid Plans go Awry at First

A couple of years ago I over heard my wife and her sister discussing a new outfit my wife was wearing. They had shopped tirelessly the day before procuring all the elements to make this fashion statement a reality and were admiring their accomplishment. The shirt that made up part of this ensemble was a white tee shirt and during the course of the conversation my wife made the comment that it was "Just A Plain T-Shirt" and this peeked my interest.

I had been trying to think of an idea for a tee shirt that would represent my business in a unique way and it only took me a few seconds to transition this idea to "Just A Plane T-Shirt". Changing the word "plain" to "Plane" made it work wonderfully for my purposes.

Best Laid Plans:

I set about putting together the art work. I knew I wanted a simple two color design with one of the colors being the tee shirt color and the other being the color of an illustration version of my 875 plane. Everything was going great until I had the idea for the crowning touch. A shaving stretched across the bottom to sort of underline the rest of the illustration. It looked great on the art work. When I showed the art work to the person that would be handling the making of the silkscreen and producing the shirts, she sort of raised her eyebrows and pointed to the shaving and asked "what's that?"

I then explained to her the correlation between the tool and the shaving that it produces and assured her that people in the know about woodworking hand tools would appreciated this added detail. I should have picked up on her skepticism. After all she was a professional that produced artwork for tee shirts on a daily basis.

The Woodworking in America Conference in St. Charles, Illinois was approaching and I thought this would be the ideal time to introduce the new "Just a Plane T-Shirt". I ordered about 50 shirts in assorted sizes and two different colors. A week later she called informing me that my tee shirts were ready and could be picked up that afternoon. I was a bit excited to see my creation on the actual shirts so I popped into town that afternoon to pick up the shirts.

I reached in the box and held up one of the tee shirts to admire my creation and my err in judgement immediately jumped right out at me. The wonderful shaving looked like a piece of delicious BACON!

The woodworkers that attended the St. Charles WIA event held up my confidence and purchased nearly every one of the "Just A Plane T-Shirts". I was right, they got it, but many people did comment that the shaving looked like bacon. In fact my friends across the aisle in the L-N booth chided me all weekend about my bacon laced shirts. Of course I made sure that they all left the event awarded with what was to be later known as the "High Cholesterol, Limited Edition, Just A Plane T-Shirt". If you purchased one of those shirts you now own a Collector's item.

The next week the art worked was changed to what you see in the above photo and since then many woodworkers have become proud owners of the new version of the tee shirts. Of course this did not take nearly as much product development efforts as our hand planes. Our tools have evolved over a number of years and many small refinements have come together to result in tools that are very refined versions of what I began producing a little over 4 years ago.

Until now the "Just A Plane T-Shirts" have only been available at different hand tools events we attend throughout the year. I've recently began to offer these shirts thru our Online Store accessible thru the web page. Just access the Online Store thru the link on our "Pricing and Ordering" page of the web site. They're listed in the "Kits and Apparel" category of the store and if you wish to order multiples we have them listed in different quantities with reduced shipping cost for multiples.