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Sauer and Steiner

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Updated: 1 hour 32 min ago

An afternoon ‘ah-ha‘ moment

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 5:03am
When Joe and I started making planes in 2000, we often commented that we needed a bell or horn to sound whenever we had an ‘ah-ha’ moment about plane making. The bell would have gone off every 30 minutes that first year - there were countless ‘ah-ha’ moments. Changing a process, an order of operation, a 180 degree about face or rethinking about how we were doing something. It was both terrifying and exhilarating to be learning at such a fast pace.

Sadly, there are not nearly as many ‘ah-ha’ moments these days... but I had a little one today.

I am not exactly sure where I got my ball pien hammer, but I do know that I have had it since the beginning. I tried several different ones; long handles, short handles and of course, different weights. The one I settled on is a little heavier than most people would likely use (the old adage of ‘Get a bigger hammer’ does not apply to piening a handplane together!). The head has come loose several times and it is currently wedged with a boxwood off-cut (Riley fixed our camping axe with a Rosewood wedge).

This hammer has become an extension of my hand- I know just where to hold it for various piening tasks and adjust my grip without even thinking about it. I know when to rotate my wrist a bit to direct the blows exactly where they are needed. It would be a very dark day if anything ever happened to it. A year or so ago I realized that the handle had a noticeable curve to it - not sure if I did that or if it came that way... might be a lefty thing.

The ball end has always been highly polished, but there was a fairly deep off centre pit which showed up from time to time on the piened surface. For some very odd reason, that pit annoyed me today so I did something about it right in the middle of piening a K13 shell. I went over to my disc sander and re-shaped the ball and went back to work. No more pit marks, but something had changed. It took piening a few dovetails to realize what it was. The surface of the dovetail was different but more importantly (and alarmingly), I was not able to see the precise location of the piening strike as I was making them. I have very good natural side light in the shop but the strikes were not nearly as clear as I was used to. I have always relied very heavily on light (natural or artificial) for feedback and this experience reiterated this fact. I stopped piening and looked at the end of the ball. It was no longer  polished, so I got out some sandpaper to re-polished it.

It only took a few minutes, and after the first 2 or 3 strikes I was back in business - much clearer piening strikes and the surface finish I was used to.

I am going to assume that this is common knowledge for blacksmiths - keep your hammers polished to aid in locating the hammer blows, but since I have no formal blacksmith training (nor planemaking for that matter!) this was a bit of an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. 

The photo below shows the difference between the two.  The freshly disc sanded ball pien blows on the left dovetail and the re-polished ball pien blows on the right dovetail. Click on the image for a larger view - the difference between the two should be very clear.

On another note, I want to thank all the Porsche loving people who wrote to talk about their 911’s, 356’s or their love of Porsche in general. It was great to make another connection. Sadly, the 356 has been returned to its owner, but Moe (who works at the shop) tells me a 911 will be coming in shortly - I can’t wait to see it!

And I may as well toss this out there too... if anyone has, or knows of a 1971 (my birth year) 911 that is for sale please let me know. I could make a heck of a lot of planes... just sayin :)

It does not need to be restored at all, in fact, I would like to take it on as a bit of a restoration project... now that I know how a ball pien hammer is supposed to look. 

Categories: Hand Tools

introducing the K5 and K6

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 9:52am

It has been a very long time since I have made 2 prototypes at one time. Actually - I am not sure if I have ever made 2 prototypes at one time. I suppose it was inevitable that a K5 and K6 would be made - I was just not sure when. A good friend and customer got the ball rolling.

I wanted to make a few changes to the K5 and K6 from their similarly sized No.4 versions. The K5 and XSNo.4 are similar and the K6 and SNo.4 are similar. In general, the K-series of planes are designed to be lighter in weight with improved ergonomics - especially in the rear infill. They are lower to the ground and have a wee bit less infill material.

The K5 is 5-1/2" long with a 1-1/2" wide blade. This one is infilled with African Blackwood - a wood that I have not used on a prototype for a long time (my A2 jointing plane from 2005). I had an over-sized set for a XSNo.4 that worked perfectly. It was really nice to work with African Blackwood again - such a hard, dense, stable true Rosewood that is much more complex in color and texture than Ebony. Plus it smells way better than Desert Ironwood. This plane has a V11 blade and a 52.5 degree bed angle.


The K6 is 6-1/4" long with a 1-5/8" wide blade. A little narrower than the SNo.4 and with an even more tapered footprint. This one is infilled with another Rosewood that I am not 100% sure about. It is not Brazilian Rosewood - it does not have that tell-tale smell, but it does not smell like Cocobolo either - the next obvious wood. I suspect it may be one of the many odd variants out there that does not really fall into any one category of Rosewood. No matter - it is stunning looking and very pleasant to work with.

It also has that wonderful black streak through it, running front to back. This is a characteristic most common in old growth Brazilian Rosewood but does show up in other Rosewoods from time to time. I have even seen it in old East Indian Rosewood - a rare find even in old growth let alone the more common plantation grown E.I. Rosewood.

I was able to take a few photos of the expanding family of planes, the K4, K5, K6 and K7. I am really pleased with how the family of planes look together. They graduate in size very nicely and while none of the planes are just scaled from one to the next, they look like they are.

In other news, but related to the K-series of planes... Riley and I were doing some errands yesterday and spotted a new German auto shop just down the street from our house. There were 2 restored VW bugs and then whammo - a silver 1962 Porsche 356. I just about crashed the car as I cranked my neck to stare at it. We cut our errands short and took a short walk, camera in hand. I asked the shop owner if we could look at it and take a few photos. He was fine with it. I  have always loved vintage Porsche’s - 50’s, 60’s up to early 70’s. 911’s in particular, but the 356 is also dreamy. They are pure sculpture, no hard edges anywhere - just smooth flowing curves, one transitioning perfectly into the next. To my eyes - nothing can touch these cars aesthetically.

I am often asked where inspiration comes from. Seeing this car revealed a one word answer - Porsche.

Categories: Hand Tools

by Dr. Radut