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Sauer and Steiner

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Updated: 7 hours 43 min ago

The ‘we can do this’ plane

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 7:16am

Joe Steiner stopped by the other night to continue working on a plane he is making for himself. He commented on the previous blog post and the first planes we each made and how magical that experience was. This lead to talking about our early beginnings and all the challenges and excitement we both felt. It was really great to reminisce - there were a few details I had forgotten about. 

One thing I asked Joe was if he remembered the plane that stopped us in our tracks when we had finished it. He answered right away, and it was the same plane I had recalled. That plane was for our third customer and went to California. That plane, an A6, was significant on many levels. 

It was the first plane we made using old, stunning wood (and it was not Cocobolo). This plane marked the beginning of a career long obsession with finding the finest infill materials possible - working with this wood was just that inspiring.

It was a plane we were shipping to someone across the continent, and was commissioned by someone we had not met in person. It felt like a monumental project - it was a monumental project. There was immense pressure of getting it just right along with a deep sense of gratitude towards our customer and the risk he was taking with us. 

That plane has an identical twin - my own A6.  This pair of planes have several important first. These were the first adjusters we used - were made by Ray Iles in England.

They have bronze sides - as opposed to brass. The lever cap screws are also much more refined with much better knurling and overall shape.

The handle shaping had essentially been finalized and has not changed since, although the K-series of planes represents another evolution.

This plane has an 01 tool steel sole - we spent the extra money and started using a more appropriate steel than mild steel.

We continued to try different bed angles - in this case, 47.5 degrees. This is often called a ‘Norris pitch’ because Norris used this bed angle splitting the difference between the common pitch at 45 degrees and the 50 degree ‘York pitch’.

The sidewall profile also changed and the shaping of the front bun started getting better, both ergonomically and aesthetically.

We had always stamped the bed with a serial number and a maple leaf ( a stamp purchased from Lee Valley) and Joe and I started using our own unique serial numbers for our own planes. KP-12-03 stands for ‘Konrad’s Plane, No.12, made in 2003’.

One of the challenges with adding an adjuster was positioning the lever cap so there was enough clearance for the blade and lever cap to be removed from the banjo or cup. The head of the screw in the cap iron is captured in the banjo and is what allows the adjuster to move the blade and cap iron as shown below.

When Joe and I finished this customers plane, we sat on my workbench and just stared at it. Neither of us spoke for several minutes. I am not sure who spoke first, nor what exactly was said, but with this plane, we both knew we could do this - and do it well.

Categories: Hand Tools

P-01 - the first plane

Sun, 11/02/2014 - 11:11am

It was interesting to pull the first plane down from the shelf and look at it again after so many years. Part of me was aghast at how primitive it is - but I was also able to look at it and be a little proud too. For a first plane - it was not bad. Better than ‘not bad’ I suppose - this effort is what encouraged me (and Joe) into plane making, and was good enough ‘right outta the box’ that it was comparable to my first infill - an unhandled Spiers coffin shaped smoother. I can still remember installing the blade at 3am and taking that first terrifying shaving. I don’t think I slept that night out of excitement of actually making my own plane!

The sole and sides are mild steel - a horrible material for planemaking really. The metal deforms like crazy, it is very prone to rusting when compared with 01 tool steel, and does not look so great. There are only 2 benefits - it is really inexpensive, and very malleable... but for anyone interested in making a plane for themselves - please, spend the extra money and use 01 tool steel.

The blade is 2-1/4" wide and at a 45 degree bed angle. I think this is one of only a couple planes I ever made at 45 degrees. I did not make the cap iron, but I cannot recall where it came from. 

The plane is infilled with Cocobolo. At the time, that was all Joe and I could find. And we got really, really lucky with this piece of Cocobolo. I bought it from Unicorn Hardwoods in Toronto - I don’t think they are in business any longer. It was a rather large piece that was sitting on their showroom floor. It was dusty and pretty crappy looking. I picked it up not because I knew any better or how to evaluate the age of a piece of wood... it was simply the only piece we could afford.

I say lucky because it was fairly dry. Again - we did not really know any better - but it has shrunk surprisingly little in the 14 years I have had it - other early Cocobolo prototypes have not fared so well.

If you look closely at the above photo, or click on it for a larger view, you can see the shrinkage to the front bun. Not too bad considering we had no idea how important old, dry wood was!

The lever cap was cast at a small foundry in Cambridge Ontario - I am not sure if they are in business either. They did a decent job, but had a tough time being consistent with color over the years, so I eventually switched to using solid bronze stock.

The screw is the most embarrassing part of the plane - not even knurled! The threads are terrible too - a regular V-thread as opposed to the ACME thread I use now.

Overall, the plane is not overly refined, but there are several things about it that I recognize as good early decisions, and are still present in my current work.

The first one is the relationship between the screw and the lever cap. There is roughly 1/3 of visible threads below the lever cap (contacting the cap iron), and 2/3 above. This may not seem like a big deal, but in my mind it is. It just looks nicer. It looks more secure - more tidy. And is way easier to ensure positive contact across the front edge of the lever cap when they are kept close together. Along those lines is the tip of the lever cap screw. It should be rounded over so it does not dig into the cap iron and start to cam out.

The other aspect is the shape of the handle. I can remember spending hours and hours shaping this one - I had never shaped a handle before. This one still feels pretty good. There have been quite a few little changes over the years, but this first handle still feels pretty nice.

The front bun is really uninteresting, and compared to the front bun on a recent plane, this one looks really crude.

The piening went well enough that there were not any gaps between the dovetails. That was a big relief and looking back on it, I think I got fairly lucky right out of the gate.

Oh, one other issue with mild steel - it is fairly soft and scratches much quicker than 01 tool steel.

The fit of the rear infill and shell is still holding up quite well - there is a little shrinkage in the infill, but not too bad.

The fit of the overstuffed infill on the radius is pretty good too. This first one took hours and hours to get just right.

P-02-02 - the second plane. There were several changes to this one. The most obvious being the brass sides. I was very interested to see what was happening during the piening process and using 2 different metals allowed me to see exactly how things were moving around. I also liked the idea of seeing the joints and construction of the plane.

This one also has a 2-1/4" wide blade, but the bed angle is 50 degrees - a ‘York pitch’.

It also has a new cap iron with a soldiered brass nut for the screw.

The Cocobolo infill came from the same block as the first plane and has also had surprisingly little shrinkage.

This plane taught me that piening 360 brass is not fun. It chips and work hardens very quickly... and it does not patina well.

This handle is a little nicer than the first plane - the shape is a little more consistent and fluid and overall nicer in the hand. 


The lever cap screw is now knurled (not very well mind you) and the screw has ACME threads.

Both planes have nice tight mouths on them - something I still firmly believe in.

There were several other early planes that Joe and I made that did not make it out of the shop - a few more steel sided smoothers, a couple panel planes and a jointing plane. There were constant improvements at an exponential rate.

There was one early plane that really stands out for me - a plane for a customer in California. After we finished it, we just sat on my bench and stared at it - almost surprised at what we had done. With that plane, we knew we could do this. I will post photos of that planes identical twin a little later on.

Categories: Hand Tools

Handle fitting in 2 piece infill

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 5:40am
Reader directed blog posts are a great. I have mentioned before that generating content is becoming increasingly challenging. I am reluctant to start recycling earlier topics, but it feels like I am at a point where there is not much ‘new’ to say. So questions or requests from readers are extremely helpful.

This post was initiated by Owen and a few others expressed interest in it as well - so here goes.

The question has to do with construction and fitting the handle into the rear infill of a large plane. The rear infill is a single piece of wood and the handle is a separate piece of wood. The handle is mortised through the rear infill right to the bottom. I have seen many original Spiers and Norris planes where the handle is not fully moritsed into the rear infill... and the fact that I have seen this points out the flaw of this approach - they often come loose. They were usually just glued in - without the additional strength of a cross pin - which is shocking really. I always have 2 pins pass through the handle - it just strikes me as good, sound, mechanical strength.

I make a square mortise in the rear infill and then fit the handle to the mortise. The mortise is sized a little smaller than the handle blank - usually by less than .0010". Once the rear infill is fit, I start fitting the handle.

Oh, I should preface this entire process by saying that I am not a militant numbers guy. I do not work in such a way where a handle would fit into another plane - it will only fit the plane I am working on. I have zero interest in making a pile of metal pieces and a pile of wood pieces and have them be able to fit with each other interchangably. I would rather gnaw my arm off than work that way! I don't need to have all the handle blanks be 1.120391" wide - I rough out a handle to somewhere between 1-1/8" and 1-1/16" wide and put it on the shelf until it is needed. But... I do use calipers all the time because the fit between 2 parts does require paying attention to the numbers. I don't care what the specific thickness of the handle is - but it has to be consistent at each corner to within 0.001". I hope the difference makes sense.

These previous 2 shots show the handle slipping into the rear infill. I should also mention that the fit between these parts is incredibly tight. The rear infill is just a pressure fit, but is good enough that it could support the weight of the metal shell if lifted. Even at this stage, the handle could also support the weight of the shell and rear infill if lifted.

With the handle bank to the correct thickness, I can now mark the notch at the back of the handle. This struck me as the best approach to dealing with the rounded back of the handle - have it overlap the rear infill as opposed to try and cut a precise radius in the rear infill. I am shaping the handles freehand and don't want to have to bother to worry about the precise radius I file - this process allows me to work the way I want to.

The shot above shows the cut-out notch. At this point, I fit the handle fairly close and will make adjustments to the notch so it rests quite flush with the rear infill. I do not worry about final adjustments until the handle has been shaped though - no point in fitting areas that will be filed off in the shaping process.

Here is the handle roughly shaped - and the files I use to get there.

With the rear of the handle roughly shaped, I now start to fine tune the fit between the rounded back and the deck of the rear infill. I use chisels and files to fine tune the fit until there is no gap between the handle and rear infill. The shot above and below show what it looks like.

The next 2 shots show the handle fully shaped, sanded and placed in the rear infill as a final check before gluing. Please click on any of the images to get a larger view.

I use polyeurathane glue for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it has a long open time. Secondly, it has no gap filling properties - so it forces me to work very precisely. Thirdly, it was originally designed for gluing Teak and none of the woods I work with are that oily so I figured it would be a good choice.

The shot above shows a small curl of glue being chiseled away. Click on this image to see a larger view to show the fit between the handle and the rear infill.

A final shot of the rear infill with the glue squeeze-out cleaned up.

I hope this helps Owen - and thanks for the topic suggestion.

Categories: Hand Tools

A spare XSNo.4 & a few recent planes

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 6:54pm

There is only one infill wood that I like with naval brass... until now. I found some very old Ziricote quite a few years ago, and in 2008, roughed out this set. It sat on the shelf until a couple of months ago when I pulled it down and decided to make a spare plane. I was debating on steel or bronze sides and then remembered I had some naval brass as well. Until now, I had only ever used Ebony with naval brass, but the Ziricote looked really, really good with it, so decided to go for it.

I also used naval brass for the lever cap, the lever cap screw and the infill cross pins. 

The brass cross pins make for a very clean look which I like. The cross pin for the lever cap is steel. 

The 1-9/16" blade is high carbon steel from Ron Hock and is bedded at 52.5 degree. The plane is $1,750.00 Cdn. Email me if you are interested, konrad@sauerandsteiner.com

This next plane is another XSNo.4, infilled with English Boxwood.  It has a bronze lever cap and lever cap screw with steel sides.  Boxwood is wonderful to work with - it smells great too... unlike Desert Ironwood, which is basically like working with very dry poo.

The Boxwood is soaked in oil for several days and then given a light coat of paste wax.

I have always found it difficult to photograph the difference between bronze and naval brass, but this next photo captures it fairly well.

This next plane is a Desert Ironwood filled K18. It is always challenging to find Desert Ironwood large enough for a plane of this size, but it is so worth it!



 The front pad has some stunning burl figure.

And last, but certainly not least, is a plane that I really enjoyed making. I have not made an A5 for a long time, and it was a real treat to make one again. Bronze sides, lever cap and lever cap screw with African Blackwood infill. 

2" wide, V11 blade and a 50 degree bed angle. 


African Blackwood and French polish are perfect for each other. 


Categories: Hand Tools

by Dr. Radut