I finished Krenov’s plane today.
After gently trueing and squaring up the mouth opening, I still needed to remove a small bit of material from one of the inside walls. That adjustment permitted me to gently tap the plane iron parallel to the mouth opening, allowing the plane to remove the same thickness shaving across the width of the iron.
As I mentioned a few days ago, the iron needed a little touch-up as well. This was a good opportunity to flatten the water stones in advance of the sharpening process. I got another smile out of my order of work: Krenov was not a stickler for flattening stones; in fact, his writings would have you believe he was not the least bit obsessive about sharpening. I believe I have adopted his sensibilities about sharpening. You sharpen when you need to – when your tools are telling you they need attention. Beyond that, you keep the tools working productively. It’s the way I teach, and it’s the way I work.
I looked carefully at the plane iron as I sharpened it. Krenov used Hock irons in his planes; in fact, Ron Hock’s business (as a maker of fine hand plane irons) got started largely because of Krenov’s CR program and his need for good irons and chip breakers. The iron in this hand plane is really massive, more like a Japanese hand plane than an Western-style tool. The back is polished behind the bevel as it should be, but not as high as I would have done it. The grind angle places the bevel nearly parallel with the sole of the plane. I didn’t measure it; I should have, I suppose.
As I took the iron to the stones, I wondered if Krenov sharpened it himself. I doubt it. Perhaps he ordered enough irons for his plane making that he could convince Hock to flatten, grind and hone them to his wishes. More likely, he had help from someone at CR or from a former student. In any case, the thought occurred to me that this was the first time, and most likely the last, that a tool came to me already sharp. It’s awfully uncommon for that to happen.
After a short sharpening session, the iron is sharp again. Before I get all the parts back together again, I decide to tune up the wedge a little bit. The bottom is a bit ragged, and too close to the mouth for shavings to exit easily. While I’m at it, I thin the bottom so shavings can slide past just a bit easier.
Krenov signed the plane, but you have to look pretty hard to decipher what you’re seeing as his signature. I’m almost tempted to try a light coat of shellac over the sides of the plane in a modest effort to preserve the marks. I’m going to use this tool, and I fear that over the years, my hands will gradually erase the signature. One more time I imagine him laughing at me for the sentiment; this time I’m not sure I care. (I wouldn’t tell him that I saved his shipping box. And his newspaper.)
I mentioned that along with the plane he sent a note. In it, he urges me to adjust gently with the hammer: “Tap, tap, tap, NOT BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.” With his hand planes, like all wooden planes, subtlety is the key. You want to adjust them slowly and patiently until they’re set just right. As long as the humidity doesn’t change too drastically in the shop they’ll stay that way.
Finally everything is back together again, and it’s time for a few passes on the board I keep under my bench just for use when I adjust a hand plane, a piece of sweet cherry I bought from a sawyer in Albany. I used most of the board for a cabinet (a Krenov-style cabinet, in fact) and I had this short left over piece with a bunch of splits. So I use that for plane adjusting. I took a few passes along an edge: the shavings were too thick. Tap, Tap, tap. Another few passes, and it’s cutting just a bit heavier on the left. Tap, tap. One more tap.
Now it’s dialed in pretty well. A few more passes. The shavings are thin enough to read through, and the edge of that sweet cherry board is as smooth as wood ever gets. The plane is a joy to use, and use it I will.
If I listen closely, I can hear the music.
Jeff Zens owns and operates Custom Built Furniture in Salem, Oregon. He is a frequent woodworking instructor and writer.