It’s a strange phenomenon when an object gets under your skin. You hear a trace mention, or have an idea, or see a picture, and then there are the internet searches, the Wikipedia entries, the inevitable trip to Amazon to see how much it costs, the trip to the store to look at it in person.
My love affair began (as many things seem to have done in the past few years) with my wife’s soundbooth. I don’t feel guilty about this. Actually, her soundbooth has caused similar infatuations for her, with excellent results for her psyche and self-confidence.
It was while building the thing that I got my introduction to woodworking. This led to me wanting power tools. A Tormek tool sharpener. A Grizzly bandsaw powerful enough for resawing. A jointer/planer. Enough stuff to drain my bank account and provide fodder for Christmas wish-lists for years to come. I had to focus. And I had an urgent, unstoppable need to buy stuff.
I settled on a particular project. There was a gap between the door frame and the floor of the soundbooth, half an inch wide, 36 inches long. I thought it would be nice to fill it with some pretty wood. Bill, when consulted, ordered me to take measurements and come over so he could fix something up, but I wanted to do it myself. The problem: with my rudimentary tools, I had no way to shape a piece of wood to fit the gap.
Enter the hand plane. I knew what they were. I had never used one. I did the aforementioned research. In the process, I realized that this was an item that called to craftsmen and collecters in a certain way. If in doubt, Google Patrick Leach’s “Blood and Guts.” I saw Lie Neilson planes that cost as much as those power tools I was talking about. I weighed my options. I made a trip to Apex Saw Works. I held in my hands what I wanted, the Stanley Sweetheart #62 Low Angle Jack Plane. It was not cheap. I bought it anyway.
I brought it home. I lovingly constructed a shelf for it to sit on, a pine 2×4 stretched between studs in my garage. I set the plane in place and went to bed. The next day I realized the depths of my insanity when I lifted the plane by its beautiful cherry handle and knob. I turned it over and gasped in horror. The flat base of the heavy plane had squeezed the water out of the non kiln-dried shelf and caused the base of my jack plane to rust, in one night, not just a little bit, but badly, deeply, disfiguringly. I hadn’t even used my baby yet, and it was ruined.
I was distraught. What could I do? I took a glass sheet and package after package of sandpaper, and I wore my arms out sanding that thing clean and flat again.
We drove to Master Craft, and Kim chose some purple heart. I cut it down with my circular saw. Then I trapped it against a piece of plywood and I took my first fine shavings off, then more and more, until I was left with a stick of wood of the exact size I needed and a garbage can full of purple curly wood. The wood turned flat and smooth under my hands. It was like magic. Push, shave, and exactly what should come off did come off. It was exactly like I thought it would be, hard work, tedious, soothing, wonderful. My plane worked! No longer did I care a thing about power tools. I had become a hand tool man.
Now another problem. To plane things, you have to be able to hold them steady. I needed a woodworker’s front vise. More research. Another trip to Apex. Sawing, glueing, drilling, some luck, some not so much. My ghetto bench hides screws, and while I was planing the front of it flat I hurt my honey the second time, scratching it and nicking the sharp iron in two places. Now I had to learn to fix the bevel, and the secondary bevel, and the reverse bevel. I had to learn to sharpen. Thank goodness for YouTube. I purchased a cheap Eclipse guide. I made a jig so that I could repeat my sharpening angle. I found a thin ruler to rest on my sharpening stone. I consoled myself by saying that it was a tool, and tools are meant to be used, and tools, when used, get damaged and must be repaired.
I learned about bench dogs, and hurt those too. I learned why cabinet makers eschew the use of metal fasteners in construction. I bought another plane, another Sweetheart, a #4 Smoother. (Haven’t used it yet, so it’s still in perfect shape. So far.) I sent off to Lie Neilson for a vise handle (dammit–I had to own something from that overpriced catalogue!) I resolved to buy a ripsaw made of Sheffield steel and build a sawbench. I found a cheap hunk of white oak with cracks and a giant knot and used my jack plane to turn it into a vise tail. I planed my first end grain, working from the edges to the center so that I wouldn’t splinter it. I learned about tearout. I was proud of the results.
Handplanes and vise tails are in my dreams. Is this going to be a fading infatuation, a momentary crush? Now that I’m done with my vise, will I move on to another love? Or will I continue in my love affair, and collect more hand tools, and learn to shape wood with them, and care for them?
Only time will tell.