Making Music with a Plane
A celebrated craftsman explains his devotion to an indispensable cabinetmaking tool
Synopsis: Don’t just be a woodworker; make something more out of it, if your heart’s in it, writes James Krenov. This short article is more philosophy than how-to, a soul-searcher that grapples with the question “Why to bother to work wood?”. Planes are the symbol of his theory, and he describes the process of making them without worrying why they work well until after they’re complete; the engineer and the peasant reach a parting of the ways, and that is true throughout the craft. Woodworking requires accuracy, but he extols the virtues of remaining flexible. When he discovered joy in making planes, he realized that a tool can be improved, and it is a personal and intimate thing. Find a balance between the time you work and the time you take care of your tools — don’t let one overtake the other. Don’t let fussing take over. Just think of what the tool will do and what you can do with it.
When I was in school in Sweden, we had regular European planes that had to be held in a certain way. For some reason, curiosity or whatever, I made a little wooden plane out of maple. Suddenly, my friends are gathered around, and we’re making shavings. I realized the versatility of that little block of wood. It was comfortable with two hands on it. It was comfortable with one hand doing a tiny little edge or corner. It had a new dimension because it did not force me to relate to it very rigidly in one certain way.
I don’t think that you can prove in a court of law that these little wooden planes make thinner or better shavings than any other plane. I think the emotional element is the main difference,…