My experience as an instrument builder translates in new ways to furniture building, which I am avidly engaging as a new editor at Fine Woodworking. The small-scale accuracy of luthiery helps when dealing with precise joint work, such as a recent box made under the tutelage of FW’s own Matt Kenney. (I’ll be blogging on that project next week.)
Luthiers use many familiar hand and power tools: bandsaws, belt sanders, drill presses are all familiar sights in an instrument shop, and some makers–for example, harpsichord builders–will use standard cabinetmaking machines such as table saws, jointers, and planers. We also tend to have an assortment of wacky hand tools that are unique to the trade, aside from the usual saws, planes, and chisels. These include purfling cutters (center of the photograph), peg shavers, tapered reamers that match the slope of violin and lute family pegs, and soundpost setters. And then we have tools that are just tiny version of your usual ones. Enter my favorite form this last category: Baby planes.
For all of you Krenov enthusiasts out there, making your own baby planes out of wood scraps is almost identical to the regular “Krenov plane” technique. You just reduce the dimensions of a regular plane to the necessary size. (For scale, the smallest of the wooden planes—right hand side of the detail photo—is 3 cm, or 1 1/4 in., long. You’ll also notice that these are completely convex bottoms, front-to-back and side-to-side.) One of the main tricks that makes these planes slightly more challenging is fitting the wedge for the blade. Another is adjusting the size of the throat, which at this small scale requires the use of a detail file. Since these planes don’t have a chipbreaker, the blades are turned bevel-down and the slope of the wedge helps lever the chips out, as would be the case with a Japanese plane.
These little planes are normally used to carve out the insides of bellies and backs of violin and other archtop instruments. But in some projects I am designing, I’m envisioning possible uses for these planes in tight spots for which I might not have a tool at the moment. For example, I’m planning to build a small sewing box in japanese tansu style, that’ll include shaped handles along both top edges. In order to make the gentle curve on the inside bottom of those handles, I’ll want to use one of these small planes. They’re great at handling funny grain in tight quarters.
Some of this crossover tool usage goes the other way, of course: the metal-bodied trim planes (sometimes called “bunny planes”) are sometimes used by finish carpenters to adjust trim and moldings; they’re great for small areas in instruments.
I’ll be happy to post more photos and blogs about the unique tools I have in the Luthier’s Toy Chest. I’d love to know if there’s anything in particular that you’d like to see.
A collection of small tools from Smishkewych's Luthier's Toy Chest. From left: a bronze rabbet plane, a convex-sole violinmaker's plane, a bowmaker's concave-sole plane with palm rest, three wooden planes by the author, a pair of "bunny" planes, and a miniature spokeshave. Center: a purfling cutter.
Detail of the three small wooden violinmaker's planes made by Smishkewych during his time at the Indiana University Violin Shop. The smallest is 1 1/4 in. long. They are made out of walnut scraps, with small japanese steel blades, and spring pins (and in one case, copper tubing) for holding the wedges.