Help Choosing Dovetail Plane
I’d like to buy a dovetail plane to use in the building of a small tool cabinet. There are two dovetail planes that I know of that are available. ECE offers skewed blade in a straight bed, while ULMIA offers a straight blade in a skewed bed. ECE angle is about 9.5 degrees, ULMIA angle is 17 degrees. Cost is the same. There are other slight differences, such as depth of cut. I know little of either of these planes, or of other, similar dovetail planes that might be available. I would very much appreciate any help understanding the differences between these planes or if it really makes any difference. I know carcass dovetails can be done with an electric router, but I gave mine to the local senior citizen’s center last year because I hadn’t plugged it in since 1979.
An alternative to the ECE and Ulmia is the dovetail plane of Steve Knight. See here: http://www.knight-toolworks.com/speciality.htm#Dovetail
He makes two versions, one that cuts both male and female sections (his is the only one that I know to do this), or a slightly cheaper version that (like the ECE and Ulmia) cuts only the male section.
I do not have first hand experience with these planes but have a "theoretical" knowledge gleaned when researching dovetail planes at the time I built my own. I'm not advocating the latter (I feel an obligation to build a plane if I am capable). If you do so fancy, go to http://www.wkfinetools.com/contrib/dCohen/dovPlane/index.asp
A dovetail is usually cut across the grain, and for this reason the dovetail plane is best built with a skewed blade (as with the ECE). One can still cut with a straight blade as long as the dado is well knifed beforehand.
It is also helful to match the angle of the cut to auxillary tools. For example, if you plan to cut the female section with a power router. If you plan to cut the female dado with a saw, chisel and router plane, then it matters not as you will simply make a template to guide the angle of the cut. Incidentally, you can make a fence for a Stanley #79 to act as a template when trimming (not creating) the female section. Or just use the #79 without a fence for help in fitting.
The angle of 9.5 degrees (ECE) is close to a 6:1 ratio, which is one of the more common ones used in dovetails in boxes and drawers. This was my preference.
Regards from Perth
Edited 2/24/2007 7:39 pm ET by derekcohen
Thank you for your thorough reply and for reminding me of Steve Knight's dovetail planes. I had forgotten about those, and I know that he has many loyal fans.
Your write up on building a dovetail plane has inspired me to try to make one following your instructions and those of Michaud, whom you cite. I'll try to find an old skew rabbet woody as you have done. Central Texas can be old tool hell; the term "old tool" here generally is construed to mean any chainsaw made before 1995. But I bet I can find an old skew rabbet eventually if I look hard enough.
I have never used their dovetail plane, but I have several wooden body Ulmia planes. I have always enjoyed using them and they give me good service. I also have Ulmia bar clamps and band clamps.They are also professional pieces of tool. JL
Thank you for your comments on Ulmia. I agree that Ulmia (and ECE) are fine tools. I bought several of their planes in the early 1980s, then switched to the more readily available metal planes. In the beginning, I never exercised the patience required to master getting a perfect setting on the blade with the Ulmia tensioning device. But in the last few years I've gone back to them more and more. They are wonderfully light weight, something I never thought about 20 years ago. But now I do.
I also find them holding their blade setting very well. I do not have to re-adjust due to the blade slipping very often...and when I do it is usually because I did something silly. I also appreciate the lighter weight of a wooden plane, but I can see that a heavier plane would add power to the stroke without needing to push harder. They came with very good quality irons, which I never had the need to upgrade and still use.
When I purchased them I was working for a German company, where all the cabinet makers were European, with the large majority German. They used them, so I used them. I guess that is often the case. We are introduced to things, and develop preferences based on the observations we made when watching the more experienced people around us.
Maybe Ulmia is not the best...probably isn't...but if it was good enough for Heinrich and Pietro, it was good enough for me. JL
There's also a Japanese plane that is probably what the Steve Knight dovetail plane is based on.
Hida Tools sells it, and it's probably available elsewhere.
Thank you for the pointer to this interesting (and interesting looking) plane. There's one I missed altogether. I'd like to find someone who has tried this plane to get a report on how well it works on harder American woods.
Bruce, another poster mentioned Steve Knight's planes. I just wanted to add that I had Steve build me a special-order plane with a radiused bottom a few years ago when I needed to work a hollow into a chair part. The plane was reasonably priced (i.e., cheap considering what I got) and worked very well. You should seriously consider one of Steve's planes -- I am thinking of getting one of his jointer planes just 'cause I like wooden planes and Steve does such a good job!
Thank you for your help with this. I don't have any of Steve's planes, but several woodworker friends have them, and they swear by them. I think Steve used to post frequently on the old Badger Pond website, and I always enjoyed his comments and his spirit of adventure in trying new things with plane making. I'm still trying to figure out how his DT plane works to cut both the male and female dovetails.
"I'm still trying to figure out how his DT plane works to cut both the male and female dovetails."
Call him up and ask him! He's a nice guy and I'm sure he'd be happy to discuss you DT plane needs with you, and even customize one to suit your preferences. In my case, I called him up, discussed what I needed, got to specify the length, curvature of the sole, wood selection, and weight of the plane (via added lead in hollows in the body). The plane arrived very shortly later, pre-sharpened and ready to rock & roll. My dealing with Steve was a truly fun and refreshing experience -- that alone was almost worth the cost of the plane!
Mike HennessyPittsburgh, PA
Been using the ECE dovetail plane for a couple of years, now. I like it and it does a nice job. Skewed iron does a good job cross-grain -- even in red oak, but you have to keep it very sharp for a smooth surface. If you've never used a wooden plane with a wedge before, there's a short learning curve to learning how to set iron depth with a small hammer/mallet. Other than that, pretty straight-forward.
No experience with the Ulmia or others.
"I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that...."
Thank you for the report on the ECE dovetail plane. I'm going to try to find a skewed iron woody and use Derek C's recipe for converting it to a dovetail plane. If I can't find a skewed iron rabbet plane as a donor, I'll move along to one of the other planes--like the ECE you endorse-- that I know will work. I learned to adjust wedged irons before I ever saw a lateral adjuster. I'm just backward, I guess. I confess that when no one is looking, I tap the irons on metal planes with lateral adjusters with a wooden plane hammer to get the last bit of adjustment. I never got that skillful with lateral adjusters--sad, but true.
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