Of Blades and Bench Planes


There are plenty of good reasons for staying true to the tools you choose: one of the most compelling is that turning a simple tool into a tuned instrument that works exactly as you intend in your hands is something that we all work to achieve every day – and it takes time. So, it’s important that you treat your tools just like you do your relationship with your ‘significant other’: choose wisely, be loyal, handle with care and with a regular application of baby camellia oil.

But for those of us who use metal bench planes exclusively there has always been the siren song of another way to tempt us. An older, simpler way: Wooden planes. James Krenov (who becomes ever more like a woodworking Obi-wan with every passing year), described wooden planes as ‘the tool’.

Now, they say good things come in threes and last week was no exception when it came to wooden planes: 

1. I was having a discussion with Derek Jones on the merits of tapered backsaw blades when he nonchalantly produced a stunning jointer plane he had purchased from David Barron and suggested I plane some rippled sycamore with it. DJ, (like all diligent providers of recreational chemicals) suggested I ‘just give it go’. Damn you Jones – it was smooth, sharp, silky and just so comfortable to hold. I could also feel feedback from the blade that most metal planes do not give. 

2. A fat, padded envelope containing a Lee Valley Veritas smoothing plane kit dropped through my letterbox. For those seeking to emulate David Barron, the LV kit contains a budding wooden plane maker’s dream: the instructions needed to make a tidy little smoother, a neatly designed adjustment mechanism for those wary of tapping their blade with a hammer and, crucially, a Veritas PM-V11 blade that took only 2 minutes on a 6000 grit water stone to become ‘holy-mother-of-God!’ sharp.  Nice.  So, by the time our first New English Workshop course with Mr Schwarz comes around, I hope to be toting my own home-bred smoother about the place on a hand-tooled leather gun belt.  If not I shall swallow my pride and beg David to sell me one of his.

3.  DJ and I received some great news: David Barron handed over this truly exceptional Lignum vitae (Guaiacum spp.) smoothing plane (pictured) to include in the Anarchist’s Tool Chest that Chris Schwarz will build this summer with us. At least it will be if anyone can prize it out of DJ’s steely grasp…



– Paul Mayon


2 thoughts on “Of Blades and Bench Planes

    • Carl. Brimarc are the UK source for Lee Valley in the UK but they don’t carry everything in the LV catalogue and I’ve been told today that this includes the plane kit. However LV ship worldwide and I can tell you you might be pleasantly surprised at how competitive the service is from Canada to the UK. Worth an email.
      Best, Derek

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