Starless and Bible Black



Storms are rolling in from the Atlantic bringing catastrophic flooding, very high winds and there is many a tree being brought down around where we live. That means free unseasoned timber if you have a chainsaw and something to haul it away in – there’s always an upside.

But that was not what I was focussing on today.  I was focussing on the chunk of lustrous black timber I dug out of my stock that came from much further afield. I have a piece of African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) and I am going to make a smoothing plane out of it (its tuff stuff to photograph too).

But here’s a thing: whenever I consider designing something in terms of its function I tend to approach it in a different way than if I think only of its form.  To design my wooden smoother using Lee Valley’s kit I decided to take a function based approach.

How does a smoothing plane function?  It creates a finely polished surface by utilising a very sharp blade, a relatively short (but very flat) sole and a tight mouth.


The Lee Valley PMV11 blade supplied in the smoother hardware kit (with its neat Norris style adjuster) will certainly provide my plane with the first of these and a certain amount of diligence and (hopefully) skill will provide the other two.

That’s not  all there is to it though… Certainly it is desirable for a plane to have a certain amount of mass (even a small one) and, if it is to be long-lived, the sole must be very wear resistant.  Reviewing these requirements led to the conclusion that a single species might not cover off all of the requirements… Therefore I have decided to use two species: My piece of African Blackwood for the body and a sliver of Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum sanctum), for the sole.  Originally I tried to get hold of a piece of Buloke (which is even harder than Lignum and, in theory at least, more wear resistant) but I think I may have been better advised to stand at the rear of a rocking horse for a while.

So, I have my materials.  Enough of words.  It is time to do.

– Paul Mayon


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