Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When East meets West

Two Planes go Head to Head
These days, when you open up your favorite Woodworking Magazines you see an incredible amount of hand tools coming back into style by manufacturers from literally all over the world. While this indeed is a good thing for hand tool users and collectors, the amount of choices the amateur woodworker can have may be a little overwhelming. In this article I'm going to compare two of my favourite Smoothing planes, a Lie-Nielson No. 4, and a James Krenov custom smoother.

Tale of the Tapes

Lie-Nielson No. 4, Bronze Body
Length: 9 1/2"
Width: 2"
Weight: 4 lbs ., 10 oz.
Blade Thickness: 1/8"
Manufactured in Maine.

James Krenov Custom Smoother
Length: 8 1/2"
Width: 2 1/8"
Weight: 2 lbs., 4 oz.
Blade Thickness: 3/32"
Manufactured in California.

The first thing to mention when comparing these two planes is the obvious, one is an admittedly 'rough around the edges' wooden bodied plane and the other is a shiny and sleek looking, Bronze bodied plane based on a Stanley, Bedrock design. The Krenov has no front Knob or rear Tote, so using a plane with this style may take a little getting used to. The Lie-Nielson has a comfortable pistol grip tote, familiar to most of our Western style hand planes.
Both would be considered in the high end of quality in today's hand tool market and are quite compatible in price. So what's the difference and which one is for you?
Let's take a closer look.

Lie-Nielson No. 4
Let's start off by saying Lie-Nielson Tool works Inc. manufactures precision made, top-quality hand tools in Warren, Maine. They are quality through and through. Right out of the box these tools are hard to beat, high quality castings, beautifully shaped and finished Cherry handles and totes. The blades are A-2 cryogenically treated Tool Steel, hardened to Rockwell 60-62 and double tempered; they may need only a small amount of honing before use. The No. 4 is a Bench plane that is basically a re-designed Bedrock. The Bedrock was Stanley's top of the line planes, the biggest difference being in the frog assembly. The frog has a long bed that mates along the sole for a better supported iron with noticeably less chatter. Another advantage of this set-up is the ease at which you can adjust the throat opening. Two screws set behind the rear tote allows you to easily open or close the throat. No more fussing with the Lever Cap, loosening the iron and chip breaker, turning screws, putting things back together just to find it's not quite right.
The No. 4 is available in Bronze or Iron, I purchased the bronze version for the extra added weight. Not too mention, it looks pretty cool as well...Lie-Nielson also offers a Corrugated bottom version as well as a High-Angle frog upgrade.For smoothing hard reversing grain such as Birds Eye Maple, this plane works like a dream. Never any fussing, no surprises, just reliable performance every time. The No. 4 is in my opinion, the ultimate in Bedrock style hand planes and retails for $300.00 American. I think it's worth every cent.

James Krenov Custom Smoother
Now we'll go to the other end of the spectrum except however in performance. This plane is exactly what it's supposed to be. A simply made wooden bodied hand plane with minimal parts and not much else in the way of bells or whistles. Rough edges and dull finish, this plane may look as though an amateur woodworker cut it out using a dull steak knife. Funny how looks can be deceiving? As soon as you pick up this plane you realise those rough edges aren't so rough after all;perfectly shaped to meet the irregular hills and valleys of your hand. It is admittedly a little strange at first, the force is a downward pressure, with your hands lying in a more flattened but natural state. After using it for a few minutes you realize this downward pressure lends itself to optimum control. Fine adjustments are effortless with small movements and changes in your body weight. A much more organic movement you'll quickly discover small nuances in the grain of the wood. You'll be able to 'feel' the grain down through the plane body. The mechanical motion of the Lie-Nielson plane, while safe and predictable goes by the way side once you feel the difference in a wooden plane. You no longer will plane in that straight line; this plane allows you to explore with a rhythm and motion never experienced in hand planing. Circular motions, cross-grain fielding, and reversing exotic grains will become like silk. To adjust the blade a small hammer is used and sighting down the sole from the back, hold the plane upside down and gently tap the Iron until it just comes out of the throat. Another tap on the wedge and your ready to go. To retract the blade a repeated tap on the heel and that's all there is to it. Perhaps a little over-simplified but with a little practice, this will become second nature. The Krenov came with a Ron Hock blade and chip breaker. Hock tools is a small company in Fort Bragg, California. Starting in 1981, they've been making high quality steel for James Krenov and his students in the Fine Woodworking Program at College of the Redwoods. Now available world wide, they are some of the best plane irons available. I've recently fitted all of my old Stanley hand planes with Hock Chip breakers and Irons.

And the Winner Is...

So there you have it, the East meeting the West in hand plane technology. Which is better? I think that depends on the piece of wood or project you're dealing with. I tend to use the Lie-Nielson for larger areas and the Krenov for more delicate pieces. If I'm making a piece like a kitchen cabinet for someone and using a lot of figured Cherry, then I'll grab the Lie-Nielson; if on the other hand I'm shaping a small box out of figured Maple, perhaps a Christmas gift for a friend, then I'll always reach for the Krenov. Funny how simply holding a certain tool will change your thinking and/or working perspectives. One may inspire while the other offers a sense of security. Now, if I had to choose only one...?


Great website and nice comments about the two smoothers. I think you may have put into words the best explanation I've read about how these planes actully feel in use, niceley done.


March 4, 2008 8:24 AM

Monday, February 25, 2008

Kitchen Cabinet Update

Modern Storage Solutions enhance a Traditional Design

Well, slowly but surely the Cherry kitchen cabinets are coming along quite nicely. This past weekend I've been working on a few ways to add some extra storage space to a relatively small foot print. These additions are common in modern kitchen design but I've tried to keep with the traditional appeal of the Arts and Crafts style by using solid wood and classic joinery. The first was the pull out shelf trays, instead of having to bend down and reach into the back of the lower cabinets, these shelf trays pull out like drawers enabling easy access to interior items. All made with solid Cherry and joined with hand-cut dovetails, these are a real compliment to the over-all design. The second storage solution was the addition of two pull out pantry style doors. The left side has three interior shelves perfect for canned goods and bottles. The right hand side features a shelf for dish clothes, detergents etc.. and has two dowels for hanging dish cloths and dry towels on. The bottom also has storage for taller items like cleansers and soap. The pantries are the full depth making a lot of extra storage space. I'll be using some heavy duty drawer slides for these appliances. With the addition of these spaces the storage has been doubled along this wall.
This kitchen will also have an central island that will house a nice bank of drawers, a dishwasher as well as a small secondary sink. I got a start on the bank of drawers as well over the weekend. The bottom drawer is a full 12" in height, perfect for over sized items like pots and pans. The middle one is just under 10" and the top section I divided in half to make two smaller units. This four drawer unit will sit next to the dishwasher and provide plenty of dish storage right where it's needed.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Days are Getting Longer...

A Mid-February Canadian-Wood-Shop Morning Routine

This mornings 5 a.m. wake up call came as it always does; alarm clock tearing through my semi-unconscious state, lying there thinking "Do I really have to go out to work this morning"? Working alone and being ones own boss surely has it's advantages, but in these late winter un-ambitious final months of Canadian living there are unfortunately certain dis-advantages as well. Sometimes these frost filled early morning wake ups can take some real skill, I mean c'mon, forget about the wood working, we're talking about February in Canada. I always have to think of the job at hand, in this case the kitchen cabinets I'm building. I think of them as they will be in their finished state, the grain in the Cherry wood lifting off and out of the flatness in the frames and the panels. The hand rubbed oil finish glistening in some other early morning light. The client who has trusted me to build not only a piece of furniture for them, but to create a part of their home that will be used and enjoyed for years and years to come. This is what motivates me to go out into the dark morning wood shop, while this mid February frost still hangs over everything. Hey, it was only minus 4 today, too bad that was the inside of my shop. I long for a heated work space someday. Ah, this winter can't last forever right? The coffee maker is programmed to come on about 15 minutes to five; you've gotta love technology. My shop is behind our home and it only takes me 30 seconds to get to work. So here I am, just past five a.m. and I'm crumbling old news paper and splitting old timbers. The shop cats greet me with the usual exchange. Night shift you know, if they could only learn to use a hand plane. I like to get moving, get the fire going, maybe grab a hand plane and try to peel off some shavings. Just to clear out the cobwebs and get the blood pumping, these early morning wood shop engagements are really quite fulfilling. I take a look at the previous days work, things are coming along. I can see the kitchen cabinets growing out of the saw dust. I know what has to be done today, but I'll sit awhile and hug my coffee mug, imagining the cabinets are completed. I stage out the install and check to double check each move towards the finish, making sure the cart doesn't get ahead of the horse. Building this many cabinets but not quite completing them is a real art. They won't be complete until I put them in a van and transport them to their new home, two hours away. I need to make sure they will go together as I planned, no surprises. I find my coffee cup is emptying and take a look around, the light has changed, my eyes adjust, the sun is coming up. This is it, this is why, the smell of the wood stove mingles with my coffee air as the East awakes to embrace this beautiful coast we call Belle Cote. I think again on the work ahead and find some comfort knowing that I'll get it done. Hey, I've got plenty of time, the days are getting longer.


20 February 2008

Mr. Fidgen:

I discovered your interesting Weblog today and enjoyed reading all of your entries to date, as well as watching your videos. Very nice work. Thanks for taking the effort to inform and to share your knowledge, techniques, tool choices, and theories.

Thanks. Keep up the good work.

Phil Lang