Larry Williams – The Perfect Plane by Nathan Willis

This is a nice inspirational video on Larry Williams and his business partner Don.  It’s interesting though to see some machinery  used in the production of these fantastic planes.  I’ve always found it odd that machinery is used to produce hand tools to promote handwork.  No ear protection, no dust, its quiet and efficient but when it comes to manufacturing them, it’s not cost effective and inefficient to do so by hand.  Kind of hypocritical don’t you think, it’s like selling tools vs selling furniture, you can sell tools all day everyday but you can’t sell the stuff you can build with them.  

Larry mentioned that moulding planes are sophisticated tools and I agree with him, they are as much needed in ones tool kit today as they were back in the day.  I know modern day furniture has very little mouldings implemented in their designs, but fashion comes and goes it’s more a cycle or like the hour hand, its start at 12 and completes its revolution ending at 12.  Nothing knew is ever thrown at us, nothing knew in terms of design is every invented, fashion comes and goes like the tide, if you don’t believe me look carefully and you will see bits and pieces of things taken from the past going back as far as 2000years and I’m not only referring to furniture.

In this modern age most people don’t like brown furniture but do like the carvings and mouldings and the initial design of some antique furniture.  So why have it brown?  I’ve seen a beautiful highboy in FWW made entirely from Tiger Maple.  It’s the same style of furniture but it isn’t  brown, the creator thought out of the box.  So you don’t need to stick to any period correctness colour just to go with your own creativity.

Referring back to my own build I’m finding it frustrating to shape the irons to make a perfect replica of the sole’s profile.  Unfortunately I had to resort to using a dremel to help with the grinding.  If I had an assortment of files I believe I could do a much better job quickly and more efficiently.  The two quality files I have are Bahco files and are the best files I have ever worked with.  Sometimes I feel like buying a whole bunch of them in fear that they will drop their standard of work and produce crap like Nicholson does today.    I wonder though how the select modern day toolmakers shape theeir soles and irons?  I look at James Celeb’s profiles and they’re perfect, I looked at Matt Bickford’s and Larry Williams and HNT as well and all the irons perfectly match the sole.  So perfect that it’s impossible to think that they did this by hand and I don’t think that they did.

When I examine Ron Herman’s profiles through his videos there are slight variations because he grinds them by hand and some of my own antique planes again you see those slight variations as well.  I could be wrong as I’ve never held any of those above mentioned toolmakers planes in my hands before to study them up close, but it just looks too machined perfect to be done by hand.  So I wonder what is it that they they use to get it so darn perfect.

I believe that I will get it perfect by hand, I know me and I know how much of a nit picker I am so it’s only a matter of time before I get to that aha point.  It’s easy to say I don’t know, it can’t be done and to resort to some machine to do it for you.  For me that’s not being a craftsman, a craftsman relies on his own skill sets or develops them and not rely on some machine to do it for him.  For me it’s always been about skill development and freedom from the dependence on machinery.

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4 thoughts on “Larry Williams – The Perfect Plane by Nathan Willis

  1. Thanks for posting this. A few years back Larry told me that they do have a milling machine that is commonly used by the furniture manufacturers. I think he said it was a Grizzly unit. I completely respect them for doing so as it surely keeps the price below what it otherwise would be.

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    1. Absolutely it does for multiple planes but for one off operations it doesn’t much time at all. I just wish I can get hold of his planes because according to his dimensions for the grip and body it just doesn’t work. The chamfers does not work, the grip width also doesn’t in fact nothing works according to those dimensions. What works is what I’ve drawn up, it’s different but his dimensions just doesn’t work.

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  2. Hello, I happened upon your post. To give you some insight, I use a flex shaft grinder to grind the profiles by hand and then final hone with a slip stone. I also profile all my soles by hand with custom planes. Virtually all the late 19th century plane makers used machinery to produce their planes but even then the final fit of the wedge and shaping the irons hand to be done with hand work.

    As a comment on my own personal furniture work there is no division in my mind between hand tools and machine tools. I just choose the best tool for the work at hand. Now if I’m doing wood working for pure joy with no concern in production speed then I will probably do green woodworking because hand tools suit the processes so well. That said the furniture I sell is mostly in the Danish modern style. That was made mostly with machinery and then final shaping was done with hand tools so I do likewise.

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    1. Thanks very much for giving us an insight on your method of building moulding planes and furniture. Your pretty much of a celebrity in moulding planes and I’ve enjoyed reading your book “moulding planes in practice” I’ve tried to draw up in cad according to Larry’s dimensions and it just doesn’t work out. So I’ve referred to some of your dimensions and made some minor adjustments to suit. In regards to Larry’s dimensions the thickness of the body, grip and wedge doesn’t coincide with the profile’s width. I’ve spent hours making adjustments to make his dimensions work for me but just couldn’t without affecting the thickness of the wedge and the tang of the iron without significantly reducing them. I keep referring to the picture of the set on Matt’s website and I just can’t figure out how Larry makes it all work. Larry has a 25° bevel on the blind side while you seem to have an 18 to 20° bevel which works for me. But I would prefer to use Larry’s dimensions as it gives the plane a full thicker body. But that’s where I’m at with these planes. Each sized plane is individually drawn and made to suit the irons width. With Larry’s dimensions I can’t get the width of the iron to match the width of the sole. If I could some how get atleast one drawing from Larry and maybe I could work out how he fit the irons width to those dimensions.

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