Dear Internet,

Hey, hope this post finds you well. I’ve been meaning to write, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Last you heard, I was starting the task of building a nicer plane. I’m finding the maple to be a joy to work and I’m having design ideas faster than I can make planes. Dropping the ash is proving fruitful, as business and opportunities have really picked up.

On April 1st, I got the green light to display at a Lie-Nielsen hand tool event. I was so surprised when I found out, that for a moment, I thought I was getting April Fooled. The Event was held at F&W Media, home of Popular Woodworking magazine. Lots of people came through and I saw some familiar faces from WIA. My kits and blades sold very well.  

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While at the event, Chris Schwarz took video of me setting a chip breaker. The video ended up being no good, but luckily the trick was. It was posted on the Lost Art Press blog, along with a quick blurb about my kits and planes. I can now confirm the existence of the “Schwarz Effect” and will say his post spiked my one day sales and page views, enough to skew my insights graph indefinitely.

As if all that wasn’t enough for one weekend, I also got interviewed about my planes. This was especially cool, because I have never been interviewed before, not even as a bystander or witness. The questions came from the Drunken Woodworker, David Picciuto. If you haven’t seen his wrap up show, check it out…GOOD STUFF!

The kits have been my best sellers and to aid in the assembly, I made some youtube videos. These are first drafts and were all done in one take. Wanted to get some visuals out there and hope to remake these soon.

The rest of my time has been spent filling orders and exploring designs. I’ve found that breaking free of my previous, self imposed restraints on wood and shape, have opened a flood gate of ideas. I’m excited to see where this goes.

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Be Good,

Rhett

Kerouac’ed Out

He saw that all the struggles of life were incessant, laborious, painful, that nothing was done quickly, without labor, that it had to undergo a thousand fondlings, revisings, moldings, addings, removings, graftings, tearings, correctings, smoothings, rebuildings, reconsiderings, nailings, tackings, chippings, hammerings, hoistings, connectings — all the poor fumbling uncertain incompletions of human endeavor. They went on forever and were forever incomplete, far from perfect, refined, or smooth, full of terrible memories of failure and fears of failure, yet, in the way of things, somehow noble, complete, and shining in the end.
 Jack Kerouac
 
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Making A Nicer Plane

I have officially started the next leg of my journey. After much contemplation and lots of trial and error, the process of building a nicer plane has begun. Looking back on my previous attempts, one can see just how much this idea has already evolved.

As mentioned in my last post, I am switching my wood offering from ash to rock maple. There will also be a few assorted specialty woods used, for small batch runs.  These will be released on occassion, like the top shelf bourbon being distilled down the road from my shop. The errors of my previous wood selection are becoming painfully clear, after a just a small amount of time with this maple.

I started with a stick of 8/4 lumber from my local supplier,  found by taking extra time to dig through the stack. I was looking for that choice board, with the proper grain orientation needed for a stable plane. Of course I restacked the bundle, only a twit leaves a mess for his supplier.

Don’t be that guy, leave it better than you find it.

So I left with my piece of thick maple, a bit over 10’ long and 6” wide. Once in the shop, I proceeded to break it down into short lengths. Once broken down, I took a moment to read the end grain and pick the best 3” wide section of each board.  Attempting to get the annular rings, horizontal across the blanks.

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I marked a center line, bisecting the growth rings on both sides. The line was transferred to the face and connected end to end. This keeps the grain straight for the length of the plane.

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I cut the first line on my bandsaw to get a reference, then it was stock prep as usual.  After all was said and done, this first step of the process yielded 8 plane blanks, 2 3/4″ wide by 14″ long.  That equates to using less than 50% of my original, hand selected board.  A person who turns or builds smaller woodworking projects should make it a point to befriend me.  From the look of things, I’m going to have a lot of off cuts!

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At this point, I am in 100% agreement with Juan Hovey’s statement that the longer you make planes, the harder they become to make. 

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Losing My Ash

I have been under a false assumption.  It was my belief when I began making hand planes that affordability was something to be considered and a light-hearted name would bring only a smile.  Attempting to use practices, methods and materials to keep down the cost of a hand tool apparently comes across as cheap, lazy and lacking skill.  Some have  even mentioned they believe the name to be crass.  Well, I don’t like being accused of making “cheap” anything, my work ethic would put most under the table, my portfolio of finished work could stand next to almost anyones and the working craftsmen I’ve met believe the name too be funny.   I will admit that I’ve misjudged the market I’m attempting to supply and I am not too proud to publicly address my mistakes. So I’m making some changes. 

This is a solid product and I feel slight modifications and a final push are worth the effort.   

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First up, the ash is out.  I’m done trying to argue semantics over plane wood.  Ash is perfectly acceptable and does indeed make a nice plane.  It also makes nice firewood and unfortunately it can’t escape this stigma, even though it is practically going extinct.  My future planes will be offered in Beech or Maple.  Both of these woods are hard, diffuse porous and locally available.  Also, these domestic hardwoods continue to mesh with my original goal of local sourcing materials and playing a small part in supporting my community.

Since the ash wood is out, so is the name, kind of.  I will now simply be, Nice Planes.  While some like ash, others don’t.  In an attempt to keep both sides appeased, I’ve made a compromise.  Feel free to make planes using my blades with ash wood.  I promise you will get a smile when you show your shop mates a nice ash plane.

I’m going to continue to make these planes in the same manner I have been all along, with power.  I’ve spent the better part of a year developing and tweaking my method and still think it to be the most efficient and cost effective way to make a wooden plane.  I am not ashamed of my love for machinery or routers and think anyone who tries to make an argument that “real woodworkers” shun power tools is either talking out of their ash or is trying too hard to inflate their ego.  This also means the price point will remain the same, affordable for people who actually want to work wood.  You can have quality, serviceable tools without breaking the bank .

The body style will continue to be simple.  I also plan to offer a Japanese style, with the mouth towards the back.  As always, the designs and the product are evolving.

The NiceAshPlanes site will remain up until I get things worked out and blades will continue to be for sale without interruption.  As my primary concern from day one has been FUNCTION, my biggest focus has been on the business end of the plane, the blade.  The tapered double irons, born from these ashes, will stand toe to toe with ANY companies offering.  It’s been a year of lessons.  The constructive input I’ve received has led to a notched pin and the tapered double iron.  The non-constructive doucheness has led to an introspective rethinking of my plan.  Both are good things.  Let’s see what happens.

Sluff it Off

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.  Not only am I trying to swim upstream with my untraditional hand tool,  I’ve also flipped the switch on my overall health.  Decided a change in diet was necessary to really to give this business the best possible chance for success.   It’s not quack science that proper nutrition boosts brain power and my steady diet of Old Forester and whatever’s easy isn’t a meal plan that’s  going to be raising anyones IQ.

Conveniently my wife Katie is in a “sugarless babes” FB group.  This group started roughly the same time I began my latest health campaign, so there hasn’t been the issue with one person trying to do right while the other does whatever.  Success is always easier with everyone on board.  It helps that we have a good relationship too, because snark has been deep the last few weeks. 

Don’t get me wrong, I keep a fairly healthy diet year round, not a lot of restaurant eating and extremely limited fast food.  I try to grow our food best I can and until last fall, had 12 laying hens.  However, once a year I make the effort to blow out the crap that has built up inside my body and brain.  My last purge involved a month of green smoothies.  Extreme as that may sound, I have found I operate best with the all or nothing appraoch, as moderation isn’t a strong point of mine.  I have a friend who refers to me as binary-boy, because he says I’m either off or on. 

I skipped last years detox, so this one has been especially rough, the first week being the worse.  Headaches, weakness and a mental fog like you’ve just stepped off Willie Nelson’s tour bus.  By the time week two rolls around, you are so used to feeling bad from your body sluffing off stored preservatives and toxins, every improvement is noticed in Technicolor. 

Then it hits you.  You wake one morning and everything feels different.  The pain in the back of your head is gone, joints don’t ache and you’re alert the moment your feet hit the floor.  It’s beautiful really, feeling good, naturally.  When your body is operating correctly and you provide it with quality gas, it performs as designed;  like a well oiled, marvelous, mystery machine.  I’m almost ready to take on the world…

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IN OTHER NEWS

If you’re going to be in the Northern Kentucky area, March 22, please visit the NKY Restoration Weekend event.  It’s held at the Gateway Urban Campus in Covington KY.  My booth will be set up across from Chaplin Hill Timberwrights.  Bill Faulconer will be demonstrating traditional timber framing techniques while I show how to sharpen, set-up and use wooden planes.  The day is filled with free classes and seminars on how to maintain and restore old homes.

There is also a plane makers special that is supposedly in the works.  It was suggested by one of the guys over at Woodchat.   Hoping that comes to light, as it would be nice to chat with Scott Meek, Time Warp Tools, The Cronkwright  and Juan Vergara (love his work).  I’m sure there are a number of things they have to say/ask about my planes and blades.  Good or bad, I’m on top of my game and ready for anything.

The Plane Truth

Well the month of February has come to an end, but there are still no planes for sale on the site.  The blades are in and they look beautiful, unfortunately I have little for them to go into.  I started the process of getting blades manufactured a few months ago and planned to use the 8 week production time to develop my line.  Unfortunately I didn’t have as much time to devote to them as I would like.

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Over the last few months, the shop has been overrun with cabinetry.  The hand planes have had to take a back seat because cabinetmaking is what actually pays bills here.  So while the chipbreakers were getting milled and the irons were getting heat treated, I was spraying lacquer and breaking down plywood.

I doubt there is anyone waiting on pins and needles for the next NAP but there may be some other woodworkers, excited to try these tapered double irons.  I’ve decided to go ahead and put the blades up on the site

Planes will be available shortly…

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Everyone Sucks

No one ever starts out good at anything.  Sure there is that .01% of the population that has a sort of idiot savant talent, but that is not the norm.  It takes time and perseverance to overcome the initial suckage that accompanies new tasks.   Whether it is cutting a dovetail, setting a hand plane or rolling a kayak, the first time is always more effort and less result.

Think of anyone you admire for their achievements.  Do you honestly believe this person has always been good at what they do?  Do you think they never made a mistake?  No, just like every other human who has ever started out to do something new, there have been trials, mistakes and breakthroughs. 

There is a nervous bravado and social insecurity that manifests itself in commonly held beliefs about craftsmanship.  Some artisans have powers of intellect and mastery over materials that, when compared to the rest of us, are near to the magical and miraculous.  They seem to instinctively know what they are doing and how to do it.  The “instinct” however, is not some superhuman power; it is brilliance that the rest of us attempt to understand by attributing it to some power out of our control, the “luck” of the genetic draw.  This attitude denigrates genius, but enables those with lesser skills to feel better about themselves.  This interpretation of what seems “native” or “instinctive” skill is not merely negative.  In the attempt to understand the work of the skilled who seem to have no tangible plan, people also forget or never consider that these skills may be the result of years of error and failure, lessons that have been learned and incorporated into the work of the mind and hand.

Harvey Green

Quit comparing your work to others, do the best you can do, never stop challenging yourself and always try one more time.

Do More, Suck Less.

Sacred Cow: Medium Rare

The idea to make wooden planes came to me from out of the blue.  Can’t really pinpoint the time or place but can say with all certainty it was spontaneous.  Why this idea and not one of the others fighting to escape my brain?  Short answer is because it came in like a freight train and never left the station. 

This is especially odd because I am by no means a hand tool only woodworker and I am definitely not a tool collector.  A few simple wooden planes are all I have ever relied on to complete the cabinets and furniture that leave my shop.  My method is to leave planes on the shelf, until work commands the refined touch of a hand tool. 

So I set out to build my imagined tool.  The idea was to design a plane which could be constructed in an efficient, repeatable and time conscious manner, with enough difference to be distinguishable.   Constructing planes via the 5 piece Krenov lamination has been written about, filmed and blueprinted many times over. While this is an excellent way to make a plane and people have perfected this technique, it’s slow and labor intensive.  Besides, why bring a regurgitated idea to market.  At that time, I was unaware new ideas are frowned upon in the world of “traditional” woodworking.  Do it how it’s always been done seems to be the prevailing motto. 

While I have a strong respect for tradition, I refuse to wear it like a leash.

The two piece construction method ended up being my solution.  Cut a blank in half, hollow it out and glue it back together.  Planes constructed via this technique make glue ups a snap, because there are only two pieces to combine.  Keep the bed level and the rest works itself out.  This process also makes construction A LOT faster, allowing them to be cost effective to produce without sacrificing function.    

That was a year ago and over the course of 12 months, these planes have come a long way.  The original 2 piece construction method and hidden pin have stayed the same but in my quest for innovation I have re-designed the pin and switched to a tapered blade and chip breaker.  All of which should be available on the site soon.

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 “You have your way.  I have my way.  As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Fredrick Nietzsche

That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

How does one go about marking hardened tool steel?    Electricity and chemicals are my answer.  Earlier this month, I received my electrochemical etcher from Lectroetch, a company out of Ohio.  Quite the upgrade from the vinyl sticker and deep cycle battery rig I started with…undoubtably safer too.

http://www.lectroetch.com/

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I read of this company in a post on woodnet, and seeing as they are right up the road, I gave them a call.  The sales staff was super friendly and helpful.  Going as far as talking me out of spending money on things I “thought” I needed.

The system is straight forward and easy to use.  With the included stencils I ordered, the markings are sharp, deep and crisp.  Each stencil should be good for 250 markings, though some customers claim over 1000, using lower low voltage. 

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Highly recommended for anyone needing to mark metal. 

Now I just need my irons to come in!

He’s Autistic I’m Artistic

My oldest child, Ethan, was diagnosed as severely autistic, 12 years ago.  He is a great kid with a glowing and cheerful spirit.  The demons show up on occasion, but we take them as they come.  He is non-verbal with low dexterity and over the years we have learned to communicate through a form of modified sign language and general attentiveness.  You may be wondering why I am writing about this on a “woodworking” blog?  Truth is, my son’s disability has had the greatest influence on my woodworking ability.

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When we moved to North Carolina, it wasn’t to advance my woodworking skills or to live among official woodworkers.  While I knew the state was a sort of woodworking mecca, my goal was advanced services for my child not advanced skill sets for myself.  Guess living for the right reasons pays off, because while I was there I literally walked into a job working for the highly respected and knowledgeable cabinetmaker, Kay Hill.  Kay was a wealth of knowledge, having been in the trade for more than 50 years.  His skills were only overshadowed by his compassion.  Kay made my schedule as flexible as possible in order to accommodate my son’s schedule.  Ethan was already proving to be a guiding light, even if I hadn’t recognized it yet. 

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One thing all parents of children with autism share is scheduling.   It can make or break the day of a regimented kid.  At first it seemed as though I was living my own version of Ground Hog Day.  Then I read something that hit me like a bag of hammers. 

“The Monotony and Solitude of a Quiet Life Stimulates the Creative Mind ”   Einstein

This made perfect sense to me and sparked a change in the way I fundamentally think.  Maybe this daily routine I had was a blessing.  Maybe the life path presented to me wasn’t completely random.  Instead of thinking to myself how much it sucked having to make that 5th smoothie of the day, I began to use these moments of brainless activity to think about projects, ideas and life in general.  This is easier said than done, but like all muscles, the brain can be exercised and strengthened.  Over time, as I consciously directed my mind, ideas began to spring up and my creativity flourished.

After enough creative ideas made their way into my head, some had to be acted upon.  Ideas left in your head are simply a daydreams if not brought to fruition.  Time is a precious commodity and while a good part of my wife and mines time is spent caring for our son, not every minute is devoted to his well-being.  This free time isn’t without constraints though.  Without rhyme or reason, I may need to stop what I am doing and tend to one of many situations.  Availability for my family is the primary factor in keeping my shop on property.  While some view this as an unprofessional way to run a business, I see it for what it as, adapting and overcoming.

Perception truly is reality and as my perceptions have matured, the reality of my situation has become apparent.  As awful and trying as things may sometimes be, I wouldn’t trade my life for another.  This unique situation has been a blessing to my vocation.  Not only has Ethan made me a better woodworker, more importantly he’s made me a better person.

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