Hand Tools Archive

Re: Quality
Response To:
Quality ()

Steve Elliott
Quality to me is having all the functional aspects of the plane right so that it works well. Many of the user-made planes I've seen have problems with their geometry. If the pivot for the lever cap is too high the lever cap screw hits the cap iron an an angle that causes the blade to shift when the screw is turned to tighten the blade. If the metal shell is narrower at the top than at the mouth then the blade will have to be so narrow that there are gaps at the sides of the mouth. (When the dovetails are peened it tends to make the sides move together at the top, so this is a common problem among user-made planes.) The known makers had solved these issues and their planes can be tuned to be peak performers.

Of course the "fit and finish" of different manufacturers varied but by the time a plane is a century old the amount of wear has overtaken the original state of the plane when it was new. I've had to flatten badly worn soles and remove high spots from the blade bed to get some of my planes working well. I typically make a new cap iron to exactly fit the width of the blade. Getting the cap iron to stay in place when the screw is tightened can be difficult if the blade is a different thickness on the sides of the slot.

Planes have only a few important parts but how the parts work together can be hard to understand at first. Experience and an open mind are the best guides.

My first plane was a Stanley #4 I bought new in the 1970s. I worked with it for a while before I realized it just wasn't well made and no amount of tuning was going to make it a tool I liked. I now own a Stanley #4 that was made around 1920 and it's a gem. Looking at it closely makes me like it better, unlike that first plane.

I even have a few tools I consider ugly but great tools because they work well. I think quality is hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Oh, and I'm currently re-reading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which is all about how you know quality, so that has probably influenced my answer.

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