Hand Tools Archive

Another Edge Killer - Black Limba

David Weaver
In the world of weirdo woods and guitars, I've been on a buying binge of guitars for the last two years. Until sales tax was added permanently (PA had an option if you didn't record your internet purchase to self-report use tax on a tabular basis), I was able to buy and sell guitars with total fees in the single digits, so I went through an incredible number of them before landing on the dozen or so I wanted to keep to have and to copy.

So, now i'm into building a bunch, which brings you to weirdo woods. Flatsawn cherry actually makes a nice guitar, but it's not traditional, and one thing I'd love to stock would be 18" wide 8/4 quartersawn honduran mahogany, same for sitka spruce, etc. None of those are particularly easy to find.

But, there are two vendors on ebay who have mahogany, and a bunch of other woods that aren't in great demand elsewhere (mahogany is, but not at the price of guitar blanks), and one of those is limba. Over the weekend, I figured I'd join some quartered limba for a guitar body blank - it's much in feel like light weight mahogany, and it has the giant pores like khaya does, and some honduran will have large pores from time to time.

(today, I scored a giant board of this stuff, so this may be the last two piece blank I need to make for a while - one-piece guitar backs are generally more desirable both for looks, and because it's just classier - just as a cabinet made of great old growth wide boards would be).

Holy surprise edge destroyer, though! The wood itself works off in great wide ribbons and has a wonderful sheen. It has ribboning like honduran mahogany, but a look at the first picture if you click up close - it seems like every nth pore is hiding a little chunk of silica. Wood like this is what sent me toward HSS years ago, because it tolerates these bits a little better - but the reality is, setting the cap properly and taking a thicker shaving gets through them easily, and you just suck it up and sharpen when you're done. You can still get a pleasing planed surface without much marking if just before you smooth plane, you vacuum the surface of the board to get most of the silica pieces out. The camera doesn't show this as clearly as it did with the rosewood, but these little bits are actually shiny, and at first, they leave you thinking maybe you laid the board in something contaminated with metal particles.

more and larger pictures in the entire gallery (easier to see the silica in the pores clicking through the surface image).


The silica particles are easier to see in the dark spots on the limba, not so easy to see on the light parts.

There's no particular significance to the plane other than when I got it from England, the dealer had gotten it from a luthier. It was functional, but marginally so. I'm guessing the luthier was using it to rough wood because it wasn't very sharp.

It is, without a doubt, the best working panel plane of any type that I've tried. Just about perfect weight (7 1/2 pounds) for a do-all plane like this, the handle is wonderful and oriented properly and it's dead flat. The casting makes it less sticky on wood than all-steel dovetailed planes.

It's also the cheapest panel plane I ever got - by far, and about half of the cost of something like a lie nielsen plane.

You probably wouldn't use a single plane to dimension things, but this plane is an example of context. It can rough to smooth anything you'd make a guitar with - the billet is never big enough to need anything rougher, and it's only 15 minutes to work over both sides of something like this joined billet and then measure and hand thickness it so that it's within a hundredth anywhere you measure thickness on it. Since a luthier had it before and used it on guitars, then so will I.

I will, at some point, unload nearly all of my infill planes, but this is the panel plane that I will keep.

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