Hand Tools Archive
I have a Japanese plane that I made with a US white oak sole and it has seen both some of my most abusive use, and longest use as I made it in the early 80s. I did wear out one sole, but at the time I was planing stuff like fiberglass, plywood, and I still occasionally do. Total cost of doing that was to pass the block through the planer, glue a new sole on, refit. I am not sure what plane we are talking about here, but if it is a transitional they also have square bases, so a refit is seconds of work. You can also make mouths more durable with endgrain saturation with epoxy, or you can just repair the mouth. All of these are nothing activities to someone who works wood.
My own belief is that the sole thing came in for marketing planes. If you think about it, how we as consumers feel about stuff, it seems reasonable to me that 1) when spending money we want reassurance the product will last, and 2) as woodworkers we want something we couldn't make at home. In an earlier time the average shop didn't maybe have Lignum in it, though it might have. But certainly affixing it with a criss cross of rebates would be pretty tough to do. So it adds to the idea the maker has some unique capability I should pay for. Of course the whole idea of attaching two dissimilar woods is not great.
By the way, at most times, the sole of my planes do not wear through the finish, or maybe around the mouth a little. These days few hobby woodworkers keep the same planes around, so lifetimes of use are an illusion.
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- Sargent transitional