Anyone who has been to my shop knows that I have a deep affection for the handplanes made by Wayne Anderson. His planes perform as well as any I have ever used – no matter the price – and his aesthetic matches mine.
Wayne’s planes are inspired by the gorgeous work of the past, but he doesn’t copy old designs, and he never seems to make the same plane twice.
I first became aware of Wayne’s work about 10 years ago through the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, and I followed it closely until I had the guts to meet him at a tool meet in 2004. After seeing his work in person, I placed an order for an improved miter with an ebony infill.
That tool was the first of several planes that I’ve asked him to build for me. They are, without a doubt, the most gorgeous things I own.
Because of my former position at Popular Woodworking Magazine and my many blabberings about handplanes, I get asked the following question every week or two: Are infill planes worth the money?
The answer is difficult. I can make a Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Clifton or vintage Stanley plane perform as well as an infill. But infill planes have a set of characteristics unique only to them that I like. For example, my favorite infill is short (5-5/8” long x 1-7/8” wide), coffin-shaped, has a high-pitched iron (60°) with no chipbreaker or blade adjuster. In other words, it’s a lot like an old wooden plane. But unlike a wooden plane, it has significant mass and a steel sole that never needs to be trued.
It is far more comfortable to hold than a No. 2-sized Bailey plane. And its mass isn’t so significant that it feels like you are pushing a collapsed star across your bench. It weight 2 lbs. 2 oz., which is between the Lie-Nielsen Nos. 1 and 2. It’s perfect for my style of general furniture work.
The plane I’m describing is a small ebony-infilled plane that Anderson made for me in 2006. I call this my “plane of last resort” because it just refuses to leave tear-out in its wake, no matter how sharp or dull the tool is.
In fact, the tool needs to come with a warning label. If you pick it up and use it, you will want one. Just ask Megan Fitzpatrick or any of my students who have casually picked it out of my tool chest. Larry Williams of Old Street Tool calls this phenomenon “Infill Disease.” Larry is fully recovered from the affliction. I, however, am not.
So yes, having an infill in your tool chest is a nice thing. Plus, regardless of how it performs, it’s nice to own something handmade – a feeling that many woodworkers, my family and customers share.
As those of you who have read “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” know, I sold off or gave away most of my tools a couple summers ago, and the infills I had collected for review in Popular Woodworking and The Fine Tool Journal were no exception. Those tools are now in the hands and tool chests of good friends and comrades.
But there are a couple infills that I would never even consider parting with. One is the small smoother from Wayne. The other is a small boxwood miter from Raney Nelson.
What is it about this smoother that makes me so attached to it? Well, beyond its size and perfect weight, it’s the details that Wayne pours into every tool. The mouth of the tool is made in two pieces, like an infill miter plane, which ensured that the plane’s throat aperture is just slightly bigger than the shavings. Also, Wayne files a small (1/16” x 1/16”) bevel on the front edge of the sole. This is a modification I make to my own planes, through with much less precision and style. The bevel protects the sole from damage when you run into something hard (nail, knot etc.). The bevel takes the damage and – generally – prevents the damage from then scarring your work.
But beyond these functional characteristics, the tool is just a joy to look at and use. The tombstone shape of the top of the 1-1/2”-wide iron. The perfectly pillowed ebony infills. The lines of the sidewalls, lever cap and ivory nipple (there’s no other word I’m afraid) on the screw.
I also like the patina the tool has developed during the last six years. I was actually a little ticked off when a photographer burnished off the patina a few years ago to make it look shiny and new. I had to start over.
In any case, I had a long-overdue chat with Wayne last week about some web-site stuff and he mentioned that his lead times have dwindled this year significantly. While you used to have to wait two years for Wayne to get to your tool, he’s now only about a month out on orders.
So if you’ve ever wanted a Wayne Anderson plane, now is a great time. Drop him an e-mail at email@example.com.
You might have to get in line behind me. My conversation with Wayne reminded me that I was going to get him to build me a Roman-style plane to test a few theories I have about early Western woodworking.
— Christopher Schwarz