During the last 12 months I’ve taken on a lot of extra freelance work. The money probably should be going into my children’s college fund, but instead I decided to spend a chunk of it on a traditional beech plow plane from D.L. Barrett & Sons in Barrie, Ontario.
Dan Barrett is a 25-year veteran of the trades and has been teaching woodworking and making handplanes for a long time. His sons, Kyle and Jeremy, are both involved in the business. Kyle has been building planes while Jeremy has been doing some machining.
I first stumbled on this family business while judging the toolmaking contest run by WoodCentral and sponsored by Lee Valley Tools. Kyle, who was 18 at the time, built a Mathieson bridle plow plane to enter in the contest. In my opinion, the plane stole the show.
Not only was it stunning to look at, it worked extraordinarily well. Some tools have a break-in period where the user and the tool circle each other like sharks. The results are inconsistent. The adjustments are difficult. The tool feels out of place in your hands.
Not so with this plane. When I picked it up during the contest, it was like I had owned it my entire life. With two taps of a mallet I set the iron and began making a beautiful groove in a maple board in the Lee Valley boardroom where we were judging the contest.
We awarded the plane first place in the craftsmanship division, but in my comments I declared the plane to be the “first among equals.”
After the contest I was stunned to learn that the maker was just 18 years old. I sent him an e-mail and asked him to make me a bridle plow. I didn’t ask the price because I didn’t really care.
A couple weeks ago the Barrett family dropped the finished plane off at my office while they were on their way down to Florida for a vacation. The plane they delivered – my plane – is somehow even better than the one in the contest.
Here you can see the iron, skate and depth stop of the plow plane.
The plane comes with a full set of eight A2 irons (1/8″ up to 5/8″) and they are gorgeous pieces of work in and of themselves. Perfectly tapered. The faces are all flat.
The plane’s stock is a single hunk of quartersawn beech with an exquisitely shaped tote. The fence is also beech with a piece of boxwood attached via a sliding dovetail. The fence slides on two ebony stems and locks down with the metal bridle. This bridle mechanism is, in my opinion, superior to a screw-arm plow. With screw-arm plows it’s difficult to get the fence parallel to the skate.
This week I finally got an opportunity to sharpen up the irons and start using the plane. And once again, it’s like I’ve owned this tool forever.
I’ll be writing about this plane (and its maker) for the next issue of The Fine Tool Journal, so I don’t want to spoil all the surprises. But if you’re looking for another maker of fine traditional hand planes, I definitely recommend you consider D.L. Barrett & Sons.
— Christopher Schwarz
Here’s a shot of the exquisite bead and astragal on the plane’s fence.
The bridle locks the fence squarely to the ebony stems every time.