When I embark on a writing project I try to begin with a ridiculous premise. During the revisions and the re-writes, the absurdity begins to mellow or even drain out of the manuscript altogether.
Take “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” for example. When I began writing the book, the nutty, never-happen-but-it-would-be-cool premise was to sell most of my tools, write a book, then quit my cushy corporate job… aw crap.
When Roy Underhill asked me to be a guest on a couple episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” for the upcoming season we decided to do a show on planes and a show about the English Layout Square that graces the cover of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”
So I began thinking about new ways to talk about handplanes. Stupid and perhaps insensitive ways to talk about handplanes. Stuff that would generate angry letters.
Here’s the set-up: What if smoothing plane use were an addiction? And there were support groups?
The following unedited script was completely discarded. We probably used only one line on the show. And yes, I know that addiction is a serious problem – ask me about my family’s struggles with it over a beer sometimes.
— Christopher Schwarz
Smoothing Plane Recovery Program
Chris: My name is Chris Schwarz, and I am a recovering smoothing plane addict.
Roy: An addict? Really? Strong words. Well let’s see … there are basically six steps to recovering from some sort of addiction. Let’s check the list:
“Step one: Admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion.”
Chris: At one time I had more than a dozen smoothing planes. I was trying out all the angles, all the mouth apertures, infills, vintage, new, bevel-up, bevel down, woodies, different sizes, you name it.
shows different planes
I had a micrometer to measure whether I was making shavings that were .0005″ thick. I was watching Japanese planing contests – where they measure the shaving thickness in MICRONS.
shows wispy shavings
My wife even caught me down in the shop making shavings… and I wasn’t even building anything. Just… smoothing.
Roy: That is serious stuff. What made you finally quit?
Chris: The good book.
Roy: You mean…
Chris holds up and opens book
Chris: Yup. Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises; or the Doctrine of Handy-works Applied to the Arts of Smithing, Joinery, Carpentry, Turning, Bricklaying.” The first English-language book on woodworking.
Roy: That’s the second step – recognizing a higher power can give you strength. So you found strength through a 17th-century printer and hygrometer to the king?
Chris: Yes I did. Moxon showed me the error of my ways.
Roy: How’s that?
Chris: When I first read Mechanick Exercises I was struck – nay – blown away by how much Moxon wrote about the “fore plane” and how little he wrote about the “smoothing plane.” It was incredible. More than 1,800 words on the fore plane. And on the smoothing plane: just 33.
shows fore plane.
Roy: Dang. Well I hope they were strong words about the smoothing plane – about how it is the end-all plane, end of story.
Chris: Hardly. Here’s all he said:
“S. 6. The Ufe of the Smoothing-Plane.
The Smoothing-plane marked B 4. muft have its Iron fet very fine, becaufe its Office is to fmoothen the work from thofe Irregularities the Fore-plane made.”
Roy: That’s it? Nothing about finding your power animal or opening your heart chakra or adjusting your aura with sub-thou shavings?
Chris: Nope. That’s it. So I started diving deep into Moxon’s text on fore planes and I found that this plane (holds up plane) is the most powerful bench plane in the world.
Roy: You don’t say.
Chris: With this plane I could correct all the things I was doing wrong with my smoothing plane, and that’s ….
Roy: …the third step.
Chris: Indeed. The secret is inside the mouth of the tool. The iron (shows iron) is a convex arc – this one is an 8″ radius. And this radius can give you superpowers.
Roy: Like making paper-thin shavings?
Chris: Like making shavings the thickness of an old Groat! (makes massive pass with plane, pulls off thick shaving). This is what gets the work done, not the mamby-pamby lacy doily shavings where each one is unique like a snowflake!
This is what flattens boards (continues to work). Every shaving from a fore plane equals 10 from a smoother. You can do 10-times less work.
Roy: But won’t thick shavings tear up the work?
Chris: Ahhhh. That’s where Moxon helps us again. He tells us to traverse.
Chris: Yes. Don’t push your plane with the grain (shows) or against the grain (shows). Instead go ACROSS the grain.
Roy: Won’t you go to a dark and very warm place for doing that?
Chris: Hardly (demonstrates). By going across the grain we can take a much thicker chip with much less effort. And because we aren’t levering up the wood fibers, the tearing is minimal. This also allows us to get boards really flat – something a puny smoothing plane can’t do.
(discussion and demonstration of flattening a board by traversing bark side, then heart side. showing the different sounds and how to determine flat – just wink!)
Roy: That’s pretty remarkable, but the tool seems rather coarse; aren’t you going to make a lot of clean-up work for the other tools?
Chris: Hardly. Moxon says we can reduce the cut of the fore plane and clean up our dawks before moving on. (demonstrates; discussion of dawks ensues).
Roy: It seems like you really got true religion here. As I understand it, you are supposed to “make amends for your errors” in cases like this. Did you. Did you really?
Chris: I did. I sold almost all of my smoothing planes or gave them away to friends. I’m now down to – two smoothing planes, which is probably still one too many. And I’m trying to live my life with a new code of behavior – working as much with a coarse tool before I switch to a fine tool. That’s the core message in Moxon.
Use a hatchet more than a fine file. Use a rough plane more than a fine one. Chop. Don’t pare. Pit saw. Not coping saw.
Roy: And then there’s the last step, right? Helping others who suffer from an addiction to smoothing planes?
Chris: Yup. Wherever there is a woodworker using a Norris A13, I want to be there. A Holtey No. 98? I’m there to take your hands off the $5,000 tool. I’ll be there to trade you a moldy Scioto Works fore plane and show you the way: Across the grain, to get thick shavings, to actually accomplish something.