Buy Now or Forever… etc.

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You might have heard that Karl Holtey will cease making planes soon. If you have ever wanted one, now is the time to buy as they will only go up in value.

I got to fondle two of them at the New English Workshop. They are such jewels I found myself trying to figure out how to raise the 2,000 pounds to purchase one in ebony.

The New English Workshop still has them for sale on its site here. Snag one if you can. During last week two (two!) were sold immediately.

The last plane Holtey is making is the No. 984 panel plane. According to his site, he is still accepting deposits for these.

While most people will remember Holtey’s planemaking enterprise as a quest for perfection (which is correct, in my opinion), I think Holtey should also be remembered for how he single-handedly changed the woodworking world.

It was Holtey who first explained how bevel-up planes could be used to create high-angle tools. It sounds obvious now, but it wasn’t then.

He created a smoothing plane in 1998 (the No. 98) that basically was transformed into Veritas’s line of bevel-up bench planes, which took the woodworking by storm and have been a boon for beginners.

Holtey was the first – as far as I know – to experiment with different steel alloys for cutting irons for handplanes and spread the idea worldwide. The first A2 plane blade I saw was made by Holtey.

Holtey also developed a unique bedding system for plane irons that negates wood movement in wooden-bodied planes and even simplifies the bedding in metallic planes.

And those are just off the top of my head.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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16 Responses to Buy Now or Forever… etc.

  1. Niels Cosman says:

    Kidney’s don’t fail me know!

  2. waltamb says:

    Oh the humanity… why is it once someone perfects something they do not pass the process on to the next generation?

    • It also is the responsibility of the next generation to want to do this work, seek out the training and devote their lives to it.

      I know many toolmakers who have tried many times to take on apprentices with the apprentices flaking out in a short period of time.

      Raney Nelson of Daed Toolworks told me the only reason to become a toolmaker is because it’s the only thing you think about, and that it is what you would do even if you weren’t paid to do it.

      • nealm44 says:

        Mr. Nelson describes an artist in almost every field. Mr. Holtey takes pride in being a “toolmaker”, as well he should but I will miss his artistry as well. Anyone want to start a pool on the multiplier for that 2000 pound price in 5 years time?

      • waltamb says:

        Agreed Chris,
        For years all I think about is planes, all sorts of planes.
        Their simplicity and complexity and have asked makers who we all know will be out of business soon, if they wanted to pass on their knowledge and trade?
        I get the same response almost verbatim:
        “You will slow me down and cost too much to take on”.
        I’ve offered to work for free for a year to test out the relationship and still the answer is no.
        Understanding this I encourage any maker of any product to take on apprentices early on and design an “exit strategy” with the hopes of finding one apprentice who can actually carry it forward.
        I did not do this in my work and now the only “exit strategy” I have is to build my own Pine Box then line up an auction house to take everything away before I reside in aforementioned Pine Box.

        • The best advice I received in journalism school is: “No” does not mean “never.” It means “not now.” It applied to interviewing people and asking for a job.

          Everyone who has succeeded in the woodworking business has had to prove themselves in some way.

          I honestly think that perseverance prevails.

          Good luck with finding a teacher!

  3. waltamb says:

    In sales we always took a “No” as meaning we were one cal or visit closer to a “Yes”.
    However in the case of the several companies I have contacted where the makers are 10-20 years my senior… some have ceased taking new orders as will Karl and others.

    Chris, you have made a concerted effort to personally document and make available historical info on tools and our trade which had it not been for you, may have sat idle or been lost to the dark recesses of some historical archive. For this you should be commended.

    Perhaps, what might be needed is to find these makers and document them in print and in recordings before they are gone.

    I would do it but, I have no clue as how to get something like that going.

    • You are likely right. John and I are up to our necks in this business with no time or expertise to expand our scope. We focus on woodworking because we’re woodworkers. Even if we had the time, we wouldn’t do as good a job with toolmaking – I know only enough to be dangerous.

      Starting a project like this is about getting a notebook and a camcorder and doing it.

      • waltamb says:

        Perhaps you are correct Chris, starting over yet once again, on less than a full shoestring… knowing that the reward will not come to me in my lifetime. This will take some soul searching. I’ll ask the Universe and see…

    • Jeremy says:

      Karl has maintained a blog for years, probably not as exhaustive as everyone may like, but it certainly shows his overall process and what it takes in terms of process and attention to detail to make his planes. It’s unlikely that any other plane maker would want to be 100% exactly like him (e.g. Konrad, Raney et al have their own styles) this is probably enough to guide someone along the path to see one way.
      In the end, I suspect based on my experience that it doesn’t matter how well it’s documented, it is experience (coupled with mentoring) that takes us farther.

  4. durbien says:

    Would the ebony make it through customs (CITES)?

    • I do not know the answer to that question. With all the recent CITES hysteria, many makers and consumers have become over-cautious.

    • steveschafer says:

      There are several species of ebony on one or more CITES lists, but the great majority are from Madagascar. The only non-Madagascar species listed are Diospyros vera and D. ferrea, neither of which is commercially harvested. The standard West African black ebony is D. crassiflora, which is not CITES listed. On the other hand, it is listed by IUCN as Endangered due to severe overharvesting.

  5. John Koten says:

    Karl has also been an inspiration to many other toolmakers, including Konrad Sauer and Raney Nelson. They may not have been his apprentices, but I know he has had a direct and indirect influence on both. I think that should count among the big reasons Karl will be remembered. (Also keeping Messrs. Sauer and Nelson in mind, it also may just be that personality required to be a successful planemaker is incompatible with the concept of serving as an apprentice.)

  6. John Koten says:

    One more thing: Karl won’t send you illegal wood. However, if you buy a rosewood plane from him (or anyone else) you may want to get documentation that it was harvested or made before 1992 if you ever plan to take it out of the country yourself.

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