What do you get for the woman who already owns all the blue fleeces on the planet?
I’m talking, of course, about Megan Fitzpatrick, who celebrated a birthday on Aug. 7. After much thought, I decided to get her something that would indirectly benefit me. You see, Megan is constantly borrowing my beloved old Stanley No. 5, which I have owned since I started woodworking.
I don’t mind her borrowing it, except when I need to use it. My No. 5 is – far and away – the handplane I use the most. I bought it before I knew a lot about handplanes from a stoner at an open-air market. And it was the best $12 I ever spent.
It’s a Type 11 Stanley plane, which means it was likely made between 1910 and 1918. Stanley made tons of these planes – they aren’t rare. But they are spectacular. Rosewood knob and tote. A frog with lots of bearing surface. And – in general – superb fit and finish.
So I decided to get Megan a Type 11 just like mine, and I pieced one together from a good basic plane and some donor parts. But I decided that wasn’t enough. Megan works hard every day to keep me sane at work.
The sidewalls of my No. 5 plane are engraved with the logo for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” which Catharine Kennedy engraved for me about 11 years ago (she is now retired from engraving). For Megan’s plane, I decided to ask Jenny Bower, who both Megan and I admire greatly.
Jenny agreed (yay!), but she was concerned because she hadn’t engraved the particular metals used in the old Stanleys. What if the lever cap didn’t engrave well? She was concerned she might ruin a valuable and old plane.
Then I told her I’d get another lever cap for $10. And I explained how the tool itself – while spectacular – isn’t rare at all. What was going to make the plane special was the engraving.
We received the finished plane this week, and it is better than photos can convey. Jenny is a hand-engraver, and the results are incredibly three-dimensional. If you ever have thought about getting a tool engraved, I recommend her highly. Check out her Instagram feed to see the sort of work she does (and the fun costumes she makes, too).
During the last 11 years, a lot of people have asked questions about my engraved plane. (My favorite: “Isn’t it amazing that you found an old plane that had already been engraved with the logo from your book?”) The most common question people have is: “Why did you get the plane engraved?”
Usually I make a joke at first: “Now it’s a tax write-off.” But the serious answer goes something like this: “My tools are my ticket to work for myself, outside of the corporate world. They mean the world to me. Engraving a common but incredibly useful tool forces people to regard it differently. When I’m gone, I hope a future owner will pick it up at a flea market and understand just how much this common-as-dirt No. 5 meant to its owner.”
Oh, and if you want to read more about Jenny’s journey as an engraver, woodworker and person, check out this Little Acorns profile Nancy Hiller wrote about her.
— Christopher Schwarz