Hoosier Tools Infill Shoulder Plane Kit
I saw the notice posted for this plane kit on OldTools, and I was very interested. However, given the terribly high cost of US dollars, I wasn't about to order one (just interested, but not that interested). I had already built a St. James Bay infill smooth plane, and I was quite happy with the results, so I kept thinking about this shoulder plane. It looked like most of the really tedious work is done by the manufacturer and the "fun" stuff is saved for me (the peening and the fitting of the infill &cetera).
Anyways, I realized that I had some perfect trade goods collecting dust in the shop, so I did a bit of horse trading and pretty soon I was at the post office shipping out some shop filler and an infill kit was winging it's way to me!
The kit arrived and I found that once you deburr the parts they fit together very tightly. I squared up a block of beech for a temporary infill (don't want to hammer on the good stuff, eh?) and riveted the parts onto the block. I think now that something went awry with my fitting of the temporary infill, because after peening everything together and filing down the parts the sides are not quite parallel anymore (Arghh!). No, really, they were fine before I started hammering. Sigh. At least one side is square to the sole., and the other is 'close enough' for woodworking. Now that I've used the plane a bit I can't even remember which side is 'bad'.
I followed the directions that came with the kit (also posted on the HT website, in case yer interested) and peened the dovetails. Amazing! Many many taps with a ballpeen hammer. The steel really does move around quite easily. Imagine if you will, hitting something ten thousand times with a hammer, and not once striking a finger or thumb! Awesome! Or maybe I'm just easily impressed. Or maybe I'm a klutz. ;^)
The manufacturer does the mouth & escapement cutting for you (you just ship the assembled plane back). The turnaround was pretty quick, and the results are close to perfection. Don't try to make the finish on the sides perfect after peening the dovetails. You'll have to peen in the final set of rivets and file them flush later! And make sure you've got the sole as close to perfect as you can before sending the plane off for cutting the escapement. Lapping after that just widens the mouth.
Once I had the final rivets peened I had to lap the sides flat. This got old really fast. So I tried drawfiling. I'd read about the technique but hadn't tried it before. Wow. Use the newest sharpest file you can find. I had a machette file (improbably large single-cut triangular file) that had never been used (because I use an axe file on my machette) and this worked best for me.
I chose ebony for the infill. If it wasn't going to be an exotic wood, it would have just been beech. Gil (another nearby Galoot who also acquired one of these kits) and I split a nice 5/4 plank we got from Exotic Woods in Burlington.
Planing ebony is not as bad as I had feared. You have to stop and sharpen your tools quite often, but otherwise, it's quite tame where the grain is straight. Carving & filing the stuff is another matter. Ebony is fairly brittle so you can't go bashing away at it with brute force and expect it to work. Once the ebony was installed I then had to figure out how to cut the wood back to the level of the steel. After a fleeting (and quite frightening) mental image of running the plane up against a flush trim bit in a router I took a small (very sharp) incannel gouge and proceeded to take light cross grain cuts out of the wood. Register the back of the chisel on the steel and push through the wood. Simple and quick. Hone the edge every few minutes to keep tearout to a minimum. After paring from both sides this leaves the ebony slightly proud of the steel, and some careful filing takes care of the rest. Any small bits of tearout were filed away in this step, so the infill came out perfect.
I asked around about what finish to use and got similar opinions from several people: Buff it and then wax it and then buff some more. I have no buffer, but I got plenty of sandpaper in grades up to 0.5 micron. Didn't take long, and the results are marvelous. The wood has a really nice feel to it, and the plane has lots of mass. Takes really fine end grain shavings, perfect for cleaning up tenon shoulders (of course).
I took the plane to the 1999 NY Galootapalooza at Tom's old place near Ithaca. Most of the Galoots were suitably impressed, and I think Hoosier Tools got at least one more sale that day. My plane drew it's first blood that day too (sorry Jack ;^). I kinda feel bad that it didn't want my blood first. After all, I was the one bashing the tool with a hammer hundreds of times.
Based on my experience with this kit, I think I could handle one from scratch. Hmmm... I got me an infill jack, smoother and shoulder plane. How about an infill block plane? Hah!! Forget that nonsense. Let's get really nasty and build an infill panel raiser! But don't hold yer breath waitin' fer that one...