This Year’s Tool Haul from Taiwan

When preparing for this year’s trip to the tool shop, I decided to try to concentrate on purchasing tools that I believe I actually need (imagine that). I had a few ideas already, and I started out with a pile of Taiwanese carving tools–primarily outchannel gouges, but also a V tool and some other stuff:

I also got a big pile of hollowing and rounding planes:

Of course, right away, I might be straying from the “buy what you need” mantra, because I’m not sure I really need all of these. However, they’re so much fun and so cheap (less than $10 each) that it’s hard to resist. And as usual, the blades are great: forge-welded cutting steel on softer metal with hollowed faces that take just a minute or two to flatten. I sharpened and tested all of these in almost no time at all.

When I saw this compass plane, I realized that I didn’t have one and that this was probably a good time to get one:

This plane exhibits a very common scenario for the better planes sold in Taiwan: a blade made in Japan (supposedly) and a body made in Taiwan. There is also a double-convex version of this plane, as seen a blog that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

It’s a wicked fun plane to use. I had to try it out; I first gouged out a curve in some wood and then smoothed it out with this thing. It’s really remarkable how easy this goes when everything is tuned correctly. Although this wasn’t the cheapest tool in the shop at about $30, it’s really hard to beat the performance at any price.

The final tool that I’m going to talk about for this year’s trip is another plane. I got to wondering what a full-sized Taiwanese bench plane would be like. However, as I mentioned before, most bench planes in Taiwan are either wholly from Japan or have a Japanese blade with a Taiwanese body. The shop had one bench plane with all-Taiwanese components, though, and at $35, it was about a third of the price of the hybrids, so I bagged it:

I didn’t have to wait long to use it, either, because while I was still in Taipei, Uncle had a cabinet door that didn’t fit. So I sharpened the blade with the same sandpaper that I used for the chisel on the old cabinet.

It worked fine for this purpose, but it was a job that didn’t need finesse–I wouldn’t have had the time for that, anyway. Not only was the sandpaper (“Matador” brand, 1200 grit) not quite as fine as I had wanted, but the body was new and probably needed some tweaking. I also set the blade for a rather thick shaving.

When I brought it back home, however, I had time to tune the plane. So because it’s somewhat similar to a Japanese bench plane, I dug into Odate’s book and looked at Wilbur Pan’s blog for his experience first, then looked at what I had in front of me.

The first thing I did was to sharpen the blade on my waterstones, and I got a wonderful edge in no time. However, I also noticed something that I still need to think about–this blade was fairly well-cambered, so its initial grinding had it set up as sort of a jack plane.

The type of plane is important because you’re supposed to set up the sole differently depending on its purpose. The rougher the cut, the more you’re supposed to hollow the sole, or so the story goes. However, I don’t need another jack plane, and because the mouth on this one is ultra-tight, I decided that I might want to keep my options open and proceed with caution.

However, something needed to be done to the body because it appeared that the wood had moved slightly since production, causing some of the sole in front of the mouth to protrude a little from the level of the mouth and end. I suspected that I was having trouble with this because my shavings were not of a consistent thickness. I verified this with a straightedge using the method that Odate describes, and quickly marked the high spots. He says to use a scraper plane or something of that nature to take down the high spots (and form a hollow). Wilbur Pan likes to use a card scraper, and I would have done that as well, except that I am silly and haven’t actually gotten around to making one.

I ended up carefully using my Veritas low-angle block plane to knock off the high spots. I didn’t really hollow the sole because I would rather use a scraper for this. But it was enough for a semi-serious test of what the plane can do, and it does make a delightful shaving. A little more work on flattening out the camber on the blade, and this thing could easily be my go-to smoother.

This brings up an important question: What exactly am I doing? After all, I have more bench planes than I can shake a stick at. It seems to be, though, that the more I use wooden planes, the more I like them. It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re western or Asian planes–I simply like the way wooden planes feel, and I’m really starting to appreciate how easy it is to adjust them. Perhaps I will downsize a few of my metal planes sometime.

Someone (who?) once said, “Wood on wood–sure feels good!” There’s a lot of truth to that.

PS: In case you’re wondering what the rectangular hole underneath the blade is, for, the plane comes with a removable handle. When fit, it looks like this:

I believe this is for getting a sturdy grip to pull when using the plane for tougher work, but I’m not too sure. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you’d use two hands on because it’d be hard to control like that. I likely won’t be using it.

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