I suppose it goes without saying that I’m fond of handplanes. My wife would respond to that statement with the same shoulder-shrug and eyebrow pulse she gives when I wonder how it is our toddler twins still prefer used toilet paper rolls to actual toys.

“What do you expect,” she’s saying. “They’re barely one. They also eat lint.

Now I’ve tried to include her in the fun. I bring the occasional nifty wood shaving device to the dinner table to show her how cool it is. I invite her to come down and turn perfectly good bits of wood into fluff with me. She is ever-so-kind when she declines. “Mmm… I think I’m going to clean the bathroom” she says. Without a hint of irony. (I married very very well.)

Not only that, but she refuses to refer to my sanctuary as I have asked. I call it ‘the lab’. She calls it ‘the shop’ or, even more horrifying, ‘the garage’. Ugh. It’s not a garage. It hasn’t had a car in it in most of a decade. And a shop is where little old ladies fawn over doilies in clouds of musty perfume. A Lab is where serious men create awesomeness, and wear cool monocles and develop bone-chilling laughs.

“Lab, garage, whatever. Have fun’.


I assume, though, that if you’re reading this blog you know better. We know that making furniture and tools and changing stuff into other, slightly more organized ‘stuff’ is how we get to keep playing with our legos and erector sets long after we’re supposed to be adults. Right?

So you’ll understand why I find it sad when someone ONLY uses western planes, or ONLY uses Japanese planes (kanna). That’s like those annoying lego purists, who think erector sets are too clunky. Or the erector commandos who think legos are kids’ stuff. A good lab needs BOTH! And here’s why:

For softwoods, kanna are capable of a surface that is unlike anything I think western planes are capable of… kanna users often refer to it as ‘kanna finish’. In my view, Cherry is sort of the borderline wood. I think both infill planes and kanna do a spectacular job on cherry. Anything ‘softer’ – I tend to use kanna. Harder woods? I generally use western planes.

I’ll do some more talking about the differences between the eastern and western approach to planes in future entries, but for now I just want to share a little bit of the ‘why’ I like both. All these pictures are the same piece of not-very-straight-grained cherry. This is a castoff chunk. I wouldn’t use it in furniture.

First, a small kanna. (For those interested in details: it’s a 36mm Rakuzan ‘super blue steel’ blade by Yokosaka in a dai I made from Macadamia. Technically it’s more of a block plane, but I’ve set it up as a final smoother.)

Here’s the surface it leaves…

it’s really hard to photograph, but there is a glow to the surface that I can’t quite match with any western plane. Why not? Well, there are a few things, but one definite difference is that in a kanna the blade is the last thing to touch the wood. There is no burnishing of the surface as with the heel of a western plane.

Now – here’s an infill smoother on the same piece:

Nice shavings. Here’s the result:

Nice smooth surface, but it doesn’t quite have the same surface quality as the kanna. As soon as I place a finish on it, the surfaces look identical, but nonetheless I just want to show that there is more going on here than just push vs. pull.

So where is the infill advantage, you may ask? Well, woulde it help if I mentioned that the shaving above was taken against the grain? With a 47.5-degree bedded blade. A well-made infill isn’t immune to grain direction, but it might as well be in most woods – Cherry included.

Now for my fellow mad scientists out there, who may be thinking ‘wonder if you could make a hybrid of some sort’ I can tell you t
hat I am not completely sure. But hasty preliminary research indicates some cause for optimism.