“Ham Hands” revisits the scene of the crime part 1

March 19, 2014
Photo courtesy Popularwoodworking.com

Photo courtesy Popularwoodworking.com

A lot of time has passed since I originally posted a couple of videos on the topic of lapping your hand planes, and while it’s not unusual to revisit a given topic every now and then this is one that I’ve gone out of my way to avoid.

So why finally revisit after all this time? It’s simple, with the re-release of a large number of older videos on YouTube I included an annotation on this two-part series prompting people to “ask me about my current feelings on this topic.” And as I expected (but secretly hoped no one would) some of you asked.

Even revisiting this topic is making me a little nervous, but I want to share with you as much of my “insight” as I can. So over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting my thoughts on this topic, starting today with the first thing I always tell people when they ask about purchasing premium hand planes and whether or not they need to lap the soles and tweak the bodies.

“Don’t do it!!!” Some might take this answer as a cop-out on my part to avoid further discussion. But it’s not! It’s a simple truth that can save you a lot of time and heartbreak.

Because of the revelation of my mistake, thanks to the help of Chris Schwarz and Thomas Lie-Nielsen (read all about it in the Popular Woodworking blog post “Plane Soles: Ham Hands Make Iron Bananas”) it brought to light for me why paying a premium for a modern manufactured hand plane is so worth the price.

Manufacturers such Lie-Nielsen and Veritas are frequently criticized for their “exorbitant” prices. But when you look at how the tools arrive and how little you have to do to make them work correctly right out of the box, you can quickly appreciate the value immediately.

In a nutshell, the process is simply a matter of honing the blade. That’s it, end of story. Hone the blade to your likes, place it back in the tool and then smile as you make beautiful wispy shavings.

Not convinced? Let me ask you this. Would you buy a brand new car if you knew you’d have to go home and then straighten the frame or tear apart the engine to deburr and then reassemble the engine parts?

I’m sure for some of you if the automotive manufacturer offered this option to save you a few thousand dollars you might consider it. If that’s the situation, then chances are you’re already a bit of a gearhead so it’s not that big a deal for you.

But in reality the vast majority of us wouldn’t know where to start, let alone have the right tools to do it. In the end, I’d probably have a post written about me on a car site titled “Ham Hands turns pistons into bananas…”

Just like any major manufacturer, tool makers like Lie-Nielsen and Veritas know that what you want when you buy one of their hand planes is a tool that works from day one. So they don’t make tools that require a lot of TLC to get it to work, they just make tools that work.

So my advice is simple, if you purchase a brand new premium hand plane and it appears to have obvious visible physical flaws. If it’s twisted or bowed or it’s moving parts aren’t moving properly…send it back!

You’re not being difficult and you’re not a lazy tool-user, you’re a customer who purchased a tool with a specific expectation and they’re a manufacturer who want to live up to that expectation.

And on top of it, if you had a problem, there’s a chance there could be others. It’s their reputation on the line and someone claiming a tool is bad without giving them the opportunity to make it right isn’t good for them or us.

Next week: “Inherited or used tool shopper beware”

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