Japanese planes

Today my dealer introduced me to Japanese planes. He carries English Stanley, Record, Neelson, ESE, etc. planes also. He carries things that he believes are the best in class or represent very good value. The smoothing plane he showed me is ugly as sin. Its a wooden body with an ugly blade. He said it takes a lot of tuning to get one set up right, but they are incredible once that's done. "You get four foot long full width onion skin shavings all day long". The blade is laminated steel and hand forged. The body is hand made. Its a plane that you pull toward you, instead of pushing. The most interesting part is that its only $45.
I've read some of the abundant articles on planes, but never run across anything on Japanese planes. Any comments?
Bob
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If you ignore the people that try to tell you there is some kind of ritual to setting them up, they are dead easy. They also work great.

he
smoothing
He
skin
pushing.
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On Sun, 23 Nov 2003 04:06:26 GMT, "Bob Davis"

Japanese planes are definitely worth the experiment. My first ones were a set of three for about 50 and although I've got more and better ones since, I still find these entry-level ones useful. So long as the irons are laminated and your sharpening technique can handle extremely hard steel on the edge, then there's no need to buy the top end sort just yet.
They take a lot of effort to set up correctly, but they also work pretty well when only set up _almost_ right. The hardest adjustment is often to seat the irons square, because they're not crowned and they have sharp corners. If it isn't square, you plane shiplaps.
Start with planes that have chipbreakers, as these are easiest to adjust. The chipbreaker acts as a wedge, to clamp the iron. If they won't adjust accurately, try increasing the set on the corners of the breaker.
You'll need a light hammer for adjusting them, no more than 4oz - 8oz maximum. While you're about it, I find a Japanese square-headed (or octagonal) hammer very useful on then bench - the square head is good for driving tusks through tenons, close to a finished surface.
A couple of years ago, FWW did a good article on tuning Japanese planes, but it's over-complex for most people, and for all people who aren't used to the proper grip. Advanced tuning consists of slightly relieving the sole and you really don't nheed to worry about this at first. It's common for a Japanese shokunin to use many identical planes, which vary in their adjustments, not their manufacture..
One of the trickiest aspects of using a Japanese plane is to hold it right. The way they cut varies hugely, depending on where you hold them, and the amount of pressure between toe and heel. Best way to adjust this is to _listen_ to the sound they make.
You may find the pull action awkward on some Western workbenches, particularly those with a shoulder vice (you find yourself needing to stand where the vice protrudes). If you hope to make these four foot long shavings, then you may find a Japanese worbench essential, just to get the length of stroke with one easy movement. Fortunately a Japanese bench is extremely simple - it's just a long flat-topped planing beam, propped against a wall or trestle and chocked at the other. These are often left waney on one surface - nothing more than a slabbed log. I find my large Japanese planes particulalry useful here, if I'm working some huge framing timber that's simply too big for my bench - but I can block it up an work on it free-standing.
Japanese timber choices are different from Western. Many are high-quality softwoods, going into fine trim carpentry. Planing these doesn't need the gnarly grain techniques of an English infill, but they do need top class irons to give a good finish. A Japanese plane excels here - I never sand or scrape afterwards.
I made this a few days back.
http://codesmiths.com/shed/things/photos/sarahs_chest_raw.jpg
It's a simple coffered chest, in parana pine. The joinery is crude Norse-style pegged open tenons and the whole thing is roughly in the style of early medieval work from around the Baltic. Next step is to cover it with oilcloth, which I'm making from my own lead-base oils 8-), then do some ironwork for it.
Parana pine can often be a swine to work by hand, especially to give a good surface, but the Japanese planes loved it. It's hard enough to be hard work, soft enough to not give a good surface. Next to lime (basswood), magnolia or paulownia though, this is probably the best surface finish they've ever given me.
Toshio Odate's book is almost essential reading for anyone interested in Japanese tools. <(Amazon.com product link shortened)>
OTOH, Chinese planes are nearly as nice, and work more easily for a Westerner. It's a similar pull style, but a much shorter body. Gordon (?) an Australian company are importing some, and Lee Valley list some Taiwanese ones in their cat. They're more attractive than the Japanese cuboids too.
-- Die Gotterspammerung - Junkmail of the Gods
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Andy Dingley wrote:

Shiplaps... I'd never heard that, but I know just what you mean. I'm having a lot of trouble avoiding that with a more conventional type of plane.
At least now I have a good name to use in my shop notes, instead of "swooshy things" :)
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On Sun, 23 Nov 2003 04:06:26 GMT, "Bob Davis"

There are good Japanese ones and bad ones, just like chisels. Hard to beat Lie-Nielson if you have the $. These are made in Maine, USA. (Strange to see an American manufacturing company is still surviving!)
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These tools are deceptivly simple and tho they appear crude, they have it all where it counts. Worth trying out. But please don't be so foolish as to belive that 45 bucks will buy you anything but the equivelent of the "harry homeowner" cheapo tools made anywhere else. "Good quality" Japanese planes start at several hundred and the "best" will cost into the thousands. Read Odate's book before you invest your dough. And be sure to buy from a trusted source like Woodline or Hida DD
"It's easy when you know how..." Johnny Shines
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Hey, I'm ignorant in this area and had no idea what one ought to cost. Thanks for setting my straight. If a good one costs several hundred, I'll pass. I don't care how good they are. I'd rather spend my money on ESE or Nielson.
Bob

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