Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Handplane Essentials by Christopher Schwarz

In a time when books often provide less than their titles promise, Christopher Schwarz's revised and expanded Handplane Essentials (Cincinnati, OH: P+W Media, 2017) does the reverse:  it is a compilation of his articles from the last fifteen years that goes well beyond what a beginning woodworker needs to know.

Sensibly, Schwarz doesn't go over the history of hand planes, already well described by books like Seth Burchard's translation of Josef Greber's The History of the Woodworking Plane (1991), John M. Whelan's The Wooden Plane:  Its History, Form, and Function (1993), and Garrett Hack's The Handplane Book (1999), which also deals with how to use planes.  Instead, he divides his book into five sections, dealing successively with Basics, Sharpening, Techniques, History & Philosophy, and Reviews of high-end planes.

Because the book is a compilation of articles, there is some repetition.  For example, we read a bit too often about the three essential bench planes, a jack, a jointer, and a smoother.  And there are a few minor inconsistencies in this repetition, as in mentioning the availability of differently angled plane beds for the Lee-Neilson smoothing plane in one place but not in another (cf. p. 41 and p. 178).

But so much information is here, in fact, that a more accurate title would be Hand Planes: Essentials and Beyond.  I can imagine someone who just beginning to use hand tools becoming overwhelmed.  (That person might be better served by John Sainsbury's Planecraft:  A Woodworker's Handbook, 1989.)  Conversely, anyone with some experience is bound to learn some new things from Handplane Essentials.  Including an index would have been useful (and might have called attention to instances of repetition), but one can make notes on the blank end pages.

Handplane Essentials is a relatively large book, 8 1/2" by 12", weighing in at nearly 3 1/2 pounds.  Thankfully, Chris Schwarz's talents as a writer plus the excellent black and white photographs make Handplane Essentials a pleasure to read, if a bit heavy to hold while reclining.  I rarely finish a 350 page book and wish that it had been longer, but I did so here.  Highly recommended.