Meet the young and skilled hands
behind a near-perfect tool.
This bridle plow – based on the famous Mathieson
was built by an
18-year-old student now studying tool and die making.
a number of tool collectors I know, I don’t have a full-blown
plow-plane obsession. Ebony screw-arm plows with ivory tips and
silver fittings are beautiful and ingenious, but I’ve always thought
that their flashy details somehow diminish them because they make
them too nice to use. It’s like a table saw with a solid gold top.
work, I’ve always used metal-bodied plow planes, though they eject
shavings into your hands, are cold and seem heavier than their
wooden cousins. The overriding advantage of the metal plows,
however, is that their fences are easier to keep parallel to the
tool’s skate than your typical wooden screw-arm plow plane.
result, what I’ve always wanted is a wooden-bodied plow that has a
robust and easy-to-adjust fence. My search ended in February 2008
when I judged a toolmaking contest put on by the WoodCentral.com web
site and sponsored by Lee Valley Tools.
that contest, we judged more than 60 tools that had been brought
into Lee Valley’s board room in Ottawa, Ontario. The moment I walked
into that room my eyes locked onto a beech-bodied plow plane with
ebony arms and a simple metal fence-locking mechanism.
The moulding on the fence is remarkably crisp, even as it returns
across the front. Here you also can see the boxwood lining and
two sliding dovetails that attach it.
finally got to pick the tool up, I was impressed by how lightweight
it was and how the fence slid smoothly on its arms and locked with
the quick twist of a thumbscrew. The real test, however, came when I
started plowing grooves using a workbench that Lee Valley employees
had moved to the board room.
plow plane both glided over the work and removed a sizable shaving.
It was the easiest groove I’d ever cut by hand in maple. This was
quite surprising. Usually with tools as complex as a plow or a
moving fillister plane, there is a break-in period while the tool
and its user circle each other and neither performs at the top of
their game. This plow plane was different. It was like I’d been
using it all my life.
couple days of discussion, we awarded that plane first place for
craftsmanship, and I resolved to track down its maker and ask that
person to build one for me.
finally got in touch with him, I was shocked to find out that Kyle
Barrett was an 18-year-old high school student in Barrie, Ontario,
who had built the plane in his father’s workshop. I was even more
shocked to learn that his prize-winning plane was only the second
handplane he’d ever made.
“I Enjoy Seeing How Things Work”
Kyle’s toolmaking adventure began years ago in his father’s shop.
Dan Barrett is a trained carpenter and cabinetmaker with more than
25 years experience in building and teaching. When Dan built the
family’s living room chairs, Kyle was right there in the shop
watching the process and helping where he could. When Dan built some
shelves that looked like an airplane flying out of a wall, Kyle was
there as well.
“I thought it was really cool getting to see how things were made,”
Then Kyle, who said he’s always interested in trying new things,
took a shop class at high school. After learning about hand and
machine work in his father’s shop, he said the next logical step was
to challenge himself by building a walnut grandfather clock. To make
the beading on the clock’s ogee bracket feet, Kyle had to make a
simple handplane for the job.
“I really enjoyed that,” Kyle says. So the pump was primed when he
happened upon an ad for a toolmaking contest in one of his dad’s Lee
To enter the contest, he had to figure out what tool to build. As
Kyle was flipping through “Wooden Plow Planes” by Donald Rosebrook
and Dennis Fisher he spied the Hermon Chapin plow plane on page 98.
That Connecticut-made plane was very similar to the Scottish-made
Mathieson bridle plow, and Kyle locked onto that plane and resolved
to build a version of it for the contest.