For what i am about to say i might just get burnt at the stake for heresy but hey freedom of speech is my get out of jail card so here goes.
Ever since i first saw the shoulder planes on offer by Lee Valley or Lie Nielsen or any other maker for that matter I have wondered how one holds one of these things and manages to use it comfortably.
Seems to me we are so caught up in woodworking traddition that toolmakers everywhere are opposed to employing modern concepts of ergonomics in the design of tools in case they lead to a departure from traddition and thereby experience the rath of the woodworking community for daring to step outside of the box of what toolmakers like Clifton did donkeys years ago.
When will we get with it? Just because it was "good enough" for them in the past, dont mean we cannot make forward progress. ( BTW i dont call value engineering progress) .
At the Lie Nielsen hand tool event yesterday i got to chatting with Konrad of Sauer and Steiner. Its a little intimidating at first getting to chat to a guy like this of such obvious skill that one initially avoids it. But Kudos to him because the ice was broken and the flood gates opened. Kondrad i discovered is actually Canadian and he lives in Ontario a ways to the west of me.
He had a shoulder plane of his on show and after taking a long way round i finally plucked up the courage to ask him how the heck to use these tools. When i picked up the Lie Nielsen versions the bronze/brass handles feel like kettle handles and later when i asked Jeremy the Lie rep there to show me how he holds this tool thats what he did when using it in the upright position, he held it like i would a kettle and put his thumb on the front to keep it down.
But given things were not all that busy at the event it was opportunistic to discuss this whole matter and have fun beyond belief with Konrad discussing the merits of how to hold and operate this tool.
The his version of the N0.7 Norris type shoulder plane on hand to play with (at least thats what i think it is). It had lower rear wooden wedge which allowed one to get ones hands over the rear and bury the corner in your hands palm. A bit more comfortable grip since you can at least reach the sides to hold it stable and drive it forward. But even that did not make it "comfortable" for long use.
We discussed this issue and I asked him why he thought this had not been attended to in the toolmaking industry. He felt there was a degree of traddition and reluctance to change holding us back. I offered the comment that i guess most of us woodworkers today are at an age where enough around us is changing and so dammed is the toolmaker that dares to be too innovative and employ ergonimics and come up with a departure from the old ways.
When i mentioned that word Kondrad was quick to defend the toolmakers of old pointing out that they did have a knowledge of ergonomics if we examine things like hand plane totes etc and look to the chairs etc that have been design in the past. But i hastened to add that the woodworkers of old were also known to be a bunch that would suck it up and endure hardship something i dont think we have the ability to do anymore especially with our computer key softy hands.
Jeremy felt there was little wrong with the shoulder plane when its used on its side to clean up say the face of a tennon. But i asked what about when one wants to clean up a dado.
The real great thing about this debate was no one got defensive as if concerned that this would affect tool sales. It was just great conversation and for me a total escape from the outside world as we talked about tools.
I will admit to being totally ignorant of shoulder planes, but as a prospective customer i am not going to buy one just to have one or buy a fancy name to boast one in my collection. I want to do as i have done with my new hand saw acquisition and use my own experience and assesment of these tools to come to the conclusion of which one i acquire and do so on the basis of merit i come to learn rather than the marketing hype.
Whats your view on the shoulder planes available today?
BTW in the course of this encounter i noticed that the Lie Nielson version has about 1/8 of movement left to right in the blade at the top where the handle is. The Norris version of Konrads did not. There is also nothing to keep the blade in an adjusted mode if tilted to a side other than the force applied by the lever cap. This of course is no different to the normal tradition of having the blade adjusting lever allow for movement side to side of the blade on a conventional bench plane. But that was the making of another debate i will save for a later post.
This is one time i am glad i live far away from all of you so i guess i am safe from experiencing what happens to an effigy of Guy Fawkes each year in the UK or at least in the culture i was brought up in.