Infill Planes


Tool Stories

  Made in USSR... by John Manners


Several years ago whilst in the earliest throes of my enthusiasm for old tools I acquired at a fleamarket a (by its dimensions) #4 Bailey/ Stanley pattern plane.

The only indications as to its origins were "USSR" in raised letters on its lever cap and a sort of a "B" set into two interlocking diamond shapes (also raised) in the plane body. Tote and knob (high) are of black painted wood and the frog is cast aluminum.

The "USSR" indicated that this particular Muscovite artifact was proudly destined for Western markets. On disassembly I observed that the iron had been milled flat, back from the edge for a distance of about 1 inch and to a depth of half the thickness of the iron. "Bloody Hell," thought I, "could these sons of the Vulgar Boatmen be more serious to the point of obsession when it comes to furnishing their plane irons with flat backs? All is forgiven concerning aluminum frogs and painted woodwork."

With enthusiasm for the whole business burgeoning ever larger in my heart I set to with a great good will to furnish the iron with an edge worthy of the magnificent flatness of its back. "Painstaking" is too slight a word to describe the care I devoted to the honing, forsaking my usual freehand methods, even, to employ the old Stanley jig which I recovered from my conglomeration of long-discarded gear only after a tremendous, bad tempered, search.

Even dug out the old Makita water stone. Nothing too good for this iron! Damn! Why had I ever only experimented with and discarded the use of jig and waterstone all those years ago? This system is working perfectly and with truly amazing speed. The bevel is reduced to a shine sufficient to reflect my thoughts in a matter of minutes. The Cold War is forever forgiven!

Now to reassemble and try it all out. The edge protrudes a poofteenth below the sole and is perfectly square with it. Send 'er down the bit of cypress on the bench. Two inches of fairy floss shavings but thereafter requiring increased pushing power until, one foot along the board, all shavings cease and the plane glides ineffectively on its way. Hah! Lever cap too loose.

Can't see poofteenth of iron's edge any more. Disassemble plane. Cursory glance at edge. What edge? Crumbled mess of metal where best cutting edge in the world used to be.

Many unkind thoughts about the state of Muscovite metallurgy. How did they ever manage to get Sputnik up there with this technology?

Resort to beer fridge, iron in hand, studying iron's edge with disbelief.

Flattest back in Australia. Second beer, study edge harder, notice little bits of solder at shoulder of milling, penny drops. Failed sweat.

I haven't had the heart to equip "USSR" with a new blade. Far better for producing and discussing with friends over numerous cold beers until well past midnight. Friends seem to enjoy the discussion, never bored, they tell me, even though had many times before.

Perhaps it is the cold beer?

John Manners
January 26, 2006

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