The “RICHARD TOMES” Infill Panel Memorial Plane

Some time ago….I received a masterpiece in the post….

Richard was a very good friend and someone I admired greatly for his “old school” craftsmanship in all things metal…..what I call the “BLACK STUFF”…as I always end up looking like a Victorian chimney sweep’s assistant when I work with the stuff.

The fact that I prefer to work in wood had not escaped Richard’s keen eye…and also that I admired his wonderful work with creating dovetails in steel….and anyone who has successfully done so in wood will know that doing this with steel is nothing short of alchemy!!

Check this out…

Amazing isn’t it!?

So one day back in 2012…a rather heavy parcel arrived chez KT Tools and inside was the beautifully crafted start to a copy of a Victorian dovetailed infill panel plane you see above.

The basic message from Richard was “do your stuff on this please!”

A year or two passed as I slowly tried to do this gorgeous foundation justice…a daunting task in itself.

I got the “arse end” sorted in prototype mahogany first…

…and bashing the rear infill in proved to be…um…quite a tight squeeze involving lots of “bashing with something hard yet soft”…for fear of “popping the dovetails”.

ALFIE has attempted to provide the sound effects….

…but he was short one coconut so you’ll have to just imagine!

Richard had made the body so that the sides were “sprung” inwards a tiny amount…which was of great benefit to me when making the infills because…by the use of a steel spacer…I was able to ensure the sides stayed perfectly parallel to each other and at 90 degrees to the sole precisely…which is vital when making a plane…particularly if I ever wanted to use it for shooting.

Eventually the test infill was in place PHEW!!!……………

I’m happy to report…the dovetails didn’t pop!

Richard assured me they wouldn’t…as they were “compound” dovetails…i.e. they were dovetailed in two planes then peined! Wonderful stuff!

A quick whittling of a handle shape…

…and we were cooking on gas!!!

Some time passed where there was a huge amount of discussion about selecting the right wood to befit the beauty of Richard’s work.

Various species were considered…we were both pretty sure that we wanted an English wood rather than a tropical or foreign exotic…and that really limited the selection to burr walnut…burr oak…or the stunning English boxwood.

Even with the largest possible piece of box we could find….

…and my dear friend Douglas risking life and limb and breaking every H&S rule in the book to cut it to size….it simply wasn’t big enough.

So…burr oak was chosen.

I happened upon a lovely and HUGE piece at MAC Timbers in Brigstock…and Mike (the owner) selected it for me personally…nice guy Mike!!

So the whittling in earnest commenced!

I have to say that burr oak is a MAJOR step up in hardness from mahogany and this was going to be fun…

But slowly and surely…progress was made… can see that spacer I was talking about in this shot…

…oh…and the lump of brass I planned to make the lever cap with…(BLACK STUFF…ME!!!?)

There are many stages and photographs in between…but eventually we arrived at this stage…

I was very pleased with the figuring on this burr oak. It really is stunning…and I was sure…even at this stage…that this was going to be something quite special. I’m glad I chose oak…even with all the trials and tribulation that I knew were ahead of me!

It was around this time that I was bitten by the astrophotography bug and the building of my observatory…the Humble Base Telescope…commenced.

I have to say it took a tad more time to complete than I had anticipated…mostly because my infirmity restricts me a bit…it took longer to do even simple tasks and 18 months passed to the beginning of the summer of 2014 before it was complete and I was able to re-focus (pun not intended!) my energies back to this project.

Sadly…just as I was about to restart…we all heard the news that Richard had tragically died suddenly…….

This devastating news affected me quite badly. I had only met Richard and his lovely partner Emma once…on the trip to get the wood from MAC Timbers during one of their open days. But my interaction with him on this wonderful thing we call the Internet….had evolved to such an extent that we were brothers…united by very similar tastes and desires.

To lose a master craftsman so young was a tragic loss not only to those who knew him but to the world, as I am certain Richard was moving on to be one of the very great toolmakers…up there with Norris, Holtey, Sauer and Steiner and Spiers….

A sad loss indeed.

The quandary I now found myself in was whether to finish this project. After discussion with his partner Emma…it was agreed that I should not only proceed but do so in public…as we both always did on the UK WORKSHOP FORUM.

So I started again…with the difficult bits…the bun, the irons and especially..the lever cap and knob.

First…marking out the lump of brass for the anticipated new territory of making a lever cap!

Then I found the bun stock which was hiding in my stock pile..thankfully marked “bun” to remind me…phew!

Again…I made sure I fitted the spacer to keep those sides true…..and then sized the stock to fit….

It was very tight…

This is how it has to be according to a note Richard once left me…as the wood does shrink and the last thing you want it for there to be gaps!

The handle had survived and proved the principle…

A quick sketch in pencil gave me an idea of how to shape the front…

My trusty Burgess Three Wheeled bandsaw was then brought into play for the umpteenth time since this project began…

Once fitted with a TUFF SAW blade this tool was turned into a precision instrument…invaluable for this sort of work.

A bit of work with some hand tools and we had the basic shape….

The rough work was then refined a bit with various scrapers and files…and a few rasps and we can start to see the front taking shape…

The problem now will be keeping ALFIE from running away with it…

…he likes wood and this piece is just his “chew size!”

And so to the lever cap finally.

I was not looking forward to this bit and kept putting it off for ages…but I needed to start somewhere so….remembering another tip from Richard…I drilled, tapped and countersunk the knob hole first..before anything else…

The tap is an ACME thread…I really like this shape and it’s traditional.

Before I attempted any more “black stuff”…I decided a few days refining the bun was due…

….a good CLIFTON scraper being a godsend here…

…that’s better!

So…now to the next dirty bit…the lever cap knob.

Starting with 1″ brass stock…the diameter was refined and then the knurling cut…

…the shaft was then cut and the ACME thread turned on it using a guided die stock…

This was then tested in the hole and fitted perfectly…

Not too tight…not too loose.

The rough design was then turned up on the lathe…

Now we enter into uncharted territory….making the cap proper.

First I drilled out as much of the shoulder as possible….

…then it was possible to simply chop the waste off with a chisel…suitably modified to be a cold chisel…

Files, rasps and sanding drums then finished the job…

The sanding drum was particularly useful slowly turning on the mill…

Shaping up nicely…

Using a variety of tools including this monster….

…which I restored ages ago…I refined the cap shape until we had the basic design done…

…and a test fit proved it worked….

There then followed quite a bit of pondering and research as to how long the cap should be…or put another way…how far down into the mouth did it need to reach.

This effectively translates to the ratio between the distance to the top of the heel from the lever cap pivot point…to the distance from that point to the front edge.

So I did some empirical work with other infills I have….

…and this proved that there was little consistency with the results and so I chose the one which appeared to be the most popular….around 1.5 to 1.

The lever cap was then shortened and shaped again on the mill and the underside scalloped…

…and I really like the way it turned out….

The lever cap fitted perfectly…

I decided it was about time make a couple of irons and cap irons…as these would be needed to check the geometry and positioning of the pivot point for the pivot bolts.

The steel I ordered was 3mm, 4mm, and 5mm which allows me to make the cap irons (3mm) and two thicknesses (4mm and 5mm) of iron for different jobs.

When the steel arrived from BARMOND STEEL…I blued it up ready for marking out…

This is where the milling machine comes into its own…

…and made short work of the steel…with judicious drilling!

So now that was done it was time to bite the bullet and mark, drill and tap the pivot points in the chosen place.

And so…once fitted…we could test it out…me and ALFIE…

…and boy…did it work fine…

…of course…this was a test iron as the one I made had not yet been hardened. This was using a rather beautiful Marples “Three Clovers” I found on eBay which fitted perfectly…and cut sublimely…

Now that was out of the way, I could breath a major sigh of relief…and concentrate on the final lap to the finish…THE FINISH!!

In my guitar making…I always use Birchwood Casey’s “TRU-OIL”….it is the Rolls Royce of finishes…as used on the finest shotguns….and musical instruments.

But it’s expensive…not in terms of cost of the actual oil…but in the man hours it takes to get a superb finish.

But this plane deserved only the very best so I went for it!

…with a little help from ALFIE of course!

He really is a little rascal!!!

Even with only one coat of this fine stuff…the beautiful figuring of this stuff started to pop out…

….right across the infills…

As layer upon layer was built up…there comes a point where you have to cut back virtually all of it.

This can be a bit of a shock at first but it ensures that the finish is regular and flat and each time the layering gets deeper…

…but I have to admit…ALFIE thought it was about as interesting as watching paint dry….

I also took the opportunity to refine the bevels and tidy the steel up a bit too…

If ALFIE hadn’t seen fit to steal each and every one of my (clean!) polishing cloths…

…progress might have been a bit quicker!!

….but it was coming along fine…

In different light…you see different colours…

The lever cap took a good polish too…

…but not quite good enough in critical areas where a few very fine scratches were annoying me…they will have to come out.

But for now…it was good progress…

So now the first of many painful bits…take it all down flat again…

ALFIE took time to inspect each time it was done…until he was happy!

You can see how it improves each time you do this…

….with some of the more subtle flowering starting to emerge!

A happy quality assurance team is a good sign…

…as a subtle silky glow emerges…

So now…ALFIE helped me make the cap iron…

His guidance is so very useful!!

I designed the cap iron so it was a mix of the traditional…and a hybrid with the superb ones CLIFTON make…

This slight scalloping aids in the rigidity of the overall package.

The second thinner iron was then made and tested….

Both irons were then sent off to experts for hardening.

One is being precision ground and hardened by the superb planemaker…Phil Edwards of PHILLY PLANES….

The second was sent to a good friend…Pete Maddex…who has made some excellent planes himself and was willing to forge harden the thinner of the two in his barbeque…a feat I am excited about!

Meanwhile…it was back to the cutting and polishing…

…until I was happy…

The TRU-OIL is proving for itself….

….a very subtle and superior finish…

…without that “plastic” feel you get with synthetic gloss finishes…highly tactile…which is important I think in a hand tool.

And so…the TRU-OIL stage was successfully done…

….and so I could now grind off the brass screw heads (finally).

In doing this by hand…I noticed a tiny error in the parallel aspect of the sides near the rear…

…and so I decided that to get this perfect and remove all the heads…I would have to resort to precision surface grinding.

Equipment of this size and quality is not available within the scope of the amateur or even small professional so it was off to Rydal Precision Engineering to have this job done…

The plane is now there for finishing…the irons are with the guys for hardening and when I get it all back…the lever cap will go to CHALCO STAMP AND DIE for engraving.

UPDATE 30th August 2014

Well..the plane came back from surface grinding and there was a slight problem. In order to prevent thermal damage to the steel geometry they had to use a soluble oil/water mix to cool the sole while grinding.

This had the effect of burning off some of the finish to the front bun….. was back to square one on the finish…take it all down to base wood and then redo the Tru-Oil over about 20 coats…cutting back and flattening the finish every three or so coats.

Slowly but surely the finish came back and as an added bonus for all this extra work..the results were better than before because the old finish had the effect of sealing the wood.

So we are almost done for now…and here is the final result:

This week I finally had opportunity to get the plane tested by Douglas Coates of COATES ENGLAND….who is not only one of this country’s fine craftsmen in wood…but a good friend and a very honest critic of things wood in general….so I knew his views during testing would not be sugar coated!

His workshop in the heart of Sevenoaks is ideal for the test because it’s a “proper” workshop..unlike mine which is more akin to the set of Steptoe and Son!

Infill panel plane

So here is “Richard” ready for testing…sitting next to a rather nice toothing plane from my friend Stewie in Australia…which we were also playing with.

Douglas works predominately in English oak and so that would be the wood of choice for testing…along with some beautiful figured London Plane which he had. So quite a selection of test wood.

First…to lube up the perfectly flat sole to give it some slick over the cut…this sole is flat to within a few microns over the entire area so it tends to act as a vacuum cleaner when you place it on anything flat!

Infill plane flat to within microns sole

This candle wax made all the difference and it fair shot along…

Infill panel plane in action

Obviously we needed to set the iron a bit…but even with this super coarse cut…

HUGE shaving on infill plane set coarse

…the 5 mm O1 tools steel iron and 3 mm specially designed cap iron…didn’t even flinch!

Veneer anyone?

So a bit of setting was needed…with very gentle taps using a rather nice LV plane hammer…

Fine adjustment on the infill panel plane

…followed by some slip testing with a piece of “selected” scrap to feel when the iron was “just right”!

Testing the cut of an English infill panel plane

Once set…there was no stopping Douglas…the shavings just flew and flew…

First shavings from English Infill Panel plane

…..until quite a large pile built up on the bench!!!

Pile of shavings during testing of English Infill Panel Plane

Swapping over to London Plane to see if we could get the traditional test result of a continuous shaving proved very pleasing….

Testing English Infill Panel Plane for continuous shaving on London Plane

EVERY shaving was perfect…and the whole board length…

Continuous shaving with English Infill panel plane on London Plane

….as we can see….

Continuous shaving from English Infill Panel Plane KT TOOLS

Continuous shaving on English Infill Panel Plane KT Tools test

So I think that test went rather well and I was very happy indeed that the plane worked as well as I had hoped…much better than I had hoped actually.

I did try to use it myself but sadly, being a midget…AND a lefty to boot…

Jim Hendricks of KT TOOLS using the English Infill Panel Plane

…the target was a tad high AND I managed to catch bits I would rather not catch on the huge boss of Douglas’ fine vise! Perhaps I had better wait and play on my own bench after all!

Just to hear how this plane sounds (that sublime WHOOSH sound we all crave for)…we cut a small video…


…..and from another video…the amazing “leaping shaving” shot…


Or a more sensible version showing the test shaving in slow motion:


I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this project. There has been huge encouragement from ALL of the members of the UK WORKSHOP FORUM who contributed encouragement during the build…


…if you have trouble sleeping at night and want to read the whole thread!

Phil Edwards of PHILLY PLANES helped out with the iron hardening and grinding as did my good friend PETE MADDEX who is making the thinner one for comparison.

Of course…Douglas Coates  of COATES ENGLAND for his constant help and testing advice and CHALCO STAMP AND DIE who will be doing the lever cap engravings sometime soon.

Thank you and my dear departed buddy RICHARD TOMES whose loss cannot be measured but whose genius is now firmly established in the soul (sic) of this wonderful plane.

RIP RICHARD! I’m smiling and I know you are mate!



17 Responses to The “RICHARD TOMES” Infill Panel Memorial Plane

  1. Adam Riley says:

    What a fabulous write up Jim.
    I’ve been following the build with great interest.
    I agree that Richard was set to be a leading light in the world of planemaking and can only imagine how proud you must be to have completed the plane to such a high standard.
    Thank you for sharing the journey my friend.
    All the best.

    Adam Riley.

    • jimi43 says:

      You are spot on there my friend…his initial work on infilling was superb by anybody’s standard and what he could have achieved is inconceivable.

      He had some embryonic ideas involving iron name stamps and small mitre planes and that’s one idea I shall be picking up and hopefully do it justice too.

      Keep your eye out for updates as the panel plane nears completion and cheers for your support over the build.


  2. Looking very special Jim, congrats on the progress so far.

    • jimi43 says:

      Cheers Graham

      Your support has also been most appreciated along the way.

      I can hardly wait to test it out! The wait is agony!!



  3. Toby says:

    Fantastic work, I’ve been lucky enough to watch this plane materialise in the flesh and had the pleasure to hold it in my grasp, the iron wasn’t ready but next time I’ll be taking shavings 🙂
    Stunning and I’m happy that it’s turned out so well and that Richards work will continue to be admired and to inspire other…
    Thanks for sharing Jimi,


    • jimi43 says:

      Cheers Toby.

      Being there to throw ideas at during the project you were a very important part of the result.

      I hope that college is going fine as your talent needs that foundation so that you can realise your dreams….which you will!

      Thanks mate and ALFIE says HI to you both


  4. Charles Stanford says:

    Beautiful work Jimi and a very touching story.

  5. Richard B says:

    A wonderful, fitting and moving tribute. Many congrats.

  6. vvsk54 says:

    Здравствуйте, Jim
    Детальное описание процесса, хорошие фотографии, красивая помощница и великолепный результат.
    Творческих успехов
    Victor from Russia

    • jimi43 says:

      Thank you very much for your kind words Victor…much appreciated!

      For those of you who can’t speak Russian..Victor’s post translates thus:

      Hello , Jim

      Detailed description of the process , good photos , beautiful assistant and a great result.

      Good job (?)


  7. vvsk54 says:

    Точнее будет – I wish you success in all of your creative endeavors
    Best regards

  8. Pingback: Welcome to the journal of KT Tools….. | KT Productions Blog

  9. Good post. I absolutely love this website. Keep it up!

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