Great Woodshops: Tossing Out Tradition

Konrad Sauer improves a
150-year-old handplane design.

by Christopher Schwarz
pages 50-54

From the April 2012 Issue, #196

Let’s say you have been good at constructing Chippendale highboys.
Actually good. Phil-Lowe-kind-of-good at it. Clients got here to
you commonly and also you had loads of work to maintain you busy.

Then why – oh why – would you attempt to reinvent that highboy?

That’s the type of query that many traditionalists are
asking about planemaker Konrad Sauer, who has efficiently made
a dwelling for greater than 10 years as a customized toolmaker. Since
Sauer opened his doorways for enterprise on Jan. 2, 2001, his bread
and butter has been constructing infill jointer, panel and
smoothing planes (plus different conventional kinds) which might be firmly
rooted within the British infill custom.

Whereas consultants can be hard-pressed to say that Sauer’s planes
look precisely like a Norris, a Spiers or a Mathison, additionally they
couldn’t deny that Sauer has all the time drawn his inspiration from
these basic makers.

So it’s with bemusement, amusement and consternation that many
traditionalists have watched Sauer construct his Ok13 airplane, a device
that owes its design cues extra to a turbocharged automotive than to
the Scottish planemaker Spiers of Ayr.

Tough and prepared. These lovely unique blanks have been
roughed out on the band noticed and are ready for patrons.

The Ok13 is low-slung, light-weight and straightforward to carry. In different
phrases, it’s nothing just like the upright, dried-out (however
lovely) English-governess fashion of panel airplane that Sauer
has been constructing for greater than a decade.

So the query on everybody’s lips is: The place did this new Ok13
airplane come from?

“A buyer commissioned it,” Sauer says over a plate of jerk
rooster in his kitchen. “He mentioned he preferred the scale of panel
planes, however that was about it. He mentioned he needed extra wooden and
much less metallic. That was it. That’s all he requested for.”

The concept bounced round inside Sauer’s head for a while.
Educated as an artist and graphic designer, Sauer all the time was
in search of the factor that will set off a inventive tidal wave.
So he stored excited about the thought, mulling it over as he constructed
different clients’ planes (he builds about 35 to 42 planes a
12 months).

“I needed the airplane to look quick,” Sauer says. “I needed it to
be fashionable, however not alien-looking. I needed it firmly rooted in
the infill custom.”
The undertaking was all-consuming, he says. When his spouse and two
sons determined to go tenting through the summer time, Sauer
deliberately left his sketchbook behind.

“I needed to take a psychological break,” he says. However the airplane was
by no means removed from his thoughts.

“I began drawing sidewalls on the paper from the children’ apple
juice field wrappers,” he mentioned. “I used to be making sketches on cedar
shingles. I couldn’t cease it.”

Virtually prepared. These planes are nearly able to exit the
door, together with the jewel within the entrance with a black-and-white
ebony infill.

So the design for the Ok13 got here flooding out of Sauer’s fingers
on his store’s chalkboard (the preliminary drawing continues to be there,
subsequent to notes of store provides he wants and a few telephone
numbers). He constructed a prototype out of wooden with an aluminum
blade to see the way it felt in his palms. It felt good.

He determined to construct one out of rosewood.

That appears like a straightforward choice to make. However when a airplane
design can take weeks or months to construct, it took a little bit of

I’ve all the time disliked conventional English infill panel planes. I
constructed one years in the past, which I offered, and I’ve owned and used many
others throughout my profession within the craft. To my American eyes,
British panel planes are too heavy and lengthy to be a smoothing
airplane, too quick to be a superb jointer airplane and too tough
to carry to even make it well worth the effort.

The Ok13 is a outstanding airplane. It’s a lot lighter than an
English panel airplane. It’s a bit shorter. Its sidewalls are
curved like a smoothing airplane. The entrance bun is low and straightforward to
grip. And but it has the earmarks of a conventional infill:
lovely wooden, beveled sidewalls and stable bedding.
“The device was a large problem,” Sauer says. “And my
naieveté concerning the scenario actually helped. I simply jumped in,
and the designs got here flooding out. I couldn’t draw quick sufficient
to maintain up with my mind.”

Tough however smooth. Right here you possibly can see Sauer’s subsequent Ok13 airplane.
Even within the tough, it seems to be quick.

Within the Yard
In any case, the Ok13 is the fruits of greater than a decade
of laborious labor for Sauer, who began out as a hobbyist
furnishings maker who obtained swept into an odd vortex that
spawned two necessary Canadian tool-making firms: Shepherd
Instrument Co. and Sauer & Steiner. These toolmakers began from
the identical “Large Bang” – they needed to reverse-engineer a Spiers
infill smoothing airplane and make it accessible to the fashionable

Shepherd Instrument made an enormous splash with its infill airplane kits,
but it collapsed in 2006 beneath its personal weight. The corporate grew
extremely quick however was unable to maintain up with customer support
and in the end misplaced the belief of many woodworkers.

Sauer & Steiner was totally different. Konrad Sauer and his
accomplice, Joe Steiner, determined to make completed infill planes to
the best requirements potential. No kits. They began small and
grew slowly. Finally Steiner left the formal a part of the
enterprise (although he nonetheless does some exhibits and is an effective pal
of Sauer’s). And whereas different planemakers emerged after which
disappeared, Sauer stored on constructing planes, elevating his
requirements and elevating his costs.

What’s his enterprise secret? After observing plenty of cottage
toolmakers, it’s apparent that Sauer is aware of the best way to work with
clients. He delivers a gorgeous airplane at a good value. However
in the event you needed to level to 1 factor that pushes his enterprise forward
of his opponents, it’s the wooden he makes use of.

Stacked & prepared. Sauer restored this patternmaker’s bench
and reserves it for woodworking on the bottom flooring. The
planemaking happens upstairs.

From the very starting, Sauer has been obsessive about gathering
attractive unique woods by sources he’s cultivated by
each luck and persistence. The 2-story store in his yard
is full of slabs and trunks of species that few
woodworkers ever hear of, a lot much less get to make use of. Sure, there’s
blackwood, however there’s additionally black-and-white ebony, a loopy
species that options swooping grain traces of the deepest black
and a pale white. It’s so mesmerizing that you simply overlook that it
is wooden.

In actual fact, a lot of the floor flooring of his store is dedicated to
wooden. It’s stacked in all places – towards the partitions, beneath the
stairs, on prime of the desk noticed. And Sauer is aware of all of it – even
the stuff that might by no means be used for planes. He has, for
instance, lots of of two&occasions;2 sticks of rosewood stacked beneath the
stairs to the second flooring of his store.

“There are two issues I really like probably the most,” Sauer says. “I really like
grabbing a piece of wooden, and I really like determining the best way to make
the perfect use of it in a airplane, getting the appropriate coloration and
grain. I’m actually on this for the wooden.”

In actual fact, Sauer loves the wooden a lot that he refers back to the
metallic in his work as “a bizarre wooden with uncommon working

His ardour for the fabric and dealing with it has taken him
to some uncommon locations exterior the toolmaking world currently. He
did a undertaking with Japanese calligrapher Norika Maeda, constructing
six lamps for an exhibit on the Warms Spring Gallery in
Charlottesville, Va. Sauer made the wood bases and Maeda made
the shades.

Wooden in all places. Sauer’s ground-floor machine room is stuffed
stuffed with wooden on the partitions, above the doorways and even beneath the
jointer’s desk.

“When these alternatives open like a door, I’ll stroll by
it,” he says.

Sauer says this whereas standing at a low bench arrange for his
two younger boys. On the bench are a collection of surprising wood
laminations – all handplaned. Sauer is making these together with his
boys as samples for a high-end sushi restaurant. They are going to be
small presentation plates.

And when he has additional time, Sauer improves his outdated home and
makes furnishings for it. The entrance room of his home – a dwelling
room and eating room – has a white oak parquet flooring that Sauer
constructed himself. It’s surrounded by banding in contrasting
woods and rings the room. Subsequent to the fireside, he signed the
work within the stringing by utilizing dots of Morse code that spell
out the household identify and the date. All this work in metallic and
wooden occurs within the purpose-built two-story store behind his

The Store Format
Above his woodworking bench on the primary flooring, he has woods
that you simply solely examine, together with completely quartersawn uncommon
English brown oak. Thick. Within the tough. Desert ironwood. Slabs
of curly apple – and that is the stuff he’s utilizing for tasks
exterior of planemaking.

This store space downstairs is the place Sauer roughs out the blanks
for his planes and his different woodworking tasks. Upstairs is
the place he assembles his planes. The upstairs store is flooded
with pure mild from three partitions of his store, together with the
small deck space the place he shoots all of the completed handplane
images for his weblog.

Stacked and ready. Sauer has lots of of those 2&occasions;2 sticks
of rosewood. What are they good for? He has but to resolve.

There are 4 workbenches up there. One is low for his two
younger boys. One is compact for touring to woodworking exhibits.
The third is in a nook and surrounded by moulding planes and
chisels – that is the place Sauer focuses on woodworking. And the
fourth bench is the place the metalwork occurs. There’s a
machinist’s vise secured to the highest and a big anvil instantly

The remainder of the store is lined with small machines that Sauer
makes use of for his planes: a pair grinders, a disc sander and a
small wooden lathe that he hardly ever makes use of. Whereas some planemakers
will use a metallic lathe to show all of the screws and pins for
their tasks, Sauer prefers to subcontract that work to a
machinist and concentrate on the elements he enjoys probably the most and does

So his lever cap screws are turned by a machinist, his irons
come from blade-maker Ron Hock and the tough metallic elements for
the shells for his planes are formed by an outfit that makes use of a
water-jet cutter. Sauer recordsdata the dovetails within the metallic, peens
them collectively, suits the wooden infill (the largest a part of the
job) and makes all of the elements sing collectively.

On the finish of the method, he additionally takes each device for a check

Although he has constructed greater than 300 planes over the last
decade, he all the time has an anxious second as he sharpens up the
iron, drops it onto the airplane’s mattress and secures it.

“It’s all the time, ‘I hope this works,’” Sauer says.

For metalwork. This small bench is the place a lot of the
metalworking happens. Sauer recordsdata dovetails for the shells of
his planes and bends the curved sidewalls on the anvil

Efficiency in Perspective
Sauer & Steiner planes all the time carry out on the prime of the
charts. In actual fact, some observers are starting to match Sauer
to Karl Holtey, the perfectionist planemaker in Scotland who
goes to unimaginable lengths to make excellent instruments.

Whereas Sauer’s planes might not have the deliberate consideration to
element that’s present in Holtey’s work, there’s a excellent
individuality in Sauer’s work that’s apparent whenever you see a
group of his planes. They’ve household traits and all seem like
they got here from the identical hand – even the Ok13.

For Sauer, he’s nonetheless amazed that he’s in a position to proceed to
construct instruments for a dwelling. Even after 10 years, he’s ready
for the the opposite shoe to drop.

“It’s both like I retired 10 years in the past, or I took a job the place
I’m all the time working 24 hours a day,” Sauer says, standing at a
bench with the Ok13 in hand. “However most days, it’s like I
retired.” PWM

Christopher Schwarz is the editor of Misplaced Artwork Press
and might be reached at

Web pages: Go to Sauer & Steiner’s web
and browse Konrad Sauer’s
Watch our video
of Sauer discussing the design of the
Read an early profile of Sauer’s work
In our retailer: “Handplane Necessities” (Standard
Woodworking Books) by Christopher Schwarz, accessible in each

and a DRM-free
digital PDF

From the April 2012 concern #196.

Buy the issue now.

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