Skelton Saws England
Jacqueline and Shane Skelton produce handmade Highend Saws. For the beginning they offer a dovetail saw and a carcass saw with these specs:
10” Dovetail Saw
12” Carcass Saw
I am quite exited, how the quality will be, but they look pretty good from where I am sitting and hit (unfortunately again (some know what it means)) the bulls eye of my tool taste.
Graham Haydon published a Youtube Video about the dovetail saw here.
Don't worry. I add the original picture size soon
... except 2 the full Marcou assortment
two Mini's, a mini smoother and a mini shoulder plane which Philip won't make again and gave me as a gift (Nice! Or not?)
The one in front is a chamfer plane which Philip built for me after a japanese model (but with a lot of improvements). There only exists 4 of them world wide.
The thing ist magnificent and I don't want to miss it anytime. Of course I could make a chamfer with a LN 102 (which is besides a wonderful plane) but it wont be so precise like with Philips chamfer plane.
The smallest! S45.
The Mitre! A real beast! Sooner or later I will show some shavings. They are really impressing.
Die Biggest (J20A) und the Smallest (S45) in comparison
Just because it's so beautiful.
Before: Without Chamfer
(Yes, I admit! I cheated with the grove for the bottom. But it's just a trash bin for a bath room and therefore only "duo doweled").
Afterwards: with chamfer
Mad, but great
My first plane was a cheap Chinese block plane which I bought because I simply wanted to try it out without having to pay a fortune. To make a long story short: I ended with some Lie Nielsen and some Veritas planes.
In my view there are regardless of BCTW scarcely any better alternatives to their block and speciality planes and I would even recommend their low angle planes as reasonable alternatives to custom planes.
With the higher angle benchplanes I personally don’t like the effort with the chip breaker necessitates when assembling and dissembling the planes.
But what really bothers me is the adjustment of the iron, the principle of which having not been significantly changed from those of the originals.
As a result of this principle the amount of play in adjusting the iron is inevitably magnified so that – even with the highest quality of manufacture – there is a lot of back lash in the adjustment mechanism. Don't get me wrong. I love to plane with a proper adjusted LN 4 1/2. But I don't like adjusting it.
Therefore I finally bought an infill without a chip breaker and with a back lash free adjustment mechanism.
The plane is a nice piece of craftsmanship and naturally it planes beautifully. But after a while I noticed a characteristic which made me anything but enthusiastic: My infill plane reacts to changes in humidity.
This shows itself in small but visible shrinkage gaps between the metal body and the wooden infill.
Naturally I immediately contacted the maker who told me that unfortunately there was nothing that could be done.
The reason can be dry air from heating or air conditioning systems or the air of the working location is dryer than the air where it was made.
Once I stumbled on Philip’s old website. At first I didn’t like the look of Philip’s planes because every plane was different. There seemt to be no structure. Lots of bling but … well. Then on top of that hmmm ... green name plate. But something was different ...
Then by chance I came into contact with Cameron Miller, the publisher of Handplane Central. Naturally Cameron knew the planes of all the specialist manufacturers and as we exchanged emails I asked him in passing what he thought of this NZ plane maker.
Cameron told me that Philip’s planes had a different approach but were without any doubt excellent. I liked the sound of "different" but what did it actually mean?
So I emailed Philip some questions about his planes.
Philip answered, that he made every plane according to the customer’s wishes as a variant from the selected model. I could select the wood, the form of the knob, the design and the gripping surface of the adjustors etc. “Model” meant nothing more than a particular shape, length, bed angle and whether or not the plane had an adjustable mouth. More accurate:
The S45 with 8.66 inches the shortest and with 5 lbs 5 oz the lightest Marcou is at the same weight around 1 1/2 inches shorter than a Stanley No. 4 1/2 and around 3 inches longer than the shortest Stanley No. 1.
The J20A with around 15 inches the longest and with 10 lbs 3 oz the heaviest Marcou is at the weight around 9 inches shorter than the longest Stanley No. 8.
8 models for different applications are available.
4 of 7 models are bevel up bench planes with the bed angles 15° and 20°. 3 of 7 models are bevel down bench planes with the bed angles 45°, 50° and 55°. The Model M12 is a mitre plane with a bed angle of 12°.
6 of 8 models come with an adjustable mouth. The smallest model, S45 and the M12 come with a firm mouth.
The original blades of the bench planes, J15A, S15A, J20A and S20A are 2.24 inches wide and 0.192 inches thick. They can be replaced quick if needed with Veritas low angle plane blades (also PMV11). The blades of S50A and S55A are 1.96 inches and the blade of the S45 is 1.77 inches wide. All three blades are 0.196 inches thick.
Marcou planes are almost unlimited individual custom made hand planes and very exclusiv. Especially because of the fact that Philip did not make much more than 100 planes which is even for custom planes a very small amount. I think that will have an impact on their value seeing what prices will be payed for rare tools on Jim Bode's site.
In the very small market of custom made planes, that is mainly specialized in infills, the planes differ considerable trough their design as non-infill also with the higher bed angles.
One could say a Marcou is an exclusive version of a low angle LN but also with higher bed angles.
Marcous are without a doubt collector pieces, that are suitable for exhibitions, but more than that thoughtful and intransigent planes for woodworking.
In relation to their length Philips planes belong to the heaviest planes worldwide.
All Marcous decline politely of a chip breaker, have a backlash free adjustment mechanism und centering screws.
The area of the cap where the cross pin locates is relieved by 3° towards the rear on all caps, to protect cap and iron to fall off by turning the plane over. All planes come with a 0.35 inches thick sole of hot rolled mild steel and with around 0.25 inches thick sides of brass, which are peened together with dovetail joints.
All edges of a Marcou including the edges of drill holes and screws and even so the edges of the blade are chamfered or rounded.
The cap of all planes is made with solid bronze or with the S45 brass as an additional option.
The cap screw of the S45 has a head diameter of around 1 inch and a circular pressure plate diameter of around 3/4 inch and sits almost directly over the swivel base on which the blade is located.
Therefore the pressure of the screw increases so quick, that the screw stops as soon as the pressure plate has full contact with the blade. Therefore it is almost impossible to overturn the screw and there are only the fingertips needed to tighten and losen it. Adjusting the blade depth of a Marcou only requires the sensibility of stearing a Boeing 747 with a joystick of the size of a tooth pick.
But back to the story ...
Philip also emailed me the telephone number of one of his German customers (I’ll call him Max because I’ve not been able to reach him to ask if I can use his real name).
When I called Max he was enthusiasm itself and he told me about his plane collection which held, alongside two of Philip’s planes, other examples from very well known specialist makers.
As he had to do a few things in Munich he promised to bring a case full of planes and I would naturally be allowed to try out Philip’s planes.
Max was as good as his word and arrived with a huge trolley case. At first I hardly trusted myself to touch the planes but then … what an experience!
But even in this noble company, two planes stuck out: Philip’s! An older S15A with a tote and front knob of Rhodesian teak and an S45, the name of the wood of which I can no longer remember.
I can put it no better than this: Philip’s planes simply felt right. Perhaps it was to do with the weight, the balance, the thickness of tote and front knob, the iron adjustment mechanism or all of them together. To this day I don’t know. It was simply just so.
After Philip had replaced the hmmm .... green .... name plate on his 100th plane with one of stainless steel, I ordered an S20A on the same day.
In the meantime my enthusiasm has changed to deep satisfaction. I smile when I am able to use a Marcou and I catch myself choosing woodworking projects which require the most planing.
I have been in touch with Philip via Skype ever since and I’ve learned a lot from him about wood, planes and woodworking and I’ve laughed a lot and gradually I’ve come to appreciate what I have bought.
In the mean time I’ve tested at least one plane from all the great makers but to this day I’ve found just two plane makers whose planes - for me personal - can be compared with Philip’s. One is a Canadian with a wonderful taste.
The first thing you notice is that each Marcou has a monstrous weight! My older hobby woodworkers colleagues in the Dictum courses in Munich, often don’t like that as they feel that planing with lighter planes is less tiring. Some even change to wooden planes when they get older.
I believe – without wanting to sound arrogant – that is more because of the method of planing.
At first I used to plane too quickly and too frantically as well as dragging the plane back over the wood. It should have been obvious that this blunts the cutter more quickly but I didn’t see it.
There is also no need to entirely lift the plane on the return stroke; neither is there need to press the plane like mad onto the wood.
Naturally I produced shavings that were too thick at first. This increases resistance to the plane and so is tiring.
On top of that I forgot all too often to wax the sole of the plane and when I learned to do it, I made the well-intentioned mistake of using a wax with beeswax which made the plane’s sole sticky.
One of my mistakes was not to hone the iron often enough. I didn’t do it because I thought that honing was a separate procedure to be done before or after the actual woodworking but never during it.
As a result I ended up making life difficult for myself by trying to use blades which were too blunt , counter-productive and in fact then took more time to re-sharpen.
Frustrated, I sharpened for a while at up to 15,000 (on the waterstone grit scale) or even higher and I was then disappointed when the edge still didn’t hold as long as I had expected.
It should have been clear to me that an edge sharpened at 15.000 will – according to the wood type – fall back to about 4.000 after about three or four passes.
Finally I have come to learn that the iron should be sharpened AS AND WHEN REQUIRED – not after a schedule, e.g. fridays at 10 p.m. in the moonlight or before or after every woodworking or up to 8.000 for basement shelfs to store old tires.
It can be required - depending of the type of wood and project - earlier or later. It is just when the iron lost the grade of sharpness that it should have FOR THE RECENT PROJECT.
Today I think that for Pros sharpening is not getting in the way of their woodworking - actually it is part of their work itself.
The reason why so many hobbyists are desperate or a little paranoid about sharpening is - from my point of view - because one can not manage what one can not measure – and until now, there is no quantifing dimension for sharpness! Any enthusiastic sharpenig fan should perhaps develop a steel -lasting time-diagram in dependency to various cutting angles, but for me it was to boring. But because sharpening can be also a satisfying hobby I wont say anything against it as long as its fun for someone.
As my Marcous neither have nor need chip breakers, I save time as and when sharpening is required because I don’t have to bother about getting the edge of the chip breaker as close to the edge of the iron as possible.
I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to honing. Of the methods I’ve tried, I haven’t found one which didn’t work. I’ve also not found one which worked significantly better or worse than all the others.
Perhaps that is why you often hear the pros saying that hobbyists shouldn’t try to make a science out of honing, while saying in the same breath that sharp tools are the be all and end all. I needed time to see that that is not a contradiction.
Due to my efforts I had to laugh when I saw a pro hone his irons dry on a grinding machine! The difference was that he did that when required a couple of times an hour for a few seconds as opposed to once a week for a few hours like me!
That’s why nowadays I’m not so concerned about the method by which I can theoretically hone my iron the sharpest but rather the method which results in an adequately and efficiently honed iron and which keeps me from my woodworking as little as possible.
I presume that old Japanese tool makers gave a lot of thought to tool design because Japanese joiners were looking for a way to remove their plane irons, hone them and put them back in their planes again as quickly as possible. This could explain why Japanese planes look the way they do.
The simplicity of construction of Japanese planes is probably countered by the higher demands placed on one’s own skill levels in comparison with western planes.
Another topic: Centering the blade.
Philip then described a simple method: I screw the iron back until it no longer cuts. Then I lay the plane on the work piece and, whilst moving it forward, screw the iron forward until a bit of dust or the beginning of a fine shaving appears on the cutting edge. Then I make lateral adjustment either with the screw or with one or two light taps with a knuckle until the dust appears in the middle. One can also use fingers between blade and sides to "squeeze" the blade to left or right, I suppose.
Then a half turn of the cap screw pushes the iron further down a fraction of a millimetre which will give a very fine shaving.
You can more or less forget this method for all planes with indirect adjustment mechanisms. The design simply has too much in-built play/back lash- Philip’s planes have almost no detectable play. The iron is “on the button”. Forwards is forwards. Back is back.
His planes allow other methods of adjustment which I however, don’t use. Some woodworkers have learned to turn their planes over in order to adjust the iron. With Philip’s planes using this method can not lead to the cap and blade falling out because the cap is relieved by 3° towards the rear so it holds on the cross pin as long as the cap screw is not loosened beyond a certain point. I find that pretty clever even though I don’t use this method.
All Marcou planes have centring screws which are adjusted on the outside of the body with a small Allen key. These shouldn’t clamp the iron but rather limit its lateral movement. That speeds up centring.
The clever minimalism in the way Philip constructs his planes could possibly be described as a Japanese method in the western tradition, which itself could explain Cameron Miller’s use of the word “different” and perhaps also leads to the best compromise between technology and demands placed on the skills of the user. At least that is what it is for me.
Using the planes means I basically have one thing to do: slightly loosen the cap screw. Make tiny turns on the adjuster screw to get the iron where I want it. Tighten up the cap screw. That’s it.
Two movements. No play, no chip breaker, no "second" plane mouth, no stress and all that in a build quality which will outlive my great-great-grandchildren.
But when all’s said and done it’s only a plane, however much one tends to mystify it. Even a Marcou can’t make a sharp iron out of a blunt iron but it can make a silky smooth surface on a pig of a wood;-)
In this sense I agree if some say that a plane is nothing else than a holder for a blade. Marcous are holders for blades like Aston Martins are cans with wheels on them.
My very personal opinion:
From a metalurgical and manufacturing view of today the Hand Planes with which cabinet makers of the past centuries made wonderful products are more deficiently. Because there weren't electrical jointer or thicknesser at that time the cabinet maker knew their planes so good that they were able to compensate their weaknesses by a certain way of planing.
The quality level of mass produced modern planes like them from Lie Nielsen, Veritas and a few others comes near to a perfect balance between technical and economical requirements that one can reach with modern manufacturing methods.
Those planes constitute an optimal standard and are as perfect as planes have to be, that are manufactured with modern methods. This quality level has its price and is - in this sense - reasonable for every woodworker. Not every woodworker can afford this quality just when required but much lower quality is less reasonable as I was buying my Marcous.
Custom made hand planes from small top level manufactories can have useful manufacturing processes or features besides those that merely aim for appearence and they are often built with woods and metalls that are too expensive for the massproduction. Therefore and because of their small amount those planes often cost ten times more than massproduced planes.
Because the manufacturing tolerances of CNC-built planes or custom made planes aren't commonly known it was wrong to presume that expensive, custom made planes have to be better technically than CNC-made planes but also vice versa!
Marcou Planes stick out of the custom made plane market, because they don't follow the common infill planes trend and therefore also available with a backlash free adjustment mechanism in lower bed angles. That makes Marcou planes viewed as one thing consistent and versatile. Compared with other custom made planes with similar features they are also relatively inexpensive.
With regards to the screw form, the type of milled gripping surface, the wood, the shape and type of the front knob, I can only describe my personal taste which Philip calls “clean cut” - I don't like knickknack. I mostly choose the wood for its contrast and therefore my planes have darker woods. I must admit that I really like No 102 with that unusual New Zealand timber and I envy its lucky owner. My No 101 with African Blackwood is pretty nice too - Philip says this is true Dalbergia Melanoxylon - the mother of all Rosewoods.
This brings me to another point. Philip numbers his planes. Each number/model combination appears only once. Personally speaking, that doesn’t bother me because I don’t keep my planes in a cabinet or regard them as an investment. I can however, understand if somebody takes pleasure in their appearance. That is easy to do or more accurately, you can’t help it.
With respect to appearances: What Philip calls ”fancy woods“ are fairly popular in the infill world. They are mostly highly figured and highly polished woods. He brought a good proportion of wood back from Rhodesia where he was born. These are mostly woods which only the fewest woodworkers will get to see in their lifetime. Some of these woods that he has stored since the 70s are protected species today. Others can only be obtained locally or not at all. If one insists on a ”fancy“ wood, Philip of course obtains it or one can send to him, what one wants to have. But you’d have to be pretty thick skinned to not notice his “Hmm” of disapproval.
For my last plane I failed to notice this ”Hmm”, decided on a ”fancy” wood and sent him a block of Karelian Figured Birch. I’m waiting with interest to see what he makes of it ...
Pedder asked me to update my Two Lawyers Toolworks Karelian birch dovetail saw for free, because he wanted to make it absolutely perfect for me; means not stuborn.
The simple fact is:
It is now not only as precise as before but also very easy to handle!
Strong as the Eiffel tower ...
I am so impressed by Lee Marshall's latest tool, that I feel a tendency to overdo my description. Not easy to avoid:
I believe that a distortion resistant blade is highly desirable and this can be mainly achieved by the rigidity of the saw frame and secondly by the tension of the blade (which depends on the rigidity of the frame).
My new Knew Concepts 5 Inch Titanium Fret Saw has both: a extremely rigid frame (due to its design and material) and an easily controlled blade tensioning mechanism.
Up to now I have been using chisels for waste removal when making dove tail joints, especially as I have found that the usual floppy frame fret saw makes inaccurate cuts which are often convex and undercut, despite reducing my pressure on the saw itself.
The difficulty is that the frame of a usual fret saw yields under the saw pressure which in turn reduces the blade tension when sawing.Not so with the Knew Concepts. It quickly and effortlessly makes accurate flat cuts which reach well into the corners of each socket.
|This is the only expectation that I have for this kind of saw. I guess that Lee's saws are the only fret saws that work in this kind. It's that simple and that profund.|
This bred beauty is not for beginners or those who want to stay there ...
are too tolerant teacher. This saw is not among them. If you can not saw, it teaches you.
Klaus and Pedders saw is a precision instrument and so finely balanced, that you might think, to have a surgical instrument in your hand - actually got cast in your hand: How a glove.
No wonder, it has my hand measurements, because Klaus adjusts each hand grip on the extent of the future owner. (In this way, even a speedy recovery time, Klaus!)
It makes no sense to fight with this saw. It always wins. The only chance you have is let it work. I feel almost as if it was too proud to let itselve be used by a layperson.
Only small, nearly horizontal movements can encourage it to resume its work. If you are pushing it, it gets stubborn.
But when it runs ... Surprise! The surface of the leaves of my kerf cuts is as planed. The saw line can tighten with the marking gauge.
|In the meantime, I had the opportunity to test a Lie Nielsen in the dictum-kurs.werkstatt. The LN cuts easier, but less accurate. The TLT in a comparable version with the LN would cost only slightly more, but it still had a customized handle. Personally I like the Karelian birch and the oval shape of the back so much that I was willing to spend even a few Dollars more as for the standard version.|
To my knowledge, the only "made by master plane maker infill dovetail plane" that currently exist on the planet ...
are ultimately all hand-made tools, comparing their manufacturing tolerances with CNC-machined tools.
This includes my Dovetail plane by Gerd Fritsche and ultimately all planes of the last top-level plane builders who still finished by hand (and there are now probably less than two dozen worldwide).
In the fitness for purpose, a CNC-machined plane and a handmade planing differ but little if it does not even should provide similar benefits by their irregularity as in hand-sharpened saws and hand-hewn rasps or files (what I've read but still nowhere).
Looked to make the flow and investment costs a CNC manufacturing special plane types inefficient as their manufacture by hand, can be deposited because of planing to such small numbers.
A top-level-plane builders, which is flexible enough to be custom-such snazzy features, such as to create a backlash parallel adjustment of the stop of a simple idea, Gerd Fritsche.
|If I with not so special plane types also rather prefer handmade plane of top-level-plane farmers, then that is because that is not the design of this plane gets mass produced. Such planes are not designed according to standard dimensions or weight or shipping optimizing materials or wall thicknesses or manufactured. In addition, excellent easy to use and beautiful. That's not me in all cases which are three to ten times the value price of a mass-produced model comparison, but in some. Gerd Fritsche's plane incidentally have an unbeatable price-performance ratio.|