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Plane talking

Plane talking
We talk to a craftsman whose work is regarded by many as the bench mark for a family of wood working tools.

Karl Holtey has developed an unusual - perhaps unique - business of producing hand made infill planes. In fact, he is one of the world's authorities on the wood infill British pattern plane. What's more, he is deeply passionate about his craft. "My aim is simple - to make the finest hand planes that money can buy," he declares from his workshop in picturesque Lairg in the Scottish highlands.

"I do not make 'reproduction antiques'," he continues. "My designs, although firmly based on traditional infill patterns, incorporate subtle modifications to achieve the standards of design and finish for which I have become known." Indeed, Karl carries out most of the building of the planes himself - only one operation is outsourced. A plane may take in excess of two hundred hours of labour to complete and for this reason these hand made creations do not come cheap. Prices for the low angle planes start at around £2500 and rise to around £8000 for the large panel models.

Karl reports that most of his planes are purchased by private individuals from around the world - usually professional people who have hobbies such as furniture making. "Interestingly, many of my clients are in the medical profession," he reports. "Often, these are perfectionists from the USA who have rather nice workshops in their basements." 

With such exclusivity, it is vital that Karl uses the very best materials for his creations. The woods he utilises include maple, rosewood, ebony and boxwood, while the blades are constructed from alloys such as PM metals and A2 tool steel.

Although Karl is best known for his unique infill planes, he is also developing a range that removes much of the wood element from his creations. "The problem with infilling is that the plane becomes vulnerable to the dimensional instability of wood. In order to retain the standards and precision for which I am known, I have taken away the infill, while still retaining the wooden handles." 

But whichever design is involved, Karl relies on a number of products to ensure complete reliability. For example, to ensure the screws and taper pins that are vital to the security of the planes, Karl uses Loctite 243 threadlocking adhesive. This is a medium strength anaerobic that ensures components remain in place. "I needed a product that would keep the screws in place for a very long time," he says. "The planes that I make are fabricated, and since I started my own creations, I discovered new techniques in the construction and jointing. So now, rather than using a process that involves peining of the dovetails or utilising rivets - both of which create unwanted stress or distortion - I find that employing screws that I make in-house serve me better."

These screw joints are executed in a number of decorative or invisible designs. And, says Karl, using screws means that there is no distortion to the plane body. He emphasises that it is important to have a reliable thread locking compound for the screws so they can never work loose. "Taper pins also play an important role in these designs," he says. "They provide a positive location without any slip, the application of the Loctite adhesive is a necessary part of that assurance.'

Karl concludes: "I expect my planes to be the antiques of the future and all the components must have an archival quality to them. That's why the choice of adhesive is so important."
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