Friday, 6 May 2011

They Told Me To Get A Grip, So I Got A Comfortable One...

Being a newbie at these hand tools, I always think that it is me that is doing something wrong when I use a new tool and it doesn’t live up to my expectations.

My Veritas 15” Low Angle Jack Plane is a great example. I received it as a gift a few years back and was happier than a pig in poo because it was something I really wanted. The day after I received it I had to plane a number of edges on some 2 x 6’s for a deck I was building. To be honest, I was never more disappointed in something as I was with this plane. It cut beautifully, had very little tear-out, and was a dream to set up. After planning about 160’ of stock, though, my thumb and wrist were as sore as I’ll get out. Having done the same amount of stock the previous weekend with my Stanley  No.6, I had a niggling in the back of my mind that it was the tote, but lack of experience caused me to blame myself, rather than the tool.

The Veritas 15" Low Angle Jack Plane with the replacement tote.

I can’t tell you how happy I was when I read an article Chris Schwarz wrote in his Popular Woodworking blog about a fellow who was creating and selling replacement totes for Veritas’ planes. It was like I had been found innocent of tax evasion when I read the first line; “The only complaint I ever hear about the Veritas bevel-up planes is that the rear tote isn’t as comfortable as that on an old Stanley or new Lie-Nielsen plane.”

After reading the article I hit the link Chris had posted and sent Bill Rittner off an email asking for some pricing and what stock was available. I got the answers, and as I was busy with one thing or another at the time, I put it on my “to get” list.

Cruising eBay a few weeks ago, I ran across a listing for Veritas replacement totes. At first I thought it was some the same person and was a little taken back by the difference in prices. I was looking at a huge spread here. Comparing Chris’ article with the eBay listing, I realized the totes were by different makers. I sent the maker, Mike, an email asking a few questions and got an immediate reply that hit all the right notes.

I immediately ordered the eBay version.

It doesn't take long to see the difference between the
stock Veritas tote (left) and Mike's replacement.

Naturally, price was a major driving force in this decision, but there was more to it than that. 

These line drawings quickly size up the situation between
the two totes. Mike's version (in green) has a far
better angle of attack than the stock version.
Type of wood
The tote I got from Mike was made out of Bubinga, which matches the stock knob that came with my plane (post 2003 model). I really like the knob and didn’t really want to replace it.

Bill makes his knobs and totes out of Cherry and Walnut, sold in sets. While I love these two woods, it boils down to not wanting to discard the Veritas knob. While Bill’s knobs are nice, they are not as near as beefy as the stock model, so I felt what I gained on the tote, I’d loose on the knob. 

The design of the tote was a major point. Mike states his totes are based on the Stanley No.5 tote design while Bill didn’t state what his was based on. When I looked at Mike’s pictures of his tote, I thought it was a Stanley replacement at first. When I looked at Bill’s, while it is far smoother and sexier than any Stanley tote has ever been or ever will be, it is a long way from the familiar design. The thing is, I like Stanley totes. They are comfortable and well balanced, but then given my reaction to the Veritas tote the first time I used it, what the hell do I know.

One of the major deciding factors that swung me over to Mike’s tote was the way it mounts. The original Veritas tote has two mounting screws, which Mike stays true to. Bill, on the other hand, favours just using one of them. While the way Veritas mills the tote to accommodate the screws bugs the hell out of me (see the image with caption below), I have always thought the double screw was a great idea. How many old Stanley’s have you seen with the front edge of the tote torn because of that silly little hump in the casting?

Price (of course) 
The ready for finishing bubinga tote I got from Mike was $16 plus shipping.

The quote I got from Bill was $40 for a finished set.

Not only did Mike stay true to Veritas' design of using two mounting
screws, he even set the counter sink for the screws' heads in
the same manner as Veritas. The fact that they are not
flush with the top surface of the tote drives me
mad, mad I tell ya!

While I haven’t held one of Bill’s examples in my hand as yet, I will say that the quality of Mike’s work is quite amazing, even at four times the 16 bucks. The lines are very crisp and the surface is ready for finishing.  

I have a slowly growing pile of tool parts that I plan to French polish and that is exactly what this tote deserves.

If you are interested, you can send Mike an email using this link,
or go to his eBay Store to find his listings.