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Wayne Anderson: Infills of a Different Breed
Copyright 2007. Originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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It’s a bit of a weird scene – part Paris fashion show and part down-home barbecue.  A couple dozen tool collectors (and users) from the Midwest have gathered around a cabinetmaker’s bench that’s set up in an Illinois field and are chattering like old friends do. 

This gathering is the ninth meeting of what is affectionately called “Galootapalooza,” a summer event where old-tool enthusiasts get together to swap tall tales, tools, tricks of the trade and eat pork shoulder.

This year several of the guys have brought along infill planes made for them by Wayne Anderson, a mechanical designer from Elk River, Minn., who builds custom tools in his off hours.  As the infills start to come out of boxes and bags and land on the bench, the talk subsides. 

And by the time there are more than a dozen of the planes on the bench, all you can hear is the birds and the wind blowing through the trees.

Someone steps forward and lines the planes up. Someone else lets out a low, wet and appreciative whistle.  And then the cameras come out and people start to take pictures of the family reunion assembled on the benchtop.

One of those photographers is Anderson himself, who has flown in to Chicago for the event. Seeing all his tools together is a bit of a shock for him, too.  The tools were assembled one-by-one in his basement and then sent out into the world.  And now he can see all the double-dovetails, naval brass, ebony and lever caps he’s slaved over during the last three years.

What’s most striking about his tools is how they don’t look much like anyone else’s tools.  Unlike many contemporary planemakers, Anderson doesn’t like to make copies of classic infill tools from Norris, Spiers, Mathison or Slater.

Instead, Anderson’s keen eye and impressive collection of files create planes with fluid sidewalls, sculpted and scalloped wedges and details that are more often found on fine furniture than on tools.

“I was never one to copy a Norris or a Spiers,” Anderson says later that evening over a beer.  “Those were the production planes of the era.  I was never impressed with the style.”

So when Anderson set out to build hand planes he drew more on his artistic drive (which first blossomed in childhood) than he did on the traditional forms. 

 

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a low-angle infill jack plane.  The handle is thick, substantial and surprisingly comfortable to hold.

But there is one strong similarity Anderson’s planes share with the old-school English tools.  His planes work as well as any infill plane – vintage or modern – that I have ever used.

I’m not alone in my assessment.  Ralph Brendler, one of the ringleaders of the Internet-based e-mail list called “oldtools,” owns a few of Anderson’s planes that he uses regularly.

“If I had my druthers, every plane in my cabinet would be from Wayne,” Brendler says.  “The miter plane he built me so far exceeded my expectations.  I was just stunned when I opened the box…. My jaw hit the floor.”


 
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