Category Archives: Plane Billets

The search for beech continues

Finding suitable beech for plane making has been an ongoing challenge.  We cut a large amount ourselves that we are air drying, but that will be some time before it will be dried enough to use.  In the meantime, a source of 4″ square European beech billets has been located.These are rift sawn, and it takes a good bit of work to get nice quarter sawn billets form them, but the reward is beautiful ray flecking on the quarter sawn faces. (One of the pieces of beech in the photo below shows how it would be cut to obtain a nicely quarter sawn smoother billet like the one in the foreground.)  European beech has more prominent flecking than American beech. A limited amount of this wood is suitable for larger billets such as jack and try plane stock. We also have secured wider stock for use as totes.   To learn more, click here.  To see current beech billet offerings, click here.

Beech Billets for Plane Making

In the past, the preferred wood for making wood bodied planes has been American Beech. (Fagus grandifolia)  Beech has the qualities sought after for plane making, with the right combination of hardness, a tight grain, good wear characteristics,  and the ability to quickly acclimate to its environment.  Old Street Tool has a good article that goes into depth about beech as a plane making wood here.

The big challenge is finding beech in any form, let alone quarter sawn thick stock.  For a while we were able to utilize a sawmill willing to cut and dry beech to my specifications.  This source is no longer available so we have been seeking alternative supplies.  Recently, we cut over 1,000 board feet of quarter sawn American beech at a custom sawmill and currently have this stock stacked for air drying. Because of the challenge of drying beech  and the diameter of the logs, the largest stock we had cut is 12/4.   The air drying is expected to take up to several years to reach suitable moisture content for use.

As an alternative, we found a supplier who has a large stock of European beech 16/4 squares available.  The challenge with these is that they are rift sawn, so cutting quarter sawn stock from then is time consuming and there is a large amount of waste.  It is also difficult to get large billlets from the pieces because the grain has to be oriented properly and much wood is lost, although it does occur. The upside is that the smoother and molding plane billets are sawn nearly prefect to the grain direction. The jack and try planes may have some deviation from true quarter sawn grain, but not a lot. Because of the work involved, we had to raise the prices to make it work for us.

This wood has been dried and has a moisture content of 6-8%.  Unlike most European beech, this wood has not been steamed.  European beech has a fine even texture with prominent ray flecking on the quarter sawn faces.  Generally, it’s characteristics are similar to American beech,

Plane billets include the following sizes:

Smoother planes.   All stock is rough sawn, and dimensions are 8 1/4″ x 3″ tall x 2 3/4 ” wide for the larger smoother size.  The coffin billet is also 8 1/4″ long x 2 5/8″ x 2 5/8″ rough sawn.  It will finish at 2 1/2″ square.  Some blanks may be bigger than the stated size, as we tried to measure the smallest ones. Wedge stock is also quarter sawn and measures 8″ long, 2 1/8″ wide, and 3/4″ thick, which leaves enough to hold on to while shaping.

Jack planes.   Rough sawn to 3 1/4″ x 3 1/4″ x 16″ long.  The wedge stock is 8″ long, 2 1/2″ wide, and 3/4″ thick.  Tote stock is included and measures 6″ x 6″ ‘ 1 1/4″ thick.   Again, some billets are a bit over the stated sizes but we try to measure the smallest ones.

Try Planes.  Rough sawn to 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ x 23″ long.  The wedge stock is 8″ long, 2 1/2″ wide, and 3/4″ thick.  Tote stock is included and measures 6″ x 6″ ‘ 1 1/4″ thick.   Try plane billets are infrequent because getting grain oriented for this size does not occur too often with the wood we have to work with.

Molding planes.  Billets are cut to make side escapement planes, and also include wedge stock.  These measure 10 1/2-11″ x 3 1/2+” in size, and currently come in five widths:  3/4″,  1″,  1 1/4″,  1 1/2″,  1 3/4″, although all sizes may not be in stock at all times.  These billets are nearly perfectly quarter sawn and are oversize, so will finish at the advertised thicknesses and a length of 10″  quarter sawn wedge stock is included.

All pieces are guaranteed to be sound wood, free of knots, checks, splits or worm holes.

Billets can be found in the store here.

Please note:  Because of the size and weight of these billets, shipping costs are fairly high.  We do not mark up shipping costs, and these rates reflect what we pay for labels.  Thank you for your understanding.

Ends of bench plane billets showing quarter sawn grain.