In the past, the preferred wood for making wood bodied planes has been 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.
We have 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 about 7″ long, 2 1/8″ wide, and 3/4″ thick, which leaves enough to hold on to while shaping.
Jack planes. Rough sawn to 2 3/4″ x 2 3/4″ x 16″ long. The wedge stock is about 7″ long, 2 1/2″ wide, and 3/4″ thick. Tote stock is included and measures 5 1/2″ x 6″ x 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 1/4″ x 3 1/4″ x 23″ long. The wedge stock is about 7″ long, 2 1/2″ wide, and 3/4″ thick. Tote stock is included and measures 5 1/2″ x 6″ x 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″ x 3 1/2+” in size, and currently come in five widths: 1/2″, 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. Please note that each piece of wedge stock will yield two wedges. When ordering more than one billet, the number of wedge stock pieces will likely be less than the number of billets ordered.
All pieces are guaranteed to be sound wood, free of knots, checks, splits or worm holes.
Ends of bench plane billets showing quarter sawn grain.
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.
What size billets do I need for the hollow and round l plans you offer? I plan to purchase all the hollow and round plans you offer and the rabbet plane. So I would need billets for them all. Thanks.
The size billets for each plane are listed on the Hollow and Round Plans page. Link is below:
I see that you said your stock has to air dry. Does kiln drying American beech cause problems such that the beech becomes unusable for planes? I have found someone that has some beech local to me and has some other beech logs that he is planning on processing.
Not necessarily. Beech is hard to dry without checking and takes a lot of care to kiln dry. I had some vacuum kiln dried and it was almost all unusable because of the checking issue. I felt air drying to be a practical way to dry as I do not have easy access to a kiln.
Billets have been restocked.
Do you find any problems with steeming beech? I` ve seen a traditional planemaking recipe advising the steeming process as beneficial. Thanks in advance. Best regards from Poland
I have never steamed any beech, and am not aware of any advantage to steaming other than a more uniform color.