Sometimes there’s nothing better than tinkering in the shop and making something just for the sake of doing it. For me, it’s often making my own wood hinges. For Canadian engineer/woodworker Matthias Wandel, it’s wooden gears, geodesic spheres, and other fanciful, if not always practical contraptions. His most recent creation is a Binary Marble Adding Machine, the latest in a series of “rolling ball sculptures.”
Why build a marble machine? Well, according to Matthias, “My Marble Machines are complicated and ingenious, but utterly useless pieces of toy machinery that automate the process of playing with marbles. With toys like these, mankind is free to pursue more productive ends, while leaving the playing with marbles to his trusty automated machine servants.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
As I was stepping out to do a seminar on hand planes and scrapers at the Woodsmith Store last week, I noticed a couple of new items on Randy’s desk. He had just received two new planes from the Blum Tool Company, a small firm in Walnut, Iowa. The owner, Gary Blum, was kind enough to send Randy a smoother and a jack plane. They were strikingly beautiful with their all wood bodies of maple and cherry. And they had a very unusual blade and adjustment arrangement, But I’ve seen good-looking wooden planes before and been a little disappointed. For a lark (and because I thought they’d at least make good window dressing at the seminar) I took them both with me to the store.
After setting everything up for the seminar, I had a little time to spare. So I dug out the instructions on the Blum planes and gave them a quick glance. I wasn’t planning on doing an extensive setup or anything, but I wanted to at least see how they worked. After all, they had a different design from anything I’d ever tried before.
You see, they don’t have a conventional plane iron. Instead they use a small blade which is attached to a massive (¾”-thick) adjustable, frog-like device. Sounds complicated, right? Not at all. A star knob on the back loosens to allow adjustments of the blade depth. You just set the depth and angle of the blade with two knurled screws, tighten the star knob and you’re off.
After five minutes of tweaking the smoother, I was taking whisper-thin shavings off a birdseye maple board. Okay, now they had my full attention. I already liked the way they felt in my hand (very light weight with a comfortable tote), and clearly they were serious tools—not just eye candy.
Gary makes only four designs at this time, the smoother and the jack that I tried out and a fore plane and jointer. Prices are more than reasonable, ranging from $199 for the smoother to $245 for the jointer. (Although Gary charges a little more for rosewood versions of these designs.)
To find out more about Blum Tools, check out Gary’s website.