these are, hands down, the most difficult tools in my shop. for any of you that may not be familiar with them, they are japanese hand planes or kanna. the name of this blog is a hack of the little japanese i know meaning, 'student of the plane'. i chose the name because my kanna have taught me a great deal about woodworking and how i learn since i've begun to use them.
i purchased the first three from hida tools a little less than a year ago as (from left) an ishihisa joiner plane (nagadai kanna), ishihisa smoother plane (hira kanna), and an additional dai for the smoother cut at a 45deg angle for use on harder woods. the fourth kanna shown is an ebay blade and my first (clumsy) attempt at making my own dai using some left over beech.
kanna are quite simple tools in terms of components and moving parts but incredibly subtle and demanding in setup and use. i am far from the first to make this observation but i seem to be somewhat of a poster child for the difficulties many westerners face trying to tame these tools.
ironically, i managed to fit my first kanna (the ishihisa smoother) to its dai quite well. the blade bedded firmly and had just enough space to facilitate adjustment. i didn't manage to get quite as good a fit with my subsequent attempts however. my 45deg dai will require some shimming as the tsutsumi tripped me up a bit and i was a bit too aggressive removing material from the bed.
obviously, i'm still very much a beginner at setting up and cutting dai. i have nothing of use to share myself other than to point you to those that i've tried to learn from. check out wilbur pan's excellent series of write ups, jay van arsdale's 'japanese handplanes' dvd and toshio odate's 'japanese woodworking tools, tradition and spirit'.
just as i sat down to show you my kanna (O.o) and discuss my experiences with them, chris hall released the first entry of a series titled, 'smile and wave'. i decided to wait because he was addressing the sole conditioning of a kanna to be used for truing. he was challenging the traditional (well, traditional to the west..) method of conditioning with promises of a 'better way'.
this immediately caught my attention as i've never been able to get my nagadai kanna to perform satisfactorily. i had conditioned the sole in the 'traditional' manner and the plane was extremely difficult to use. i had to extend the blade quite a bit to even get it to engage the work and when it did, it would 'dive' into the board and take an overly thick shaving. additionally, if i worked at either end of the board i was clearly creating a convex surface as the plane would rise up the beginning of the board and drop off the end following the contour of the sole.
having recently flattened the tops of two new workbenches, i'd had plenty of opportunity to fuss and fiddle with my nagadai kanna but eventually i would have to give up and grab my veritas #7 to get the work done. i was all but convinced that my blade wasn't sharp enough (though clearly my others were) or i hadn't bedded the blade correctly, etc..
chris's series explains quite thoroughly why the behavior i'd observed is exactly what should be expected from my sole configuration. he spends four posts explaining why it won't work. in the fifth and final post (seriously, the wait was killing me..) he explains the 'correct' way to condition a kanna sole for truing.
the solution was both liberating and frustrating at the same time. encouraging because i'm looking forward to reconditioning my sole chris' way and see if i can finally make good use of my nagadai kanna for truing. frustrating because i suspected the damn solution the entire time. see the comment i left on chris' first post in the series. i had the answer, though i over estimated the importance of reducing friction..
it's frustrating because i saw a potential solution to my problem and never gave it a shot. i don't yet have the faith in my skills to dismiss what i understand as 'common knowledge' in favor of conclusions i reach through my own experiences and discoveries.
i'll get there eventually. i've been through enough learning curves to recognize that it's normal. you have to start with wisdom that's passed to you while you build up your own experience to draw from. it'll come in fits and starts. you'll make mistakes between trusting what you've been taught and that which you've learned.
enjoy the process. i am..