This white-oak sori-dai-kanna compass plane from Japan and cast-iron Kunz 100 pocket plane from Germany look like a score from the FAO Schwarz toy store in Manhattan, but they’re actually razor-sharp tools for delicate woodworking.

A Carpenter’s Tool Box

On occasion, the editors of Sight Unseen spot a story told from a viewpoint that’s not unlike our own. This one was originally posted last week on Dwell’s website, and it offers a glimpse inside the toolbox of Bruce Greenlaw, a carpenter and architectural woodworker in Northern California. He explains: “It never fails that, as I perform my rituals to prepare for carpentry, such as sharpening plane irons and lubing gears, I see tools as something more than merely form following function. If only for a moment, I see art, animated by timeless design, world geography, and memories — every bit as riveting as the architecture and furnishings it helps to create.” We’ve reposted a few of our favorites below. You can view the full article and image slideshow here.

Above: “This white-oak sori-dai-kanna compass plane from Japan and cast-iron Kunz 100 pocket plane from Germany look like a score from the FAO Schwarz toy store in Manhattan, but they’re actually razor-sharp tools for delicate woodworking.”

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“The rafter square — the original carpenters’ calculator — is so complex that H. H. Siegel copyrighted a 47-chapter instructional book about it (titled The Steel Square) in 1957. My contemporary Stanley No. 45-011 aluminum rafter square is shown equipped with Starrett’s classic No. 111 stair gauges, which make it easy to lay out repetitive angles. The faint eagle emblem inscribed on the square’s heel pays tribute to the legendary Eagle Square Manufacturing Company of South Shaftsbury, Vermont, which was officially founded during the 1840s, acquired by Stanley Rule & Level in 1916, and closed in 2002. Bernstein Display now inhabits the building, where it makes mannequins.”

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“Back in 1885, Ohio pharmacist Charles H. Irwin formed the Irwin Auger Bit Company with four partners and started making the world’s first solid-center auger bits for quickly boring deep holes in wood. The Irwin Industrial Tool Company still makes them. The corkscrew shape reminds me of spiral stairs, except that the original ones built in medieval towers and castles twisted in the opposite direction so right-handed swordsmen could more easily fend off attackers.”


“A remarkable article in the March/April 1985 issue of Fine Woodworking magazine documented the results of metallurgical tests performed on 11 popular chisels from England, Japan, Spain, the United States, and West Germany, including one of these Japanese ōire-nomi chisels. The chisel was made by the Oiichi family, descendants of samurai swordsmiths, by forge-welding a shock-absorbing, mild-steel back to a tool-steel cutting edge. The article revealed that the Oiichi’s fine-grain cutting edge registered an exceptionally hard 63.5 on the Rockwell C scale and had evenly distributed carbides, yielding ‘the very sharpest edge and the best retention’ of the group.”