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Fritsche A13 Infill Smoother

October 2017

With the demise of the Shepherd Plane Company, there was no longer a maker of infill hand plane kits until I was pointed to Gerd Fritsche in Germany. He makes a range of infill planes and infill kits with good feedback in both areas. Here's a link to his page.

Having started on the wall-hung tool boxes and not having much to put in them I decided some nice infills would look good there. I ordered two kits, one a Norris A13 Smoother and the other an A7 shoulder plane. Those pictures are from the Fritsche web site. I received the kits and Gerd took pictures before he sent them. This is the smoother kit, pic1 and pic2. And this is the shoulder kit.

The picture on the left is from Gerd Fritsche's web site also. The rest of the pictures should be mine... I hope! October 18, 2017
The kits arrived in good order. Shipping took just under two weeks. There were no additional shipping or customs charges; very smooth. The kits arrived with no instructions. Gerd said he was having trouble with his computer and instructions would be forthcoming next week. He sent a PDF file but the file wouldn't open. Oh well!

I was anxious to get started. I suspect the metal is cut with a laser. This leaves a tiny rounded edge in the corners. In some of the pictures I had seen of Gerd's planes the finished dovetails in the plane seemed to lack a certain 'crispness'. Could be me being judgmental, could be the quality of the photos I was looking at. Anyway, for my kit, the tails were laser cut on the brass sides. The pins were simply square cut, no taper to accept the tails. I tried taking a few swipes at the tails with a file, but I couldn't see well and wasn't getting the results I wanted. I set up the milling machine with my 15-degree bit and just touched the edge of all the tails. This nicely removed the tiny round-over in the corners. I then set up a regular milling bit and cut the proper mating angles for the pins on the sole. I got nice tight fit for both planes. Here's a picture of the A13 and another of the A7.

In handling the metal pieces I noted some problems, small problems I hope. On the A7 the otherwise nicely cut mouth has a tiny hole on one edge. I don't know how much of a problem, if any, this will be. The mouth will likely need to be opened up somewhat and that may absorb the tine hole. It could make the mouth bigger than optimum, but I'll have to wait and see.

I note several problems on the sole of the A13. There is a demarcation line on the inside of the sole. This line should line up the bottom or edge of the cut for the pins. It does not and the difference is .010 to .012 inches. See the picture. A little closer. I wish I had noted this before I cut the pins. It would have been easy to fix the depth at the same time as cutting the pins. Now I need to cut the depth without touching the sides of the pins. It will be tedious.

Some other problems of note. The cut-out for the mouth is pretty ugly, pretty rough. And, the blade will not fit through. The blade alignment screws in the side plates are positioned too far back on the side pieces such that they will interfere with both the mouth plate and the wood when it is installed. Picture here. I was a little disappointed to see some light hammer blow dimples in the sole resulting from the riveting of the mouth plate. They will come out in linishing the sole, I just didn't expect to see that. I appreciate the amount of work Gerd does on these kits. It is difficult, unfair perhaps, to make a judgment call as to what level of finish or quality is to be expected in these kits. I think I'll be able to make fixes that will be satisfactory. Always the risk of making things worse, too.

October 19, 2017
I have fixed the sole for the A13 to move what I called a demarcation line so that the line on the sole is the same position as the cut-out for the tails. I cleaned up the mouth. This is the front and this is the rear blade and bearing block. I cut little divots into the blade bearing block to allow clearance for the blade adjusting screw. The wood will need a similar relief cut but the adjustment screws should work.

October 30, 2017
The instructions called for specific metric thicknesses of Baltic birch plywood for the bucking block. I opted to make my own out of an oak glue-up. I secured the sole with screws and washers, and installed the jig plates. The screw holes I drilled in the bucking block to hold the sides walked around a little in the oak so I simply clamped a board across the sides and to my anvil. This keeps the sides tight against the bucking block. The whole thing looks pretty ugly after all the peining. Here are a couple close-ups: pic1, and pic2.

I milled off most of the smashed metal, checking that the peining was completely closed up. I then worked the sole and sides to roughly flat using a modified edge sander to become my linisher. The edge sander was modified to slow it way down and provide adjustable variable speed. The good news is all the dovetails are completely closed. The bad news is some of the dovetails are slightly distorted. I think the distortion came about because the tails were not exactly 15-degrees and when I cut the 10-degree locking bevels I was reluctant to go too high up on the tail as the higher I went the wider they got at the bottom. I know, difficult to follow. I'll need to study this a little more to find a solution for the other plane.

November 4, 2017
I haven't worked much on the plane kit lately. I've been busy playing with my new toys from Brown's show. I stripped and re-japanned the Morris Patent Sandusky plane I got from Jim Moon. Not a huge effort but tedious and time consuming.

I have shaped the front knob or bun to fit the plane body and shaped it to a reasonably nice form. Lots of care needed to get the bun to fit properly, keeping it square to the sides and aligned with the mouth opening. After I was satisfied with the shape I realized it would be difficult to machine the front of the bun flat to the plane body without cutting into the bun so I reshaped it to move the profile back about an eighth of an inch. Hopefully I won't hit the profile when I machine the front assembly.

Most of the work to mount the Norris adjuster into the handle had been done by Mr. Fritsche. He did the basic milling but left the kit builder to cut out the sides and the taper long the edge of the adjuster. The fitting into the handle was pretty straight forward with the milling machine.

The tote in the Fritsche kit is three pieces of wood. The tote in the Shepherd kit was two pieces of wood, a base piece with a slot for the handle and then the handle. I think the Shepherd kit was easier. Simply fit and install the base piece, shape it to the metal, and then install the tote in the provided slot. In the Fritsche kit I think it would be difficult to assembly the three pieces and then shape the wood to match the metal profile. I didn't pay too much attention to Mr. Fritsche's instructions but attacked the problem in a different manner. I first smoothed the sides of the three pieces so that they would lie flush to one another. I then drilled two 3/16ths holes through the three pieces and drove in a 3/16ths brass rod. Now I had a solid assembly that I could work as one piece. I then flattened the bottom, squared the sides for a tight fit in the frame, and then smoothed the plane bevel angle until the three pieces were aligned and the assembly aligned with the bevel block or frog block. Here's the assembly so far. Here's a nice tight fit in the body. The assembly aligns quite nicely with the bearing block, or frog. Still not sure what to call that block.

November 7, 2017
I drove the pins back out of the handle and then reassembled the two side pieces using these little jacks to hold the assembly tight and aligned in the body. The wood and the metal have considerable alignment differences. A few minutes on the drum sander and all the pieces align quite nicely.

Other than slow and careful, putting the 45-degree bevel on the sides was uneventful. I used a carbide woodworking bit that I modified a little to put the bearing closer to the cutter. Taking multiple passes and raising the cutter less than .010 for each pass produces pretty reasonable results.

Shaping the tote was not as bad as I thought it would be. It started off pretty ugly. I used the drum sander to smooth the curves as best I could and then re-shaped it with a cove bit. From that point on it was all hand work. Mostly I used strips of sand paper torn from a used sanding belt. I had to be careful to stay away from the areas where the side pieces attach. Changing that dimension now would leave the tote assembly too loose in the frame.

Drilling and installing the sleeves in the infills was uneventful, scary and tedious, but uneventful. Tedious because after the pilot hole was drilled aligning the blocks for the bigger sleeve bit required careful alignment with the pilot bit; back and forth for the eight operations. Lots of clamping, aligning, drilling. I was worried that the sleeve at the rear of the tote assembly might blow out the thin wood sides. Again, all's well that ends well. For the record, Gerd sent drill bits that were supposed to be used for the pilot holes and for the insert sleeve holes. I probably shouldn't complain about the gift but the bits were in need of sharpening and were badly abused. I used my own, a #9 for the pilot and a letter J for the sleeves.

This was my first opportunity to assemble all the pieces to check my progress. Everything looks pretty good so far. I did note the cap iron is too short. It is not like the pictures on Gerd's web site and the lever cap screw hits right in the middle of the Fritsche name stamp. I'm sure he will provide a proper one when I need it.

November 11, 2017
I reinstalled the screws through the sleeves using a generous amount of Loc-tite and torqued them as much as I could without destroying the screws. I let the loctite set up over night, probably not necessary, and then milled the screws flush. I was afraid the rotation of the milling bit might unwind the screws but all went well. I stick a piece of scotch tape next to the screws and lower the milling cutter until it just scratches the tape. At this point in the construction I don't need any more scratches in the brass. Off to the linisher to finish smoothing the sides. The belt sander flushed the front bun to the frame. Another touch on the sander finished the bevel on the brass edges.

When the kits are made, Gerd drills all the required holes with the sides paired together. But after the fitting and peining the right angle alignment is no longer perfect. The lever cap had to be tweaked for side clearance and then contact surface at the blade/cap iron. Not a huge deal, just another step.

Opening the mouth was more work than I anticipated. I started with 320 grit sand paper, then a small file, and a couple steps to a really big file. I'll do most anything to avoid doing any of this work by hand but I don't have a vise big enough to use the milling machine so I kept at it with the files and sand paper. It came out OK, I think. It is not perfectly square but it works OK. The opening is about .020, a little tighter in the corners. Gerd furnishes the blade fully sharpened and ready to go. Shavings are about .002; good enough for me!

A little more final polishing and I'm done with this one. I reach a point of diminishing returns when it comes to finishing the brass. I expect I'm doing something wrong but I run out of patience. Here are a couple glamour shots. pic1, pic2.

I need to offer a realistic review of Gerd Fritsche's kits. Looking at the first one I have completed I would say it was an excellent value. The metal parts are cut with, what I assume, is a laser of some kind. They are accurately cut but the laser produces a small radius in the corners that may not be acceptable to some people. I didn't like it and tried to correct it and my corrections contributed, only slightly to my problems with the dovetails. What you are buying is a kit. So, if you can fix it, it is a kit, if it can't be fixed, then it is problem with the kit. With mine, the metal at the mouth was really rough. Not outside the required dimensions and I was able to fix it to my satisfaction. The wooden tote was scary rough but it too, was relatively easily worked to a nice configuration. The provided instructions were, I think, pretty rough. I didn't pay too much attention to them as this is not my first kit. I did note in skimming through them some strange words and sequences that probably would not be clear. Instructions for these things are difficult in English so translating from German has got to be quite a task. And, the premise that you can build one of these things with files and a drill is beyond my comprehension. You need to control your expectations and/or be very confident in your skills and expectations. I didn't like the length of the cap iron/chip breaker but Gerd is willingly providing a longer one. I didn't really like the wood provided. It sands and polished well as rosewoods do. But I would prefer an Ebony or Cocobolo but I'm certain there would be a requisite price difference. Overall I would offer Gerd's kits are a great value. Assembling them is not trivial, but if you have problems you cannot blame the provider. You need to fully understand all the steps needed to complete the operations you are going to perform. Whether you get that understanding from reading the instructions or other intuitive means, matters not. Gerd Fritsche's kits are a good value.