If you’ve been on any of the woodworking forums on the Internet, you’ve probably run into Steve Knight. He primarily hangs out on rec.woodworking and a couple of forums dedicated to hand tools, and he’s well known in cyber-circles for his handmade planes. But you won’t hear that from him. He usually just helps people with questions, offering his advice and insight about woodworking issues.
Usually when you hear about Steve’s planes, it’s from other participants on the forums who have purchased them. People talk about them in glowing terms and recommend his products to others. Steve admits, “my tools kind of just happened on the Net, which is probably the only way they could have found buyers.”
Steve is pretty humble about his tools, possibly because they had humble beginnings. About five years ago, he decided he wanted to work with hand planes and, because he couldn’t afford to get one of the high-end planes he craved, he decided to make his own. OK, you’re probably thinking that’s nuts. Nobody just goes and makes their own planes.
What he learned along the way was how to make great planes that worked beautifully. Once he had built some planes that met his standards, he wondered if anyone else would buy them. So he got on the forums where he was already accustomed to talking woodworking with his peers. And there was interest.
He eventually expanded his repertoire of hand planes and got more customers via the Internet. He had an intense interest in Japanese hand tools and began to incorporate some of those ideas into his planes. In the early days, he bought the blades for his planes from a supplier, but the purchased blades added about $40 to the price. So he began making his own blades from bar stock. He cuts them, bevels them and sends them out to get heat treated and then frozen.
One of the breakthroughs in his design came when he started using exotics, especially ipe, for the bodies on his planes. At first, the ipe was a bit too wet to make good bodies, but he finally got it dry enough for his purposes. The ipe, he says, makes great plane soles because it’s really rock solid and it slides along other wooden surfaces smoothly.
Steve has come a long way in five years of plane making. He makes all kinds of planes, including dado planes, rabbet planes and even a dovetail plane (based on a Japanese design). “You don’t find ones that can do the male and female dovetails anymore,” he says. His latest venture is an infill plane, a plane with a metal body and sole and filled with a wooden interior. He’s formed a partnership with Jim Wilson, who does the metalwork based on Steve’s design. It’s been a great partnership and the planes are selling well.
It’s not a huge business, but Steve is getting just about all the orders he can handle right now. And most of his sales are still coming from the connections he has made through the woodworking forums. “Even with the magazine articles, I don’t think I’ve gotten as much business as when I have people bragging about my tools on the forums,” says Steve.
– Bob Filipczak