The James Krenov Smoother – under review

A 9" smoother in Hornbeam ....

... by Jim Krenov ...

This is my most precious handplane.

Here is the story….

James (known as "Jim") Krenov is now in his 80s and has ceased building furniture owing to poor vision. His website displays the last "unfinished" cabinet, with its familiar design for which he is so famous.

For several decades Jim Krenov has inspired generations of woodworkers. He wrote "A Cabinetmakers Notebook", the first of 4 books on the building of furniture. The theme in his writings is the search for the soul of the wood, to harmoniously blend design and materials, where a method of construction is chosen to aid in portraying the wood to its potential. For example, he might choose to dowel and not dovetail the panels of a cabinet to preserve its flow. Of course Krenov viewed good tools as important, but they were secondary to the eye and hand of the woodworker. Aesthetics and design of the work piece always came first.

From Jim Krenov’s website:

Krenov was famous for his handplanes. What was important was that they had to do the job for which they were chosen. While he did not invent the laminated construction method, he was famous for it. He inspired others to write books about their construction. He would have his students at the College of the Redwoods make their own planes (since this helped getting in touch with the qualities of the wood). He made them, used them, gave them away...

There is a strong thread of anti-materialism associated with Krenov. He called himself an amateur, but he was very much the professional about his work. His handplanes might look simple and crude, but this is deceptive since what one does not see is the alignment of the bed, which is tricky to get right, and the blade is bedded is what separated the good from the also-ran handplanes. Thee is no doubt that Krenov knew what he was doing and got it right. The evidence lies in his beautiful furniture. Of course, his furniture and his planes were copied by so many.

Now in retirement, when Jim advertised that he was prepared to sell his planes, I leapt at the opportunity to own one.

My own plane is a very plain plane. Jim’s wife, Britta, contacted me to ask if I would like one made out of Hornbeam. I knew what Hornbeam looks like. It is quite undistinguished. I have seen other planes of JK’s that were rich in figure, and so initially my heart sank. I thought about this and my reaction, and recognised that my first response was the type of materialistic reaction that we all have around the glamour tools, such as a LN, a LV, a Marcow, an Anderson, etc. And that this was converse to the spirit of Krenov. I realised that this plain plane would be the very essence of Krenov, and that it would be the perfect symbol of his ideals and inspiration for me. So I said yes to Britta.

The plane arrived a few weeks later. You see it as it was when I opened the package. In the mouth are shavings made by Jim. It looks rougher than it is. In the hand the plane fits comfortably, amazingly comfortably. For such roughly made pieces, such as the wedge and cross bar, it fits together tautly. I know that there are aspects to the design that are intentional, that were a surprise, and that someone else may just view as "amateurish". Such as an asymmetry to the toe - it makes it comfortable for a right-hander) to hold.


As made famous by JK, the plane is laminated. It has been extremely well done - the jointing is first class and the joins are hard to see. This Krenov guy seems to know a

thing or two!

A construction plan is available from The College of the Redwoods website, written by David Welter.

JK’s plane is indeed super easy to hold and push. What is not apparent in the pictures, and may have missed in those of others (I've not read of these features in descriptions of JK's planes) is the asymmetry of the toe and heel. The toe is rounded more on one side so that the palm of a left hand is tucked more into the side.

On the heel, the palm of the right hand is similarly considered as there is more wood removed in that section. Not must removed, but enough to fit the palm. These features are only evident when holding the plane.

The Blade

As far as I am aware, there is nothing mystical about the double iron set up - unless the Rev Ron Hock is capable of some special magic ... Wait a mo, he is!

The iron is 3/16" thick x 1 1/2" wide x 3 1/2" long. The cap iron is 1/8" thick.

The cap iron is set approximately 1/16" from the edge.

The blade is hollow ground honed at 30 degrees and then honed. The microbevel is part of this. I cannot say for sure what final grit/micron the edge is honed at, but it is likely either a 6000 waterstone or a hard Arkansas, if it is according to the College of Redwood's list of recommended tools for their course.

I suspect that the preparation of the blade is almost all done by Ron, and completed with a final hone by JK. The set up of a hollow grind and a nice thick iron makes it quite easy to freehand on a stone. Just basic stuff.

The bevel arrived with a straight grind. One of two slight modifications I implemented was to hone a slight camber. The other was to shave about 1/64” off a corner of the wedge to seat it evenly.

The bed of the plane is 45 degrees.

As a result of the bed angle, the plane is better suited to straight grained timber. Still, it made a good impression on the Red Cedar I was preparing for drawer fronts. This is stunning stuff but the grain of the RC is all over the show! Nevertheless, I could clean up the surface by planing from different directions.

In Tribute to Jim Krenov …

Here is a sofa table I have just completed as a house warming gift for some friends. I was planning to build a cabinet as a tribute to JK, however they asked for a sofa table having seen and liked one I made for our home. So I designed and built this table in a style that I thought would be representative of JK’s ideas.

This was also the first time I have worked with (American) Cherry, which is the top of the table. This began life as a single board that I discovered at a salvage yard. It was bandsawn into four boards, jointed and matched for grain. Planing this was fun ... soft and easy to work compared to the local hardwoods.

After flattening the boards, I set the smoother for a moderately thick shaving:

... then I set it for a finishing cut:

One sweeeet plane!

Here is the final table. The base is Jarrah. Height is 760mm (30") and the top is 1200mm (nearly 48") long. The finish is shellac and wax for the base, and shellac, danish oil and Shellawax for the top. All joints are pinned mortice-and-tenon.

Would JK agree with the design?

Last words

This has been a fun and inspirational review for me. I own and use many handplanes that are quite technical in their construction and concept. JKs smoother, like a number of woodies I have, takes one back to the very essence of woodworking – that is, working wood rather than using a tool. It is always good to get things into perspective.

Regards from Perth

Derek Cohen

December 2007