The Black Swan Kerfing Plane

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Project by summerfi posted 03-22-2018 08:31 PM 12985 views 37 times favorited 80 comments Add to Favorites Watch

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Bird-shaped Kerfing Plane!

The kerfing plane is a recently popular tool among the unplugged woodworking crowd. The purpose of the tool is to create a saw kerf around the perimeter of a board that will serve as a guide for a saw blade when resawing the board by hand with a rip saw. In general appearance a kerfing plane looks similar to a wooden plough plane of old. I believe the tool is misnamed, however, since it is actually a saw rather than a plane. In reality, a kerfing plane is little more than a glorified stair saw with a fence.

I’ve never used a kerfing plane before this project, and to be honest, I doubt that I’ll use one regularly in the future. When I need to resaw a board, I’ll use the bandsaw. I think kerfing planes look kind of cool, though, and I thought it would be fun to make one, so I did. Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I look at a stair saw I see an animal. Sometimes I see a squirrel, sometimes it’s a dog, and sometimes it’s a bird of some sort, depending on the exact shape of the stair saw. So, I thought it would be novel to make my kerfing plane in the shape of an animal. The animal I chose is a trumpeter swan. Since I made it out of black walnut, I’m calling it The Black Swan. Enough silliness, let’s get on with the build.

The body of the plane is 1-1/8” thick walnut that is stepped down to 7/8” in the rear of the plane where the saw-type handle is located. The first step was cutting the profile of the plane to shape. The shape of this plane is my own design. Shaping the profile was started on the bandsaw and finished with an oscillating drum sander, disk sander, and hand rasps.

Contour shaping of the swan head, wings, saw handle, and other features was done with chisels, gouges, rasps and files. By necessity, the shape of the swan is somewhat stylistic, since you can’t make an accurately shaped swan that is only 1-1/8” thick. Still, I think it is representative enough to be recognizable as a swan. I’ve never carved a bird before, so this was a learning experience that I think would improve with more practice.

The 10” saw blade is copied from the design developed by Isaac Smith at Blackburn Tools. It is 0.032” thick spring steel, 4-1/2 points per inch with deep rounded gullets to give the sawdust somewhere to go. I filed the teeth rip and gave them just the slightest hint of set. The blade is held in the tool by two brass split-nut screws.

The extensions that the fence attaches to – I think they are called arms – are 5/8” brass tubing that run all the way through the swan’s body and are secured by epoxy. The tubes are capped with walnut plugs. The round escutcheons, for lack of a better term, where the brass tubes enter the swan’s body, as well as a bearing plate on the fence, are made of zebrawood. The swan’s eyes are ebony.

There are different styles of both kerfing planes and plough planes that have to do with how the fence is attached to the tool, and how it is adjusted. The style I used is called a bridge. The bridge, a feature that sits atop the fence, is basically a clamp that secures the fence-bridge assembly to the arms. To adjust the fence, you loosen a hand screw on top of the bridge and slide the fence in or out on the arms.

In this picture, I have not yet cut the bridge into two parts to form the clamp. I sandwiched a 1/8” piece of zebrawood between two ½” pieces of walnut to make the bridge 1-1/8” thick. I figured making it this wide would provide extra stability and help keep the fence aligned with the blade.

I searched high and wide for a quality brass thumb screw for the bridge, but I had no luck. Instead I made a round knob type of hand screw to serve the function. During my search I unexpectedly found a German brass token with an image of a swan that I inlet into the top of the knob. I think it makes a nice accent in keeping with the swan theme.

The completed plane is finished with multiple coats of spray-on satin polyurethane. This provides a durable and attractive finish.

I tested the completed plane on a 7/8” thick piece of elm. The blade cut fairly quickly and the fence kept the kerf on it’s intended track. I think using this tool to establish a guiding kerf for resawing is feasible, but it’s no small amount of work compared to the convenience of a bandsaw. This plane will go on display with some other interesting tools I have in my house while I decide if I want to sell it or not.

Thanks for reading.


UPDATE 4/16/2018
I made two accessories to go with my kerfing plane. First is a foam padded box to store it in. The box is made from 1/8” zebrawood veneer and thinner walnut veneer over an elm core. The top slides on in the fashion of a Stanley 45 box. The lid contains copper inlays of three swans.

Next is a blade guard to protect the blade while in storage. It is made from walnut and is held in place by two elasticized cords that hook over the arms. It contains a brass image of a swan with wings spread.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

80 comments so far

View ralbuck's profile


6781 posts in 3556 days

#1 posted 03-22-2018 08:36 PM

Great story
Great Build

FANTASTIC art work in wood!

-- Wood rescue is good for the environment and me! just rjR

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1937 days

#2 posted 03-22-2018 08:39 PM

” ... little more than a glorified stair saw with a fence …”

Yeah, right! This is awesome. Great job. Puts mine to shame.

”I’ve never carved a bird before, so this was a learning experience that I think would improve with more practice.”

STOP! This thing is priceless!

View bobasaurus's profile


3743 posts in 4474 days

#3 posted 03-22-2018 08:39 PM

Wow, that is one of the nicest planes I’ve seen anywhere. Incredible attention to detail. I wish I had that kind of skill.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View Combo Prof's profile

Combo Prof

4821 posts in 2567 days

#4 posted 03-22-2018 08:44 PM

That’s just insane! Very fine craftsmanship.

-- Don K, (Holland, Michigan)

View ElroyD's profile


134 posts in 1878 days

#5 posted 03-22-2018 08:50 PM

That’s awesome!

-- Elroy

View theoldfart's profile


12913 posts in 3741 days

#6 posted 03-22-2018 08:53 PM

Jaw just hit the floor! I’m planning on making a kerf plane after we get settled; no way I’m showing it here after seeing yours!

Absolutely gorgeous Bob, you’ve upheld your families reputation for fine craftsmanship. Bravo.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View duckmilk's profile


4875 posts in 2614 days

#7 posted 03-22-2018 09:00 PM

Bob, I agree with Ron, the shape and carving are incredible! Man, you do some fine work.

-- "Duck and Bob would be out doin some farming with funny hats on." chrisstef

View Redoak49's profile


5422 posts in 3278 days

#8 posted 03-22-2018 09:01 PM

Excellent workmanship and design. Just outstanding !!!

View rtbrmb's profile


834 posts in 3678 days

#9 posted 03-22-2018 09:02 PM

Excellent craftsmanship Bob-Thanks for sharing.

Bill in MI

View CampD's profile


1833 posts in 4776 days

#10 posted 03-22-2018 09:04 PM

Wow, just wow!
That is a thing of beauty. I’m glad you included a shot of the blade, now I see how it works.

-- Doug...

View therealSteveN's profile


9267 posts in 1864 days

#11 posted 03-22-2018 09:08 PM


-- Think safe, be safe

View AgentTwitch's profile


631 posts in 4786 days

#12 posted 03-22-2018 09:14 PM

Bob, that is amazing! Great work as always

-- Regards, Norm

View TheFridge's profile


10863 posts in 2776 days

#13 posted 03-22-2018 09:24 PM

Adopt me please.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View waho6o9's profile


9110 posts in 3867 days

#14 posted 03-22-2018 09:33 PM

Incredible work Bob!

View jmartel's profile


9264 posts in 3440 days

#15 posted 03-22-2018 09:34 PM

I’ll take 2.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

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