Most of us have something on our Christmas wish list that we didn’t get – the thing that you turn around and spend your cash gifts on. In my case, it was a dovetail plane.
I like the idea of sliding dovetails for casework, but find fitting them to be a pain. Routing the socket is simple enough, but fine-tuning the router table fence for a perfect pin fit can drive me to distraction – all I have to do is breathe wrong to get it too loose. It seemed to me that routing the pin a hair fat and then final fitting with a dovetail plane would be a solution. Since Lee Valley still had free shipping, I went ahead and ordered an E.C. Emmerich from them.
The plane arrived in good condition, with the iron separately packaged, and included a wrench to adjust the nicker. The body is beech with a hornbeam sole, and is built along the same lines as their moving filister plane, but without the depth stop. The sole has a 10 degree slope, and has threaded inserts for the fence adjustment screws. The fence itself is simple and basic, and has a small machined recess to prevent contact with the blade. There is a metal button on the rear to act as a striking point for the plane hammer. The wedge seems unusually long, and may interfere with the blade as it gets ground down. Of course, the wedge can be trimmed to match when that time comes.
The blade was surprisingly well ground, and only required a couple of minutes to flatten to my satisfaction. The skew angle is actually about 14 degrees, which seemed odd until I remembered that this is a compound angle situation. The sole is 10 degrees, and the blade is bedded at about 45 degrees, requiring a different skew angle on the blade. The bevel is 25 degrees, and I finished it off with a 27 degree microbevel.
This plane has the new-style square nicker that is adjusted by loosening a screw and rotating the point to set the depth of cut. A word of advice here: use the shallowest depth that will give you a clean cut. An overly aggressive nicker setting will result in some serious shoulder tearout. The instructions tell you to rotate to a new corner when the nicker gets dull, and then simply replace the nicker when worn out. The problem is, I can’t find a source for replacement nickers. Even Emmerich’s catalog doesn’t seem to list one. Oh well, there’s always sharpening.
I tried the plane in two different modes: dovetail from scratch, and trimming a router-cut dovetail. Both of these were done both with and across the grain to simulate various types of applications. I used a variety of woods for the test – the photographs below were of soft maple.
Cutting with the grain went very well. The shavings were smooth, even, and full-length. The only problem, shared by many planes, was that the mouth and side escapement tended to clog with shavings. As you can see from the picture, the shavings tended to make tight curls, which bunched up and filled the space above the mouth. This is a function of the fact that the blade’s cutting profile is skewed, and really is little more than an annoyance.
Crossgrain cuts, such as on the end of a shelf, proved more of a challenge. The cuts here were noticeably rougher, and the plane tended to chatter more. As you can see from the photograph, most of the roughness was concentrated on the widest point of the dovetail. Just to be on the safe side, I resharpened the iron and tried again with the same results. The best results were obtained by setting for as light a cut as possible and using a sharp iron – just like best results with any other plane.
There are several reasons for the rough cut. First, you’re planing crossgrain – that alone makes for a rough cut. Secondly, as you can see from the photo at left, while the blade is skewed, the mouth opening is not (yes, that’s my blood on the hornbeam sole – skew points get sharp!). This means that the gap in front of the blade gets wider as you move farther from the dovetail shoulder, giving less support for the cut. Thirdly, as you can (hopefully) see from my crude diagram below, the grain at the far end of the dovetail is composed of very short fibers as a result of the nature of the cut. In most woods you can get tearout here by flicking this point with your fingernail. Given this combination of factors, crossgrain dovetail tearout is practically unavoidable. The only possible fix I could think of would be to make a sole insert that would tighten the mouth and conform it to the cutting profile of the blade. That may be a project for later on if the roughness causes joinery problems.
All in all, I’m very pleased with this plane. The overall fit and finish are excellent, reflecting top-notch German craftsmanship. It cuts well, and is perfect for removing that last hair from a routed dovetail. You will, of course, need a 10 degree dovetail bit to match the plane, but that’s a minor expense. My only suggestion for improvement would be a revision of the mouth to give a tighter opening and improve crossgrain cuts. Final assessment: an excellent, though specialized, addition to your plane collection.