Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The plane maker

So a day or so after being in Virginia, then Tennessee and North Carolina, we headed South again in to South Carolina and to the home of Caleb James. I'd first heard of Caleb through Pete Galbert's blog. Then again when I found that Caleb was doing the drawings for Curtis Buchanan's Comb Back and Continuous Arm Chair plans. 

One look at the Danish furniture and cord weaving produced by Caleb and it's clear to see why Pete was so impressed with Caleb's ability. 

So when I was talking of my trip further South, Pete suggested a visit to Caleb would be worth the miles.

He wasn't wrong. Jeff and I arrived late morning and were shown down to Caleb's basement workshop by Caleb's wife Tracy. No dark undercroft here though. It's a light filled timber lined long room looking out to the greenery beyond. It's quite an inviting space. 

As with a fair few other American chair makers I've met, it was interesting to see where our paths had crossed, both with Curtis and Pete. But it seems to be a familiar trait in this field with people I've met recently and has been the case as far as I know back to the early 1980's and no doubt prior. Whether that original contact was someone like Drew Langsner, Dave Sawyer or another pioneering worker of wood, it's amazing to see what a definitive effect it has on an individual's life and not just their career. It's a great thing.

What did surprise me in a way was that despite Caleb's obvious natural talent for making chairs, it appears that he is going to focus primarily on making hand planes. Well to be a little more precise, it surprised me until I looked into his tool chest and saw this.

A few moments later after asking if I could try a little coffin shaped smoother, it was clearly obvious why Caleb should concentrate on planes. They're awesome. Comfortable in the hand and beautifully detailed and proportioned. So good in fact that the smoother came home with me. 

Here it is today being used to tidy up the spindle deck of a Windsor chair I'm making

There's evidence of a good deal of forward planning too, as neatly stacked piles of beech abound in the workshop,

Most destined for the sets of moulding planes that Caleb is rapidly becoming well known for.

Caleb also spoke of his thoughts of potentially running classes in his workshop in future, teaching the making of Danish styled furniture and of course planes. A no brainer in my book. To spend a few days learning what Caleb knows would be good value for money in anyones language. We finished our visit with a culinary highlight of the trip, a mexican lunch prepared by Tracy, which was that good I would have taken a picture of that too, if it were not for good manners!

I also learnt that Caleb and Tracy have relatives in Australia. I hope they drop in and visit next time they're in my neck of the woods.


  1. Sweet looking plane Glenn. I look forward to rubbing my grubby mitts over that one day.

  2. Plane? What plane? Oh the Caleb James plane. Um, yeah, oh I think I locked it in the cupboard. Sorry can't find the key for that Pete. Pity about that….=)