Where it all Started
My plane making adventure started in 1999 when my friend Joe Steiner and I wanted to make infill planes for our own use. Through a series of extraordinary events, we soon found ourselves giving plane prices to fellow woodworkers, and in 2001, Sauer and Steiner Toolworks was registered as a business. Joe and I dissolved the partnership a few years later but we remain close friends and attend woodworking shows together whenever our schedules allow.
From day one of this endeavour, we had the core principle that , ‘if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing’. I am happy to say, after 20 years, it is still fun. It is not as much about the act of making the planes, but it is the fantastic people I get to work for that keep me going.
Shortly after Joe and I started, we heard from numerous tool sellers asking what our wholesale pricing was and if they could have exclusive distribution rights. We politely declined all the offers. I have no interest in having a retailer sell my work. That would eliminate my connection to the person who is using the plane and I know something would be lost – for both me and the end user. The direct relationship matters.
My formal training was in graphic design - back when everything was still done by hand and the computer was just starting to make an appearance. Looking back, I was very fortunate to have caught this window of time where I was trained to do both. Back then, the computer was just ‘a tool’, not ‘the only tool’ that it seems to be today. We were taught to ‘design first, then figure out the best way to get it done’.
I live in constant fear of allowing my understanding of software to limit the design of something and is the primary reason I still choose to do so much handwork. I like planes with curved sides– they are a more dynamic shape, more visually pleasing to my eye, and are better suited to our hands. The continuous chamfer on the K13 would be a technical nightmare to program and execute by machine or with CNC. I suspect that if those tools were a big part of how I worked (and designed), I never would have dreamt of that chamfer in the first place – because knowing what machining and CNC is good at (and sucks at) would have killed so many ‘what if?’ ideas. It is so much easier to design the plane you want and grab a file to shape the chamfer you want. It may not be mathematically perfect – but by now you likely realize I have no interest in striving for mathematical perfection, but rather bringing an artistic approach to a technical detail. I want a chamfer that flows visually and is ergonomically comfortable, not adheres to a 0.002” +/- tolerance.
In 2010, a friend and customer commented that he liked the rough size of the panel plane, but found them kinda clunky and asked, ‘could you re-think the panel plane?’. That simple question has taken me down a path I could not have imagined or have been capable of executing a few years earlier. There were a few key design criteria; make it lighter weight, better ergonomics in the front infill, make it look more contemporary, ‘more wood, less metal’, and make it look fast.
After months of these words bouncing around in the back of my mind, lightning struck - and a single simple drawing on my chalkboard quickly evolved into what would become the K13. The customer was thrilled, and I found myself with renewed excitement and purpose as a planemaker. I took the lessons from the K13 and started applying them to the other plane models.
The development of this new line of planes was also the perfect opportunity to do away with the mechanical adjusters – something I had been wanting to do for years.
In 2016 I had a pretty serious shoulder injury to my left (dominant) shoulder. I was diagnosed with Parsonage Turners syndrome. It is an injury to the Brachial plexus with serious to catastrophic nerve damage to that side of the body. Mine was considered to be on the mild side, but after 4 years, my shoulder, arm and hand is still not right. I suspect I have recovered as much as I am going to. I am grateful I am still able to make planes and other small-scale work, but my days of carrying sheets of drywall and making jointing planes are long gone. I am aware of the fact that I am working with an injury and the long-term outlook isn’t great, so I have recognized I need to start considering what might be next for me. I have no idea what that might be… but I am keeping my eyes open. Until then, I will continue along my journey and make planes for as long as I can, working smarter rather than working harder.
The post injury silver lining has been a deep sense of gratitude that I have been able to do this as long as I have. It has allowed us to put food on our table and a roof over our heads all while scratching a relentless creative itch – not an easy combination. When I started in my late 20’s I had no idea where this would go, or for how long. I have accomplished more than I ever imagined. Thank-you to all my customers, friends and family for the decades of support.