Whenever my daughter has a friend over, I eventually end up making “curlies” for them. At one time, a basic shaving from a bench plane was more than satisfactory; then one morning late summer of 2015 I took my daughter to Hearne Hardwood, where Dan Schwank of Red Rose Reproductions happened to be demonstrating some of his planes, among those was a spill plane. Though I was much more interested in the panel raising plane that I had tried (I very nearly ordered one that morning, along with a bill from a divorce attorney), my daughter was fascinated with the spills, so much so that she took them home with her and still has them today. In the meanwhile, for more than a year my daughter has been asking me to make spills for her, and though I can make something resembling one using a #4 plane, they were never nearly as nice as the spills that a dedicated plane can make.
Strangely, I learned about spill planes many years ago, because I just happened to see a television show where one was being used, though it was mounted on a bench and not a hand plane. For those who may be unaware, a spill plane is not really a woodworking tool. The sole purpose is a spill plane is to make spills (duh), which are long, tight shavings which were/are used to transfer a flame from a fireplace or other flame source. The distinctive shape of the shaving is created not only by the sharp skew of the plane iron, but also by the angle of the escapement and the shaping of the wedge. In ye olden times, items such as matches were not common place and often expensive. Spills were used to safely (relatively) light candles/lanterns/pipes etc. without sticking your hand in or too close to a roaring fire. In the modern world, where fireplaces and candles are far less common, and matches are cheap and easy to come by, the spill plane is no longer a necessary tool. Apparently, from what little research I’ve done, spills were often sold in small bundles and not necessarily made at home, though I would assume that more isolated homeowners would likely have purchased a spill plane to keep at the house rather than traveling many miles to get spills as needed. Nevertheless, last week I had a day off from work, my daughter had a friend over and I made them some curlies. My daughter, bless her, mentioned the spill plane (though she called it the ‘long curly maker’) and I decided to order it right then and there.
On the Red Rose Reproductions web page there is also an option to purchase a kit to build your own version. However, I view making tools the same way as I do cooking: just like I would never attempt to cook something until I was sure how it is supposed to taste, I wouldn’t attempt to make a tool that I’ve never used before. So I ordered the plane, it arrived a few days later (with a bouquet of spills), and I promptly began to make my own “curlies”. I was a little surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, that the spill plane does require a bit of skill to set. The depth adjustment is easy enough; it’s no different than any other wedge based plane, but adjusting the skew from side to side takes a little finesse because if it is off it will begin to take shavings which are uneven. It took around twenty minutes or so of experimentation before I was able to consistently produce spills that I was happy with. For the record, the recommended woods used for making spills are pine or cedar.
So what does a modern guy such as myself do with a spill plane? For my part, I plan on making a handful of small dovetailed boxes with sliding lids, filling them with a bundle of spills, and giving them as Christmas gifts. Yet, the truth is I purchased this tool for my daughter. We happily have a great relationship, but sooner than I would like to admit she will be a pre-teen, and eventually reach the dreaded teen years. And with the upcoming drama of young adulthood slowly but surely looming closer, I hope this Christmas season (and all of them) will be a good memory for her, spending some time with her old man (her ‘old dad’ as she calls me) in the garage making a few Christmas gifts. I plan on giving her all of my tools one day, and hopefully she will pass them along to her kids, and hopefully the future memories of the time she spent with me are some of the fondest of her life. That makes this some of the best money I’ve ever spent.