The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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A new tradition…?


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.


The plane as it arrived…



The shape of the escapement gives the spills their distinctive shape…



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.


My first, and messy, attempts at making spills…


A completed bundle of spills ready for sale…



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.





  1. ausworkshop says:

    I love it! I think I first saw them on Paul Sellers and wanted one ever since. That’s it! I’m getting one next year hopefully…..So does this mean you have a divorce coming your way now?

    • billlattpa says:

      Here’s a coincidence, the same night I ordered the spill plane I saw the YouTube video of Paul Sellers with his spill plane, though I had never seen one like he had. A long time ago I saw one on a television show, and if you are familiar with the works of Eric Sloane, they are in several of his books. Sloane’s books are where I saw that they were sold in packs.
      As far as the plane cost, it is far less pricey than the panel plane, so my wife did not have a problem with it.

  2. Jonas Jensen says:

    Hi Bill

    What a coincidence.
    I have been looking at spill planes for the last week or so. I have even gone as far as considering making one as a project for my next rip on board.
    The Red Rose Reproduction planes look great.

    I think that spills would be used as kindling at our house, and maybe as spills too. for lighting up the wood burning stoves.

    Making some boxes with spills for Christmas presents i such a good idea. And you are absolutely right in doing it now, because I can tell from experience that kids grow up so fast. I have never regretted a second that I helped my daughter to turn a little bird on the lathe when she one day asked if she could try that.
    I think that memories are the most important thing you can make in your workshop.


    • billlattpa says:

      I think before I mentioned to you the books of Eric Sloane. If you ever happen to read them, spill planes are mentioned several times. Those books are basically the source of my limited knowledge, but I suppose they were informative enough.
      I like the idea of the boxes, even though not as many people have fireplaces, people do still use candles a lot, just not as a primary source of light. And of course, getting the chance to woodwork with my daughter and have her be really interested was really the whole point in all of this.

  3. Dan says:

    Bill, thank you for the purchase, and nice review. I’m glad to know your daughter is pleased!
    I might suggest that when setting the lateral adjustment to tilt the plane and take a pass on both the left and right corners of the stock. You want a string like shaving from both corners of equal thickness. I find this to be a pretty quick and accurate way to set up the plane.
    Also, wood that is very dry is not as flexible, and tends to split and fray rather than roll into a nice spill when using the plane. In the winter, it is harder to make spills, especially if the stock is in a dry heated environment.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thank you Dan, both for the plane and for the tips. When I first used the plane, I didn’t have as much an issue in making the spills as I did with the board skewing after a half dozen shavings. I simply used the trial and error method, tapping the iron in the opposite direction of the skew until I had consistency.
      As far as the boards, the first I used was an old scrap, at least 5 years sitting in my garage. The spills were just fine, just a little frayed at the end. I then tried something a little strange, I sprayed another board with some water and let it set for about 15 minutes, and the spills improved. I have a piece of cedar, which is damp, that I thought may be a bit too damp, but I will give it a shot.
      Thanks again!

      • Dan says:

        Having the board develop a skew is not uncommon, since even a small amount of lateral misalignment will compound with multiple passes. Sounds like you resolved it properly with trial and error.
        I suspect the cedar with the higher MC will work well. Softer woods always preform better too because the wood is more pliable. Mixing different woods, such as pine and red cedar, in a bundle also gives a nice effect.

      • billlattpa says:

        I assumed that the skew would occur just from my experience in using a fillister plane, as I’m sure you know will often leave a light skew on a deep cut.
        While experimenting with the spills, if the board became skewed, I would just flatten it with a smooth plane, which is where all of those shavings came from in the photo. It was a quick process, and only took 20 minutes or so to gain consistency. In fact, it was much, much easier to set adjust your spill plane than it was the #4 in the photo.
        I actually planned on mixing the spills!! I was hoping to find another piece of cedar which is lighted in tone than the one I have, that way to make a mixture of light and dark cedar, and the white pine, which I believe will have a nice appearance.
        Thanks again!

  4. Brian says:

    When you say that you make them with a #4, do you just hold the plane at a steep angle to the board when you take the shaving?

    • billlattpa says:

      That’s exactly what I did. It works, that is until you pick up the shaving, more often than not it would just collapse under it’s own weight, or just pulls apart like an accordion. If you make the shaving thick enough it will sometimes stay together. But the spill plane obviously does a far, far better job, and of course looks much cooler 🙂

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