Letter from Brittany 3
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The plane truth

An Englishman called Nick lives in our village and he is a keen amateur carpenter. He has all the kit. Planers, band saws, circular saws, routers, sanders, you name it, Nick's got it.

Another chap, a Frenchman, who also lives in our village makes decorative village signs carved in wood. No one asks him to make the jolly things and some of them might be described as a little should we say, ‘esoteric’, but it's his hobby so no one minds too much. The things are erected all over the place. There is even one of his signs outside our large village church. It has a picture of a church on it. Just in case no one has noticed what the fifty four metre long by thirty four metre wide building with a fifty six metre tall spire standing just behind it actually was.

One day our sign making hero turns up at Nick's house and asks him if he wouldn't mind taking a couple of millimetres off a new sign that he'd just spent a week carving, on account of the fact the surface was slightly rough. It was a large sign and to sandpaper it would take him hours and hours. So Nick, although busily engaged doing something else important at the time, agrees.

Nick starts up his fearsome electric bench planing machine. He'd used it only the day before to finish a nice bit of teak for his boat so didn't bother checking the cutting depth settings or anything else. He recalled the two millimetre depth settings would be just fine (you're ahead of me here aren't you?).

Nick puts the sign in the business end of the electric planer and lets it feed itself in.

When it comes out of the other end it is beautiful. A really nice piece of aged oak. Perfectly flat and smooth. With no evidence of any intricate carving on it whatsoever.

Nick had forgotten that after gently 'finishing' his piece of hardwood the day before, he had subsequently re-set the planer to 'size' a rough old bit of Colombian Pine, the original purpose of which was a 'Railway Sleeper'. At a single pass taking around six millimetres off in the process.

I just wish I had been a fly on the wall when Nick tried explaining to our French sign making friend. The result of his week of painstaking work, intricately carving an elaborate, decorative village sign, wasn't mysteriously on the other side of the bit of wood but was now two centimetres of woodchips and sawdust on the workshop floor.

According to Nick the chap didn't say very much at the time and just left quietly, with a sort of puzzled, vacant expression on his face. They haven't spoken very much to each other ever since. Apparently.

I’ve finished ‘planing’ now.

For the day anyway.