Fight Fire with Fire... work Wood with Wood!

Apr 27 2016 0 Comments

During my trip to Germany in March, I had the pleasure to visit one of the oldest handplane factories “E. C. Emmerich”. I arrived in Remscheid later in the day, and Mr. Hans-Jörg Emmerich, fifth generation of handplane makers, opened the factory for me and very kindly gave me a full tour. It was an amazing experience, and one I will never forget... and I hope to visit them again one day.

The Story Of The E.C. Emmerich Company began 160 Years Ago, when Lincoln Practiced Law. The master-craftsman, Friedrich-Wilhelm Emmerich, founded ECE in Remscheid, Germany in 1852.

In that era, cabinetmakers usually made their own tools. The founder made such fine planes for himself, that his colleagues offered to buy his tools for their personal use. The plane making business started and grew. Soon, the founder and his son, Max Emmerich, had to leave their small workroom and build a plant to make planes.

In the third generation, the two sons, Karl and Friedrich-Wilhelm increased the company steadily, and in 1930, founded a branch in England and headed it.

During World War II the branch in England became self-supporting. However, factory buildings in Remscheid burned down completely, so after the war, Karl Emmerich, rebuilt this plant and re-opened it for business. After 1950, his fourth generation son, Friedrich-Wilhelm, supported Karl. In 1971 Karl Emmerich died.

After completing his education, Hans-Jörg Emmerich joined the company as the fifth generation and is now the present owner of E. C. Emmerich toolmakers.

All owners were, and remain today, technicians who maintain the machinery in good mechanical condition. Most of the machines in the factory were specially designed and built by the Emmerich’s. Today, the ECE brand is well known worldwide by cabinetmakers for high quality planes and for other fine, hand woodworking tools.

Around 1950, Friedrich-Wilhelm, with his father Karl, developed the Primus adjustment system with no freewheeling of the screw and no back sliding of the iron. It remains unique in that regard. The adjustable Expert jack plane and the Pocket plane followed.

That the company persisted from 1852 to the present day, even after having a fire that destroyed everything, is a testament to their passion, quality and usefulness. ECE is probably the best-known of the European manufacturers of wooden planes. Hans was telling me that 80% of their sales come from Germany and the remaining 20% from the rest of the world.

Hans showed me how they join the sole with the bodies of the handplanes, which they call 'castellated glue joint of sole to body', which avoids twisting or warping. He gave me both pieces and I joined them together with no effort. It was a perfect match. All they use is glue and he said to me “No clamping is required”.

Wooden handplanes were obviously invented well before the Industrial Revolution, whereupon manufacturers learned how to make them out of metal. So some of you might be wondering why anyone still makes them out of wood. The reason is because they have several advantages over metal bodies: Wood glides over wood much smoother than metal does, and does not require constant waxing; wood doesn't shatter when you accidentally drop it on a concrete floor; they weigh less than metal planes and cause less fatigue during repetitive planing; thick wooden bodies can obviate blade chatter when, say, trying to smooth uncooperative grain. And also, some people like myself just like the feel of them.

ECE, also manufactures and sells mallets, squares, bevels, chisels, tool boxes and many other toys. I uploaded just few pictures from the factory to the following link:

Please note in one of the last pictures from the link above, the Primus Handplane with a brass sole fully operational. There are only two of these in the world. One was made to keep at Hans’s office as a beautiful paperweight and the second as a prize given at a competition. 

The more exciting part of this, at least for me, is the email I received from Hans yesterday confirming we can import and offer his great handtools in New Zealand. So stay watching for any new announcements on that.

And more to come about my trip over to Germany in the coming weeks, and the amazing tools they make.

Cheers Gaston.


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