I had a side mission at Holz-Handwerk: To bring back a tool that Jimmy DiResta could use in one of his DiResta's Cut videos. He said he'd pay for whatever I brought back, and my self-imposed criteria was that it had to be German-designed, German-made, useful and unique. There were over 1,300 exhibitors at the show so I had my work cut out for me.
Looking past all of the fancy displays, I found exactly what I was looking for at a small, humble booth in the middle of the crowded trade show floor.
E.C. Emmerich, a/k/a ECE, is a German manufacturer of hand tools that's been around since 1852. At that time, master carpenter Friedrich-Wilhelm Emmerich made his own tools, as all cabinetmakers did. When word started getting around of how kick-ass Emmerich's wooden handplanes were, orders started coming in. And kept coming in. Pretty soon Emmerich and his son, Max, stopped making cabinets and started making handplanes full-time.
That the company persisted from 1852 to present day is a testament to their quality and usefulness. "ECE is probably the best-known of the European manufacturers of wooden planes," says Joel Moskowitz, the tool historian and founder of Tools for Working Wood, whom we rang for comment. "Wooden planes never fell out of favor in Germany and even today are very popular." Accordingly, ECE's booth was packed with beauts like the following:
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. Also, some people just like the feel of them.
In addition to handplanes, ECE sells spokeshaves, chisels, try squares, mallets, saws, clamps and more. They've built a reputation well beyond Germany for producing high-quality, long-lived tools built with outstanding workmanship. And the firm continues to be family-run; the cheerful, English-fluent sales guy I spoke to at the booth turned out to not be a sales guy at all, but Hans-Joerg Emmerich, the fifth-generation Emmerich to run the firm.
After some back-and-forth on the phone with DiResta, I wound up muling two ECE handplanes back to America. And that's where the story gets interesting—click here to read about it.
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I visited Hans Emmerich in his factory in Remscheid two weeks ago. Amazing tools. He opened the factory for me quite late in the evening and gave me a tour and also gave me a block plane as a present for coming from so far away. He is a very passionate person with an amazing factory. The tools they make are great. He also showed me one of the only two primus hand planes he made with a brass sole. I own quite a few of this hand planes and since I have them, I hardly use any of the Stanleys I got.
I was fortunate enough to be gifted an ECE plane from some co-workers as a going away present. This was in the late '80s. It is a favourite of mine. I also have a few Japanese 'kanna', some made from blades I purchased in Japan. These have the thick and long wood bases are admittedly a lot heavier than the ECE. Thankfully, it doesn't seem to be difficult to switch from the 'push' to the 'pull' stroke so I continue to use all my planes. Perhaps because the same issue is there for Japanese vs. European saws. In this case, the Japanese saws are the lightweights.