The below clip has been making the rounds the last few weeks. (I first saw it at Kottke.) Every year in Japan they have a competition to see who can make the thinnest plane shaving. The winner here was at 9 microns, which is kind of insane. When I learned about woodworking I started with western tools but quickly found myself switching to Japanese tools. Their tool steel is amazing. Plane blades are folded steel, like Samurai swords. They also use water stones for flattening, which gives the blades a ridiculously sharp edge. I’ve spent many hours happily sharpening my blades on my Japanese water stones. Another point of note in these videos is the way they pull the plane, rather than push it (as you’d do with a western plane). In my experience, pulling gets a more even stroke and isn’t so herky-jerky. I think you’d be very hard pressed getting a 9 micron shaving with a western push-plane, even a very good one with a very sharp blade.
The Japanese woodworkers also use the pull stroke on their hand saws, which make them much easier to control. I’m not going to start talking about Japanese joinery because then I’d just be gushing. I will, however, share a picture of a joint on the computer desk in my office that I made. I found this joint in a book on Japanese temples and it is much more complex than it appears. (You can also see the Japanese influence on my furniture in Alisa’s watch cabinet.)