new old plow plane

“Wainscot plow” “joiners plow” or just “grooving plow” are several period names for the essential plow plane used in seventeenth-century joinery.

I just got a new old plow plane the other day. Bought it at an online auction, and was quite pleased with what I got. It’s marked W Greenslade Bristol. So I checked W L Goodman’s British Planemakers from 1700. I use the 3rd edition done by Mark & Jane Rees. There I found that Greenslade was in business making planes (& other goods) for many years, up until 1937. Seems Greenslade planes are quite common, and the 20th century examples are numerous. Fine w/me. this one was apparently never used. The wedges that secure the arms were missing, so today I cut 2 new ones from cherry. The plane came with 7 of its 8 irons. Not bad for $77.

W Greenslade plow plane
W Greenslade plow plane
plow greenslade
Which of course  brings us to Moxon, Felebien &  the plow plane.  The plow plane illustrated by Joseph Moxon has been discussed a number of times, and the gist of the discussion is that Moxon’s engraver copied a printed version of Andres Felebien’s work from 1676. Compare the two plates and you will see that Moxon’s is reversed, an easy mistake for the engraver, if it is a mistake. Might be that the engraver knew he was reversing the image, and just figured it would still convey the information required. Who knows .
plow plane, Joseph Moxon
plow plane, Joseph Moxon
plow plane, A Felebien
plow plane, A Felebien

Goodman’s  British Planemakers (pp. 87-89) has a concise discussion of these illustrations, pointing out that Moxon’s illustration copies Feleibien’s engraving, but that Felebien’s plow is a Continental-style plow plane, and that Moxon’s description is of an English-style plow plane. The differences center around fence and arms. Here is Moxon’s description:

 “The Use of the Plow.

 The Plow, marked B6 is a narrow Rabbet-plane with some Additions to it: viz. Two square Staves, marked aa (yet some of them have the upper edges of them rounded off for the better compliance with the Hand.) These Staves are let stiff through two Square Mortesses in the Stock, marked bb. They are about seven or eight Inches long, and stand straight and square on the farther side of the Stock; and these two Staves have shoulders on the hither side of the Stock, reaching down to the wooden sole of the Plane, (for there is also an Iron sole belonging to the Plow.)  to the bottom of these two Shoulders is, rivetted with Iron Rivets, a Fence (as Workmen call it) which comes close under the Wooden sole, and its depth reaches below the Iron sole about half an Inch: Because the Iron of the Plow is very narrow, and the sides of it towards the bottom are not to be inclosed in the Stock, for the same reason that was given in the Rabbet-plane; therefore upon the Stock is let in, and strongly nailed, an Iron Plate of the thickness of the Plow-Iron, for Wood of that breadth will not be strong enough to endure the force of the lower end of the Plow-Iron is put to: This Iron Plate is almost of the same thickness that the breadth of a Plow-Iron is. Joyners have several Plows, for several widths of Grooves.

 The Office of the Plow is, to plow a narrow square Groove on the edge of a Board; which is thus perform’d. The Board is set an edge with one end in the Bench-screw, and its other edge upon a Pins, or Pins, put into a Hole, or Holes, in the Leg, or Legs, of the Bench, such an Hole, or Holes, as will, most conveniently for height, fit the breadth of the Board; Then the Fence of the Plow is set to that Distance off the Iron-Plate of the Plow, that you intend the Groove shall lie off the edge of the Board: As if you would have the Groove lie an half an Inch off the Board, then the two staves must, with the Mallet, be knocked through the Mortesses in the Stock, till the Fence stands half an Inch off the Iron-Plate; and if the Staves are fitted stiff enough in the Mortesses if the Stock, it will keep at that Distance whilst you Plow the Groove: For the Fence (lying lower that the Iron of the Plane) when you set the Iron of the Plow upon the edge of the Board, will lie flat against the farther edge of the Board, and so keep the Iron of the Plow all the length of the Board at the same Distance, from the edge of the Board, that the Iron of the Plow hath from the Fence. Therefore your Plow being thus fitted, plow the Groove as you work with other Planes, only as you laid hold on the Stock of other Planes when you use them, now you must lay hold of the two staves and their shoulders, and so thrust your Plow forwards, till your Groove be made to your depth. 

If the Staves go not stiff enough in the Mortess of the Stock, you must stiffen them, by knocking a little wooden Wedge between the Staves and their Mortesses.”

I haven’t used the new plane yet, just wedged it today…here is the one I have been using for many years now, a gift from Jennie Alexander, I don’t remember when. I prefer these small British ones to the larger screw-arm plow planes often found in American tool collections. The smaller ones feel better to me…

plowing a groove in chest rail
plowing a groove in chest rail

7 thoughts on “new old plow plane

  1. Good to hear your support for the wedge arm system, Peter. I am considering one that is also missing it’s wedges. Does each arm have two wedges that go in from opposite sides? Up until now I have been using a metal Stanley 55 for plowing, but the depth is pretty limited, and I prefer wooden planes. I do already have a set of Ohio Tool Co. plow irons, and I hope they would be interchangeable with other plows. Any knowledge as to that likelyhood?

  2. Joeph Moxon and his printer are at it again! The printer may or may not have been mistken. He was most definitely lazy. This week I sent my copy of Moxon out for rebinding. The binder explained the careful way to re-etch a print. For example, tear the page from Felibien and moisten it. Place it in a press on a clean piece of paper. A paper mirrow image will result. It will look like Moxon’s printed illustration. For the next and last step, attach this “print” to a plate and scribe through it.Trash the slashed intermediate “print.” The resulting plate will print copies oriented as was the original. Every printer had a press and water.
    Moxon’s compounded the error. He failed to recognize that planes have handedness. In general they were made to be pushed away from the body by the right hand.Felibien could have helped by poitining his plow to the left. Imagine yourself standing at the bench, point Felibien’s plow to your left, put your right hand on the back of the stock and prepare to plane. You will visualize that the fence is to your left, just like the fence on Peter’s first and second English plows. I vote for Felibien. It seems most helpful that the fence is to your left, free and clear of the bench.

  3. Two things. maybe three.

    Replacing the wedges is easy, especially if it’s for use, not for a collection. By that I mean that I did not make any attempt to discern what shape this plane’s original wedges had…I know I made mine larger than usual. I find they are easier to hit that way. And no, Dave, it’s one wedge, not two, for each “stave” as Jennie Alexander points out I should be calling these arms. I meant to take a photo of the wedges today. Will try tomorrow.

    JA: I want to get past the business about the engraver, and is the plane backwards or not. I think everyone agrees that it is. The critical point to me is that the image and the description do not agree, as pointed out by Mark & Jane Rees in Goodman’s 3d edition. the engravings are of what we now call a Continental plow plane, not the English style. the description in Moxon is of the type of plow that is used in England and ultimately New England.

  4. Peter: I respectfilly disagree that we should ignore the issue of miror reversed images Moxon’s printer made from Felibien. This becomes important when a tool has what I call “handedness.” I believe the plow plane issue is important. Serious students of the Felibien and Moxon plow prints assert that the Felibien print is characteristic of a Continental plow because, among other things, the fence is located to the right of the craftsman. Go thru the visualisation I suggested. When an actual Felibien plow is used, the craftsman typically holds the plane stock in the right hand, the staves by the left.The workpiece is held on the front side of the bench. The fence is on the hither or near side of the workpiece and to the craftsman’s left. Thus, as far as fence location is concerned, the Felibien plane is identical to the English plow. Your excellent shot of you using an English plow illutrates this fully.You would hold and use the Felibien plane in exactly the same fashion! The Moxon print confusion leads Moxon himself to erroneously describe the mirror reversed plow in his text:”For the Fence ….will lie flat against the farther edge of the board,…” Moxon does not correctly describe an English plow or Felibien’s plow either. An English plow and Felibien’s plow have their fence to the left of the plane stock and to the left or near side of the workpiece. Moxon, a real treasury of period craft information, had a writng style that must be read very carefully no matter how difficult.

  5. I have a very old plow plane and no one knows anything about it. I is posted om under “blogs” written by grosa. Or I can send you some pictures. I have owned it for 12 yrs. and know nothing about it. Can you help me out.

  6. Minnie Mouse Disney Blend Coffee MugIf Mickey and Minnie ever got out of the way making wheelchair Hotel Rovinj in Rome is possible by using one of the Channel Directors for Polari Hotel Rovinj. At present, AC-compatible locomotives cannot ply south of Kalyan, while DC locomotives cannot run north of the station. Evenings are spent strolling along the beach or exploring the mangrove forests, there’s plenty of natural wildlife to see on Roatan. This article explains coverage options and zeroes in on choices.

  7. Nice to know that these should come with several blades (different widths I assume). Would somebody mind explaining how it should be set up and used?

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