plow planes, Moxon, Felebien et al

plow plane, early 18th c
English plow plane, early 18th c

Well, if you have read this blog for a while you have seen how Alexander & I go at it…the latest is some back & forth regarding Moxon’s reversal of Felebien’s plow plane image.  To keep you from jumping around, here are Moxon & Felebien’s plows again.

plow plane, Joseph Moxon
plow plane, Joseph Moxon
plow plane, A Felebien
plow plane, A Felebien

Jennie Alexander wrote a comment the other day – here is an excerpt, with some of my comments in brackets:

Peter: I respectfully disagree that we should ignore the issue of miror reversed images Moxon’s printer made from Felibien. [PF: I said let’s get past it, not ignore it. It is well-known, & clearly proven, that Moxon’s image is backwards.]

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…  [PF: I think JA has garbled this a little here, so she will chime in…]

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 illustrates this fully. You would hold and use the Felibien plane in exactly the same fashion!  [PF: we are in agreement here]

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,…”  [PF: this is his description of the use of the plow…]

Moxon does not correctly describe an English plow or Felibien’s plow either.

[PF: this is the real stickler. I think Mark & Jane Rees are correct, when in Goodman’s 3d edition of British Planemakers, they point out that Moxon described a plow plane of the type we now assoicate with English or New England planemakers, not the Continental plow.

Here’s Moxon’s description of the tool, (not its use):

“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:”

 So, two square staves that go through the stock of the plane. These staves have shoulders on the near side of the stock, reaching down towards the bottom of the sole of the plane. Attached to these shoulders is the fence. See the early 18th century English plow plane at the top of this post. Nothing like Felebien’s plow…but sounds like what Moxon was writing about. The plane probably dates from just 20 or 30 years after Moxon, if that.

So I will hold with my statement that Moxon’s description of the plow’s make-up is an English plow plane rather than a Continental one seen in Felebien’s print, and reversed in Moxon’s own book. Principle differences being that on an English plow, the staves are fitted to the fence, and the body slides on them. On the Continental version, the staves are fitted to the plane, and the fence slides along them. Also, the fence on the Continental plow is a broad board on edge, and the English fence is slung under the plane’s body…here’s two views that should clearly show the difference.

English plow, early 18th c, front view
English plow, early 18th c, front view










plow, German
plow, German
This project got me looking through some favorite books; here’s a few. 
W L Goodman, British Planemakers from 1700 (3rd edition, revised byMark & Jane Rees; Astragal Press, 1993)
Josef M. Greber, The History of the Woodworking Plane: Des Geschichte des Hobels, translated by Seth W. Burchard (EAIA, 1991)
Don & Anne Wing, Early Planemakers of London: Recent Discoveries in the Tallow Chandlers and the Joiners Companies (Marion, MA: The Mechanick’s Workbench, 2005)
Gunther Heine, Das Werkzeug des Schreiners und Dreschlers (Hannover: 1990)
Charles F. Hummel, With Hammer in Hand: The Dominy Craftsmen of East Hampton, New York (University Press of Virginia for the Henry Francis duPont Winterthur Museum, 1968)


2 thoughts on “plow planes, Moxon, Felebien et al

  1. Peter: Thanks for straightening me out about Continental plow planes-their staves are permanently attached to the stock just like the French Felibien plane. You are also quite correct that though Moxon illustrates a Continental plow, he correctly describes the English plow. Then in the very next paragraph he erroneously describes the use of the plane with its fence on the wrong side of the stock! My confusion about Moxon’s confusion tells me both Moxon and I need all the help we can get.

  2. To Donny & Anne Wing,

    This is very interesting, I would love to meet both of you this summer, it sounds like your summer is really busy, but I would love the reconnect with you.

    Gail Wing Kelleher

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