molding planes, documentary evidence

molding detail, Plymouth Colony chest
molding detail, Plymouth Colony chest

The previous post in this series showed photos of moldings on surviving seventeenth-century woodwork. Now  I will present some evidence of molding planes in probate inventories and elsewhere.

And here a quick note. This topic is getting huge. I will cover some of how I cut moldings in a future post; I have done some of that in the blog before. Search for “scratch stock” for a partial discussion. Alexander asked me about drawings as well. Another discussion, another post. 

Now to the written record.  

William Carpenter, Sr. died in Plymouth Colony in 1659. He had a great many tools listed in his probate inventory, and among them were these planes:

  “three Joynters 3 hand plaines one fore plain  10s”                                                

“Rabbeting plaines and hollowing plaines and one plow att ₤1”                                

 So, that does not tell us much; he’s got a few jointer planes, one fore plane, and rabbets and hollows, but who knows how many of these? Also one plow plane, and three “hand” planes. Hmmm.

 In Essex County, Massachusetts, George Cole died in 1675, and left many tools. Planes listed in Cole’s inventory are:

 “2 goynters & foreplaine 6s, 3 smothing plains & a draing knife 3s6d, 2 plans & 2 revolvong plains 10s,  4 round plains 5s, 3 rabet plains 4s,  3 holou plains 3s6d,  9 Cresing plains 10s6d,  3 plaine irons & 3 bits 1s6d,  1 bench hooks, 2 yoyet irons 1s”

 So here it’s some phonetics employed to work out “goynter” as being the jointer planes. Fore plane, smoothing plane – simple. “Revolving” plane? The round planes go with the hollows (holou) of course. “Cresing” planes are thought to be molding planes, particularly those that make a molding on the face of the stock, set in from the edge. “Yoyet” irons? Who is to know? W.L. Goodman’s article, “Tools and Equipment of the Early Settlers in the New World” (EAIA Chronicle, v.29 #3, Sept 1976) discusses this inventory, among many others. Goodman speculates that the “revolving” is just a mis-reading of grooving planes.

 In Malden in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Abraham Hill, Sr, died in 1669/70. He has a great many tools as well, much like George Cole above. Again, I have only excerpted the planes, with a few things counted in among them.

5 old small axes, 1 hay spade, 1 small iron crow, old iron, 1 Joynter, 2 foreplaines, 2 small foreplaines, 4 smoothing plaines, 2 small planes for gun stockes,   4 boulting plaines, 2 plow plaines to grove & tennant, 1£11s6d”

 “4 Rabbet plaines,  2 Bevell plaines, 3 great crest plaines, 2 small crests 9s, 1 great plow stock & 12 other plaine stocks al without Irons – 1 small plow plaine & Iron, 4 wood squares 8s, 1 stock shave, 1 drawing knife, 1 spook shave 2 stock percers, & 2 gages etc  2 Inch & 1/2 Augurs & 1 inch & 1/2 & 1 inch & 4 under inch & Ry bitt 17s”

Some of the standard joiners’ planes appear again & again. Jointers, fore planes, smoothing planes/smooth planes, and plow planes. But here’s a few new ones; “bolting” planes, “bevel” planes, and “crest” planes. I think the “2 plow plaines to grove & tenant” could perhaps be a pair of tongue & groove planes. Are the “crest” planes just creasing planes again, or are they dedicated molding planes for a cornice?

 The Goodman article cited above discusses a “bowtle” plane and a “Cadgment” plane, seen in an English apprenticeship contract. Here’s Goodman’s quote:

 “Before the introduction of Italian names for moulded profiles, some time later in the seventeenth century, English masons (see Moxon, p. 267) and woodworkers used two types of molding: the “boltel” or “bowtell,” for projecting moldings such as beads or ovolos, and the “casement” or cove, later known as the scotia.”

molding details, cabinet Salem, MA c. 1680
molding details, cabinet Salem, MA c. 1680



Another term sometimes used for running moldings is “imbow” – seen here in this contract from Boston, 1685:

“Articles of Agreement Indented concluded the [blank] Day of Decemb anno Dom One Thousand Six hundred Eighty and ffive Between John White of Boston in New England joynor on the one part and Arthur Tanner of Boston afforesd marriner on the other part are as ffolloweth Imp[rimi]s The s[ai]d William [John?] White for the considerations herein exprest doth Covenant promise bind and oblige himself his heires estate and adm[inistrator]s to doe and performe all Such joynors worke in and upon the Ship Which william Greenough is now building for the sd Tanner on the Stocks in Sd Greenoughs Building yard as is herein mentioned & expressed.




To Plane and rabbit the upright of the Sterne

To Plane and rabbitt all necessaryes for the Territts

To Plane the great cabbin Deck

To make a Bulkhead & doors to that cabbin

With two Close cabbins & settlebed with turn’d ballasters and a Table in three parts with a Cupboard & all Lockers convenient with Shutters for the light and to ceile it after the best manner

To Imbow [i.e., run a molding upon] all railes that shall be placed on sd Ship with a ffife-raile

To Ceile [ceiling; a synonym for joining] the roundhouse & make in it two Cabbins and a Table with Lockers, and too lights wth Shutters to them

To plane the Bulkeheads & make a table on the Quarter Deck: and Chaire & binacle with Hen Coops convenient

To Plane the planks in the Steeridge & round the beames & to make foure hanging Cabbins and a binnacle will one Close Locker will a Lock to the Same

To make foure close Cabbins between decks & a Saile room wth a grateing bulkehead for the gun roome & to round the beames

To Plaine the Bulk head of the Steeridge & the Innboard plank along the side to make all such Gangways the master sees meet.

To plane all Gunwales & round house & bulk head of the forecastle & to make in the forecastle two Cabbins and Two Lockers & to plane the planks of the Beakc hedd All which abovementioned worke with what more Joynors work fill for sd Ship & not herein mentioned is to be done and finished to the masters content and in good and workemanlike order in every respect by the ffifteenth day of may next ensuing the day of the date hereof if required. 

 (from Benno M. Forman, American Seating Furniture 1630-1730, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1988) p. 43.

And here is the list of molding planes from Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory (1688):

“The Moulding Plains, are for the working off of several sorts of Moulding works, which Plains have names according to their several Operations; as
The Hallow Plain.
The Round, or Half Round Plain.
The Belection Plain.
The O-gee Plain.
The Back O-gee Plain. The Cornish Plain.”

For those of you who are familiar with Joseph Moxon’s work on the manual trades; Randle Holme’s is well worth seeing also. It has been discussed here & there on this blog; but the best thing to do is to get the CD which features his manuscript drawings from which the engravings were made. The scope of his book is huge; but it includes many woodworking crafts, as well as the other trades too.

Randle Holme on CD:  N. W. Alcock and Nancy Cox, Living and Working in Seventeenth-Century England: An Encyclopedia of Drawings and Descriptions from Randle Holme’s original manuscripts for The Academy of Armory (1688) (London: The British Library, 2000)


Now this post is long enough. More to come…

molding details, Plymouth Colony chest
molding details, Plymouth Colony chest

2 thoughts on “molding planes, documentary evidence

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