Yesterday I wrote about some tools in my workshop, specifically some planes I had made a while ago. Here’s a little more about the small, scroll-shaped plane. The small fore plane, which is loosely based on some existing 18th-century examples I have seen, and some 17th-century examples I only know from publications, is made from a fast-grown section of ash.
Ash is not a wood commonly associated with plane-making, but at least one of the planes recovered from the Mary Rose was in ash. The scrolled shape of this plane, well-known in Dutch work from the 17th century through the 20th at least, was also used in English work, based on a drawing (first picture in this post) in Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory & Blazon (1688). His is a smooth plane, mine is a fore plane. Here is a Dutch smooth plane, sent to me by Jennie Alexander a few years ago:
Alexander asked about the grain orientation of this plane. As far as I can tell, it’s got the growth rings running diagonally across the squared-up blank the plane was made from. I’ll check again later this week.
There are two good published discussions of the Mary Rose planes. One is in W. L. Goodman, British Planemakers from 1700 3d edition revised by Mark & Jane Rees. (Suffolk: Roy Arnold, publisher, 1993. In the U.S. it was published by Astragal Press, Mendham, N.J.) Although the title says “planes from 1700”, there is some background material including the Mary Rose planes, six are drawn to scale, and there is a chart containing details of 19 planes. Of these, 4 are beech, 8 are oak. One is ash. Other woods include boxwood and fruitwoods. This variety of woods was how I decided to use ash for my small plane – it was a perfect excuse to use some of what I had on hand. Nowadays, we don’t think of oak as a suitable wood for a plane, beech having become the standard in the UK. Over here, beech is typical for bench planes, molding planes are sometimes birch in New England-made examples. I have one old oak plane, I’ll get a picture of it later…it’s a wreck, has a split in its body. I bought it only because it was oak, & I had never seen one. No marks on it, so no telling how old it is.
The other published record of these planes is Before the Mast: Life and Death Aboard the Mary Rose edited by Julie Gardiner (Portsmouth: Mary Rose Trust, 2005). This book details most of the artifacts recovered from the ship, so the planes and other woodworking tools are just a small part of it. I think there’s two more drawings that aren’t in the Goodman/Rees book.
The style of plane that we now think of as German or Dutch, i.e. short, with a tote or handle at the forward end of the plane only, is as old as the hills. Here is a German illustration from the late 16th century, this is from the Landauer Hausbuch series. There are much older ones than this as well.
(find a huge collection of these fascinating German trades’ depictions at this site: http://www.nuernberger-hausbuecher.de/75-Amb-2-279-49-r/data )
Another famous example is the one in Durer’s Melancolia I
So we often think of these as either Dutch or German (or even French…) but the Randle Holme illustration (published 1688, but he started work on his book in 1649…so his drawing could be from anywhere in that time frame…) and the Mary Rose planes of about 100 years earlier show that the English used this style of plane…now whether they made them, bought them from the Dutch or Germans, or whether foreign craftsmen made them in England, who’s to know?
I know I like using that style of plane, and like many things, I have Alexander to thank or blame for it…if you haven’t tried them, pick one up. Nowadays I have seen them called “horn” planes. Olds ones aren’t usually too expensive. I have bought useable ones for under $20…