further thoughts on fore planes, scrub planes

a few more thoughts about the planes I was discussing in the previous two posts. First off, here is the end view of the ash plane I made, so Alexander can see the orientation of the plane blank:

ash plane, end view

Alexander & I traded some quick emails this morning, about nomenclature & this style plane. First off, we have no notion as to whether or not English joiners used these short planes as “fore” planes. The only documentary evidence for this plane’s use in 17th-century England is Randle Holme, who refers to it as a smooth plane.

Nor do we know when the term “scrub” plane came into use. It is not a 17th-century term for a plane. Joseph Moxon’s description of a fore plane talks about a plane a good deal longer than these. Doesn’t mean every joiner used planes as Moxon described them…but we have little other evidence.

I know in the joined furniture I make, a long fore plane is rarely necessary. Moxon’s example of what a joiner was making was more like wainscoting for a room, rather than furniture, or “moveables” as the seventeenth century called it. He describes a  “quarter” – a piece of wood 2″ x 4″ x 7′ –   I rarely work stock of this length…but I can see where a longer fore plane would be helpful there.  My work often requires a few pieces of oak four feet, maybe 4 1/2 feet long, but most of the stock is  under three feet long. As I resume work on the book about making joined stools, (writing a book in your spare time is not advisable!) Alexander & I grapple with how much history part to include, and how much deviation from period practice is also tolerable.

All of this means what? When I am describing this plane & its function to visitors in my shop, I run down just what we have looked at here; it has a curved iron for rough stock  preparation, I think that this is the principal characteristic of the “fore” plane.  The ones I use are German/Dutch/Continental style, i.e. a short-bodied plane with a handle at the toe, or forward end of the plane.  We know the English used fore planes with convex-ground  irons, we know they used (sometimes) planes with a front “tote.” 

Here’s a modern German one, in the US we call this a scrub plane nowadays. It’s quite narrow, about an inch & a half, which I find uncomfortable to handle for any length of time.

German scrub plane

bottom of German scrub plane

That’s the main reason why I adapt the German smooth planes to use as a fore plane, they are available in wider sizes.

PF converted German smooth plane

And now, here is the Little Master, as Alexander was sometimes called, pulling a German-style plane towards the user’s tummy…an oft-praised technique. Jennie confirmed today that yes, in this case, the workpiece is fixed on the bench, not just shoved against a bench hook.

JA pulling a "horn" style fore plane



7 thoughts on “further thoughts on fore planes, scrub planes

  1. Peter: Thanks for your patience. I really got carried away about short foreplanes! One last point and let’s quit for the day. Both Moxon and Holme make it clear that “tote” is the name for the handle at the back end of planes. We haven’t yet found any name for the horn, post or other holding device at the front of planes. “Horn” fits well for the German planes you illustrate but to date I suggest we don’t know what term was used in England and New England in the 17th Century. Since “tote” means “handle”, I guess we could use the expression “front tote.”
    I didn’t realize that you seldom use a long foreplane in your furniture work. Short foreplanes are so convenient to use, I speculate that English and New English also used them. It has been suggested that perhaps short smooth planes were modified into short foreplanes by simply substituting a foreplane blade. Apparently we both did this independently.

  2. Peter, if you were to make a plane out of oak, which way would your orient the grain to the sole? Would you do it similar to the ash one you made?
    Thanks, Bill

  3. Bill: The best practice is to orient the rays pointing down vertically to the sole of the plane. The rays move with changes in moisture content approximately one-half as much as the growth rings. This orientation assures that the important sole of a wooden plane will be as stable as possible under moisture content changes. I haven’t seen enough surviving 17th Century planes to determine whether this practice was followed. Perhaps Peter has some comments about this. The mid 16th Century 20 planes from the Mary Rose would be revealing. Bear in mind that in the 17th Century the joiner and carpenter made his own plane stocks. Whatever was or as not done in the 17th Century, it is still best to orient the rays pointing downward. Wood is wonderful and its rules remain the same. R. Bruce Hoadley, Understanding Wood, Taunton Press, 1980 (Revised Edition 2000) has been incredibly helpful. Before Taunton Press published my Make a Chair from a Tree in 1978, they had Bruce Hoadley study this green woodworking chair to see if it would sit. Over the years Bruce has remained a phone call away to further help me understand wood.

  4. I greatly enjoy your blog, but particularly the recent planemaking threads. I’m a blacksmith who got seduced into woodworking from the toolmaking end of things, and have set myself an eventual goal of making working copies of all the tools in Bourdichon’s painting of a joiner’s shop ca. 1500.

    I did the big jointer plane from the painting in ash, not finding any beech that big, and it’s seemed stable enough over the last couple of years. The plane works fine on edge jointing, but calls for a _very_ shallow blade setting when surfacing a board the way the guy in the painting is doing! The front horn gives a fine solid grip, especially on the return after the cut. You can see my attempt at a copy at:


    Conrad Hodson

  5. Conrad….
    Your link returns:

    We’re sorry, this site is frozen.
    If you are the site owner, please
    click here to contact us
    regarding the status of your website.
    Please do not contact us if you are not the owner of this site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s