plane body made of oak

oak plane body

While discussing unusual timber choices for plane-making the other day, I said there was one oak plane in my collection. Here are two shots of it; as you see, it’s pretty decrepit. Maybe about 9″ long, it weighs 20 ounces. I wondered if it is “live oak” (Quercus virginiana)  from the Southeastern US, but I am not familiar with that wood, other than in legend.

There are no marks on the plane anywhere, so no idea of its age. You can see that the opposite cheek is split badly, there was a cluster of knots and difficult grain right where they chopped the slot for the iron and wedge.

split in oak plane

One last shot, showing the arrangement of the plane body in the wood:

oak plane

Well, it makes me want to keep my eye out for some fast-grown white oak. With that I would try an oak plane. Remeber that in the Mary Rose (1545) planes oak out-numbered beech as the wood of choice.  Technically, the oaks are part of the beech family, and I have often wondered why beech became the standard timber for planes. It’s not terribly stable from what I know of it. Maybe even harder to dry than oak…

It’s not that I have nothing to do, but now I want to root around in my collection to see how many non-beech bench planes I have. I know of a couple more…


7 thoughts on “plane body made of oak

  1. Peter-

    My time in studying wood science, I do remember that Beech is Diffuse-Porous and Oak is Ring-Porous. The Ring-Porous cell structure pores varied in size and spread from early wood to late wood. Whereas Diffuse-Porous cell structure, pores are similar in size and spread throughout the early wood and late wood. I would say that the ring-porous structure would give the oak problems with make fine adjustments to the plane body and weak shear planes when adjusting the plane with a hammer. The Diffuse-Porous cell structure of the beech will allow the finer adjustments and the cell structure would allow the shear planes on the growth rings to be similar between the early and late wood.

    Now going to the Mary Rose and to early tradesmen. I think that the trade’s person who was going to work with the plane would just buy the blade and then would have made the body planes to fit the blade. In that case the trade’s person would have used the wood that he had in store. I remember JA telling me about immigrant coming to American with the metal blades and no wooden bodies and handles, so they could save space for the more expenses metal parts. Then they would make the wooden part when they got off the boat. Also going to the Dominy shop, they would make a plane bodies from what ever they had (whale bone, imported wood, and even local woods).

    The question that I have for Jane Rees and James Gaynor is when did beech planes become the major plane body type? Was it when the Planemakers took other the production of the majority of the plane bodies instead of the tradesmen?

    Sorry for my wording and lack of sources, but wonderful topic to bring up. Thank you.

    Nathaniel Krause

  2. James: thanks for the picture, that tree is something to behold.

    Nathaniel: yes, the diffuse-porous v ring-porous will impact the function of the plane, but I wonder how much?

    Planemakers started in London as specialists about the 1680s, which is also when Randle Holme printed his book & cited that each workman made their own (plane bodies) = just because there are tradesmen making & selling planes in London doesn’t mean that each woodworker in England now buys his planes ready-made.

    The problem is exacerbated by the skewed survival of molding planes versus bench planes. Molding planes get studied more because there are more of them out there; so there is a smaller sample of “early” bench planes.

    see Don & Anne Wing’s book about planemakers in London, search the blog, I posted about it a few times.

  3. If woodworkers of old used available materials to make their planes I would expect more Oak planes than Beech in a ship carpenters tool chest. The Mary Rose was mostly Oak and Elm, I doubt there was any Beech in her.

  4. I believe I have an oak plane in my collection which I purchased in VA twenty some years ago. I would say at best it is mid 19th C., but could be earlier. So it is well out the time period you deal with. It is in pretty good shape as I remember. I will try and dig it up and post a photo next week for comparison. I do not remember seeing many oak planes since I began collecting. The vast majority have been beech, a lot of birch from early New England and some mahogany, rosewood, lignum vitae and the odd cherry and maple.

  5. Peter,
    Live oak is quite easy to tell from red or white oak with an inspection of the end grain. Unlike white and red oak, live oak is not decidedly ring-porous. It still has large pores that are easily visible to the naked eye, but they are arranged mostly in wavy rows that run parallel to the rays, rather than in dense rows that run perpendicular to the rays. Based on the shot of the end grain, I would say it is certainly possible that you have a live oak plane, but a closer inspection would be necessary to confirm this.

  6. It has occurred to me, at least that the oak planes on the Mary Rose may have been due to the durability of oak in water, or sea water environments. We take for granted all the woods we use on land, but sea worth woods are sometimes a different class. Oak may have simply been a more hardy wood in a salty sea mist and humid environment.

    I have the Mary Rose Before the Mast book (highly recommended) and it make me want to look up other things like wooden mallets to see how sea worthy my theory might be….dunno.

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