plane use, evidence from the artifact

bench plane


I have another few photos of a plane in my collection. This is a very ordinary example, but it’s an excellent ordinary plane, if that makes any sense. I often show it to visitors in my shop when they are new to wooden planes. It shows that it had a lot of use, but no abuse at all…in fact it was handled very well.

The plane has no marks anywhere as to its maker or its age. I chopped the letter “P” in it some years ago. It’s made of beech, has a double iron, and the body is about 16″ long, more or less.

Notice that the body of the plane is taller at the rear end (“heel”)  than at the “toe” of the plane. Over the years, it was trued up (flattened with another plane)  from time to time, and where most of the wear & tear is up near the mouth of the plane, the person who maintained this one planed it down from heel to toe.

sole, showing patched mouth


The mouth got worn at some point, as they often do. This plane was then patched very nicely.



I especially like the patina on this plane, it’s really worn in lots of places, and polished by handling in others. Notice the area right around the front of the mouth, where the forward hand sits…

depression in plane body


This view shows a depression in the beech, from the users’ thumbs…as seen in this grip:

one method for gripping a plane


I remember when Alexander showed me this method of holding a wooden plane. It felt quite awkward at first, but over time you get used to it, and it helps apply the pressure where it needs to be at different points in the stroke of the plane. My left thumb is pressing right on the spot on this plane that is highlighted in the previous picture. I often think about how many years need to go by for the thumb to leave a dent in the beech wood.

Here in the mid-point in the plane’s travel the pressure is about even between my right & left hand, but it’s just about to change.  At the end of the stroke, the left hand comes up off the tool, and the right hand maintains pressure to finish the stroke.

finishing the plane stroke


When Alexander showed me this technique, the printed sources illustrating the methods were late-19th-and-early-20th-century books on woodworking trades. Maybe Jennie will chime in with titles, I forget them right now…

This stuff is quite rudimentary, but for people just starting out using old wooden planes, it shows how one plane illustrates some accepted techniques. This is a case where the artifact agrees with the published record of technique.


4 thoughts on “plane use, evidence from the artifact

  1. Peter,

    This is very similar to the plane I converted to a fore plane, last year. Because of the extra wide mouth the old owner had created, a “Dutchman” was needed. It made perfect sense to just go ahead an camber the iron and leave the mouth as is. I’m glad I did, works fantastic for this application…

    I’ll have to try that hand position. I tend to take to much off of the board, when I exit it.

    (thanks for the post)


  2. When I purchased an Emmerich wedged wood jointer plane (called a trying plane on their website) and started using it, I immediately began holding it as you have illustrated. Without a front knob or horn, I can’t see any other comfortable way to grip the front of the plane.

    Interestingly, the sides of the plane body are already hollowed out and seem to facilitate this grip.

  3. loved talking with you last night…thanks for checking in…
    I’m saving all these photos of you at work in the Master Carver’s Tea folder. Shades of paintings to come.

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