scratch stock evidence

OK – so about scratch stocks in the 17th century. How did they make moldings on joined works? We know they had molding planes, there are a few from the 16th-century shipwreck the Mary Rose. And they appear in many probate inventories too; the following are some examples of molding planes found in New England inventories:

2 revolving plains

4 round plains

3 rabet plains

3 holou plains

9 Cresing plains

inboring plaines

Joseph Moxon & Randle Holme both call them by classical names too; ogees, bolection, and so on.

But look at the molding above the center panel in this detail shot of a joined chest from New Haven, CT.  (I clipped this photo out of Victor Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: the British Tradition. If you don’t have that book & you like this blog, get it)

New Haven chest detail

The molding fades in & out at the juncture between the horizontal rails and the vertical muntins flanking the panel. This amounts to a run of about 9” or so. Not more than 10”.

In that length, the molding reaches its full profile in the middle, but is shallower and not fully defined at each end. I think you can’t do that with a molding plane – the length of the plane’s sole would prevent you from reaching that full-depth in such a short run, while still fading out before the muntins. Says me.  One of mine:

PF joined chest

To do this in my shop, I use a scratch stock. But I don’t know the history of this tool. I do know I have never seen it by that name in any 17th-century records. There is one reference I know of that describes using a scraping action to define moldings – in Moxon, but on Turning, not Joinery.

“Of laying Moldings either upon Mettal, or Wood, without fitting the Work in a Lathe.

I Had, soon after the Fire of London, occasion to lay Moldings upon the Verges of several round and weighty flat pieces of BrassL And being at that time, by reason of the said Fire, unaccomodated of a Lathe of my own, I intended to put them out to be Turned: But then Turners were all full of Employment, which made them so unreasonable in their Prizes, that I was forc’d to contrive this following way to lay Moldings on their Verges.

I provided a strong Iron Bar for the Beam of a Sweep: (For the whole Tool marked in Plate 16, is by Mathematical Instrument-Makers called a Sweep) To this Tool is filed a Tooth of Steel with such Roundings  and Hollows in the bottom of it, as I intended to have Hollows and Roundings upon my Work: For an Hollow on the Tooth, makes a Round upon the Work; and a Round upon the Tooth, makes an Hollow on the Work, even as they do in the Molding-Plains Joyners use…”

He goes on in great detail, talks about using this sweep to shape moldings in brass, then having success at that, took on wood too. (it’s pp. 217-219 in the section on turning).  Here is the tool Moxon’s engraving of the tool he claims to have invented; probably adapted would be a better term.

Moxon's sweep

Here’s one Bob Trent & I had made by Tom Latane back in 2001 when we did an exhibition at Chipstone’s installation in the Milwaukee Art Museum. Latane does some of the nicest blacksmith work I know.

sweep by Tom Latane

I know the sweep is a rather specific tool, but for me the idea is that with it, the workman scrapes moldings, rather than shave them as you would with a plane. that’s the driving point in the search for scratch stocks…

Here is an 18th-century engraving, from Roubo, about a tool like our modern scratch stock. I got it from Greber’s History of the Woodworking Plane. I didn’t look up the translation.

Roubo, from Greber's History of the Woodworking Plane

Here is a funny old tool I bought one day, because it almost is a scratch stock. It’s probably a coach-maker’s molding cutter. It’s sort of like a spokeshave, its blade is not perpendicular like a scratch stock, but more pitched like a true plane. But clearly a home-made job. Screwed together. The sole of this tool is quite short, maybe an inch long. Curved too.

a detail

One more

In this last view, you can see that it’s one piece of wood that’s been sawn in half, then screwed back together. I would look in Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, but it’s in the shop – and I’ll probably forget once I get there.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough for today. I have a book to finish up.

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5 thoughts on “scratch stock evidence

  1. I was wondering what to buy with an Amazon gift voucher I got for Christmas. Now I know – Oak Furniture: the British Tradition :) .

    Keep up the good work, Peter. I always look forward to reading your blog.

  2. You rock Peter—-thank you so much!!!

    Im going to post the link to this thread in the Facebook group….Im sure others will want to read it !

  3. I find it interesting that Roubo almost shows both the sweep as well as the “mortise gauge” style, yet nothing as simple as the “kerfed L-shaped handle” version. Yet this seems so elementarily simple as to be hard to imagine they wouldnt have used one.

    I think so much of this boils down to angle. The angle of the tool, the creation of bevel on the blade.

    I guess its a case of such a specific tool in the earlier years of mold making, as to be almost isolated. The analogy I think of is that there are blacksmithing and armouring tools we know must have existed but we have nothing extant to prove it other than the extant products themselves that suggest the tools existence.

    Im going to try and flex my babelfish -foo and hunt around in german. Ive seen some really curiuos planes and woodworking tools over the years that never quite made sense. Ill post if I find anything.

  4. Maybe the lack of an early record for a scratch stock is due to it’s simplicity. It may have seemed to be so straightforward that, like many things, nobody bothered to document it.

    It seems safe to assume that people used them in one form or another. Scraping and scratching designs into wood probably goes much further back than slicing and cutting.

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