recent work, oak, oak & ash

Some work from the shop recently. I finally finished the white oak rabbet plane I started some time ago. (there was a maple version that got scrapped) . Atchison made the iron, and I fit the body to it. I think the iron is about 1″ wide, maybe just under. Yesterday, I fine-tuned this one, and it seems to be running alright. I gave it to Rick, one of our carpenters at work. He’ll use it for doors & shutters in the repro period houses. We’ll see how it goes…

rabbet plane, white oak w beech wedge


I took some liberties with the shaping. Shavings were getting jammed, so I took a gouge and opened up the area right ahead of the wedge.

bottom view of new rabbet plane


Then I was able to cut rabbets in both green wood & dry, and it worked well. So off it went this morning.

rabbeting chest bottom boards


Last week I took some of my own time for the kitchen door project. Got this one done at last, had the panel, made & carved the frame for it.

white oak door c. 14" x 19"


One more picture for tonight. I gave away the last of the applewood for bowls, so now I am officially done with that batch of bowls and back to turning chair parts, like it should be. the bowls were fun, but it’s time for chair stuff. I have an ash log that won’t last thru the summer, so I split it open the other day & started in on a three-legged turned chair. This is the sort of chair that I wrote about when this blog was very new…

enough with the bowls already

plow plane, up one side & down the other

proper right stile, top view


A small detail that often perplexes people is the grooves plowed in chest’s stiles for the bevelled panels. In this view of a joined chest from Dedham, Mass. the groove for the side panel runs out the top end of the stile .  (it’s clogged with some kind of filler, after the fact) The groove for the front panel does not come out the top.

Now the other front stile:

proper left stile, top view


Here the groove for the front panel runs out the top, (again patched). The other groove is stopped before it gets out the top. This is as it should be. Here’s another chest, from Essex County, Mass. – same scenario.

proper right stile, top view


proper left stile, top view


The plow plane’s “handedness” is the reason behind these grooves being found in this pattern. I started a joined chest last week, and got a couple of shots that aim at showing how this happens. The plane goes up one side of the stile, and down the other. To get the groove deep enough just above the lower mortise on any side; you need to extend the groove beyond that mortise. Here’s two front stiles, laying on their faces.

grooves for side panels in chest stiles


Here is a full view of the stiles. To get the groove deep enough (about 1/2″) just above the lower mortise on the left-hand stile, I had to bring the plow plane back & extend the groove below this mortise. Because the plow only cuts in one direction (like a molding plane) the other stile’s groove was cut from top to bottom. Thus here, I had to get the groove beyond the top of the top mortise, to hit my 1/2″ depth just below that mortise. Thus the grooves run up one side, down the other. Almost always.

up one side, down the other


Here is the plane, (a poor shot, but the best I could get quickly) – the gist of it is to get the rear “skate” of the plow low enough to engage the iron in the mortise. If the groove did not extend back there, the skate would be tilted, and the iron wouldn’t be able to cut the groove deep enough right above the mortise.

plow plane cutting grooves


The plow in use:

plowing panel grooves


The chest thus far:

joined chest front, April 2010


Here’s some other posts I did concerning plow planes, if you didn’t see them:

rabbets & turkeys

One of the first planes I need to make is a rabbet plane, for the carpenters at the museum. I dug out this old one I have; it’s a little unusual to my eyes. Long, no marks of any kind. And a double iron in which the cap iron does not attach to the cutting iron. I don’t know enough about planes to know if this is as strange as it seems to me. The plane is pretty worn out; its sole is not flat; and the mouth is really wide open. I’m not inclined to add a new piece to the sole; but I guess that would be the best way to revive this tool. For me, it’s a study piece. No idea of its age. I assume the wood is birch.

rabbet plane, about 15" long


rabbet plane, from other side


Here’s the irons fixed in the plane by the wedge. It isn’t until you remove the iron that you learn that they just sit together in the plane, no screw to fasten them to each other. Maybe some reader will tell me this is found more commonly than I think. I don’t know if I have ever seen it before.

rabbet irons


In the photo below, the cutting iron is the bottom one, the cap iron is between it & the wedge.

rabbet irons


Here they are in detail; width is about 1″  or so.

rabbet irons detail


I started one today, in quartered, riven maple (acer for those outside the US). I only got this far…

PF rabbet plane begun


While I was working on it, these guys scootched across the woods behind the workshop…they are often around, but I haven’t seen many this season…

3 turkeys

European planes pt 2

It’s been quite a few years since I made any planes. I need more like I need a hole in the head, but I’m going to make a few this winter, I think. So that’s been the impetus for getting out these old photos. As I mentioned yesterday, there are a few more shots from that group of European planes & braces that I saw back in 1998. I found some notes today as well. This first plane is quite small; only about 8″ long.
plainest of all

This next Dutch plane has very little carving on it, just around the mouth. In Dutch, these planes are called gerfschaaf. Gerrit van Sterre’s Four Centuries of Dutch Planes and Planemakers says there is no simple translation for the term gerfschaaf.  This one is about 6″ long on its sole, and about 2 1/2″ high at the rear end. the widest part of the sole, at the mouth of the plane, is just over 2.” As Gary Roberts pointed out in a comment yesterday, it is extremely difficult to assign dates to planes like this, they continued to be made in the same traditional style for over 200 years at least.

plain Dutch plane

 Here’s a slightly better shot, showing the carving around the mouth. The wood is beech.

carved mouth

 This next plane is dated 1732. It is about 2 1/2″ wide; by about 7″ long. The body is only 1 1/2″ high at the toe. It is beveled downwards near the heel of the plane (can’t really see it in this shot.)

1732 plane

 One more, this plane has a heavily chamfered body, with a sculpted horn, or tote. the tote is definitely let into the body, whether with a sliding dovetail or not you can’t tell from this picture, sorry Kari.

horn plane w chamfers

 When the Heritage Plantation deaccessioned these tools, I think they were sold through David Stanley Auctions in the UK. When I have time, I like to browse their website, a nice chance to see tools that I never get to see in the local antique shop… like this one on their “tools we’ve sold” page…

Dutch plane

some european planes & braces

German-style plane w incised decoration

Yesterday, I got out some old slides I shot of European planes. I saw them at the Heritage Plantation in Sandwich, MA. many years ago. A few years back, I thought I would go have another look (and hopefully get better pictures, notes, etc) but they had been de-accessioned by then. So these slides are all I have…some are OK, some are pretty dismal. Digital cameras have made a better photographer out of me… The planes, probably most of the tools there, were thought to be generally 18th century, although an axe I will show later has a date of 1602. I mostly only looked at planes & braces, which is what I was making at the time, c. 1998 I think.

The first plane here is one I really like, some nice carving to the front tote and the area in front of the plane’s mouth. Then the additional incised lunettes on each side, with the punched work above them.  Here’s some of the mouth detail.

mouth detail
Dutch plane

Here’s one of those little Dutch-style planes, with some nice carved volutes. I will pre-empt Alexander & apologize for the position of the ruler. It obscures the bottom of this plane, but it presumably is shaped like this newer example, (is it 19th-century?) sent to me by Alexander:

Dutch smooth plane

 And here it is, drawn by Randle Holme in England before 1688, when he described it as “The Smoothing Plain, is a little short Plain, which hath its Iron set very fine, and to take off very thin shavings, because its use and office is only to smooth the work from those irregularities which the Fore Plain and the Joynter have left behind them”

Holme's smooth plane


The next detail shows the volute; notice how much wood is removed at the sides of the plane to make them stand out…

volutes detail Dutch plane


Aside from the bilious color background and the fact that I composed the photo to crop the bit away, here is a pretty good view of a wooden brace with a nicely turned head. This is a case where the brace has one permanently-fitted bit.

brace & bit


This next brace looks like it’s made from ash, a wood that I wouldn’t expect to see in this application. Nice chamfers; small turned head. Can’t quite see in this view how the head really attaches…
small brace


There are a few more of these slides, I’ll try to put them up tomorrow or the next day.

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.

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…

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


planes; now & then

Holme's smooth plane


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.

PF plane, ash w maple wedge


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:

Dutch smooth plane


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: )

Another famous example is the one in Durer’s Melancolia I

A. Durer, Melancolia I, detail, 1514


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…