October 2009


President's corner

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This 'n That

This 'n That

We have devoted several meetings to the hand plane. Where did it come from and why is it popular. Below is a short history.

Hand planes are ancient, originating thousands of years ago. Early planes were made from wood with a rectangular slot or mortise cut across the center of the body. The cutting blade or iron was held in place with a wooden wedge. The wedge was tapped into the mortise and adjusted with a small mallet, a piece of scrap wood or with the heel of the users hand. Planes of this type have been found in excavations of old sites as well as drawings of woodworking from medieval Europe and Asia. The earliest known examples of the woodworking plane have been found in Pompeii although other Roman examples have been unearthed in England and Germany. The Roman planes resemble modern planes in essential function, most having iron wrapping a wooden core top, bottom, front and rear and an iron blade secured with a wedge. One example found in Cologne has a body made entirely of bronze without a wooden core. A Roman plane iron used for cutting moldings was found in Newstead, England. Histories prior to these examples are not clear although furniture pieces and other woodwork found in Egyptian tombs show surfaces carefully smoothed with some manner of cutting edge or scraping tool. There are suggestions that the earliest planes were simply wooden blocks fastened to the soles of adzes to effect greater control of the cutting action.

Through time the concept of the woodworking plane has changed very little, planes now can be easily adjusted, damaged parts easily replaced.

During the late 18th and 19th century woodworking planes reached their peak with regards to the highest quality of plane design and build. Top manufacturers of these planes included the likes of Norris, Spiers, Stanley, Record, Mathieson among others. In the mid 1860's, Leonard Bailey began producing a line of cast iron-bodied hand planes, the patents for which were later purchased by Stanley Rule & Lever, now Stanley Works. The original Bailey designs were further evolved and added to by Justus Traut and others at Stanley Rule & Lever. The Bailey and Bedrock designs became the basis for most modern metal hand plane designs manufactured today. The Bailey design is still manufactured by Stanley Works.

In 1918 an air-powered handheld planing tool was developed to reduce shipbuilding labor during World War I. The air-driven cutter spun at 8000 to 15000 RPM and allowed one man to do the planing work of fifteen men that used manual tools.

Modern hand planes are made from wood, cast iron or even bronze. However, woodworking planes in the opinion of some experts seem to have taken a downward turn in design and build quality with manufacturers cost cutting measures mass producing ever cheaper planes for profit. There are some manufacturers producing high quality woodworking planes today like Lie-Nielsen tool works, Stanley and others.