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JOEL Joel's Blog

Books on Making and Using Hand Planes


Books on Making and Using Hand Planes 1
I was very pleased to see Lost Art Press reprint David Finck's classic "Making and Mastering Wood Planes." We of course stock it here, but in thinking about the book my mind wandered to other books on planes and I thought a round-up might be useful.

There have been serious writings about planes since Moxon, but I decided to focus on books that were only about planes, and were not about specific companies, catalog reprints, or about collecting.

Two very important books are on the endangered list. John Whelan wrote the comprehensive "The Wooden Plane: Its History which is an exhaustive encyclopedia of plane types and styles throughout history. A second book by Whelan, "Making Traditional Wooden Planes," is currently out of print (and I am sad that I don't own). Both books were published by The Astragal Press, owned by the late Martyl and Emil Pollak. I never got a chance to meet Emil, but Marty was a wonderful person and supporter of TFWW in its earliest days. In fact, Astragal books were the very first items we ever sold. Astragal was bought by Finney Publications several years ago, and Finney was was just bought by Rowman & Littlefield. Finney is in the process of being absorbed and the status of Astragal's out-of-print titles is up in the air. So I am worried.

I am not against the modern way of learning via watching videos. You can see many different approaches - especially now that production is available to anyone with a phone and an app. But I find the written word a far better use of my time. I find I learn faster off a concisely written page that just about any other media. No wonder I have so many books.

The oldest book in this collection is "Planecraft," originally published in 1939 by C. W. Hampton to help educate and promote its line of "Record" brand planes. It's the book lying open in the foreground of the blog picture. My copy from 1959 is the seventh edition and was expanded. This however is a recent addition to my library. The copy I grew up with was the 1984 edition "Planecraft: A Woodworker's Handbook," by John Sainsbury. It still features Record planes, but the information has been pruned to make it more applicable to the beginning hobbyist. It was expanded with photographs and a section on modern planemakers (circa 1984, before the current crop of modern makers). Woodcraft reprinted the earlier edition at some point but I don't think that either edition is available today. I hope I'm wrong. (Are you listening, Lost Art Press?)

Here are three books that we like, but don't stock for business reasons:

"Hand Planes in the Modern Shop," by Kerry Pierce

"The Handplane book", by Garrett Hack is another important book on using planes.

"Handplane Essentials, Revised & Expanded," by Christopher Schwarz is another recent book on handplanes that is worth owning. Sadly,this book was published by Popular Woodworking, which was dragged into bankruptcy earlier this year by its parent F & W Media. The book division was split from the magazine division and each sold separately, so we are having supply issues.

In case you are curious, the "business decisions" is that the books are easily available elsewhere on that very large shopping platform that gets an enormous wholesale discount that we simply can't get (regardless of how many books we buy). So we can recommend these books but it makes no sense for us to stock them. We'd rather direct our resources to support presses like Lost Art Press, Linden Publications and others.

Finally we come to the recent reprint of David Finck's "Making & Mastering Wood Planes." Like all Lost Art Press books, this book is a joy to read. Finck is a protege of James Krenov (who wrote the forward) and writes about and uses Krenov-style planes, which may or may not be your cup of tea. But the information on using the planes is universal. I would skip over the section on grinding; it's obsolete. I mention this here because it's a new book, but in fact EVERY book on planes I own has at least some sections that are obsolete. And this by no means detracts from the books. All books are by definition of what the author knew at a specific time and place. Things aren't static, and hopefully we have learned stuff since then. But understanding older methods of work informs us today.

Matt Bickford's very useful book Mouldings In Practice isn't in the group picture above (book worked late at the office on picture day and missed the shot). Matt's book is the best guide for learning how to make mouldings and complex shapes using planes that I know of. Lots of books touch on the subject, but none come even close. If you have moulding planes, any of the Stanley combination planes, or anything like that, you will want this book because there really isn't much out there on this subject.

P.S. If you are interested in history, see if you can dig up an English copy of "The History of the Woodworking Plane" by Josef M. Greber.

Join the conversation
08/14/2019 Gary Cawn
I bought Finck's book a number of years ago when he had a promotion and was signing the books. Thought it would be neat to have an "autographed copy". I have found the book to be incredibly informative and useful. I have built four planes in various woods based on Finck's recommendations. I use them often and enjoy working with them; I know that it has been said often but there really is something special about the feel of a wooden plane taken a clean shaving on a piece of wood. I highly recommend Finck's book.
08/21/2019 David Rachita
Hello All - Do any of these books talk about and describe how to forge the blade? My college-aged son is a blacksmith (JAR Forge and works at the Sam Houston Historic Village and Museum as their blacksmith - check them out!) and he has said he's interested in making planes. I suspect I'd be the wood side of things and he'd be the smith. Any direction or information you can provide on the iron side of things would be great! Thanks - David
None of these books deal with making irons. There are books on forging tools, not sure about plane irons in particular.

Plane irons are a tricky beast. Modern western irons are parallel and made from bar stock that have been usually water-jetted or laser cut, and then hardened and ground flat.

Traditional wooden planes need tapered irons, which can be made from bar stock, and then grinding or milling the taper. But historically they were forged, and for most of history laminated with a hard steel blade hammer welded to a wrought iron body.

Japanese Blade makers still do this.

After forging blades were hand ground on big(3' or 4') grinding wheels for final shaping. I don't know how flat the final product was. I do know that you have to match the taper on the iron to the taper on the wedge and the plane. I don't know how consistent iron makers were. My guess is very.

Forging Western style blades would be a very interesting but doubtfully commercially viable enterprise. That being said it would be awfully cool if the craft of plane blade forging were revived.
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