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JOEL Joel's Blog

Plane Parts


Plane Parts 4Over on woodnet there is a very exciting thread going on about making the iron smooth plane that we written up in issue 4 and 5 of the Work Magazine Reprint Project. An earlier question in a previous thread on woodnet wondered how come there are so many "Scottish" iron planes, that are very well made, usually cast not dovetailed, and unsigned. One thought was that the quality of these unsigned planes was indicative of a host of small makers that only made and sold a few planes.

This idea is incorrect. Anybody trying to establish a business making planes would of course sign their work, and the necessary hand skills to do the quality of metalwork and woodwork need to make these planes was far more common in the nineteenth century than the twenty-first.

However the real point that I want to make today is that should a 19th century amateur or professional get the urge to make an iron plane most of the larger hardware stores sold parts. Above is a detail of a page from the Charles Nurse 1893 catalog (just a few years later than the Work Magazine articles). In addition to selling complete metal planes they also offered a decent selection of metal plane bodies already planed and ready for stuffing. That is to say the bottom of the casting has been mechanically planed so all the customer has to do is infill the wood and then drill fastening holes. Planes are available in both malleable iron or bronze with a steel sole.

Plane Parts 5Plane parts were by no means limited to iron planes. Most catalogs also offered the brass fittings needed for ploughs and moving fillester planes. What I don't understand is that the metal parts of wooden planes are pretty sturdy and we don't find in the wild a lot of user made wooden planes. Who bought enough of these plane parts to justify stocking them? Actually, while I am thinking of it, who bought the iron or infill bodies in enough quantities to justify a half page in tool catalog?

I have a sneaking suspicion that a good number of customers of these plane parts were professional planemakers. As a group they would not have the facility to do their own casting, and while a larger company (only by comparison) might own their own patterns, for the majority of smaller makers it might not have been worth their while. In general there is a common style to both wooden and metal planes of a region and it makes a lot of sense, although there is no proof, that the metal parts of wooden planes, and a fair number of the cast iron (infill planes) started out as a common part, readily available and purchased by all the professional makers. Another theory, as credible, would be that because companies like Nurse made (or had made) their own planes, the marginal cost of selling parts in nil so they just offered the parts too. Heck we do that with our saw kits.

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