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JOEL Joel's Blog

Planing Stops Revisited


Planing Stops Revisited 1
It's been a year since we introduced the BT&C Planing stop. Two events prompted this blog entry. The first is that Popular Woodworking just put the planing stop in their Popular Woodworking 2019 Gift Guide. This is great, thank you very much. We really appreciate the notice. (And thanks as well to Fine Woodworking/Taunton Press for including the Planing Stop in their 2020 Tool Guide - Best Tools of the Year).

The second reason was that I was paging through a 1908 Hammacher, Schlemmer & Co. catalog (looking for ideas to steal) and came across a page of totally INSANE planing stock mechanisms. I have a still-sitting-in-a box-somewhere, never-used planing stop like these, only mine is of simpler design: it has a mechanism that raises and lowers the teeth. It's never been used for two good reasons. First it sucks, and the second is that it is a pain to install (and when you are all done it still sucks).

Probably the biggest advantage of our planing stop is that you don't have to chop a big hole in your workbench. All of these older mechanisms require this, and people just don't like the extra work. The end mounting method we show is really easy. Another traditional challenge of using a planing stop is that without nice sharp steel teeth, the mechanical stops don't grab very well. That defeats the purpose of planing stops in the first place! Finally, every workbench I have seen with this type of planing stop installed has a stop that is full of gunk and sawdust, jams open, won't close all the way, or get stuck closed. It's really striking that in 1908 planing stops were considered worthy of two pages in a fancy catalogue, but they obviously didn't sell enough to have a presence nowadays on the antique tool market. Other than one mechanism now made of aluminum, they largely disappeared into obscurity.

Another ancillary observation is that forged planning stops, like the kind we see on the workbench in Moxon and other early woodworking books (see picture below), were never listed in tool catalogs. In fact as near as I can tell, neither forged holdfasts or forged planing stops were shown in ANY tool catalog from before World War II. But mechanical versions of both were both commonly listed -- but are not too commonly found today. My theory about this (which is totally barroom speculation) is that if someone needed either a holdfast or a planing stop, going to the local blacksmith was a very simple option. Tool catalogs tried not to compete with stuff you could get easily elsewhere. In addition, factories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries really based their product line on what they were able to make, not what the market wanted. And at that time, many factories understood castings and their machining, but didn't understand forging. Drop forging, even complex drop forging, was very well understood, but bending something at a weird angle and then sharpening it seemed beyond the capacity of any of the factories at the time, and not worth the effort for a trivial blacksmithing product.

A forged planing stop marked
A forged planing stop marked "B" from Moxon's "Mechanick Exercises 1678

Join the conversation
01/06/2020 Steve P
It is interesting about the forged stops. Also, while building my English workbench from The English Woodworker plans/videos, I believe it was Richard that said that traditionally (at least in England), that woodworkers would make their planning stops from old saw blades, just like making card scrapers(much cheaper than the fancy forged stops on the French benches). This toothed and sharpened chunk of metal was screwed into a similar block of wood like the forged ones went into. So maybe whoever found/sold an old woodworkers workbench, not knowing what that old rusted piece of old sawblade was, just tossed it out(possibly even after cutting themselves on it).
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