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EARLY WOODWORKING PLANES by Pat Lasswell

 (Originally Published in the March 2001 Issue of SPSAWP)

 

1680-1820

 

The period of 1680 through about 1820 covers the first emergence of known planemakers through the final stages of individual craftsmen who still worked at their own benches. These men, and their workers, created products that not only followed time honored traditions, but fashioned tools that were often uniquely their own. Molding planes manufactured in England and North America follow gradually changing trends that can be characterized and placed within this general time framework. The following somewhat arbitrary date divisions should help in defining these stylistic changes.

 

Ca 1700

 

While this article deals with both English and North American planes, the earliest known plane makers to date, are English. Since most North American planes followed English patterns, the consideration of the earliest English planes should accurately describe their North American counterparts.

 

John Davenport, of London; is recorded in 1680 as being made free of the Jointer’s Company. (1) Thomas Granford, of London, is recorded as joining the Jointer’s Company in 1687. (2) Thomas also ran an ad in 1703 advertising the sale of his tools. (3) Both of these men are amongst the earliest recorded planemakers.

Their planes are relatively few and show fairly consistent details. The planes are from

about 10 5/16” long to about 10 7/8” long. The flat chamfers are at least ½” wide and

are mostly on the sides.

The chamfers end with steps followed by a dramatic turn-out. The shoulders are finished

with a step followed with a deep, steeply pitched hollow. The wedges have a round finial

with a fairly short cut-out under the finial. (Note that one plane marked Thomas Granford

has a relief to the wedge finial.) Finally, the molding planes are made without spring.

 

Ca 1725

 

Francis Nicholson of first Rehoboth and later Wrentham, Massachusetts is amongst the earliest documented planemakers in the American colonies. He was born about 1683 and died in 1753, with working dates starting around 1716. (4) The earlier planes made by Francis vary from 9 ¾” to just over l0” in length. The flat chamfers are around 3/8” in width and are mostly on the sides. The shoulders are usually stepped, but are not as steep as earlier planes. As is common with 18th century New England planes, birch is the common wood used. The wedge finials are round and the cut-outs under the finials tend to be long and straight. Francis earliest planes have chamfers, on the reverse, which end with a tipped step followed by a long tapered flute. Other New England planemakers of this period may include N. Potter, I Pike and Joseph Clark. (5)


Robert Wooding, of London, England, apprenticed to Thomas Granford in 1693. Robert was admitted to the Jointer’s Company in 1704. (6) His early planes are about 10” to 10 ¼” in length. The flat chamfers are similar in detail as Francis Nicholson’s planes. The reverse chamfers end with slight steps followed by a turn-out. Wedge cut-outs under the finial tend to continue the pattern of curved arcs similar to earlier periods. Colonial and English planes are found both with and without spnng.

 

Ca 1750

 

Planes from mid-century are similar in many ways from the planes of ca 1730. The chamfers

are a bit narrower, now 3/8” to ¼” in width, but are still found mostly on the sides. New England

plane chamfers on the reverse end in a variety of ways, from long flutes to simple turn-outs.

English planes continue with a simple chamfer turn-out on the reverse. Wedge finials are still

rounded with some New England makers adopting a somewhat boxy finial style. Cut-outs

under the finial tend to follow gentle arcs with the English makers, while New England makers

tend to use a straight cut. Lengths still range from a bit over 10” to 9 ¾”. Most planes were

made with spring.

 

There are many recorded planemakers from the mid-century period. Cesar Chelor, Francis

Nicholson s freed slave, began working on his own after 1753. Other New England makers

include: E Taft of Mendon, Henry  Wetherel of Norton, Ion Ballou of Providence, E Briggs in

Keen, A Hide of Norwich and John Walton of Reading. (7)

 

 

Mid-Atlantic planemakers tend to follow the English planemakers of the period. The planes tend to appear refined and straightforward without a lot of variation. These planes are still 10” to 9 ¾” in length and the chamfers are bold and flat. The chamfer tend to be about 5/16” in width and end with simple turn-outs on the reverse. Beech is the wood of choice. Mid-Atlantic plane makers of the period include Samuel Caruthers of Philadelphia. (8)

English planemakers include John Cogdell, William Madox, John Jennion and Thomas Phillipson. (9)

 

Ca 1780

 

English planes later in the 18th century, begin to standardize in length at 9 ½”. The flat chamfers usually remain around ¼” in width, while heavy round chamfers start to appear. Generally wedge finials remain rounded, but hints of a swept back style can be seen in the larger cities. Makers include, William Moss, Christopher Gabriel, George Mutter and John Sym. (10)

 

New England planes remain about the same in length: 9 ¾” to 10”. The flat chamfers are

more evenly placed between the top and the sides. Wedge finials remain rounded with

some makers using a relief on the rear of the finial next to the iron. The cut-outs under

the finial become more curved, similar to the English form. A stylized fluting appears on

the reverse heel and toes of planes made in southeast Massachusetts as well as in

Connecticut and Rhode Island.

 

New England makers include John Lindenberger, Joseph Fuller, E Clark, and Joshua

Wilbur. (11)

 

Mid-Atlantic makers include Benjamin Armitage, James Stiles and Robert Parrish. (12)

 

Ca 1800 to 1820

 

In the new United States republic, the recognizable traits of the 18th century blend into the standard plane design of the 19th century between the years 1800 and 1820. These 19th century details include: a 9 ½” length, boxing, gently rounded chamfers which end with a gouge cut that extents beyond the chamfer width, a swept back finial and the use of beech.

 

This blending takes on many forms. Ca. 1800 planes may be made of birch, yet often are 9 ½” in length. Top chamfers may be rounded, but the end chamfers may be flat. The planes can have round or swept back finials. It’s rather hard to characterize these planes. (Indeed, a late “18th. century” plane may have been made in 1810 or 1790.)

 

Many of the New England planemakers, such as Fuller, Lindenberger and Aaron Smith, who began in the later 1700s, worked well into the 1800s. Their planes show this transition of style. (13)

New England planemakers starting during this time include Leonard Kennedy, I Blossom and D Presbrey. Mid-Atlantic makers include Thomas Goldsmith and Robert Eastburn. (14)

English planes seemed to standardize to the 19th century style around 1790. In the typical manner, their products lead the American planes by about 20 years. Makers include Moseley, Thomas Benton and John Griffiths. (15)

 

(1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, 15) British Planemakers from 1700, W.L. Goodman, 3rd edition

(4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14) A Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planes, E & M Pollack, 3rd edition

 

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