“It is called the Fore Plane because it is used before you come to work either with the Smooth Plane or with the Joynter.” Joseph Moxon, The Mechanics Exercises Or The Doctrine Of Handy-Works. 1683-1685
A busy summer, (W.A.R.P. Fellowship all of June and July, publishing an article), turned into a busy fall, (Center for Art in Wood exhibition, August 2 – October 23, prep for the W.A.R.P panel discussion on October 3, making a box for the Center’s Bandsaw Bash fundraising auction on October 20) that turned into a busy winter, (continuing my experiments in wood plane-making I began during the fellowship, making x-mas presents) left little time to work on blog posts.
This first post of the new year is about bench plane making and research during last summer’s fellowship. It was not my first foray into plane-making. Decades ago, I made several wood mouldings planes. I learned to anneal, harden, and temper the irons to make planes with profiles I needed for restoration and building.
But I had not made a bench plane. There were many reasons for this. I already owned historic wood and metal planes that worked for me, high quality quartered beech in the size needed for bench planes was not easy to come by in the past, and I was reluctant to devote time to researching, tool gathering, and ultimately making bench planes. But when I learned I would be participating in Center for Art in Wood’s fellowship, I knew making tools would be part of the practice. I thought, why not start at the beginning, with the first tool you reach for when bringing sawn boards to the bench? That would be a fore-plane, and wouldn’t that be an interesting and different type of object to have in an exhibition at the Center when our fellowship ended? I had never worked with a wood fore-plane that was not very worn, had a warped wood body, or had replaced parts. Lately, I have been using a modified Stanley/Bailey #4 plane with a cambered iron as a fore-plane. I looked forward to being able to work with a new plane that I made to my specs. But I would not be making just any wood fore-plane, but a version of the earliest planes that began to be made by professional English plane makers at the end of the seventeenth century. A plane that Joseph Moxon would recognize and that the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century joiners in Philadelphia would have used. After all, the exhibition would be installed around the corner from where John Head’s shop was located.
Over the last century and a half there have been hundreds of books and articles published on the subject of western furniture history. Until recent times there has been little attempt to deeply explore tools and their evidence of use in furniture making and how that evidence informs us about an object. This is something that I strive to do in these posts.
There is more to say on the history of planes and plane making, what it has meant to me in my work, and why such a seemingly simple object made of only three elements should be of interest to someone studying furniture history. This is the first of several posts on the topic. Up next:
The Center for Art in Wood adds its first handmade wood planes to their permanent collection.