Wooden Smoothing Planes

wooden smoothing plane
Our Rating

           

Review By: I.Ball

Manufacturer: Various

Tool Type: Wooden Planes

Plane Type: Smoothing / Smoother


           

The old wooden smoother plane is seeing a bit of a niche resurgence, when you watch the YouTube video at the bottom of this article you can see why.

The old British wooden smoothing planes were sold throughout the world in huge numbers to the point over 100 years on since the major decline of the use of the wooden smoothing plane these planes continue to regularly surface.

The typical traditional wooden smoothing plane consisted of a wooden body, a hardwood wedge made with the same wood as the body, an old style plane iron and cap iron.

The body shape of the wooden smoothing plane was often referred to as a coffin shaped smoothing plane. They were usually in the region of 6 inch - 8 inch long and usually fitted with a 51mm (2 inch) wide plane blade.

There were larger versions and smaller versions, including miniature wooden smoothing planes.



old wooden smoothing plane

Beech was the main type of wood used to make wooden smoother planes as it was easily available in Britain and because of this availability it was cheap compared to other hardwoods.

These planes were made in other types of wood with examples I have seen including: fruitwoods, mahogany, boxwood and rosewood.

Boxwood examples are particularly popular as they are extremely hard wearing.

Due to the nature of wood, some of these old wooden smoothing planes would inevitably suffer some wear / damage to the sole / mouth from time to time where the plane has caught something such as a nail.

As a result of these damages and potential damages, old wooden smoother planes can reasonably regularly been seen with repairs to the sole where a new sole portion of sole has been inlaid into the plane (at the front / mouth) or even a whole new sole has been added. Some have part or the whole sole replaced with a metal sole.


marples wooden smoothing plane

Quite often partial repairs to the sole are made using boxwood or some other very hard wearing wood.

There are also wooden smoothing planes with the front end having a metal sole as well as wooden planes having the whole sole with a metal sole; the metal is usually iron but can sometimes be brass.

I believe some planes were manufactured with the metal sole or partial metal sole and manufacturers may have also sold the metal sole parts separately so individual users could use the parts to repair / upgrade their wooden planes.

The design of the British wooden smoothing plane stayed pretty constant throughout its time. There were some examples of where manufacturers / users had innovated and made modifications with the most common one being adding a rear handle (usually an open rear handle but sometimes a closed rear handle) to the rear of the plane to offer more leverage and control.


wooden smoothing plane with rear handle

These rear handled designs, particularly the wooden planes with closed rear handles, often resembled the handles on old infill planes such as the Norris smoothing infill planes.


Planes With No Name and Apprenticeships

Numerous wooden smoothing planes which appear today do not have a manufacturers mark on them. The reason for this can be one of two main reasons:

1) the name has worn off or being sanded off through the history of the plane's life.

2) the plane was made by an individual person.


wooden smoothing plane

I know from conversations I have had with various woodworkers of a certain age that it used to be part of their apprenticeship that they had to make a wooden smoothing plane.

I suspect this may have been the case for a long time. I know from a few Victorian books I have read that the apprentices used to have to learn on their feet which I am sure included making items for their toolkit often with off-cuts left from the master carpenters.


wooden smoothing plane parts

Wooden Smoothing Plane Manufacturers

There have been many, many manufacturers of old wooden smoothing planes, some of these makers include:

Atkins
Buck
Greenslade
Griffiths
Marples (William)
Marshall
Mathieson
Moseley
Nurse
Onion & Co
Preston (Edward)
Steadman & Son
Varvill


wooden smoothing plane

The manufacturer's mark (if present) can virtually always be found on the front nose of the plane. If the plane is quite mucky or you hadn't realised, this is the place to look to identify who made it.

When looking for the maker mark it should be noted most old wooden planes have previous owners marks, these previous owner stamps can also be found stamped into the front nose including overstamping the maker mark.

The previous owner marks can cause confusion to the untrained eye resulting sometimes in incorrect cataloguing.

If you wish to delve deeper there are a few books out there to help identify the age of the plane.

The authority of these books (at the time of writing this) has to be Jane Rees 'British Planemakers - 4th Edition'. The 'British Planemakers fom 1700 - Third Edition' is also good if you come across a secondhand copy.


New Wooden Smoothing Plane Manufacturers

There are a few makers in various places around the world who make new versions of this style of wooden smoothing plane, often with higher-end materials. There are also wooden smoothing planes of different design made by Japanese manufacturers and by European manufacturers such as ECE.

There is a wooden plane maker in England, UK who produces new wooden smoothing planes based upon the traditional wooden smoother planes (I believe they are made to order):

Philly Planes (England)


Manufactured Dates

<1700 - 1970>


YOUTUBE VIDEO: The Wooden Smoothing Plane

In this YouTube video by 'Mortise & Tenon Magazine', presenter Mike talks about and shows how to use a wooden smoothing plane to great effect.


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Cautions / Notes

* Important: please refer to the 'disclaimer' at the foot of this review.
* Wearing safety clothing and eye protection is usually a good idea to help protect against injury.

- This tool has sharp parts, take suitable precautions when using/handling/storing the tool to prevent injury.

- Failure to loosen parts when making adjustments can result in damage to the tool. Never force a part to move.

- Overtightening parts can cause damage to the tool.






















Disclaimer

(i) This review/article may give warning(s) / advisory notes / cautions / guidelines given in good faith, any such information should not be solely relied upon and seen as the exhaustive list of warnings / advisory notes / cautions / guidelines. Refer to good safety practices for the safety of you and others. Refer to good practices for the good health of your tool and property.
(ii) The details here are given in good faith, the details are constantly growing and evolving including corrections, there is scope for error and shouldn't be fully relied upon, please confirm any details for yourself by performing additional research from reliable sources.




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