Remembering wooden planes

Wooden carpenters’ planes have been employed by mankind for centuries, but have never gone out of style.

Even now it is possible to obtain a new one of excellent, collectible quality, specially made with expertise workmanship and from high quality materials. They gleam like jewels with their highly polished brass or stainless steel parts.

They are not, however, even moderately priced.

The older types of planes were made of beech, a wood employed for many purposes where durable was required, such as thresholds, drawer slides, levers, handles and other parts that experiences similar friction.

Basically a wooden plane is only a block or piece of wood, with or without a handle to hold it, with a slot where a blade could be inserted. The blade was held in place by a wedge of wood, and extended only a very little below the bottom slot. Getting the blade at the proper exposure was often a testy job.

Chance to revisit. There is a program on television where a gentleman attired in clothing quite appropriate to his old style workshop, employs an amazing supply of tools and devices of my youth and before. It is a great pleasure for me to revisit, via television, the kind of scene I was fortunate to have visited many times in my youth near North Benton in the mid-1930s.

The blades of the wooden planes were sharpened at several levels suitable for any desired job. An older workshop could have many planes.

Only three types, however, were needed – a jointer, a jack plane for smoothing, and a block plane. The block plane had a very shallow pitch for cross grain planing.

Jointer plane. The jointer was the longest, about two feet from end to end, with a two-inch-wide blade. This was most often used to smooth the joining of two side by side boards, therefore its name.

It could be also used to smooth the edge of a long board, its length more or less assured a true straight edge. A shorter plane often created uneven edges, often due to knot holes. But the jointer would glide smoothly over such uneven spots.

To assure a good cut by any plane, a curling shave was needed from one end of the board to the other.

The smoothing plane explains its use, to smooth the surface of a board.

A block plane was suited for planing the cross grain at the end of a board.

Other jobs, other planes. Other planes had specific uses.

The molding plane has now been replaced by routers. Window sashes were formed by the molding plane. The blades were sometimes shaped to make a half-round cut on edges of boards.

A groover was used to plane off a channel, leaving an edge remaining on one side.

Many remember the term “rabbet plane.” This was the implement used to make shiplap, now called tongue and groove.

Like all wooden older tools laboring calloused hands used them, and close association with them now is to touch part of our American heritage and the sweat, toil, and troubles of those who went before.

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