Trimming the rot from the tree

The silver maple in the back of my yard has along history, and has required some TLC over the years. Recently I had to have one of the side limbs on the back trunk removed, largely because it had become home to a family of critters. You could tell from the outside of the 14″ ∅ trunk that the branch was under stress. So I got a local arborist company, Elite Tree Care,  in to remove it. The extent of the hole inside the branch was quite incredible, likely a combination of rot, and animal activity. Below is a picture of the lopped limb – notice the nice spalting effect, and how close the decay was to reaching the edge of the tree.  The hole takes up 30% of the log cross-section.  I saved a couple of small pieces to serve as axe blocks for carving. The rest went off to become firewood I imagine.


The aesthetics of Moxon

Over the last 400 years, planes have evolved from being  constructed of wood, to being largely constructed of metal, and the ubiquitous infill planes which are hybrids of a sort. No woodworking tool has undergone the type of evolution that planes have.  Prior to 1600, there are very few specimens, apart from a few Roman planes some of which pre-date Pompeii in A.D.79. This could be largely because they were made of wood, and discarded when worn out – the metal blade used in another plane, or recycled into a new blade. They existed in a time when there were likely very few collectors.

Joseph Moxon (1627-1691) was an English printer of mathematical books and maps. In 1703, the 3rd printing of his book “Mechanick Exercises: or the Doctrine of handy-works” appeared, which described the five trades of smithing, joinery, carpentry, turning, and bricklayery. Within the section on joinery, he describes the various tools of the joinery trade. His description starts with “Plains of Several Sorts“.


From Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises”, (3rd ed. 1703).

One of the most interesting aspects of Moxon’s drawings is the aesthetic appeal of the planes. Compared to planes that came later, these planes are extremely curved, which likely makes them quiet ergonomic to use. The curve of the handle is most interesting because it provides a more top-down approach to applying pressure (?). The use of curves shows a deep reverence for the plane makers craft, something that would disappear with the introduction of industrialized plane making. Features like the curve to the upper front throat is unusual because it likely doesn’t serve a functional value.

Plane curves.

joynt – joint
plain – meaning “flat, smooth”, from the Old French plain. Often used in lieu of the term plane.

Moxon describes the basic parts of a plane, as (a) the Tote, (b) the Mouth, (c) the Wedge, (d) the Iron, (e) the Sole, (f) the Fore-end, (g) the Britch, (h) the Stock – “all together a Plane”. Below are some interpretations:

B.1 A Fore Plain – It is called the Fore Plane because it is used before working with either the Smooth Plane or with the jointer (joynter in 1600s English). Described as using a blade with a convex arch in it as opposed to a blade with a straight edge which could in Moxons words “dig gutters on the surface of the stuff”. 

B.2 Of the Joynter – Somewhat longer than the fore-plane, it has a sole perfectly straight from end to end. It’s purpose is to follow the fore-plane, and to shoot an edge perfectly straight, and not only an edge, but also a board of any thickness. Moxon also mentions that the blade of the joynter must be set very fine.

B.3 The Use of the Strike-block – The strike-block is a plane shorter than the joynter having a sole which is exactly flat and straight, and is used for the shooting of a short joynt, because it is more handy than the long joynter. It is also used for the framing, and fitting the joints of miters and bevels.

B.4 The Use of the Smoothing Plane – The smoothing-plane has a very fine iron, because its work is to smoothen the irregularities made by the fore-plane.

B.5 The Use of the Rabbet Plane – The rabbet-plane is used to cut part of the upper edge of a board, i.e. square down into the board, so that the edge of another board cut in the same manner, may fit and join into the square of the first board cut this way. When two boards are lapped like this on the edges over one another, this lapping is called rabbetting.

Block planes: Stanley No. 9¼

The Stanley No.9¼ block plane was a late entry into the Stanley catalog, appearing in 1947, and disappearing in 1982. This is one of many block planes Stanley seemed to produce in this period. This plane is 6″ in length, has a 1-5/8″ wide cutter, and a  bed angle of 20°, with both blade depth and lateral adjustment mechanisms. Unlike many of its contemporaries, such as the No.9½, this plane does not have an adjustable throat, but does provide a brass front knob (really a thumb rest). In fact, aside from the adjustable mouth, it is a carbon copy of the No.9½. Construction of the plane did not vary much over its lifespan, with the major difference being the change in colour from japanned black to painted, dark blue to red.




Architectural heritage… another one bites the dust

Sometimes it seems as if Toronto is a city of constant construction. But there is also a darker side to many cities, and that is the destruction that occurs, and often it very much goes under the radar. I’m talking about historical buildings of course. Toronto has a varied history in making historically significant buildings disappear. I think one of the most significant losses was the Toronto Armouries. Built in 1891, it was demolished in 1963 to make way for the provincial courthouses that sit on the site today. Many such buildings have disappeared, often due to a lack of interest in maintaining historic architecture for the future.

The Toronto Armouries after 1900 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 0220)

Another classic loss is that of Chorley Park, the fourth Government House built in Ontario (and the last). It was built between 1911-1915, and lasted a mere 45 years before it too was demolished in 1960 after the city of Toronto bought the house for $100,000. The 1960s of course marked a time when Toronto demolished much of its architectural legacy. Chorley Park is today parkland.

Chorley Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1128)

You have to wonder when there are books dedicated to Toronto’s lost architectural treasures, like Doug Taylor’s “Lost Toronto“. Lost not because of natural disasters, or war, but because of progress. Look, I’m not against progress, as long as that progress is achieved in a way that balances the history of a city, and the need to build non-descrip, monolithic buildings. And let’s face it much of what is built in the modern world lacks character. The demolitions continue however, sometimes an “accident” by a developer, often planned. One of the more recent victims, the buildings of the Davisville Junior Public School, being demolished to make way for a new school. I do whole-heartedly understand the new for new facilities, but it does lend itself to the gradual erosion of both our cultural, and architectural heritage.

Nixing the Davisville Junior Public School buildings.

Davisville Junior Public School was built in 1962, and represents (or did represent) a prime example  of the mid-century modern style that flourished in Toronto after WW2. At the time the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) had its own in-house architects, lead by chief architect Frederick Etherington. Ultimately a lack of funds to maintain the building (leaky roof anyone?), and upgrade it, has lead to its doom (note that two architects, Carol Kleinfeldt and Roman Mychajlowycz offered the TDSB two pro bono expansion plans that would have saved the building). At the end, as you can see it will be all gone by the end of next week. I photographed the school just after Christmas, and decided to post it as a B&W photo, to indicate that the building will soon be just a memory (and I should have spent more effort photographing it).

Other cities like Montreal seem to do a much better job at maintaining and promoting their architectural heritage, even restricting the building of huge monolithic towers. Toronto on the other hand seems to love the concept of facadicide (but we’ll leave that to another post).

Space-age power tools

Power tools made their presence known in the home workshop in earnest during the 1950s. This was a time when tools housings were traditionally made of aluminum alloy, and the tools themselves often had a space-age look to them. Take for example the “continuous-duty sander”, made by CRAFTSMAN in the 1950s (in a time when it actually sold quality tools). This is Model No. 110.7800, which was actually made by Syncro. Corp. It had a reciprocating motor, and was used for sanding, buffing and polishing.

These machines were often designed to meet the specifications of industrial workshops, but with a sense of aesthetic value that is hard to find in todays power tools. Camera manufacturers often harken back to bygone designs – Olympus have used the aesthetics of the PEN-F, an analogue camera from the mid-1960s as the design basis for their digital PEN-F. It is unlikely tool manufacturers will ever turn back the clock to these sleek aluminum designs, but they do make beautiful design pieces (and sometimes still run).

The Record No.077/077A bull-nose

The No.77 block plane is the cousin of the No.76, but was only manufactured from 1933 to 1943. It is likely derived from the Preston No. 1355, and lacks the receding nose of the No.076, but adds a blade adjustment mechanism in the form of a milled nut. Due to its limited manufacturing years, it’s somewhat of a rare plane, production stopping midway through WW2. A sibling to the No.77, the No.77A was manufactured from 1933 to 1994. It retained the blade adjustment mechanism, but differed by having an adjustable mouth.

The nose is attached to the plane body with a single centred machine screw, and can be removed completely to form a chisel plane.

In addition, there are two steel “distance” shims between the detachable nose and the plane body, held in place by two pins. One is 1/64″ thick, and the other is 1/32″ thick, allowing the plane throat to be modified to four distinct opening sizes for fine or coarse work.

The blade adjustment mechanism has a knurled knob and engages the blade which has a slot cut in it.

There are a number of variants of this plane, which deviant from the original, as the plane evolved through manufacturing.

  • Type 1: Markings of “007A” on the bottom heal of one side, and “RECORD BRITISH” on the lever cap (surrounded by blue paint).
  • Type 2: Markings of “Record No 077 / 077A, Made In England” on the bottom heal of one side, and “RECORD” on the lever cap. The small inset triangular region to the rear bottom of both sides has been removed.
  • Type 3: The original wavy form lever cap is replaced with the singular curve, also found on the No.076. Again I think this is likely due to a reduced manufacturing cost. The downside to this was that the original maintained a portion of the lever cap at the bottom (maybe ¾” in length) which held down the lever cap, although only the front point actually made contact (see the third figure above). This allowed more room for shavings, room which was reduced with the new lever cap. Similar markings to the Type 2, except no markings on the lever cap.
  • Type 4: No markings on the plane. The front of the plane “nose” has changed from a gentle curve to an edge, somewhat negating the “bull-nose” concept.

This makes the plane I have somewhere between a Type 1 and Type 2. Note that the Clifton 770 is  somewhat of a clone of the Record No.077, and the Edward Preston No.1355. Clifton, as well as Veritas are two modern manufacturers of bullnose planes.


The Record No.076 bull-nose

The bull-nose plane is one of those funny little planes, and often comes in one of two forms, the fixed nose, and the removal nose. Does the planes nose really look like a bull’s nose? Some of them do I guess, especially those whose nose has a pronounced curve. What is the bullnose for? Generally it’s a form of rebate plane used for rebate refinement, and fine fitting. The Record No.076 is a classic bullnose rabbet plane, 4″ in length, introduced in 1933, and manufactured until 1976. It is likely based on the No.1347 manufactured by Edward Preston & Sons, which is not surprising, since the Preston planes were sold off in the 1930s to Sheffield firm of C. & J. Hampton, who would later merge with the Record Tool Company.

The No.076 has the advantage of having a receding nose, which is open to allow shaving to escape. It is made of cast iron and sports the traditional blue paint of Record.

The downside is that it does not have an adjustable blade. The blade can be manually adjusted by slackening the knurled thumbscrew under the lever.  These planes were nicely designed from the perspective of how the lever cap fits onto the plane body. Due to the low pitch of the plane, the plane is bevel-up.

The blade is made of tungsten steel, but is a little on the thin side from the perspective of modern blades. The plane is about 29mm or 1-1/8″ in width. and is very simple, with only three parts (well four if you count the thumbscrew).

There seem to be a number of versions of this plane. The one in my collection is likely the earliest version. The next version is almost identical, but the triangular region on the rear sides of the plane (painted blue), no longer exists, likely to reduce manufacturing costs. Markings in the form of “”Record No 076 Made in England” are found on the side, bottom rear. The last version saw a streamlining of the lever cap to one continuous curve.