The block planes of superheroes (xii) – Stanley 12-101

There doesn’t seem to be a lot written about this little pressed metal plane from Stanley, the No.101P. Now better known as the 12-101, and still in production, it is marked as a “small trimming plane”. A pressed steel version of the No.101 thumb block plane (hence the “P”), this plane actually seems nothing like its cast iron brethren.

Appearing in the early 1960’s as the “Stanley-Handyman” trimming plane, H101, it sold for 99¢. Strangely enough it does not seem to appear in many of their catalog’s. It is designed in the same manner as most of these sheet metal planes. First the body blank is stamped out, then features like the side grips are imprinted. The tabs are then marked and stamped, before the body itself it shaped. In this plane two internal tabs are provided for the blade to rest upon. The flat lever cap has a tab on either side to allow it to slide into a groove on each side of the plane, holding it in place.

The most interesting feature of this plane is the side finger-thumb grips, which just appear as a series of inscribed circles. In use it is challenging to properly align the blade, and in reality may only be suited to some basic model trimming work in balsa wood. I actually don’t even know why Stanley make this plane anymore, it is certainly not geared towards any type of precision. It does however sort of symbolize Stanley’s lacklustre attitude towards tool manufacturing in the 1960s.

Evolution of French benches in the 1800s

In 1843 a book was published by carpenter-cabinetmaker Par. M. Nosban titled “Nouveau Manuel Complet du Menuisier de L’Ebeniste et du Layetier“, which translates roughly to “New Complete Manual of Cabinetmaker (furniture-maker), and chest maker”. In Plate 1 a typical bench is illustrated which does not have a leg-vise, although Fig.10 on the plate does illustrate a “presse” which can be adapted to the bench, effectively providing a leg vise (described on p.81-82). It is clear that the leg vise was still considered an add-on fixture rather than an integral part of the bench.

Fig.1: The simple bench from Plate 1 of the 1843 edition of the book.

In the late 19th century an offshoot of the book was published, this time in association with a co-author W. Maigne (1819-1893). The book was titled Nouveau Manuel Complet du Menuisier en Bâtiments et du Layetier-Emballeur, which roughly translates to the “Complete manual for building carpenters and chest makers”. Building carpenters relates to building doors, stairs etc. It seems to have been published in 1873, with various editions up to at least 1948. The 1873 edition includes a number of illustrations which relate to what one would consider a Roubo-style bench, with the leg-vise integral to the bench.

Fig.2a: 1873 (p.5) Sawing on a bench
Fig.2b:1873 (p.12) Planing on a bench

The edition published in 1877 changed again, identifying two types of workbench: the ordinary one, and the German workbench. The top of the “ordinary” bench was made of elm or beech, was 1.95-2.6 metres in length, 50-70cm in width, about 8cm thick, and about 80cm in height.

Fig.3a: The “ordinary” workbench 1877 (p.126)

Fig.3b: The German workbench 1877 (p.129)

The 1948 edition of the book includes the same bench as in Fig.4a, but also includes a hybrid called Etabli perfectionne avec presse simplifiee – perfect workbench with simplified vise suggested by M.L. Mouly. Mouly (p.68) describes a simple way to adapt any existing workbench to incorporate an tail-vise.

Fig.4a: The hybrid workbench with both a leg vise and a tail-vise (1948).
Fig.4b: The end-vise (1948).

The book also discusses advanced vises, including both a tail-vise and end-vise. The end-vise (Fig.4b) uses a large wooden screw, on the right side of the vise, with a parallel hardwood cross-piece (e) on the left side, which disappears into the bench as the screw is engaged. The purpose of the cross-piece is the keep the vise parallel, and prevent it from skewing. With increased force, the vise provides a second parallel device in the guise of a metal screw (c), and nut (d). When the vise is engaged, the metal screw slides into a hole in the bench. When the work is tight, the nut (which can be made of wood) can be engaged against the bench, and tightened.

Over a hundred year period, French workbenches evolved from benches where vises were an appendage to benches where vises were integral components, and often in one or more forms.

Woodworking in Voss (i)

One of the fun things about visiting a new place is learning about its history. In the case of European countries, I love visiting open air museums. Norway has a bunch of them, and we were fortunate enough to visit two of them, the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo, and the Voss Folkemuseum in Voss.

Mølster Farm with Flor Botolv on the left

Voss is a small town in Norway, about an hour or so inland from Bergen by train. We stayed there overnight a few years ago on the way to the fjords. It was a Sunday, and to be honest not much was open, except for the Voss Folksmuseum. Tucked into the folds of the hill overlooking both the town and the railway station, the Voss Folksmuseum is a classic example of  hidden gem. I don’t exactly know how many tourists actually visit it, because it is somewhat of a trek up the hill, following a series of zigzag roads, past houses, and up a bunch of stairs. The museum is comprised of a farm and a display of artifacts housed within a purpose-built museum. The buildings are all historic, and comprise an actual working farm as it would have appeared – the two families moved out in 1926 and 1927.

Stova Botolv

The museum was set up to safeguard items of historic interest from Voss and the surrounding region telling the story of aspects of everyday life. The museum was founded in 1917 with the aim to preserve the farmstead at Mølster (Mølstertunet). Next to the farm is a modern building which houses the cultural exhibits, e.g. furniture, tools, books. The buildings that you will find in such open air museums are inspiring because they are a combination of local materials and refined techniques, occurring within a very unique landscape. Builders were guided by the physical properties of wood, and the omnipresence of nature.

Anfinn Øykhus and Smalflor

The site has probably been settled since Viking times. Mølster farm has been divided into two holdings run by two families. Each family owned their own piece of land, however all farm buildings were collected around a central courtyard. The wooden walls of the buildings have been weathered over the centuries, and the roofs are covered with gigantic slabs of slate, or the grass synonymous with turf roofs. Inside the buildings, one is transported back to a simpler way of living. The buildings stand the way they did for hundreds of years, with no changes. The oldest building is the house with an open hearth (årestove), which dates from around 1500, while the most recent date from the 1850s.

Map Voss Folkemuseum
A sketch showing the layout of the Mølster Farm

Here are my rough translations of some of the buildings:

  • BU = house for storing food, tools, materials
  • ELDHUS = house with fireplace, bakehouse
  • FLOR = barn for young animals
  • HØYBRÒT = hay barn
  • KÅRASTOVA = house
  • KORNBRÒT = grain barn
  • LØA = barn
  • LOFT = loft
  • ØYKHUS = horse stable
  • SMALFLOR = sheep barn
  • SMIA = (SMIE) forge
  • STOVA = stue (living, sitting) house
  • VEDHUS = wood-house
  • VOGNSVÒL = horse/cart house
Looking out on from the rear of Løa Anfinn to the lake (Vangsvatnet)

Open air museums like this offer an exceptional insight into the art of sustainable building, and historical carpentry techniques.

The block planes of superheroes (x) – GM Co. Man.

This is again an odd little plane, it seems geared again towards to hobbyist, and in many ways mimics the Stanley 10, although in pressed steel. This plane is from the G. M. Co. Manufacturing Inc., a company from Long Island City, NY (est. 1929). The company seems to be most “famous” for their 1954 patent for a combination hammer-wrench tool (No.D172,968) – which we all know is never a good idea.

They ran ads from 1948-53 in Popular Mechanics for their attachment which converted a ¼” drill to ½” capacity.

It seems a number of their tools hand the word “unbreakable” stamped on them, which may put a theme that relates to the development of this plane.

The plane is marked with “MADE IN USA G.M.Co MFG. INC. L.I. CITY, N.Y.”. The finger well normally found on the front of cast planes has been replaced with a hatched circular region stamped into the body surface. There seems to have been different versions of this plane, some with different types of rivets for the two cross-bars. On some planes the finger depression has a raised circular edge, filled with texture.

Finger well.
The rear logo.

I first thought it seemed quite robust, made of thicker steel than the average pressed plane. This version of the plane has a blade which is askew, because the body seems bent out of shape. It almost seems as if it was constructed in this manner, with the cross-pins misaligned, because the sole is flat.

Waste water – A house’s hidden secrets

This is a somewhat off-topic post, still working-by-hand, but a topic that many choose to avoid – waste water. Every house has them, pipes that drain away dish water, bathroom water, laundry water. Mostly they are hidden in the walls, or ground, never to be seen – only making themselves known when they cause problems and in the age of climate change with storms that dump a lot of water they are becoming more of an issue. Many people buy houses not really considering the houses “hidden” layer of infrastructure. They are often more concerned with the quality of counter-tops than how the sinks drain, yet the counter-tops are unlikely to lead to a flooded basement. Water is unforgiving – it finds its way into everything, and the waste water is the worst kind. When looking at purchasing a house it is extremely important to check out the drains. Wastewater pipes are generally of two types: the feeder lines from utilities such as sinks, and the main line which connects the feeders to the city sewer. It is the main line that usually causes problems, especially in older houses.

Old houses in Toronto typically have a main sewer line that was traditionally made of clay. Vitrified clay pipes can last for centuries, but not all clay pipes are created equal and in many early housing developments such as those found in inner Toronto, these clay pipes are now 80-100+ years old. Apart from age, the lifespan of clay can be further shortened as they are susceptible to cracking, and intrusion of tree roots, particularly at the front of the house. In addition, early plumbing systems did not use individual traps at each drain, but rather a “building trap”. These typically sit in front of a house and can be identified by small mushroom-like structures which provides the vent for the building trap. The trap itself is a U-shaped bend in the main sewer line where it leaves a home, and it’s purpose was to create a barrier between a house and the city sewer to prevent sewer gases entering (an example is shown in the illustration above). Typically these U-bends are the first part of a clay sewer line to fail. In old houses the “breathing” portion of the waste water system is a vent stack, often cast iron which connects to the sewer line. While the vertical stack may last more than a century, there is usually a 2-3′ portion underground which connects to the sewer line, and as such is susceptible to ground moisture.

If you are purchasing a home, or are inquisitive about the state your sewer system is in, try the following checks:

  • Check for a building trap at the front of the house. This might indicate that there is a potential point of failure, and the pipe between the house and the city line is clay. Also check for white PVC clean-outs. Their existence typically suggests that the sewer line has been upgraded, but potentially not the entire line as often when a building-trap collapses only a portion of the pipe is replaced.
  • Check the condition of the vent stack. Is it PVC/ABS or cast iron? Does the cast iron go into the ground? If so, then likely it is attached to a clay pipe, and susceptible to corrosion.
  • Check the status of the main sewer line. If there are PVC clean-outs then it is possible that the entire line has been replaced. Alternatively find the floor drain (there should be at least one), and see what it is made of – clay would indicate that the sewer line (or part of it) is still original. Realistically the best way to check the line is to have it inspected by camera.
  • Check for a back-flow valve. A back-flow valve sits on the main line and prevents sewer back-flow from the city pipes. In some places, like parts of Toronto, the city sewer line does dual duty carrying rainwater runoff as well, so heavy rain can cause the systems to overfill to the point where it backs up into houses. A blockage caused by tree roots in the portion of the line between a house and the city sewer may also cause a back-up. Back-flow valves can be inside the house (near the point of the house where the sewer pipe leaves the house), or external. Either one works, and can help prevent a flooded basement.
  • Check for external drains. Historically downspouts were connected directly to the house sewer by means of clay pipes. These are easy to find because the downspout disappears underground. Old ones are often sealed, and discarded when a house sewer line is upgraded. If they do exist, remove the downspouts and seal them up – roof runoff should never go into the sewer.

In addition to some general knowledge about how your house’s waste water system is constructed, it also has to be maintained. This means keeping drains and even appliances clean. Now while there are quick toxic drainer cleaners out there, a good option for bathroom and kitchen drains (and even main sewer lines) is Green Gobbler. A maintenance clean 2-3 times a year helps clean build-up from the pipes, and prevents clogs. Dishwashers and washing machines are also important to clean, because although we use them to clean that doesn’t prevent build-up of grease or limescale in the drains.

Keep it clean!

What about a detachable bench stop?

Much can be gleaned from vintage woodworking books. In Paul Hasluck’s 1907 book “Woodworking: A Book of Tools, Materials, and Processes for the Handyman“ there is a section titled “adjustable bench stop“. Rather than the more traditional bench stop where a hole is cut through the bench, this one is actually detachable. Why would one want a detachable bench-stop? Well it’s a nice idea for those who don’t want to pierce a hole through their bench-top, or maybe as a “try-out” before committing to an integral one. Whatever the reason, it’s not a bad idea.

The device is held in place with two screws and a wedge (B), the latter providing additional rigidity. The stop can be adjusted to various heights using a second wedge (A). The piece which attaches to the bench is about 15″ in length, 4″ wide, and 3″ thick, the stop is a piece of hardwood 2″ square and 8″ in length.

The block planes of superheroes (xi) – Enterprise

To boldly go where no-one had gone before! Or rather not. This post looks at an interesting little pressed metal plane manufactured by the Enterprise Manufacturing Co. of Torrington, Connecticut. Interesting because it actually had a patent associated with it. Founded in 1864, Enterprise Manufacturing Co. were a larger entity, with their main factory in Philadelphia (PA) manufacturing hardware, tools, butchers supplies, and kitchen devices such as cherry pitters, apple peelers, food choppers, and coffee mills. They remained in business until 1956, when they were bought by Silex Co.

Given their manufacturing acumen, it is not difficult to wonder why they decided to manufacture this plane. The patent for this “sheet metal” plane (No.2,601,880) was granted in 1952, around the time when there seems to have been numerous cheap, easy to make sheet-metal planes on the market. It was designed by August A. Giacopini. Although an interesting plane, it seems as though it is geared towards the hobbyist who might use the plane to build wooden models. One object of the invention of this plane seems to have been to provide a plane which was “…simple in construction, inexpensive to manufacture, easy to adjust and manipulate, compact, dependable, ornamental in appearance and very efficient and durable in use.”.

Drawings from Patent No. 2,601,880 (1952)

The value in these planes is that they were incredibly easy to manufacture. The body was made of sheet metal which had a pair of integral side walls created by simply pressing the sole in a mould after it is cut out. The blade rests on the body using a pair of lower “ears” struck inwards from the side walls. It is held in place by a “clamping plate” type lever cap with is itself constricted by a pair of upper ears. The other notable feature of the patent was that the clamping plate had a “rearwardly-extending downwardly concave shield” to protect the carpenters hand. In reality this feature did not exist in the physical plane.

The simple knurled knobs.
The depth adjustment screw and tabs (“ears”) which hold and blade and lever cap in place.
Lever cap and depth adjustment.
The manufacturers stamp.

This plane, as well as those from other manufacturers were not designed for the typical workshop because they were too light weight. They were likely best suited to planing woods like balsam, which were often used in model-making during the 1950s.

The three pieces of the plane.

Does a workbench really need a vise?

I have been working on building my workbench for years (or literally just designing it). Now I may have the time to execute it, but there will be changes. I’ve always wanted a Roubo-type design, but the more I’ve delved into the design of historic workbenches, the more I’ve realized that the devices needed to hold work need not be complicated – indeed they need not even be integrated into the bench itself. I had plans for a leg-vise as the front vise, and even bought the hardware from Benchcrafted, but now I’m not so sure anymore. For most of history humans have used workbenches without any fancy screw-driven vises. Screw-based devices weren’t used on workbenches until the middle ages, most people relied on pegs, wedges and notches. This may have been in part because of the complexity and expense involved in producing wooden screws.

Do I really need an integrated leg-vise? The original Roubo didn’t have one, but relied instead on holdfasts, and a crochet on the front. Why not just go simple? A good amount of dog holes on the bench allows the use of any number of differing holdfasts – the Gramercy Tools holdfasts are inexpensive, and easy to use (C$56 a pair from Lee Valley), or perhaps different profile like the French-styled Crucible Holdfast. Or perhaps a couple of Veritas surface clamps, and a planing stop? In reality there are a lot of ways to hold wood on a bench, not limited to integral vises. The figure below is the top of a cabinet-worker’s bench from Paul Hasluck’s 1907 book “Woodworking: A Book of Tools, Materials, and Processes for the Handyman“. It is a relatively small bench with only a full width end-vise, but ample holes for iron bench stops and wooden pins.

cabinet makers workbench top

At the moment I’m leaning towards a heavy Roubo-style bench made of ash. I have a vintage Record No.52 vise, which I think will go well as an end-vise. I’ll supplement the Record end vise with a Moxon vise that can be attached to the front of the bench when needed, maybe a detachable leg-vise of the form shown in Roubo’s third volume (Plate 279)? I may design the crochet using a wedge-type construct found on Norwegian “wedge-benches“.h made of ash. I have a vintage Record No.52 vise, which I think will go well as an end-vise. Then I’ll leave it for a bit, use the bench. If I still am in need of a front vise I may lean towards a H.N.T.Gordon bench vice, which seems to be a truly innovative piece of hardware.

The beauty of wood prints

A lot of historical woodworking information can be garnered from paintings, and wood prints. Below is a German wood-print titled “Zimmerleute“, Holzschnitt aus Herzog von der Pflanz, an illustration from Kunst des Messens (The Art of Measurement) in 1531. The book is an exceptional introduction to the art of perspective in drawing. The print below illustrates various carpentry tools used in the construction of a house frame. Of most interest are the two saw horses used for squaring up the log. Both have two feet attached to a curved body, ideal for rolling a log straight up to the flat top.

Kunst des Messens
The original plate from Kunst des Messens
A colourized version of a portion of the image.

Norwegian wood culture (iv) – stave churches

If you came across a Stave church on a dark and gloomy night, you would think there was something untowardly sinister about it. The roofs seem dark and foreboding, festooned with snakes and dragons peering down from the heights. But these wooden churches underpin the wood culture that was to follow. In such a thinly-populated country, few public buildings graced the landscape during the medieval period, the exception being the stave church. These churches were built between 1050 and 1350 AD and blended both pagan and Christian elements.

While the remainder of Europe was starting to use stone for its ecclesiastical buildings, the Norwegians built churches of wood. The Norwegian word for stave churches is stavkirker. The name derives from the Old Norse stafr, and the term meant a pillar or post – the vertical posts in the stave building’s framework. The post-and-lintel method of construction form the buildings load-bearing element. The staves usually rested on a foundation of stone. Forerunners of Norwegian stave buildings likely had posts which were dug into the ground, which made them susceptible to rotting. From about 1100, posts were set on beams laid on stone foundations. Even though stone was being used to build churches, in Norway Stave churches were still being built throughout the Middle Ages. Some of these churches were simple rectangles, others were similar to stone cathedrals with freestanding pillars.

The Heddal Stave Church near Notodden, Telemark – built in the 13th century (with a nave dating from 1150), the largest Stave church in Norway (picture from a vintage postcard).

The Danish poet Holger Drachmann described the Borgund stave church on a visit in 1886:

“On the way we visited the old stave church at Borgund; it was the most fantastic sight you could imagine, like the whim of some brilliant child, a cockchafer’s shell carved by a simple giant with his sheath-knife, with simple crosses and arrogant dragonhead, all twists and twirls, louver on louver. The inside is like a smokehouse dedicated to some mystic cult, where the darkness of the Saga overwhelms the flickering candles of Catholicism, whose shadows fall on the axes of mail-clad peasants and flowing beards of Viking kings – a sinister experience quite honestly.”

From a quote in Norwegian Stave Churches by Roar Hauglid (1970)
The Gol Stave Church
The Gol Stave Church (T. Prytz, 1883)

The stave churches of Norway have no real parallel in Europe, due to their intricacy – steep, shingled roofs rising one above the other, ornamented with dragon heads with flickering, outstretched tongues – almost fantastical in form. The stave churches were based on a highly refined structural system, and are examples of some of the finest wooden buildings in Europe. The architecture of stave churches was inherently influenced by medieval beliefs. Medieval people believed that evil spirits roamed the countryside bringing misfortune. The crosses and dragons found on the eaves and gables of stave churches were added to keep the church safe from harm, in the same way that the prows of Viking ships were festooned with dragon heads to protect the crews from the unknown of the deep. Staves set on ground beams of course need strong strutting. The upper portions of Stave churches therefore often use arched brackets, or St. Andrew’s crosses to improve their structure. The wall frames were built up and held together at the top by the ground beams, posts and wall plates. These frames were filled with upright planks joined by tongue and groove.

The Gol Stave Church (2018)
The chancel walls covered with paintings and inscriptions.

The most well known stave church is likely the Gol church found at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo. The church is originally from Gol, in the traditional district of Hallingdal. It was built circa 1170 and was due to be replaced by a new church around 1880 when it was bought by the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments and presented to King Oscar II who paid for its reconstruction on Bygdøy. However only about one-third of the materials in the church date back to its early years. It is therefore very much a reconstructed church, with the entire exterior dating to 1884-85. The interior is considered authentically medieval.

The nave’s roof structure of Gol Church. Note the diagonal cross-braces named after St. Andrew who was crucified on a diagonal cross.
The interior of Gol Church ceiling, festooned with Geitsfuss carvings (chiseling was done with a tool called a geitsfuss, meaning “goat’s foot”).

The remaining Norwegian stave churches offer a glimpse into an oft-forgotten craft. It would be hard to find a better example of advanced framing techniques from the Middle Ages. Before the appearance of the Black Death in Norway in 1349 it is thought that there were 1000 stave churches across the country. By the time of the reformation (1537), this number had increased to as many as 2000. Today there are 28 remaining stave churches. Two of these have been reconstructed from rediscovered elements, but the others have survived in situ. Apart from Gol, other prominent stave churches include Borgund (1180, Lærdal), Heddal which is the largest (13thC, Notodden), and Urnes, the oldest (1130, Luster). For those interested, there is a whole website dedicated to Stave churches – STAVECHURCHCOM.

Further Reading:

  • Jerri Holan, Norwegian Wood : A Tradition of Building (1990)
  • Roar Houglid, Norwegian Stave Churches (1977)
  • Anders Bugge, Norwegian Stave Churches (1953)
  • David McCall Walsten, Stave Churches of the World: An Introduction (1994)
  • Jiri Havran, Norwegian Stave Churches: A Guide to the 29 Remaining Stave Churches (2010)