Identifying European wooden planes

What is one of the hardest tasks in the study of planes? Determining the lineage of a wooden plane. Not just any wooden plane though – North American or British-made wooden planes are fairly well documented, with numerous books tracing their heritage. No, it’s European planes. Partially this may be due to the fact that they aren’t as common in North America. It may also be that woodworking as a hobby in Europe is less common, limited by workshop space, access to lumber and hand tools. European planes have largely remained wooden, with very little evolution towards metal. Consider as a case study the following plane which I purchased on e-Bay.

swissPlane_profile

I had no information about this plane except that it looked somewhat interesting. A simple smoothing plane, or maybe a plane used on a shooting board, and likely made of some type of fruitwood.

swissPlane_back swissPlane_front

The challenge with wooden planes is that in addition to the makers trademarks, they often have the owners name stamped on them, in addition to various marks left by years of using a plane hammer (or something similar) to loosen the blade assembly. On the heel of the plane there is a partial word “ALBIM”, the number 6 and “42 m/m”, signifying the width of the blade. On the toe of the plane there is the owners name “H.GALLIATH”, and the word “BUHL” (a German word for inlaid work of woods, metals, tortoiseshell, ivory), a series of tool strikes, and an upside-down imprint of a church or chapel.

swissPlane_mark

One of the best resources on the net is the German website “HOLZBEARBEITUNG MIT HANDWERKZEUGEN“, or “Woodworking with Handtools” by Wolfgang Jordan. The website contains a myriad of information about hand tool makers, trademarks and patents, with a nice section on planes. In the section on “Manufacturers and Merchants”, there are links to German, and European manufacturers with relevant makers marks or brands. It is now a process of searching through and matching the mark on the plane to the relevant manfacturer.

In the case of this plane, it turns out to be from a tool manufacturer Firma Lachappelle in Kriens, Switzerland. It was a subsidiary of Lachappelle Fils, Strasbourg (France), established 1840 producing workbenches and planes. The trademark is the Tell Chapel on Lake Lucerne. Above the two arched windows are the letters FXL for Franz Xaver Lachappelle, the founder. Lachappelle produced woodworking tools until 2000.

A beautiful plane, and maybe a rare find. The plane blade in this case is a Goldenberg, (a French tool company) and likely a replacement as it has been modified (i.e. the hole cut in the centre!). This method of locking together the cap iron to the cutter is known as the “Long screw”. The Goldenberg catalogue described this as the “Bavarian” pattern, with various other patterns describing changes in the head of the screw. The use of the “Long screw” cap iron was restricted to Austria, Switzerland and France, which shows that knowledge about a planes components can help in finding its locale.

swissPlane_blade

Remember, studying the origin of a  woodworking plane is often more of an investigative process than anything else, and whilst the internet contains a wealth of information, don’t use it as the only source.

N.B. From literally hundreds of wooden plane makers in Europe, there is really only one remaining – E.C. Emmerich – with a comprehensive range of wooden planes (Primus) , some incorporating intricate blade adjustment mechanisms. In Canada they are carried by Adria Tools.

“Buck Rogers” planes

Millers Falls were a late player in the game of making planes, coming into the market in 1928-29. In order to stand apart from other manufacturers, a newcomer often has to improve upon the engineering of a tool, or change the aesthetic appeal. Millers Falls made headway in the design of a jointed-lever cap, with force applied to the cutter at three points rather than the standard two, to reduce blade chatter. Millers Falls also had nickel-plated lever caps and red frogs. However in 1950 they debuted the “Buck Rogers” line of tools, of which the Model 709 and 714 bench planes are the best known. The planes were designed by Robert W. Huxtable, the brother of noted industrial designer L. Garth Huxtable and a draftsman for the Millers Falls Company. Millers Falls dubbed them “The Finest Planes in the World”, but it was likely collectors who gave them the moniker “Buck Rogers”, as their futuristic look mimicked that of the sleek atomic disintegrators used on the TV show “Buck Rogers” (Hubley atomic disintegrator below), and the streamlined space-era of the 1950s.

mf_BRplanesatomic_gun

The No. 709 plane, pictured at the top of the circular, is a smoothing plane. The No. 714 at the bottom is a jack plane. The 709 is 9″ in length with a 2″ blade, the 714 is 14″ in length with a similar 2″ blade. The 709 weighs in at a hefty 3 7/8 lbs.

The plane is described, albeit briefly, in a design patent granted on July 18, 1950 (Patent No. D159,339). The patent was for a “new, original, and ornamental design for a plane”. The design was influenced by an earlier design patent (D137,230: Feb.8, 1944), submitted by Samuel Oxhandler from the Sargent Company, however never put into production. The planes make use of a number of innovative Millers Falls features ,including the double jointed lever cap (Patent No. 1,822,520). The designs have a certain aerodynamic flair about them, not dissimilar to concept cars envisioned in the 1950s. Figures from the patents are below, the No.709 on the left, the design of the Sargent plane on the right.

mf_709oxhandler

There are distinct similarities between the designs, however the lines of the Oxhandler design are much more streamlined. Here are some pictures of my 709. It is likely a Type 1, with the only discernible difference being that in the Type 2, the top surface of the body surrounding the knob is recessed and painted grey, and the horn of the tote is more angled. Here the surface surrounding the knob is flush with the edges of the plane.

mf709_1 mf709_5

There is no doubt that aesthetically these are beautiful planes. Unfortunately, by 1960 the planes had run their course, maybe partially due to their inability to perform fine work. Although by the 1960s, the production of hand tools in general started to decline. Below is the MF Catalog 49 entry for the planes.

mf709_7

Huxtable also worked on a block plane to complement the 709 and 714, but this plane never went into production. An excellent source on all things Millers Falls can be found at oldtoolheaven. More on the design and use of the 709 sometime in the future.

Millers Falls Plane-’R-File

Is it a hand plane or is it a file? Questions can be raised about the ability of this tool to perform either task. The Millers Falls No. 1220 was designed by L. Garth Huxtable to mimic the surform tools introduced by Stanley. The tool certainly had innovative features, including a rotating handle, and a unique blade locking mechanism. It has a grey cast body with the red Tenite handle and knob reminescent of  “Buck Rogers” era tools.

1220_profileS

The tool relates to US Patent #2,839,817, introduced as an “abrading tool holder” (June 24, 1958), and design patent #182,187.

1220_patent

The rotating handle allows the tool to work as a plane, or morph into a file.

1220_tote

Here is an ad from the 1950s:

1220_ad

The tools downside? The blade, made by the Tresa File Company (UK). Millers Falls claimed the blade was “…specially hardened, English steel with cutting teeth on both sides. Cuts everything from soft wood to tough steel. Non-clogging . . . chips pass freely through openings between teeth.” It is doubtful the blade could cut through steel.  A comparison of the MF1220 blade with a Stanley Surform #196 is shown below. The MF1220 blade is comprised of angles rows with two slots each. The Surform has more of a grater-like consistency, also in a diagonal arrangement.

1220_blade surform_blade

But how well does the 1220 work? Well to be honest it doesn’t. I tried using both the MF1220 and the Surform to shape a piece of hard maple. The results are shown below. The MF1220 produced no discernible shavings (left photo). None. The Surform on the other hand (middle), shaved the maple nicely, producing a smooth surface.  This is likely due to the fact that the Surform produces more of a shearing action, that prevents splintering and leaves a smooth surface. I have included one image of the piece of maple showing the Surform shaving action (right). The MF1220 may have performed better with one of the Tungsten carbide blades, but replacement blades are no longer available.

1220_samples

This tool has aesthetic beauty, and is an example of design rather than a functional piece. In fact the idea of combining a file/plane in one tool was used by Stanley in the form of the Surform 285, which used a handle that pivoted from one position to another (below).

surform_285

More on Surform’s some time in the future.

Hobbies block planes study

I first stumbled onto Hobbies planes on eBay, and the only information I could find on them was a page in “Murlands Antique Tool Value Guide”. Hobbies is a British model maker supplier, in business since 1895. These planes were made in their own factory, in addition to a No.12 unbreakable smoothing plane, and a No.12C cast iron smoothing plane. Their line of tools included lever frame fret saws, Archimedian drills and saws.

hobbies_1

There are seven block planes in the series:

No. 1A Pressed steel block plane
No. 1 Cast steel block plane
No. 6 Cast steel block plane
No. 7 Cast steel bullnose block plane
No. 8 Pressed steel adjustable block plane
No. 10 Cast steel nickel-plated block plane
No. 11 Cast steel block plane with universal adjustment

Below is an advertisement from a 1953 edition of their Hobbies handbook, illustrating four of these planes.

hobbies_catalog

My collection currently contains five of these planes: 1A, 1, 8, 10 and 11.

Hobbies 1A

Length: 3 3/8″
Blade width: 15/16″
Material: pressed steel (1/16″ thick)
Build: non-removable cam-lock lever cap, knuckle style
Markings: “Hobbies”, “MADE IN ENGLAND”
Patent: UK8970, “Improvements in Hand Planes”, Hobbies Ltd; Herbert Jewson (Jun.18 1908)

NOTES: The patent describes a plane in which the iron can be readily removed and refitted. The body is  pressed from one piece of metal. The plane is light, simple in design and ideal for use by model-makers.

hobbies_1A patent_8970

Hobbies 1

Length: 3 3/8″
Blade width: 15/16″
Material: cast steel, painted
Build: screw-lock lever cap
Markings: n/a

NOTES: Approximately the same size as the 1A, this is a heavier cast plane, with an eye-bolt used to hold the lever cap and blade.

hobbies_1

Hobbies 8

Length: 5 1/2″
Blade width: 1 5/16″
Material: pressed steel body (3/32″ thick), cast steel lever cap
Build: nickel-plated, screw-lock lever cap (knuckle style), lever-type lateral/length adjustment of blade
Markings: “PATENT APPLIED FOR”
Patent: UK208401, “Improvements in Hand Planes”, Hobbies Ltd; Herbert Jewson (Dec.20 1923)

NOTES: The patent describes a method for adjusting the plane blade: A lever for adjusting the cutting iron longitudinally (depth) and a second lever for adjusting it laterally, one of these levers is pivoted on the plane body and the other is pivoted on the first lever. The knuckle-style lever cap is held in place by a butterfly-nut. The No. 6 plane seems like a No.8 without adjustment levers.

hobbies_8 patent_208401

Hobbies 10

Length: 7 1/16″
Blade width: 1 3/4″
Material: cast steel
Build: Nickel-plated portion of lever cap, black-enameled body and inner lever cap; screw-lock lever cap (knuckle style), manual adjustment of blade, both laterally, and blade depth.
Markings: “Hobbies No.10”

NOTES: The knuckle-style lever cap is held in place by a butterfly-nut.

hobbies_10

Hobbies 11

Length: 7 1/16″
Blade width: 1 3/4″
Material: cast steel
Build: nickel-plated, cam-lock lever cap (knuckle style), screw/swivel-type lateral/length adjustment of blade, thumb/finger grips as channels in the side of the plane.
Markings: “Hobbies No.11”, “PATENT” (on lever cap)
Patent: UK14763, “Improvements in Hand Planes”, Hobbies Ltd; Herbert Jewson (Aug.21 1902)

hobbies_11 patent_14763

NOTES: The patent describes a two-part lever: “the plane-iron or cutter is clamped in position by a wedge made in two parts, hinged together”. It also describes a cutter adjustment mechanism made of two levers, such that the blade can be adjusted longitudinally and laterally. This is similar in concept to the mechanism found in the patent for the Hobbies 8 plane, although it seems as though this was modified on this particular plane, which might signify a later variant. A picture of a No.11 with the mechanism described in the patent is shown below.

hobbies11_orig

Here is some information on the remaining two planes:

Hobbies 6

Length: 5 1/2″
Blade width: 1 1/4″
Material: cast steel
Build: nickel-plated, screw-lock lever cap (knuckle style), manual adjustment of blade, both laterally, and blade depth.

NOTES: The knuckle-style lever cap is held in place by a butterfly-nut.

Hobbies 7

Length: ?
Blade width: ?
Material: cast steel
Build:  screw-lock lever cap (knuckle style). No apparent lateral or blade depth adjustment.

NOTES: The knuckle-style lever cap is held in place by a butterfly-nut. This is a double ended plane with capacity to switch the blade around and turn it into a bull-nose plane.

What is rhykenology?

Rhykenology is the study of old woodworking planes. A rhykenologist is a person who collects and studies woodworking planes. It comes from the Greek rhykane, meaning a plane, from which the Latin runcina is derived. Ironically, no Greek woodworking planes have ever been found, but the Romans did have planes. For those interested, there’s a great book on Roman woodworking aptly titled Roman Woodworking by Roger B. Ulrich (Yale University Press).

logo_montage

Why do people collect woodworking planes? It may be the diversity in design, their long historical record, or their beauty. Prior to the advent of metal planes in the mid 1800’s, planes were made predominantly of wood, and followed a similar form – a solid core of wood, and a metal blade. Metal planes morphed into a diversity of types and specialty uses. Rhykenologists tend to collect one form of planes, for example No. 4 metal smoothing planes, infill planes, or block planes; or a particular manufacturer, such as Stanley or Millers Falls. Part of the purpose of collecting is to preserve the past. Part of that is achieved by documenting the history of a tool, refurbishing/restoring it, and using it. Really rare or delicate tools can sit on a shelf, but tools should be used.

block_planes

My collection focuses on block planes because of the design diversity found from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Diversity in lateral and depth adjustment mechanisms, throat adjustment, style of lever caps, materials, and aesthetics. I try and concentrate on Millers Falls, Sargent, and some of the more esoteric manufacturers like Hobbies, or cloned planes made for Craftsman.