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).

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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.

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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.

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