Les Rabots – a brief review of a French book on planes.

I recently had the chance to browse through an excellent book on planes – although browse is the operative word here – I can’t read French, and that’s the caveat with this particular book, it’s all in French. But if you can look beyond that, there is some exceptional information in this book. The book Les Rabots is written by Pierre Bouillot and Xavier Chatellard – rabot being the French word for plane.

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The cover of the book “Les Rabots”

It is a seminal work, partially because of the breadth of information about European planes. There are some catalogs on European plane manufacturers floating around the place – but they are hard to come by. I blame two world wars for helping to decimate the amount of historical ephemera (and tools) that is left in Europe. The book starts with a discussion of classical planes with an emphasis on Roman planes, and goes on to discuss the plane-making industry, from a French perspective. We sometimes forget that Europeans were making wooden planes, and infill planes, by way of the Romans, way before Stanley introduced the metal planes in the 19th century. There is a breadth of information on the developments in French plane making in the 18th and 19th century, and an insight into some unusual plane designs.

There are four main sections in this 300+ page book:

  1. L’historie – the history and manufacture of planes, with a large section on French planes.
  2. La technique – ways of using the planes.
  3. La typologie – the topology of planes, e.g. metal planes.
  4. La collection – trademarks of plane makers.
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Sample pages from L’historie and La typologie

Les Rabots also contains a large compendium of manufacturers trademarks, which concentrates on French plane makers, but also plane makers from all over Europe, and North America. The concentration is French plane-makers – but the major work done in planes, was likely concentrated on France and Germany.

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Examples of the manufacturers trademarks.

The book contains in-depth information likely available no where else. There are sections on auxiliary planing devices such as shooting boards, and cut-away diagrams of various plane types, showing their typology.

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Examples of plane cut-aways.

At $200 on Abebooks, it’s not going to be for everyone (it is available amazon.fr for €85), but the sort of information in this book, is likely unavailable anywhere else. It would be great to see an English translation sometime in the future.

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