The use of wood in New France

Modern woodworkers work with a wide variety of different woods. We are somewhat spoiled really.    Settlers in New France were surrounded by a multitude of species, but worked predominantly with softer woods. Why? At the time, in the mid-1600’s the aesthetic appeal of wood was not that important, it was surpassed by functionality, sturdiness, and ease of woodworking. Pine and basswood were often used because of their softness and resilience. Basswood, although being a hardwood has low density, and is relatively soft. Pine was used extensively because it does not crack, is light, strong, and easy to work. Native to Quebec, the Eastern White pine (Pinus strobus)  is the tallest conifer in eastern Canada. It is valued for its fine grain and workability. Another wood often used was butternut, which was as easy to work as pine. Woods like ash were not widely used until the mid to late 19th century (often being substituted for oak). Maple, which was obviously abundant, was considered far too hard to work, and only used as firewood, or handles for tools.

Softer woods were also used because settlers did not have the tools needed to work hardwood. Many settlers had only the tools brought with them from France. For example they would likely have brought the metal tool blades, and constructed the wooden components, e.g. plane bodies when they arrived. Until 1800, the only ironworks in Canada were the St. Maurice Ironworks, or Forges du Saint-Maurice, near Trois-Rivières, Quebec, established in 1730 (and forging from 1738). Use of tools on harder woods would have required more frequent sharpening, and a shorter tool life span. This could have been a similar case with the saws used in the sawmills (New France had two sawmills by 1666).



Stanley vs. Veritas block planes

Surprisingly, another block plane possesses  elements of the No.60½A  – and it is manufactured by Veritas – the Standard block plane. Look similar? There are two notable aspects of the similarity. One is the use of the circular “Hand-y”, although this was not unique to Stanley. The Ohio Tool Co. first introduced the use of circular depressions in the side of the planes body, in complete contrast to Stanley’s elliptical Hand-y. The second aspect is the body itself, which has a very similar profile.


The Stanley 60½A versus the Veritas Standard block plane

It was easy for Veritas to adopt the circular Hand-y, as the Stanley patent filed in 1979 made no mention of the use of a circular depression, and nor could they considering they were not the first to use it. Not did they patent the peculiar shape of the plane.

A novel Stanley block plane

Picked up a rare Stanley block plane from the U.K. – a No. 60½A. These were manufactured in the U.K. in the 1980s, and distributed predominantly in the Commonwealth (not sold in the U.S.). This plane shows one of the few attempts at innovative design in block planes between the 1960s and the late 1990s.


The No. 60½A, was subject to a UK patent (No.2046650A), received in 1980. The patent dealt with the unique lateral adjustment lever, and not with the more unique lever cap cam-clamping mechanism.


Plan and profile view from UK patent No.2046650A

The No. 60½A, is unique in a number of ways. Firstly the profile of the plane diverts from the standard block plane profile, with a less normalized curve (looks more like a gentle undulating hill). The body also has a circular “Hand-y”, similar to the block planes of the Ohio Tool Co. The blade lateral adjustment mechanism can be pivoted from side to side using the rear tabs.


Plane in profile, and the blade adjustment mechanism

The second unique feature, and the one which is likely weirdest from a design perspective is the lever cap mechanism. The lever cap feels quite light, I would almost say it was constructed of aluminum. The brass tab used to cam- lock the lever cap in place – in the vertical position it locks the lever cap in place, when pushed forward it unlocks the lever cap. No other manufacturer has ever used this form of cam-lock.


Lever cap locking mechanism: locked (left) and unlocked

The plane is hefty, weighing in at 650g (≈23oz), and is extremely comfortable to use. It has a throat adjustment mechanism, but the eccentric lever is attached to the body of the plane, and cannot be removed. Overall, I like the aesthetics of this plane, even though it does seem somewhat “clunky”. The eccentric lever lacks the “finesse” of older planes, and even the brass knobs of the throat and depth adjustment mechanisms seem somewhat awkward.


Throat adjustment eccentric lever, and depth adjustment mechanism.

It almost has a retro feel to it.

Old tool packages

Many tool companies sold their planes, and other tools in boxes. Not like the boxes that tools are packaged in nowadays. These are *cool* boxes. They were mostly made out of pasteboard, of the full-lid-lift-top variety. The most interesting features are the ID labels at the ends of the boxes. Often colour-coded based on the type of tool, or the manufacturer.


The boxes were formed by folding the pasteboard and covering with a layer of paper. The boxes were often orange, as in the case of Stanley, or red for Millers Falls. Stanley introduced the orange boxes around 1900, with dark green labels with white text. The earliest of these boxes had a picture of the tool on them, which disappeared around WWI.


These days its hard to find original tools still in their boxes, except for “new” old stock, or tools from a collection. Often I imagine the boxes were just thrown away, or used for other purposes. The periodical “The Iron Age” (1893) mentions that “empty pasteboard boxes will form very practical and welcome receptacles for nails and different hardware”. Nowadays tools, when they come in boxes, are in utilitarian corrugated cardboard boxes. Nothing at all interesting, I have to think something has been lost along the way.

Just for interests sake, here are two boxes, one from Veritas, the other from Lie-Nielsen. Nothing super-exciting about these boxes.


Tools of the Trades – Fall 2016 review

The first two hours of the tool show are always busy, like swarming bees, tool aficionados looking for good deals. Plenty on offer again, depending on your tasks. Quite a large assortment of vises, of many sorts, including Record, and pattern makers vises.


Also very popular this show was Swedish chisels, often in complete sets – not for the faint-of-heart though, as they are quite expensive (but still likely cheaper, and in better condition than you will find anywhere).


Vintage and newer Japanese tools, especially planes. Very nice looking tools, but extremely expensive.


Lots of hammers as well.


The usual assortment of planes, planes and more planes. Have to say, some were a bargain. One dealer had an assortment of No.4s to No.7s on sale from $40-$100. Easy to pick up a set of 3 planes for $200 – excellent value.


And of course the usual assortment of the tools. I was looking for a frame saw, which I had no success with. I did end up with a couple of rasps (which are hard to find, large because they are often recycled into other tools), a couple of chisels (one of them the Beaver in the previous post), and two Stanley block planes.



Beaver chisels from Sweden

This chisel is from the Eskilstuna Municipality in Sweden. They are commonly found in Canada, and it is speculated that they were made by E.A. Berg.


Sidenote – beavers were hunted to extinction in Sweden by 1870. They were re-introduced starting in 1922.


Milled tooth files – Anyone seen this before?

Picked up this mill-toothed file (really a kind of float) at Tools of the Trades last Sunday. A very nice float, for $10… looks like it is brand new. This one has curved milled teeth, which has a shearing cut that minimizes tear-out. The tool-makers trademark is a 5-pronged trident of sorts?, Made in England. Anyone seen this maker?