Identifying mystery planes: Bespoke plane-maker?

In a the comments section recently, a reader (Jim K) asked me to help identify a plane. It is a bullnose plane, from the U.K. with the initials “LLN” on its side. I managed to find a similar plane online, a shoulder rebate plane with the same LLN marking. Given my literature, it was seemingly impossible to find any information relating to these planes. Online it was similarly challenging (although online always is).

It seems like a plane that could have commonly existed, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of sales out there in the inter-web. Were theses planes constructed in some small town industry, or was it a bespoke planemaker? There are inherent similarities between the shoulder plane and the Record shoulder rebate plane No.041. The design shares the same curves and structure, so I imagine this plane might have been modelled after it?

The mystery LLN bullnose plane
The shoulder rebate plane

The planes were both sold on eBay and described as being made of bronze. This might be because hand-machining bronze might be easier than other ferrous metals? On first inspection it doesn’t have the same colour as brasses commonly used in modern planes, but given there are many differing type of brass, with differing percentages of copper and zinc, it is hard to determine the exact type (short of some type of testing, see Refs.). The bullnose plane has a blade made by Edward Preston & Sons, but blades don’t tell the full story, as they are easily substituted.

Were these hand-made once-offs? There may be some tell-tale signs. Here are some of my thoughts (using some close-up pictures provided by Jim K.):

  • The planes have a large percentage of their sides dedicated to decorative depressions. Traditionally, larger manufacturers added these depressions sparingly (probably due to their expense). Edward Preston produced a lot of planes with very decorative sides.
  • On many rebate planes, the depressions are textured, but in these planes they are not. The depressions have a coarse look to them, implying that they were cast, or roughly machined in some manner.
Image showing the depression regions of the sides of the bullnose plane (JimK)
  • Sometimes the depressions are made in the process of “sculpting” a relief to form a logo, or other letters. Some manufacturers, when adding markings such as ‘MADE IN ENGLAND” form them in such as manner that the top of the letters are cut slightly lower than the side of the plane. The LLN markings are not.
  • These planes are generally cast, then machined. There seem to be milling marks on some edges of the plane (e.g. top), which is not unrealistic given the nature of bronze, The image below shows this in addition to the rough casting internally. The lines of the curves of the plane body, don’t seem precise, there are places where they seem a bit jagged.
Rough milling marks (JimK)
  • There are a lot of parts on the lever cap that seem roughly finished after casting.
Rough finishing (JimK)
  • The LLN mark is different on both planes, leading one to believe the maker was experimenting. Most manufacturers don’t use such large markings on the side of the plane.
  • On the shoulder plane, the knurling on the blade depth adjustment mechanism differs from that on the lever cap (an inconsistency which a manufacturer wouldn’t allow).
Textured detail on a Preston rebate plane

It is therefore quite conceivable that both these planes were bespoke planes made by a planemaker in a local area, not unlike modern planemakers. Popular Mechanics ran articles on casting with bronze throughout the years, so it would have been somewhat easy to do in a good home workshop. Here is an article from Sauer&Steiner who talks about five unfinished bullnose plane castings he bought from England.

NB: It is possible some parts on these planes were cannibalized from other broken planes, and the bodies built around them. If anyone else has ever seen this make, please let me know.

R.E. Edwards, “Casting Bronzes in the Home Workshop”, Popular Mechanics, May 1932, pp.867-869
“Simple Methods Identify Metal of Broken Castings”, Popular Mechanics, Sept. 1940, pp.477-479

2 thoughts on “Identifying mystery planes: Bespoke plane-maker?

  1. Danny Roberts says:

    Bronze and brass are probably easier to cast – I have a spokeshave and another tool which both seem to have their body cast directly using a known maker’s body as a pattern. I think of them a s night shift or foundry apprentice pieces – a little crude, but a different look and work OK.

    The only small UK manufacturer making special planes of different materials with a name at all like that was Lewin.

    Not the answer to your search, but maybe clues?

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