Bit Braces made for the U.S. Ordnance Department

Bit Braces Marked for the U.S. Ordance Department.
From left to right PS&W 59 1/2, MIllers Falls, Stanley/Fray X3, Stanley/Fray no. 8

For some reason I can’t explain, I have always been interested in small bit braces. I have found an interesting sub type of six inch bit braces that are not only short sweep, but are also more compact in design, barely 12in long overall. Almost all of these braces I’ve come across were marked for the U.S. Ordnance Department. At first I assumed that these were somehow used on bombs, fuses, shells, or other ordnance. It turns out the O.D. had a larger mission during the WWI-WWII era these braces belong to. The US O.D. not only supplied munitions, but also served in an equipment supply/warehousing/repair/safekeeping role. From the Wikipedia entry on the Ordnace Corps:

At the start of World War I, the Ordnance Department was charged with supplying the Army with arms, equipment, and ammunition establishing and maintaining arsenals and depots for the manufacture, repair, and safe-keeping of ordnance, and provide horse equipment and field outfits for Soldiers, such as canteens, tin cups, knives, forks, and spoons.

During World War I, the Ordnance Department mobilized the United States industrial base, jointly developed weapons with European allies, and established overseas supply depots and Ordnance training facilities. In 1919, testing was moved from Sandy Hook Proving Ground to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

By 1940 all Ordnance training, officer and enlisted was moved from Raritan Arsenal, New Jersey to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, forming the Ordnance School. World War II expanded the Ordnance Department's responsibilities to include production, acquisition, distribution, and training missions for the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Force, and,
in some categories the Navy. In August 1942, the Ordnance Department assumed responsibility for procurement and maintenance of all wheeled and motored vehicles.

I have seen a few O.D. manuals and procedure books from this period. They all deal with establishing safe, secure locations for equipment storage. There isn’t much about actual munitions, other than storage procedures. The equipment lists for the O.D. specify a ratchet bit brace, auger bits, twist bits, screwdriver bits, and countersinks. I have found several types of braces marked for the O.D., some of which are shown below. Interestingly, none of these models were shown in any of the catalogs published by these manufacturers at the time they were produced.

The most common example I’ve come across is the Stanley/Fray X3, a compact 6in brace. Almost all examples of this model I have seen were marked for the O.D. These are standard Stanley braces along the lines of a no. 923 brace but more compact and featuring hardwood handles instead of cocobolo.

I have come across several O.D. braces made by John Fray in Bridgeport, CT and later by Stanley after they acquired Fray in 1920. Shown above is a Stanley/Fray no. 8 all iron bit brace with a Spofford chuck. The chuck screw is marked for the U.S. O.D.

Millers Falls made an unnumbered brace for the U.S. O.D. that closely resembles the no. 34 but with hardwood handles. It is similar in style to the Stanley X3 in terms of size and design.

Finally, Peck, Stow, and Wilcox, of Southington, CT produced a compact 6in bit brace model no. 59 1/2.

These interesting compact braces continue to interest me. If you come across any examples that are not shown above please let me know.

Commentary from Period Tool Catalogs

I enjoy reading tool catalogs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They provide insight into how these tools were marketed to the people who bought them and used them at the time. Aside from the information they convey, they can also be damned entertaining at times. I especially appreciate the acerbic wit of the Chas. Strelinger catalogs. Strelinger was a Detriot, MI tool merchant which offered a full line of tools of all sorts. Their 1897 catalog is full of little essays like this one, which describes the benefit of buying dedicated molding planes to tackle tasks that are repeated frequently rather than try to make do with a combination plane like a Stanley 45.

Gotta love it.

Stealthy Lions

I’ll admit I’ve become a bit of a brace geek. I’m a big fan of the Millers Falls Lion brace. It’s a heavy-duty brace every bit as well-made as the PEXTO Samson and a more robust design than the North Brothers Yankee. If you need a beefy brace fora big job there’s none better. They tend to be a bit on the pricy side since they are always in demand and not very common.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. Millers Falls made braces for Craftsman (I believe) in the 1940s-50s. These were high-quality braces but lacked the exotic wood pad and handle, but otherwise identical in every way to the mainline Millers Falls tools. You can tell the Millers Falls Craftsman tools by the “BB” maker code in small font near the Craftsman logo. I’ve seen a couple of different models- one of these is unmistakably a Millers Falls Lion in branded for Craftsman.

Take a look at these two and see if you can pick out the Millers Falls Lion from the Craftsman.

Lion Braces
Lion Braces  (click for larger)

Lion Chucks
Lion Chucks (click for larger)

OK, so the stained pad and handle give it away- the top is the Craftsman, the bottom the Millers Falls no. 772 made ca. 1925.. Other than the wood, both are identical in every way.

So keep an eye out and an open mind toward those Craftsman braces. You might find a Lion in disguise.

Mortise Chisel Handles

I’m Following up on a recent Twitter discussion (you can follow me @HKToolCo ) on making handles for traditional British “pigsticker” mortise chisels. I promised I would dissect one to see how the handles were attached. Granted, this is just one example, but I think it’s good evidence.

Here is the subject: a Marples 3/8in pigsticker with a broken handle.

Broken Mortise Chisel Handle
Broken Mortise Chisel Handle (click for larger)

The handle broke along the grain due to an off-center blow from  a mallet. Judging by the mushrooming on the end of the handle it was used to being hit very hard. This handle didn’t have perfectly straight grain- it had some run-out along one edge. If you are making mortise chisel handle make sure to use riven stock and watch the grain!

Removing half the handle and leaving the bit in situ we see this:

Chisel Handle Cross-Section
Chisel Handle Cross-Section (click for larger)

Closeup of Cross-Section
Closeup of Cross-Section (click for larger)

There are a couple of things to note here: First, the hole in the handle is tapered . It is a rectangular hole to match the tapered rectangular tang of the blade. It was not bored with a drill, there are chisel marks or similar along the edges of the mortise. Also, the sides of the hole don’t match the taper of the tang perfectly. The tang has barbs cut into the corners of the soft steel tang with a chisel. These help prevent the tang from coming loose.

Mortise Bottom
Mortise Bottom

The bottom of the mortise is packed with what appears to be sawdust mixed with some sort of glue. it did not cut well with a chisel and was certainly not solid well. It had formed to the bottom of the tank. That, combined with the barbs on the tang made it very hard to remove.

Chisel Removed: Evidence of a Burned-In Tang
Chisel Removed: Evidence of a Burned-In Tang

With the chisel removed it’s clear there is evidence of charring along the edges and in the glue/sawdust bed at the bottom. I’d bet that the tang was heated and burned-in to the handle.

Dissection complete. Again, it’s just one example but it provides a good starting point for anyone looking to re-handle a vintage mortise chisel.


Halloween and Hurricanes

Hello everyone,

Here in Connecticut we’re supposed to get hit pretty hard by hurricane Sandy. The coast is at the greatest risk from the predicted huge storm surge. Thankfully we’re 500 ft. above sea level up here in the hills so we shouldn’t have any flooding. I am worried about something falling on the house, but there’s nothing I can do about that. We have the generator ready and plenty of food put up. Let’s hope for the best.

I’m going to postpone the tool sale I had planned for tomorrow. I’ll have a house full of kids and a possible interruption of power and/or Internet access so it’s best to push it off a week to November 5. This will give me another week to put together even more good tools which should make this an enormous list of tools for sale. Lots of fun stuff coming up- I promise.

We spent some time today carving pumpkins for Halloween. The kids are all excited about our town’s Trick-or-Trunk event at the school on Halloween. We live in the middle of nowhere so door-to-door trick or treating isn’t practical. Instead, everyone gathers at the high school and decorates their trunks/trucks and passes out candy. My daughter has been working hard on our display this year- she picked a Plants vs. Zombies theme. Hopefully the hurricane won’t wash out Halloween again like it did last year. Here are some photos of the pumpkin carving. As you can see, old tools were utilized. I have a Harvey Peace keyhole saw that I’ve modified just for this purpose and it works great. A center bit in a brace is a good way to cut a pilot hole for the saw, and plus it makes fun curly pumpkin shavings that the kids love.

Boring a pilot hole with my 4in brace and center bit.

Removing the top with my specialized pumpkin-cutting keyhole saw- my son's favorite part.

Curly pimpkin shavings curtesy of a razor sharp center bit.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!


A Note on Molding Planes With the Owner’s Mark EEL.

Hello everyone. I posted this note over on Google+ a few weeks ago. I thought I would repost it here for all of you who aren’t on G+. There have been a number of molding planes that have come up for sale lately with the owner’s mark EEL at the heel. I thought I’d let you in on what I know about these.

The EEL mark stands for Eugene (Gene) E. Langdon. Mr. Langdon was a famous furniture maker from Pennsylvania specializing in 18th century furniture. Mr. Landgon passed away in 2011 and the contents of his shop were consigned to auction.  He had an enormous collection of molding planes and other hand tools, all in excellent condition. Some of his molding planes like the ones shown below one, tuned and ready to use. All of his molding planes have the “EEL” stamp on the heel.  A number of them have shown up on eBay and on other tool dealer’s for sale lists.  I snap them up whenever I find them (and can afford them) because they are almost always top-notch and fantastic users. Mr. Langdon kept many of his molding planes honed, set, and ready to work. He was featured in Fine Woodworking several times and his shop was featured in Fine Woodworking No.174, the 2004/2005 tools and shops issue. If you have access to this issue you can see the racks and racks of molding planes he owned and used.

Gene Langdon's Owner Mark
Gene Langdon's Owner Mark

Here is a FWW short biography:

This is a silly game, but it has a picture of his shop here:

Finally, there is a book available that details Gene’s work and life. The preview on this site will give you some idea of the quality of his work and give you a quick glimpse of his shop.

That’s it for now. Look for more Old Tools tomorrow- assuming all goes as planned!


The “Diamond” Foot-Power Mortiser

I added a new tool to my shop the summer. I don’t buy much for myself these days. I have my small working set of tools that I use and my collection of Harvey Peace saws, some of which I use, others are purely wall-hangers. I don’t “need” a lot in terms of tools at this point. In fact, I have to be very careful about becoming too attached to tools I find because it’s easy for me to convince myself to keep something. There’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding. I never want to be considered a hoarder.

However, every once in a while I come across something that’s so unusual and so interesting that I just can’t pass it up. It’s the kind of thing that makes you say “wow” and get that tingle of excitement that you might have a chance of owning it. This is the type of tool that you only have one chance at and will probably never see again. I’ve learned over the years that when something like this comes up you jump at it and so what you can to get it. I still regret my decision seven or eight years ago to pass on a dead mint Harvey Peace P-70 handsaw because it was just a little too much. At the time I didn’t realize how rare that saw was, never mind in that condition. I’ll never have a chance at that saw again. So, whenever possible I try to go for those one of a kind tools.

This brings me back a few months to the end of July. I was up in Avoca, NY at MJD’s three day old tool extravaganza up at his HQ in the Finger Lake region of upstate New York. This event featured a 3,000+ lot auction spread out over three days. Many of these lots had dozens and dozens of items, 10 Stanley planes, 30 molding planes, 100 saws. This auction doesn’t have a lot of his high-end stuff, it’s a lot of “TLC needed tools” and frankly some real junk. It’s good junk though, and there are always some real diamonds in the rough. There were more old tools than one person could possibly look at over the course of three days, never mind inspect. While perusing the second day’s auction lots, I came across a machine in the “big items” tent that made me say “wow”. It was a “Diamond” foot-powered mortising machine made by the Seneca Falls Mfg. Co in the late 1800s. The machine was in great shape considering that it was well over 120 years old. All of the cast iron work was complete with no cracks. The machine moved perfectly and the adjusters were all present and accounted for. It had most of its original paint. Even the set of five original bits were there. It was just plain cool. I really wanted it for my shop.

I went back to my hotel that night and did some research. I found a few examples on the Internet, most of which were in pretty poor shape. I did some poking around on the Vintage Machinery website and found some great information (Vintage Machinery, formerly OWWM, is a fantastic site if you haven’t’ found it already.) including some original advertisements and catalogs. I learned that the Diamond mortiser was originally sold for $25 in 1890. This is close to $600 in 2011 dollars according to the inflation calculator. It featured all iron and steel construction and weighed in at 145lbs. The spring-powered “chisel reverser” can be easily adjusted for tension. It has screw-operated hold-downs on the table to keep the work flat to the bed. The entire bed can be moved up and down by loosening  a hand screw and sliding it along a giant dovetailed way. Coolest of all, the table could be rotated 45 degrees in either direction to allow it to work at almost any angle.  It came standard with three bits. Additional bits in sizes from 1/4 to 1in. were offered at additional cost. An optional tenon cutter was also offered for this machine as well as a “blind slat” mortising tool for making blinds. From what I found in the catalog, the machine was complete and in excellent condition. I decided to go for it.

Original Advertisement for the Diamond Mortiser
Original Advertisement for the Diamond Mortiser

The next day I inspected it again and still found no flaws. It wouldn’t come up for sale for a long time- there were 1,250 lots to be sold that day, a good six or seven hours of auction. As I sat there, I tried to figure out ways to justify the cost. The auction estimate was $750-$1,500 but large things like this tend to slip through the cracks at auctions. The absentee bidders can’t afford to bid high and pay shipping on top of the cost, and the floor bidders may not have much interest in it. Still, you never know what’s going to happen in an auction.I figured I could sell a few things out of my collection to raise some funds, and if it really worked as advertised I’d sell my hollow-chisel mortising machine which hasn’t done much but gather dust these past few years.

Late in the afternoon the lot came up for sale. It opened  with the high absentee bidder at about $300. I jumped in and ran the absentee bidder out at a surprisingly low number. The auctioneer then turned to the floor looking for bids and found no other interest. Why is it that when you have the high bid on something you _really_ want the auctioneer seems to slow down and take 5 minutes to search for a new bidder before hammering it down? In reality, the bidding took all of 20 seconds for this lot to sell and I wound up winning it for what I think is a very reasonable price, slightly less than those 25 1890 dollars would be worth today taking inflation into consideration. Another way to look at it- it cost about half of the going rate for a Stanley No.1  in good shape and I’ve seen probably a hundred of those over the years. I don’t think I’ll ever see another one of these. There are lots of ways to self-justify new acquisitions, trust me.

After the auction I conscripted two of MJD’s younger, larger auction helpers to assist me with loading it in my truck. It’s only 145 pounds, but it’s all awkward angles and moving parts, and there is no good way to lay it down without putting lots of weight on one fragile part or another. After a few minutes of careful loading, followed by a healthy and well-earned tip, I had it loaded to my satisfaction, propped on top of layers of Styrofoam and cardboard. I covered it with a tarp and hoped for no rain or major potholes on the way home. It arrived home safe some seven hours later. I convinced my wife to help me unload it and we managed to get it into my shop without any damage to the machine or our marriage.

The Diamond Mortiser in its New Home
The Diamond Mortiser in its New Home

Close-Up of the Fence, table, and Hold-Downs
Close-Up of the Fence, table, and Hold-Downs

Showing the Adjustable Chisel Reverser, Embossed Frame, and Sliding Height Adjustment
Showing the Adjustable Chisel Reverser, Embossed Frame, and Sliding Height Adjustment

At top- the Chisel Reverser and Drive Shaft with Morse Taper Chuck.
At top- the Chisel Reverser and Drive Shaft with Morse Taper Chuck.

Massive Foot Pedal and Cast Iron Legs
Massive Foot Pedal and Cast Iron Legs

The Bed Tilts 45 Degrees or More In Each Direction
The Bed Tilts 45 Degrees or More In Each Direction

Four of the five Original Bits That It Came With.
Four of the five Original Bits That It Came With.

I’ve had the machine in my shop for almost two months now and I’ve played around with it quite a bit. I can’t resist showing it to everyone who walks through. It’s certainly a conversation piece- hard to miss and everyone asks about it. So, how does it work? It actually works very well. The technique is just like chopping a mortise by hand with a mortise chisel except that it’s much faster. You start at one end of the mortise and work your way down, then reverse the bit and sneak-up on the far side of the mortise. With the bits freshly sharpened it makes short work of smaller mortises in most hard and softwoods. Wider, deeper mortises require a few passes which is to be expected. The major benefit for me is that the mortises are always square and plumb. The mortise bottoms need some clean-up work afterwards, but the vast majority of the work is done by the machine and much faster than I can do by hand. In fact, I’m pretty sure it does a better job than my Delta benchtop hollow chisel mortiser, but I may be a bit prejudiced. It’s a hell of a leg work-out as well.

The Machine in use cutting a 3/8in. Mortise in Cherry
The Machine in use cutting a 3/8in. Mortise in Cherry

I’ve found a bunch of fun stuff the past few months. I hope to have more time to share some of them with you. Keep an eye out for more tools coming up later this week. As always, thanks for looking.


Woodworking Report: Making a Shave Horse

Something unusual happened twice in the past week- I got some time to do some actual woodworking. These days most of my free time is spent with our kids (my son just turned one year old yesterday!), or working on tool stuff for my business. It’s been more than a year since I had any real shop time. The last two Fridays I found myself with a few hours of unexpected free time and had some fun butchering some wood.

Last Friday I took the day off of work to attend the Lie-Nielsen hand tool event at the CT Valley School of Woodworking. It was a fun time and I got to see a lot of nice tools and me. The highlight of the show for me was watching Peter Follansbee work. I’ve been a fan of his work, and his blog for a while. I find it fascinating how he starts with a log and ends up with one of his beautiful 17th century style carved boxes.  I left the show a bit early and returned home with an hour to spare before I had to get the kids from school. I decided to pick up a project I started almost three years ago..
Continue reading “Woodworking Report: Making a Shave Horse”

Molding Plane Basics

Over the past couple of months I have received several emails from customers and readers of my blog interested in getting started with molding planes. Specifically, folks want to know what planes are used for which woodworking tasks, how to choose a plane, and what would be considered a good starter kit. This article is an attempt to answer these basic questions and provide a framework for more detailed articles in the future. I am going to try to provide some basic information on the basic types of molding planes along with some basic things to look for when shopping for a plane and how these planes are used.

Some background: I have been interested in hand tools and wooden planes in particular for about 10 years. I enjoy collecting molding planes and using them in my woodworking whenever possible. I also like making molding planes, something that has helped me to understand how they work and how to tweak and tune them. I am by no means an expert. I welcome your thoughts, comments, questions, and criticisms. I intend to be a article to be a work in progress, something that is updated and revised based on your feedback.

Some Basics

A molding plane is a very simple tool- it is a chunk of wood, almost always beech, that holds a  blade (the iron). The blade is inserted into a mortise cut through the body at an angle and held in place with a wooden wedge. The front of the plane is the toe- this is where the maker’s mark is normally stamped. The rear is the heel. The bottom, where the blade projects is the sole. The slot in the side where the shavings are ejected is the escapement.

A molding plane blade is generally bedded at 45 degrees to the sole of the plane, though British planes commonly used 50 degrees (York pitch) or higher. As the bedding angle increased, the action of the plane iron becomes more of a scraping action, and less of a shearing action. This is the same effect as increasing the effective cutting angle of a bench plane. The benefit to a higher pitch is that the plane will perform better on hardwoods with difficult grain. The cost is a plane that is harder to push and has a reduced usable edge life.

Why Use Molding Planes?

Molding planes are extremely effective tools- quick to setup and easy to use. Molding planes can take the place of most router bits and leave a much cleaner surface than any router can. Plane irons shear wood fibers, leaving a perfectly smooth surface ready for finishing. A router bit, no matter how sharp, leaves a scalloped surface behind. Now, if you are running 1,000 linear feet of crown molding, a router/shaper is the way to go. If you want to quickly add a bead detail to a door or table apron, tweak a rabbet, or cut a few dados, you can grab a molder and have it done in seconds. It’s also much easier to quickly wreck a piece using a power tool than with a molding plane. Not to mention the dust, noise, and danger inherent in power tools. But, if you are a Galoot woodworker, or heading down that slope, I hardly need to make that argument to you.

Collectabiltiy vs.Usability

There are several factors that determine the value of a wooden plane- the maker, the condition, and the type of plane. There is a high demand from collectors for early American wooden planes, especially those from the 18th century, and those by well-documented plane makers. There are some makers whose mark on an ordinary looking plane make it worth thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars. While these marks are rare, it’s usually best to research a plane’s maker before trying to put it to use. It’s probably not a good idea to try to use, and potentially ruin, an early American plane which could be worth the cost of an entire fleet of more ordinary molding planes. I have listed some books in the resources section at the end of this article that can help identify a plane’s maker.  The type of plane also has an impact on its value. In general, the more complex or scarce a profile the plane cuts, the more it is worth. The common profiles and plane types discussed below are usually fairly inexpensive in comparison to more complex planes. As with any collectible, condition is key. A plane in excellent condition is worth more than a plane in poor condition. Chips cracks, checks, missing blades or boxing all detract from a plane’s value. However, just because a plane isn’t cosmetically perfect doesn’t mean it won’t make a good user. I have some ugly planes in my collection that work very well.

Some Basic Planes

Rabbet Planes

General Features: The rabbet plane is one of the simplest molding planes yet also one of the most versatile. They are very easy to setup and use. They are also incredibly common and are usually very inexpensive.  Rabbet planes have a flat sole that is square to the sides of the plane body.

The two rabbet planes I use the most- a 7/8in. with nicker and a big 2in.

The blade is slightly wider than the sole of the plane and projects out both sides. The allows a rabbet plane to cut flush to an edge, just like its metallic counterparts. Most rabbet planes have skewed blades which makes them slightly easier to work in hard and difficult woods. Some rabbet planes have nickers mounted on the right hand side of the plane. The nicker can be lowered when working across the grain. It acts as a knife, slicing the wood fibers in front of the blade leaving a crisp shoulder. High-end rabbet planes had boxed soles, though these are fairly rare. You will often find rabbet planes with holes in the sole- remnants of a fence being temporarily secured to the sole.

Uses: Rabbet planes can cut rabbets, but ironically, they do not excel at this. Without a fence or depth stop they cannot cut the rabbet width or depth precisely.  Where rabbet planes excel is in tweaking other joints. It can be used upright or on its side to tweak the depth or width of a rabbet cut by a fillister plane. It can trip a tongue and groove joint for a perfect fit.  It can be used like a shoulder plane to adjust a tenon cheek or the lone edges of a panel for a frame and panel door. Rabbet planes are also key when making built-up moldings with hollows and rounds. The rabbet plane, which is much easier to sharpen, is used to hog off the waste between the molding profiles while the hollow and round molding plane is used as sparingly as possible. The rabbet plane is also capable of very coarse work. The skew-blade variety can remove a lot of material very fast. The sound they make as their skewed blades move through wood is quite unique- sounding almost like a huge zipper. You will often find these planes in rough shape, evidence of their being used for coarse work.

Things to look for: Make sure the blade is in good condition. The mouth should be fairly tight. The body should not be twisted (put it on a known flat surface like a jointer table or surface plate and check if it rocks) and the sole should be close to 90 degrees to the sides of the plane.

Most rabbet planes have skewed blades. Some have nickers to help work cross-grain.

Fillisters. General Features: The fillister plane comes in several varieties. The most common and the most useful in my opinion is the moving fillister. An adjustable fence and depth stop allows the plane to be set to cut a rabbet of a precise depth and width. The addition of a nicker in front of the blade helps it maintain a clean cut when working across the grain. The better planes will have the nicker blade bedded in a mortise in the side of a the plane, a wedge holding it tight. More commonly the wedge is dovetailed into the side of the plane. I’d suggest moving the wedge out of the way when cutting with the grain where it is not needed. The dovetailed nickers usually do not have the grip to hold the wedge up away from the sole. The only option in that case is to remove the nicker, risking that it could be lost. Judging by the number of planes I find with missing nickers, this happens a lot. Most planes have boxing on the right hand edge of the plane’s sole where most of the wear occurs.

Uses: This plane cuts a rabbet and can be used both with and across the grain. Useful when making ship-lap boards, raised and fielded panels, and complex moldings with hollows and rounds. Functionally equivalent (though a much better performer and easier on the hands) to a Stanley 78.

Things to look for: Make sure the blade is in good condition. The depth stop should move freely and stay put when set. Make sure that the screws that hold the fence in place have not stripped out. This is a common problem. Ensure that the nicker is present and has some life to it. If the nicker is loose in its dovetail this is not a deal-breaker- it can be easily fixed.  Most important- over time as the blade is sharpened and reduced in length the relief angle, the bevel on the side of the iron, must be updated and ground. Otherwise the plane will not cut square to the face of the board. See Larry Williams DVD for an excellent example of how to sharpen and tune this plane. The nicker should be sharp. NEVER sharpen or put a bevel on the outer face of the nicker. This is a sure way to prevent the plane from cutting a square rabbet. Nickers are often made of softer steel than the blade. Most nickers can be sharpened with just a mill file. Check the boxing to make sure it in good condition especially the leading corner in front of the blade- this is where the worst of the wear will occur.

Side Beads
General Features: The side bead cuts a bead at the edge of a board. It has an integral fence and depth stop. It is a simple plane to use- hold it upright against the edge of a board and plane until it stops cutting. Very simple. These planes are always boxed- at a minimum the “quirk” of the bead is boxed. Better planes are completely boxed.

Uses: A bead detail is useful anywhere you want to add interest to an edge- along a table skirt for example. It also serves to soften a sharp edge, protecting legs and the edge from splintering. A bead is also a good idea anywhere you want to distract the eye from a joint where two things meet- along a the vertical lines of a door, or along the edge of a ship-lap back of a case piece. The bead hides subtle variations in the edges from the viewer. The quirk of a bead is also a good place to hide a nail.

Things to look for: Again, make sure the blade has no major pitting. Re-grinding small side bead blades is a real pain. Also make sure that the plane hasn’t twisted- sight down the sole of the plane along the boxed quirk and make sure there is no deviation. If there is the plane will get bound up in use. They are common so make sure you find a good one.


General Features: Dado planes are unmistakable. They have a main blade much like a rabbet plane. The blade is skewed and the escapement is almost always conical. Dados are equipped with a double-pointed nicker that sits in front of the blade. The nicker’s knife edges score the wood fibres before the blade comes by and scoops them out. Some form of depth stop is also present. This may be a thumbscrew-adjusted brass or steel plate, a brass shoe held in place with a screw, or a wooden peg or tombstone shaped depth stop that relies on friction alone to hold it in place.

Uses: A dado plane cuts a dado- a groove away from the edge of a board across the grain of the wood. It is commonly used in case pieces to secure shelves, dividers, cabinet tops and bottoms, etc. A dado plane does not have a fence so it must be guided with some sort of baton either nailed or clamped to the board being used. Dados are just about the coolest molding plane out there. They are incredibly fast and leave a perfect dado with crisp sides and a smooth bottom.

Things to look for- It is very important that the body is not twisted. If it is the plane will bind in the groove. Sight down the sole to try to detect any twist. The body of the dado plane will be somewhat thinner than the actual width of cut- this is correct. The depth stop should move freely and lock securely. The nicker iron should have some life left in it. If the points are short that’s OK- most nickers were left soft so they can be sharpened with a file. DO NOT attempt to sharpen or mess about with the outside faces of the nicker.  Only sharpen the inside bevel.

Hollows and Rounds

General Features- Hollows and rounds are pretty straight forward- planes that have a concave or convex sole and cut either a hollow or round profile. Unlike almost every other plane, H&Rs are named by the shape of the plane’s sole, not the profile it creates. So a hollow has a concave sole, a round has a convex sole. Don’t ask me why. Some hollows and rounds have skewed irons to help with difficult wood- picture skewing your bench plane when you tackle a tough board and you’ll see what I mean. The British planes are commonly found with skewed irons, the American planes less so. Most hollows and rounds cut a 60 degree arc of a circle. Planemakers used a variety of numbering schemes, the most common of which is to assign the plane a number based on the radius of the arc it cuts in 16ths. Using this scale a No. 12 plane would cut an arc with a 3/4in. radius.

Uses: Hollows and rounds are frequently used together to create complex moldings. Together with a moving fillister and rabbet plane you can make almost any shape.

Things to look for:  Look for a good iron and a fairly tight mouth. I prefer British planes with a York pitch iron, slightly skewed. Matched pairs of hollows and rounds are nice to have, but not frequently found and not entirely necessary. You can do a lot with a few planes in the common sizes

Complex and specialized planes

There are an almost infinite variety of molding planes. Complex molding planes are found in just about every size and profile combination. Many trades, such as sashmakers, casemakers, stair builders, and coopers used highly specialized planes in their work. Some of these planes are useful in a modern workshop, others aren’t use today. In the future I hope to put together an article on complex molding planes as well as specialized planes like sashmaker’s planes.


A New Auction Find

I usually attend auctions to find good tools to restore and resell. Once in a while I find a tool  I just have to keep. Besides saws, I also have a “thing” for crisp molding planes, especially British planes. When I found this plane at a local auction I knew right away it was a keeper.

J. Buck Molding Plane
J. Buck Molding Plane

This is a J. Buck, London quirk ogee in a really uncommon small 3/8 in. size. Buck made some of the highest quality molding planes in my opinion. The overall execution and attention to detail on this plane is amazing. It’s also as crisp as the day it was made. Aside for the MAX OTT owner’s mark there is barely a scratch on it. It was clearly used very little, if at all.

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