Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tools of the Trades

Wooden hand planes were found in virtually every 19th century tool box. Tradesmen, farmers and amateurs needed at least a few planes to try, true and finish wood stock. The most common planes were the bench planes which were used to square and finish boards for carpentry, cabinetmaking and joinery. These planes are long and rectangular with handles (called totes) and single cutting irons. This group includes joiners, which were used to true edges and faces of stock, and the shorter fore and jack planes, which removed larger amounts of wood easily and quickly.
Illustrated Catalog and Invoice Price List of Joiners’ Bench Planes,
Moulding Tools, Handles,
Planes Irons, &c., Manufactured by the Greenfield Tool Company. Greenfield: 1872. Reprinted by the Astragal Press.
Also common are molding planes which were used to shape and decorate molding and millwork. These planes were produced in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes and were given esoteric names such as scotia, astragal, ogee or torus bead. Some were quite simple in shape, like the hollows and rounds I used to make the bit of molding in an earlier post. Others were quite complex and were used to make the ornate cornices and architraves in fine Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival homes.

As styles in furniture and architecture changed during the 19th century, so did the types of molding planes. Historians and architects are often able to date furniture and architecture according to the differing styles of molding and decoration. The study of the molding planes is an important way to trace the development of these decorative styles. Following is a short primer on molding planes which shows a few of the many different shapes and profiles used in the 19th century.

The most common molding planes were the hollows and rounds. These planes were often bought in pairs of one hollow and one round of the same size. One plane could be used alone to form a groove or bead or in tandem to make more complex shapes like an S shaped ogee. Cabinet makers and joiners who frequently made molding often bought complete sets of hollows and rounds in graduated sizes. In this photo there are three rounds and one hollow from the #72 series of the Ohio Tool Company and one round from Chapin and Sons.

Also quite common are the various bead planes. Side beads, which cut a rounded profile on the edge of a board, were bought either singly or in graduated sets. Center beads, which cut a rounded bead profile in the middle of a board, were especially useful for furniture makers. Reeding planes, which cut several parallel beads in the middle of a board were also common. Below are three graduated side beads from the #105 series from the Auburn Tool Company and a #41 center bead from the Ohio Tool Company.

The ogee, which is a gentle S curve, is the most common of complex molding planes. The ogee can have two profiles: The cyma recta, where the concave section is at the bottom of the profile, and the cyma reversa, where the concave section is at the top. Below are three graduated ogees from the Ohio Tool Company. Roman style ogees, which were characteristic of the Georgian Style, are based on the circle while Grecian ogees are based on the ellipse and usually have quirk defining the inside edge of the top part of molding.

Following are a few examples of some other complex molding planes. These include (from left to right) an ogee sash plane for making window sashes and muntins, a Grecian ogee, a simple cyma recta, an ovolo, a Grecian ogee with quirk and fillet and finally a window sash coping plane.

1 comment:

woodtreks said...

Very nice overview on the topic. Keith (