Plane (hand plane)

[This is a difficult entry. As an amateur woodworker, I own several planes, which mostly sit on the shelf. With today's stationary and portable woodworking tools, dimensioning rough wood, and/or simply shaping workpieces into the parts needed for a project can almost entirely be accomplished without using hand planes.

That said, I confess a deep respect for the craftsman skilled in using planes today. At a later date I will add material on the wooden hand plane.]

As a noun, a tool for woodworking used to level flat, smooth, and shape surfaces, including squaring of a board's edges. Its action, slicing thin shavings from workpieces. A plane's anatomy (illustrated below) consists of wooden or metal blocks, with an adjustable metal blade that projects at an angle, slightly down from the flat, bottom surface of its base. It consists of a smooth-soled stock as of wood or iron, from the under side or face of which projects slightly the steel cutting edge of a chisel, called the iron, which inclines backward, with an aperture in the front for the escape of shavings. As a verb, to make flat, level, or smooth.

The Oxford English Dictionary shows records of the use of the term, "plane", in the English language from 1425. Below are examples of "plane" used in different types of discourse:

Plane.-A plane is in principle (roughly speaking), as you will readily see, nothing but a chisel stuck through a block of wood or iron. Small or narrow surfaces may be smoothed to a certain degree by the chisel, the knife, or even the hatchet, but for large surfaces something is needed which can be more exactly controlled than the knife, ax, or chisel, held in the hands. So, to hold the chisel firmly in one position and to apply force to it more advantageously, it is firmly fixed in a block of convenient size and shape and becomes a plane.

A very short block will prevent the chisel cutting deeper at one point than another, but the tool will follow the irregularities of the surface and, though it may make the surface smooth, it will not make it level, or flat; so the block is made longer, that it may not go down into all the little hollows, but plane off only the higher parts.

Source: Charles G. Wheeler, Woodworking for Beginners, New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1899, page 445.

Plane. Who doesn't feel a thrill at the soft whistle of a sharp plane as it glides along a board and heaps up on the floor a great pile of aromatic curls? Surely it is pleasurable enough just to be an onlooker, but when you are privileged to be the planeman himself, there is no sensation quite so enjoyable.

Source: The opening paragraph of Chelsea Fraser's The Busy Boy's Book, New York: Crowell, 1927, page 36

So I say that this mother is extraordinary and the boy is quite genuine. Now he wants a set of tools.

I agree with Mother that he ought to buy them separately. There is such a thing as giving a boy too much or a boy getting too much for himself at one time. He will need a hammer, cross-cut saw, an inch chisel, bit stock, two bits, a square and a pair of pliers. Now It is get­ting pretty hard work to get this list of first-class tools for five dollars.

He can get a yard stick for nothing. There is no use buying a third rate saw - one can get along with a second rate hammer, Per­haps cheap hits and bit stick are all right to start. How I do wish he could include a plane -- boys love to see the shavings fly, and besides it is a necessary tool.

Source: Dr Arthur Dean's Advice to Mother's Column , Charleston Daily Mail October 1, 1927, page 5.

Different Methods of Dimensioning Wood

When timber comes from the Saw Mill, it is retains the "rough" of kerf-marks left by the saw's blade, a state of wood prepartion know as "Rough Sawn". Before the rough-sawn timbers or boards can be used for any finished work they must be Dimensioned/Sized and prepared to receive Finish, such as Stain, Oil, Paint or any other kinds of finish.

There are several methods in which this rough-sawn wood can be prepared.

The Role of the Hand Plane in Dimensioning Wood

The [primary] preparation [of rough dimensioned timber] consists in smoothing and/or Hand Planing, and -- in addition -- if appropriate, may include Scraping and/or Sandpapering or even Polishing.

The instrument used for the rougher part of this work is called a Hand Plane, which consists of a sharp blade, or knife-like "chisel" -- often called an "iron" --, securedly clamped at an angle in a block of hardwood or cast-iron.

Source: Garrett Wade Company, Tools: A Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia Simon and Schuster, 2001, page 84; Garrett Hack, The Handplane Book Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1997, pages 23-24.

Former Role of Craftsman in American Society

"...[C]rafts -- and the artisans who practice them -- played an important part in early American life; even more than historians have generally supposed. Next to husbandmen, craftsmen comprised the largest segment of the colonial population; whereas the former made up about eighty per cent of the people, artisans constituted about eighteen per cent."

Source: Thomas J Schlereth, "Artisans and Craftsman: An Historical Perspective", in Ian J Quimby, editor, The Craftsman in Early America New York: Norton, 1984, page 34.

Today, with power-driven tools virtually covering the woodworking landscape, it is all too easy to overlook how important hand-powered tools, especially hand planes, are to woodworking. As I show in my glossary entry on the hand plane, they have been in existence, in one form or another, since man first began to work with wood. "... because of their central role in this craft, they have been dubbed the 'violins' of the workshop"

(The following piece is adapted from Garrett Wade Company, Tools: A Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia Simon and Schuster, 2001, page 84. Unapologetically, in this "encyclopedia:, Garrett Wade is promoting the tools it sells. However, to Garrett Wade's credit, in creating this encyclpedia of tools, the corporation went to such experts as Mark Duginske.)

While today it is clearly obvious that hand planes have lost this status, they remain no less important to good craftsmanship than they were when at their peak, about 150 years ago. No substitute exists for a sharp blade shearing the wood fibers cleanly to produce a final surface that is flat and smooth, especially when this plane is in the hands of a skilled craftsman. The result of workpieces planed flat with a hand plane have a quality of appearance that testifies to fine hand craftsmanship. And, no doubt, some will see an irony in this truth. This quality of appearcance speaks to what some would declare is an "imperfection". That is, the very slight unevenness of the surface of workpiece -- when finished by hand -- reflects light sublty, beautifully, that is far more pleasing than is possible with a surface that has been mechanically flattened "to perfection" or one that has been heavily sanded or scraped.

Experienced woodworkers can do more careful (and better) work with a hand plane -- and can often faster -- than with power tools. (Remember, power tools usually require setup time.)

Perhaps most important: the hand plane is a more forgiving tool. In short, skill in hand planing is one of the most important skills of any woodworker.

(For more discussion of the thoughts about the hand plane's significance to woodworking, please read chapters 5 through 8 of Garrett Hack, The Handplane Book Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1997.)

Cast Iron Planes

The Hand Plane's Reign: the 19th Century

(Adapted from Garrett Hack, The Handplane Book Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1997, pages 23-24; image from Highland Woodworking Catalog, Fall, 2010, page 18.)

Cast iron was one of the new materials toolmakers turned their attention to. While not exactly new the Greeks and people of India had used cast iron it wasn't until the mid- 19th century that it was used for planes and other tools. Cast iron is simply molten iron with some impurities and a carbon content between 2% and 5% that is poured into a mold to cool. Its advantages for making planes arc obvious: The plane body is stable, the sole is long-wearing, the throat stays consistent, and each plane is identical and inexpensive.

Hazard Knowles was the first to try casting planes. Interestingly, his 1827 patent was the first significant plane patent in America, and it was for a cast-iron plane that wouldn't be popularly accepted for another 50 years. Many other makers experimented with casting planes, either as complete planes or in combination with wood as in later transitional types; initially, none could make planes in sufficient quantities or economically enough to compete with wooden planes. It wasn't until past mid-century that the man we associate most with cast-iron planes, Leonard Bailey, got started. It took the huge advances in production technology spurred by the Civil War to finally establish cast-iron planes as a superior alternative to wood.

The necessity of making armaments during the Civil War accelerated the development of machines, machine processes, and the technology associated with interchangeable parts. These developments required factories. Making cast-iron planes required the same organized production system to turn out large numbers of identical parts. Leonard Bailey started making cast-iron planes with Stanley in 1869. In the 1870 catalog Stanley offered an impressive line of 28 different sizes and types, both cast iron and wood-bottomed. Even though such planes were unknown to most craftsmen and the wooden-plane business was firmly established, by the end of the century Stanley was selling millions.

Leonard Bailey was one of the brilliant inventive minds behind the success of cast-iron planes. It was from firsthand experience as a cabinetmaker that he was interested in improving his tools. From his first patent in 1855 to 1869 when Bailey, Chancy and Company was bought by Stanley Rule and Level, Bailey experimented with and improved many designs for bench planes and scrapers. He invented such things as the depth adjuster and the lever cap still common on planes today. In fact, the design of the `Bailey-pattern" bench plane has remained essentially unchanged for well over a century.

The agreement between Stanley and Bailey didn't last. In 1875 Bailey broke away and started making a line of plane under the trade name "Victor." What followed was years of disagreement between them, as Stanley continued to get larger (typically by buying up competitors such as Victor) and Bailey finally gave up making planes.

What did last was Bailey's contribution to cast-iron planes and Stanley's incredible success with them. Success was not immediate though. For one thing, the planes were expensive compared with wooden ones. In 1870, the first year they were offered, #5 bench planes sold for $7.50 each; a premium wooden jack was closer to $1.50. As production increased, the next year the price dropped to $6.00, and by 1892 the same plane was $3.75. Stanley aggressively marketed its planes through pocket catalogs, trade magazines, store displays, and exhibitions. The advantages of the planes were so compelling that sales gradually rose. In the words of a contemporary catalog, "Increased sales meant increased production, increased production meant better facilities, better facilities meant better goods and lower prices..." and the promise of factory production of cast-iron planes was fulfilled. The demise of the wooden plane was just a matter of time.

The Demise of Wooden Planes

Wooden planes were in peak production when Stanley first started producing cast-iron planes. But during the last quarter of the 19th century three influences drastically cut the demand for wooden planes: the success of cast-iron planes, a gradual decrease in the need for handwork with the increasing availability and variety of woodworking machines, and the consolidation of the wooden- plane industry into a few large makers.

Once they became readily available and inexpensive enough to compete with wooden planes, cast-iron planes soon won out. They were simply easier to use and adjust; they stayed true and needed little sole maintenance. Wooden planes couldn't compete with the incredible variety of cast-iron planes that Stanley and others introduced year after year. Why carry a toolbox full of wooden molding planes when a Stanley #55 combination plane could do it all and then some? Meanwhile, molding and milling machines reduced the demand for the work wooden planes usually did. The final blow to wooden planes was the demise of the small maker who could no longer compete against a few large manufacturers. Only major toolmakers such as Ohio Tool, Auburn Tool, and Chapin-Stevens could afford the factories and large-scale production necessary to make wooden planes economically. Auburn even competed by using prison labor'. By World War I there were few buyers left for wooden planes.

The bright side is that wooden planes never disappeared entirely. They persisted longer in Britain, again because of the conservatism of the trades and a surplus of labor. That is why English molding planes can be found that cut Victorian moldings, whereas in this country such moldings were typically machine made. European makers such as Primus and E.C.E. never stopped making wooden planes either, although there seem to be fewer and fewer available in woodworking catalogs these days. Old wooden planes can still he found at any flea market or auction or from tool dealers. So many were made that there is likely to be a good supply for a long time to come.

roubo_molding_planes

In museums across the continent, a tool often found and seldom interpreted properly is the hand plane. In wide use before the introduction of power driven machinery in the mid-1800's cut short its utility, this simple, solid, hand-operated tool exists in great numbers today. Despite its easily rec­ognizable form, however, it is a rare person who can view a specific plane and tell just exactly what task it performed. Was it used in the initial stages of trimming a log, or did the craftsman employ it to smooth the last rough edges from an almost-finished floor? Did it carve the delicate fluting of an antebellum column, or did it gouge the groove for a mortise and tenon joint? The infinite number of ways in which planes were used in construction and dec­oration of early American buildings war­rants considerable attention-more than we have space to give here. But it is useful to consider, even though briefly, some of the many shapes, uses and types of early American planes.

Up to the sixteenth century planes did not figure prominently in European inventories of tools used for construction. They appear to have been considered more as tools for the cabinet-maker. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, they were used extensively in the finishing stages of a building. The styles of this period de­manded smooth, finished wood surfaces and classical mouldings with their fine differentiation of planes and surfaces. These could not be produced by any tool other than the plane because mould-cutting machinery did not come onto the market until the middle of the nineteenth century. Thus, there are a great many planes still to be found because this was one tool which the craftsman took great care to preserve. Most craftsmen possessed as many as thirty or forty in their tool chests. A well-stocked cabinet shop would have fifty or more.

Source: John I. Rempel, Tools of the Woodworker: Hand Planes Nashville : American Association for State and Local History, 1971 Technical leaflet no. 24.

A Wooden Hand Plane in Use

plane_wooden

The "4-S-4" Method of Dimensioning Wood

As John Rempel claims above, With the availability of Jointer and a Power Planer and a Circular Saw and/or a Bandsaw, the "4-S-4" method of dimensioning wood is used.

(Thanks to the Mechanization of the woodworking industry in the Nineteenth Century and to the Electrification of America in the early part of twentieth Century, the latter method is used more frequently than the former. Today, hand planing is an operation of wood preparation favored by a ? group of woodworkers dedicated to a [pure approach toward wood preparation. Their ranks are legion]

Consider this: After the Woodworth Planer became widely available in the 1830s, "a planer-matcher did in fifteen minutes what a man with hand planes could do in a day" For more on this theme, click here.)

The Anatomy of the Iron Hand Plane

(The images below are among the best I have seen on laying out the anatomy of a hand plane.)

anatomy of iron hand plane herman hjorth 1930

Plane parts: 1. cutting iron; 2 . plane-iron cap; 3. cap screw; 4. lever cap; 5. frog; 6. Y adjustment; 7. Y-adjustment screw; 8. lateral adjustment lever; 9. handle; 10, knob.

(The image above does not show the plane's "sole" or "face", i.e, it's base.

Below, with another image of a hand plane's anatomy -- Charles G Wheeler's, Woodworking for Beginners, 1899 --, the plane's body or "stock" is shown. Advantageously, the image focuses on a hand planes two essential parts: the iron and the stock. The bottom surface of the stock is called the sole or face (a and b), the wedge-shaped hole where the iron goes is called the throat (c), and the slot at the bottom through which the edge of the iron projects is called the mouth (d) .)

plane anatomy charles g wheeler 1899

The image below comes from R A Salaman's Dictionary of Tools, 1975.

anatomy of plane

Sources: adapted from Herman Hjorth, Principles of Woodworking Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1930, page 12; Charles G Wheeler, Woodworking for Beginners, 1899, page 445; R A Salaman's Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, c. 1700-1970, and Tools of Allied Arts. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1975, page 300.

Wooden Planes

Wooden planes were in peak production when Stanley first started producing cast-iron planes.

From 1875, three influences drastically cut the demand for wooden planes:

  1. replacement of wooden by cast-iron planes
  2. increasing availability/range of power woodworking machines (decreased need for handwork)
  3. wooden- plane industry consolidated into a few large makers.

Once they became readily available and inexpensive enough to compete with wooden planes, cast-iron planes soon won out. They were

simply easier to use and adjust;

they stayed true and

needed little sole maintenance.

Wooden planes couldn't compete with the incredible variety of cast-iron planes that Stanley and others introduced year after year.

Why carry a toolbox full of wooden molding planes when a Stanley #55 combination plane could do it all and then some?

Meanwhile, molding and milling machines reduced the demand for the work wooden planes usually did.

The final blow to wooden planes was the demise of the small maker who could no longer compete against a few large manufacturers.

Only major toolmakers such as Ohio Tool, Auburn Tool, and Chapin-Stevens could afford the factories and large-scale production necessary to make wooden planes economically. Auburn even competed by using prison labor'.

By World War I there were few buyers left for wooden planes.

The bright side is that wooden planes never disappeared entirely. They persisted longer in England, again because of the conservatism of the trades and a surplus of labor. That is why English molding planes can be found that cut Victorian moldings, whereas in this country such moldings were typically machine made.

European makers such as Primus and E.C.E. never stopped making wooden planes either, although there seem to be fewer and fewer available in woodworking catalogs these days.

Old wooden planes can still he found at any flea market or auction or from tool dealers. So many were made that there is likely to be a good supply for a long time to come.

Cast-Iron Planes

Cast iron was one of the new materials toolmakers turned their attention to.

While not exactly new-the Greeks and people of India had used cast iron-it wasn't until the mid- 19th century that it was used for planes and other tools.

Cast iron is simply molten iron with some impurities and a carbon content between 2% and 5% that is poured into a mold to cool.

Its advantages for making planes arc obvious: The plane body is stable, the sole is long-wearing, the throat stays consistent, and each plane is identical and inexpensive.

Hazard Knowles was the first to try casting planes. Interestingly, his 1827 patent was the first significant plane patent in America, and it was for a cast-iron plane that wouldn't be popularly accepted for another 50 years.

Many other makers experimented with casting planes, either as complete planes or in combination with wood as in later transitional types; initially, none could make planes in sufficient quantities or economically enough to compete with wooden planes.

It wasn't until past mid-century that the man we associate most with cast-iron planes, Leonard Bailey, got started.

It took the huge advances in production technology spurred by the Civil War to finally establish cast-iron planes as a superior alternative to wood.

The necessity of making armaments during the Civil War accelerated the development of machines, machine processes, and the technology associated with interchangeable parts.

These developments required factories.

Making cast-iron planes required the same organized production system to turn out large numbers of identical parts.

Leonard Bailey started making cast-iron planes with Stanley in 1869.

In the 1870 catalog Stanley offered an impressive line of 28 different sizes and types, both cast iron and wood-bottomed.

Even though such planes were unknown to most craftsmen and the wooden-plane business was firmly established, by the end of the century Stanley was selling millions.

Leonard Bailey was one of the brilliant inventive minds behind the success of cast-iron planes.

It was from firsthand experience as a cabinetmaker that he was interested in improving his tools.

From his first patent in 1855 to 1869 when Bailey, Chancy and Company was bought by Stanley Rule and Level, Bailey experimented with and improved many designs for bench planes and scrapers.

He invented such things as the depth adjuster and the lever cap still common on planes today.

In fact, the design of the `Bailey-pattern" bench plane has remained essentially unchanged for well over a century.

The agreement between Stanley and Bailey didn't last.

In 1875 Bailey broke away and started making a line of plane under the trade name "Victor." What followed was years of disagreement between them, as Stanley continued to get larger (typically by buying up competitors such as Victor) and Bailey finally gave up making planes.

What did last was Bailey's contribution to cast-iron planes and Stanley's incredible success with them. Success was not immediate though.

For one thing, the planes were expensive compared with wooden ones.

In 1870, the first year they were offered, #5 bench planes sold for $7.50 each; a premium wooden jack was closer to $1.50. As production increased, the next year the price dropped to $6.00, and by 1892 the same plane was $3.75.

Stanley aggressively marketed its planes through pocket catalogs, trade magazines, store displays, and exhibitions.

The advantages of the planes were so compelling that sales gradually rose.

In the words of a contemporary catalog, "Increased sales meant increased production, increased production meant better facilities, better facilities meant better goods and lower prices..." and the promise of factory production of cast-iron planes was fulfilled.

The demise of the wooden plane was just a matter of time.

The Decline of the Hand Plane's Role

In the first half of the 20th century, together with the hammer, saw, square, and chisel, the plane is one of the principal tools used by woodworkers to dimension, shape and smooth a project's wood components of a project -- table, sideboard, armoire, chair -- appropriately before assembly. In the second half of the 20th century and later, many woodworkers, especially amateur woodworkers, continue in this tradition.

However, today's portable power tools -- especially those discussed by R J DeCristoforo discusses on pages 17 and 18 in The Jigs and Fixtures Bible -- are frequently substituted by amateur woodworkers for performing many of the operations of hand planes. In that section of his book, DeCristoforo briefly outlines his convictions about the contribution of each of these portable power tools: the saber saw, the electric drill, the biscuit joiner, the thickness planer, the benchtop mortiser, the router, the electric sander, the dovetail jig, and the introduction and wide-spread use of carbide-tipped blades as the primary reasons why the hand plane is no longer a tool central to woodworking.

Testament of the Hand Plane's Central Role in Woodworking History

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The invention of the Plane was the most important advance in the history of woodworking tools in the last two thousand years and it appears to have taken place during the Roman era since no Planes have been found among Greek or Egyptian remains.

[I have speculated about the significance of the "advances" of woodworking tools, historically, and admit that I have reservations about such a sweeping claim, i.e., "most important advance in the history of woodworking tools in the last two thousand years"! OK, I haven't haven't investigated this problem to the extent of R A Salaman and his associates -- the project, after all, is a veritable lifetime investment of time, energy, and thought -- so anything I say must be considered within the light of my limited perception, but I have at least given the issue some thought, as laid out in my page, Evolution of Woodworking's Cutting Edges

After reading his claim about the "plane" as an "advance" in the history of woodworking, you expect a similar treatment be given the "saw" -- even an attempt to "compare and contrast" these two tools -- you will be disappointed. In comparison, in its entry, the saw is given "short shrift" to the plane, which I think is clearly ill-founded. The plane is very important, but does not over-shadow the saw, at least to the extent that Salaman's claim above suggests. Instead, let's approach these two tools from another direction -- i.e., that each comprises "cutting edges" -- and thus that each tool accomplishes its task of cutting and shaping wood, but in almost distinctly different ways. More later -- 5-1-08]

The earliest known Planes, with a stock of wood, or in the form of an iron sole with side plates and a wooden core, were used by Roman joiners at the beginning of the Christian era. The cutting iron was fixed by a wedge driven tight against a bar across the mouth. Tapered grooves for the wedge were introduced early in the sixteenth century. The double cutting iron (i.e. with back or cap iron) is encountered from about 1760.

The essential feature of a Plane is the built-in control provided by the sole which allows the worker to employ his full strength simply as driving force.

Source: R A Salaman's Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, c. 1700-1970, and Tools of Allied Arts. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1975, pages 299

How the Plane Operates:

While a great many different kinds of planes exist, the principle of all of them is the same: The knife projects at the bottom through a slot and takes off a shaving, which is relatively thick or thin, according to the distance which the knife projects below the body of the plane.

Any imperfection in the edge of the knife will be repeated on the surface of the wood. The plane family consists of various mem­bers, with each plane designed for a particular purpose, although some planes will perform a number of different operations.

Planes perform three different operations:

(1) shaping and/or

dimensioning/sizing (2) fitting

(3) finishing

These distinctions are, following Salaman (page 299), "arbitrary", in the sense that, in using the plane(s), the woodworker simultaneously "shapes", "fits" and "finishes" a workpiece(s). There may be interchange of planes, yes, but a seasoned plane user performs these skills.

In the boxed area directly below, I layout briefly the writing of some non-woodworkers, speculating on the mental, physical -- even spiritual -- aspects of skillful use of hand woodworking tools, where the role of the hand plane is central:

Lewis Mumford's famous 1951 Bampton Lectures were published as Art And Technics in 1952. In a chapter entitled "From Handicraft to Machine Art," Mumford says this about craftsmanship:

He [the craftsman] took his own time about his work, he obeyed the rhythms of his own body, resting when he was tired, reflecting and planning as he went along, lingering over the parts that interested him most, so that, though his work proceeded slowly, the time that he spent on it was truly life time. The craftsman, like the artist, lived in his work, for his work, by his work; and the effect of art was merely to heighten and intensify these natural organic processes-not to serve as mere compensation or escape....

Source: Lewis Mumford, Art And Technics New York: Columbia University Press, 1952, page 62. (Page 62 is NOT available in the online Google Print version of this book.)

Also in the 1950s, at Scotland's University of Aberdeen, Michael Polanyi delivered his justly famous Gifford Lectures, affirming the existence of "personal knowledge" as an essential component of any knowledge, whether scientific or practical. Later, in 1958, the University of Chicago published these lectures as Personal Knowledge. His most famous concept, "tacit knowledge", is about skills that cannot be learned from textbooks. Polanyi maintains that much of a craftsman's success depends upon tacit knowledge, that is, upon craft skills that have been acquired through practice and that cannot be articulated explicitly.

Polanyi's discussion of the personal element in all forms of disciplined craftwork gives much insight into tacit knowledge. He distinguishes between explicit knowing, such as occurs in the theoretical formulations of projects, and even in everyday practice; and tacit knowing, which is unstated (and in some cases cannot even be articulated) but, is nonetheless the basis for making sense out of experience. Without acknowledging such capacity, he claims, there can be no logical explanation of certain processes that occur when extrapolating from one point, where much is known, to another point, where nothing is known for certain. In other words, "the structure of tacit knowing . . . is a process of comprehending: a grasping of disjointed parts into a comprehensive whole."

Source:Personal Knowledge page 28]

Polanyi's Concept of Tacit Knowledge

Polanyi's most significant distinction for the concept of tacit knowledge is that between focal and subsidiary awareness. Focal awareness is the ordinary kind of fully conscious awareness of a specifiable object. In contrast, subsidiary awareness is the peripheral noticing of features of an object that are not attended to in themselves but are seen as pointers or clues to the object of focal attention. According to Polanyi, it is

well-known that the aim of a skillful performance is achieved by the observance of a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them.

Source: Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge Chicago: University of Chicago Press, page 28]

In any given context, there are some factors of which we are aware because we are directing attention to them. In other words, we are focally aware of them. In the same context, there are also factors we are aware of, even though we are not focusing on them.

That is, we are subsidiarily aware of them. For example, when a person is pounding a nail with a hammer, attention is focused on the nail. The person is only subsidiarily aware of the hammer. If, however, attention is switched to the hammer, the person becomes focally aware of the hammer and subsidiarily aware of the nail.

Recognizing that using a hammer requires an acquisition of a set of skills, in each of their woodworking manuals, Chelsea Fraser and Walt Durbahn give discussions (with illustrations) of recommended techniques of hammering nails. Likewise, skillful use of the hand plane brings the necessity of mastering a set of skills. Yesterday, as well as W F M Goss (1887 -- and later editons), Wheeler, (1901) and (1924), Fraser (1927) and Durbahn (on television in the 1950s) to name just a few, today, woodworking authorities such Ian Kirby demonstrate recommended techniques for hand planes.

In such examples,

...the cognitive context is brought into being by the knowing subject 'attending from' that which he is subsidiarily aware and 'attending to' that of which he is focally aware.' In pounding a nail, the person attends from the hammer, of which he is subsidiarily aware, and attends to the nail, of which he is focally aware...

Source: Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1958, page 49.

A decade later, in chapter 2, David Pye's 1968 The Nature of Art and Workmanship distinguishes between manufacturing and craftsmanship by defining manufacturing as the workmanship-of-certainty and craftsmanship as the workmanship-of-risk. Put simply, something can be manufactured, even if made by hand (possibly with the aid of jigs, etc) if the risks involved in its creation are minimal. On the other hand, something is "crafted" if there are ever-present risks involved in its creation; if "the quality of the result is not pre-determined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care the maker exercises as he works".

Also tied in with Pye's concept, "workmanship of risk" is the argument that "execution" is more important than "expression", where amateur woodworkers "view the outcome of their labors as subordinate to the immediate pleasures that they gain from creation", [adapted from Richard Lakes, "'Doing' Craft", Journal of Technology Education 2 (fall 1990), page 68.]

Historic Images of How to Properly Use a Hand Plane

goss demo of proper plane operations

Source: W F M Goss, Bench Work in Wood: A Course of Study and Practice Designed for the Use of Schools and Colleges. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1901

(Below,on the left, is an image of the contents of Garrett Hack, The Handplane Book.)

sack's table of contrents

1. The need for using Planes for the initial shaping operations of workpieces - as contrasted with the fitting of the pieces together or the finishing of the completed job - has greatly diminished since milled timber in a wide variety of dimensions, thicknesses, and profiles has been made available ready-machined from the saw-mill. But when a workman has to prepare his own "stuff' from the solid or from thick boards sawn over the pit, he keeps Planes specially for removing the waste wood as quickly as possible. For this purpose close accuracy is not necessary and a certain amount of 'tearing out of the grain' can be tolerated; so the Plane is set 'coarse' to take a thick shaving, has a wide open mouth to allow the shavings to pass, and, since the resistance would otherwise be too great, the cutting iron is often narrow and its edge slightly convex. The length of these Planes is immaterial within certain limits; it is, however, necessary to keep the surface of the work reasonably level, and there-fore the traditional English Plane for preliminary shaping, the Jack Plane, is 12-17 in long. The German equivalent, the Schropphobel, is only about 9 in long. The shortness of the German Plane, together with its upstanding front horn or handle, makes it very handy to use, with the result that examples are often found in English kits and are known as 'Bismarcks'.

2. For the second type of operation - fitting - where the purpose is to true and adjust surfaces so that they exactly match the surface of an adjoining piece, accuracy is all important. The characteristics of Planes for this purpose are therefore fine set irons with only the slightest curvature of the edge, and the longest sole which can conveniently be managed. The obvious example in the English kit is the Trying or Jointing Plane which is used on the edge of boards to make them butt together so closely that the joint is invisible. These Planes are used on the long edge of the board, held clear above the Bench Vise, so they can themselves be long (26-30 in), but other Planes, used for rebates, such as the

Shoulder Plane and the Bullnose Plane, although having similar requirements, are shorter, either be-cause the work surface itself is short or because they are designed for use in a restricted space.

3. Finally, Planes for finishing, called Smoothers or Smoothing Planes, are designed to produce a finished surface leaving the minimum of work to be done with Scraper or glass paper. The essential features are a very finely set iron, with the minimum curvature of the edge, or with only the corners rounded so as not to leave score marks, and the narrowest possible mouth to prevent the grain from tearing up. In joinery and cabinet making, the object under construction will normally have been assembled and glued up before the Smoothing Plane is used, so that any remaining broad undulations can be ignored, and the Plane is short to enable it to reach any local depression.

4. Planes that perform more than one operation. Under the individual plane entries will be found many examples of Planes designed for special jobs which perform more than one of the three operations described above. In some applications, e.g. the making of decorative mouldings, there is no element of `fitting' involved and the Plane which shapes the wood should leave the surface as nearly finished as possible. In other instances, such as 'ploughing' to produce grooves, the result will not be visible, and a certain roughness may even be desirable if it is to form part of a glued joint.

Types of Hand Planes

For his students in his carpentry courses, Walter Durbahn suggested the following list of planes -- "in the order in which they should be bought":

1. Jack Plane

2. Block plane

3. Rabbet plane

4. Scrub plane

5. Jointer plane

6. Smooth plane

7. Spokeshave

8. Router plane

9. Scraper plane

10. Universal plane

11. Weatherstrip plane

12. Bullnose plane

Among hand planes, three are most widely-used: (1) the Jack Plane, (2) the smoothing plane, and (3) the block plane. Smoothing, jointer, fore and Jack Planes are collectively known as bench planes. Block Plane: A block plane, about 7 inches long, cuts across the grain on the ends of boards. Its plane iron is set at a more acute angle with the face than in ordinary planes and with the bevel upwards.

A small tool for smoothing wood surfaces; ordinarily [the Block Plane] is intended for use with one hand and is especially adapted to planing across the grain and end grain. It is adjustable for coarse or fine work.

Source: Home Craftsman 4 January-February 1935 page 124.

Bullnose Plane: [what is the origin of the name?] n., 2- bull/ nose' (bool/ noz'), n. I. . round clam. U.S.2. A small plane, having the iron set near the fore end of the stock; - called also bull/nosed' plane (-nozd').The bull-nose plane will work close into corners or other places hard to reach, Fig. 41.

Dado Plane: For cutting a channel, or dado. Example: The cast iron Stanley No. 39-1/4, manufactured: 1900 to 1950. Length: 8 inches, Blade Width: 1/4 inches. Skewed blade, adjustable depth stop and spurs.

Jack Plane: Craftsmen who use the 14-inch length Jack Plane smooth and joint boards and -- also -- do other all-around work with this tool. A smoothing tool mainly for rough or preliminary smoothing to lumber coming directly from the mill. Sizes range around 12" to 14" in length. A Jack Plane, usually about 14 inches long, is used for coarse work, as in the preparation of the work for the use of a jointer or fore plane. Although the Jack Plane is manufactured in various sizes, the 14-inch length with a 2-inch cutter or blade is most commonly used.

In their construction, the Jack Plane and the smoothing plane are identical, except that, in size, the Jack Plane is a few inches larger.

Source: Adapted from pages 37-38 of Chelsea Fraser's The Busy Boy's Book, New York: Crowell, 1927) Fig c-5 shows the anatomy of Jack Planes.

plane_anatomy2
For woodworkers, the recommended first purchase is the Jack Plane, on left. You can do all the work with a small jack that you can do with a smoothing plane. The downside for only a single plane, though, is time needed for adjusting between coarse and fine shavings. Adjusting Jack Planes planes or using them to smooth and square workpieces is neither difficult nor time-consuming. Patience is all that is needed. Before starting to plane always inspect (1) the cutter, to make certain that it is set correctly for the task, especially not protruding too far through the bottom. Ideally, you should feel the cutter's sharp edge very slightly, and evenly, when drawing your fingers across it. (If one corner sticks out farther than the other, ridges will show in the surface you plane.) In adjusting the cutter, be careful not to cut your finger. A lever (9) controls this plane adjustment.

Jointer Plane: A jointer is a long finishing plane, usu­ally from 22 to 24 inches long, used esp. for truing up the edges of boards to be accurately joined;

Smooth, or Smoothing, Plane: Developed from the original Bailey plane, the smooth plane is similar in construction but usually much smaller than the Jack Plane, . Since it is not expected to take off as much material as the Jack Plane, it does not require as great a force to operate the smoothing plane. This is a short, finely set plane, and may be made of either iron or wood; being light in weight it is easy to operate and will produce a smooth (though not true) surface, quickly, Fig. 33. A smoothing plane 8 inches long with a 1%-inch cutter is recommended.

Jointer Plane: The largest of the planes is the jointer, Fig. 34. The jointer planes vary in size from 20 to 24 inches in length. When it is necessary to smooth a large surface, or to make the edge of a board absolutely true so that two such surfaces, when finished, will fit together closely, this plane is used following the preliminary smoothing by the Jack Plane. The jointer plane is made long and heavy because it is in-tended for use on long boards and for obtaining a true surface when joining two boards. The carpenter finds the jointer plane indispensable in fitting doors, and making the edges straight and true.

Scraper Plane: Indispensable for smoothing large surfaces.

Router Plane: Used for smoothening flat the bottom of Grooves or Dadoes.

Combination or Universal Plane: When it is inconvenient or expensive to go to the mill, the Stanley "Fifty-Five," or universal plane, is a desirable tool to use to make various moldings.

Fore Plane: Between the Jack Plane and the Jointer Plane is a tool called the fore plane. The longer length of the jointer usually insures a truer-planed surface than is obtained with the fore plane which is shorter in length.

universal plane

On the left is my 1930s Sargent Universal Plane

Rabbet Plane: A desirable plane for planing into corners or against perpendicular surfaces is the rabbet plane with its 11/4-inch cutter. This plane is also convenient in size as it measures only 8 inches in length, Fig. 36.

Scrub Plane: The scrub plane with its rounded blade makes it possible to quickly and easily bring the boards down to rough dimension, to hollow out trim members, or to give timbers the adzed effect. The size recommended for a scrub plane is 9 1/2 inches in length with a 1 1/4-

Sources: First, for this (brief) section on the history planes, I am indebted to the discussion of hand planes by Walter E. Durbahn, in volume 1 of his venerable Fundamentals of Carpentry Chicago: American Technical Society, 1947, pages 37-43. (The volume's title page indicates that J Ralph Dalzell served as the volume's editor. From a historian's perspective the "first edition" textbook is superior to the subsequent editions, because all the historical allusions to the historial roots of carpentry were pruned out.) Oxford English Dictionary; Charles G. Wheeler, Woodworking for Beginners, New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1899; Chelsea Fraser, The Busy Boy's Book, New York: Crowell, 1927; Herman Hjorth, Principles of Woodworking Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Comapny, 1930; [Anonymous], Home Craftsman 4 January-February 1935 page 124; on pages 3-108 of his The History of Woodworking Tools, and using photos, drawings and text, W L Goodman surveys the history of planes, "from Pompei, dating before A.D. 79", to the the middle of the 20th century. (R A Salaman's Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, c. 1700-1970, and Tools of Allied Arts London: George Allen and Unwin, 1975, pages 299 to 380, acknowledges an indebtedness to Goodman.) Other sources I consulted include John I Rempel Tools of the Woodworker: Hand Planes, Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History, 1971 (Technical Leaflet 24; rev edition -- only 12 pages long, this "leaflet" contains numerous exquisite drawings of moulding plane profiles. Rempel is an architect, but he loves his hand planes); Garrett Hack, The Hand Plane Book Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1997; David G. Perch and Robert S. Lee. Wooden Planes and How to Make Them.