A Colonial cabinetmaker could have had hundreds of planes, each with a specific purpose. In the late 18th Century the best irons came from tool makers in Sheffield, England, home of the famous Sheffield steel. In some cases the wood blocks, handles and wedges also came from Sheffield, but often tool makers and cabinet makers in the Colonies made their own.
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18th Century Rabbet Plane
This plane was made in New England in the late 18th Century. The body is made of beech 9-3/4” long and 1-1/2” wide. It features a scoring knife, which cabinet makers found useful as a step-saving measure.
(Right) A set of six irons provides six different cutting widths. Note that the irons are thicker toward the tip for greater strength. The thickness tapers down toward the back of the iron. This feature saved on the expensive Sheffield steel, which was a big part of the cost of fine tools.
Adjustable Fillister Plane, Circa 1750
Made of Maple and beech. 7-5/8” long. Applewood tightening washers and nuts with boxwood insert on the fence. Threaded applewood adjusting arms. This type of plane had many uses. Its key feature is being able to set the fence at different measurements to determine the space between the cut and the edge of the piece. Most adjustable planes had wedges to lock in the spacing of the fence. Threaded arms are quite rare.
Marquetry Plane, Circa 1780
Full metal body with hardwood insert. 11-5/8” long by 2-7/8” wide. Iron is 2” wide. The cutting edge of the iron is Sheffield steel welded on. This was done to save the expense of making the whole iron from this hard, but expensive steel. The metal body was to assure that it would not go out of shape at all. because a marquetry plane had to have very precise and true planing to smooth the surface of fine marquetry.
Note the very narrow throat for fine surface planing. The width of the throat controlled by a separate steel section that could be replaced by one with a wider throat. The precision milling of this plane gives the impression of a tool made in more modern times.
More 18th Century American Planes with English Irons
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