George Buck Thumb Planes, and Others


Norris A31 adjustable Thumb Plane, circa 1930s. Gunmetal, with steel sole. Photo from Jim Bode

This example of a Norris A31 Thumb plane sold in 2020, for a price of $9,800.

Norris No. A 31 Adjustable Thumb plane, as depicted in the 1938 Buck & Ryan Tool Catalogue.  “Favoured by Pianoforte Case Makers.”







Distinctly British thumb planes were never produced in quantity; chariot planes were the most similar British plane in design and function, but chariots were made in greater quantities by a larger number of planemakers.  Both chariot and thumb planes had thick bevel up irons on a wooden infill bed, around 20 degrees, with a 3 to 5 inch body respectively, and easily used with one hand.  Given these similarities, the relative popularity of the 19th century chariot plane almost eclipsed the thumb plane. Certainly, some 19th century woodworkers preferred using the bullnose feature for planing in tight spots.  A majority of British chariot planes had the bullnose component: with the mouth placed close to the toe.

Since so few British planemakers made thumb planes, examples are difficult to find.  This lack of antique English thumb planes has created demand, so a number of current planemakers are producing new thumb planes.  Interest in thumb planes today quite possibly equals that of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Scottish Chariot Planes:

Scottish style chariots, from the mid-19th century, with their mouth 1/3rd of the way back from the toe, could have provided inspiration for early makers of the thumb plane.

Scottish chariot plane in gunmetal.


Scottish chariot planes are characterized by having a stepped toe, front infill, flat heel, and a mouth placed 1/3rd of the way back from the toe.  The iron, is usually around 1 1/4″ wide, bevel up, over a rosewood bed.


Scottish Chariot plane, with large rosewood bridge. Photo from internet source.



Length ranges from 4 1/2″ to 5 1/2″, proportions that were mirrored in the English thumb planes.  Some examples are very high quality.

Someone opened up the mouth on this one.

Scottish chariot plane with similar details. Photo from David Stanley auctions c. 2012.

Scottish chariot plane from David Stanley’s April 2019 auction. Photo from David Stanley Auctions.









Scottish Chariot plane, with rosewood infill.  From the collection of James Claussen.

James Claussen’s Scottish Chariot plane is one of the finer examples of this type of plane, with a small tote, and a nice half-round bridge in gunmetal.  Scottish Chariot planes are scarce, and it is evident that these were personalized by their user/owners, in contrast to production type planes.





Years of the Thumb Planes

Working in the early to mid-19th century, George Kerr (born in Aberdeen c. 1805) may have been the first innovator of thumb planes, and Stewart Spiers likely commenced making them around that same time or a few years later.  John Holland also made thumb planes and his working years were 1861 to 1907.  The last historical manufacturer of the thumb plane was Thomas Norris & Son (late 19th century to ~1940), and Norris made more of this type than anyone else in the trade. Thomas Norris (1836-1906) was located at 57 York St, and John Holland (1831-1912) worked out of 93 York Rd., and they were there concurrently between 1870 and 1890.  It would have allowed plenty of time for an exchange of ideas between these two planemakers.

American Block Planes:

American block planes were the closest domestic equivalent to the English thumb plane, but their general introduction circa 1872 postdated the thumb planes by at least 20 years.  Birdsill Holly of Seneca, New York did produce a ‘block plane’ in the 1850s, but very few were made, nowhere near the economies of scale that typically exemplified American industrial production.  At 7 3/4″  long with a 1 3/4″ iron, the Holly block plane was close to the size of a mitre plane.  English influence from the thumb plane on Leonard Bailey was apparent in the side profile of his Excelsior pattern block plane.

Bailey Victor adjustable block plane.

Bailey’s block plane was the American version of a small plane, with a bevel up iron, set at a low ~20 degree angle.  Block planes were used for end grain, but also for a myriad of general handyman tasks.  –A tool for the masses.  English thumb planes would more often be found in a cabinet or instrument makers’ toolkit, and used for critical detailed work.


In contrast to the British thumb planes, the Bailey/Stanley block planes caught on like wildfire, and were made in prolific quantities and variations from the 1870s until World War Two.  On average, American block planes ranged from 6 to 7 inches long, compared with British thumb planes, generally around 5 inches long.  While similarities existed between these two types, differences were also present: thumb planes had a much thicker iron on a wooden infill bed, and they were largely a handmade product.  American block planes were mass produced: much less expensive, in many cases adjustable, and had a thinner iron bedded on the iron casting.

Some five inch American block planes:

Instrument makers had little choice for a plane in the 5 inch class in the late 19th and early 20th century. These size planes were used for such tasks as making guitar fingerboards, stringed instrument bows, and paring down gussets on repaired piano keysticks. C. H. Lang included the Stanley no. 102 block plane in his 1905 piano supply catalogue.

Stanley 103 and Sargent 206 block planes.

Stanley 103 block plane, type 1.  Applewood knob.


Metallic Plane, Co., Auburn, NY, early 1870s.  Applewood wedge.

Metallic block plane sole.







From the sublime to the pedestrian: Stanley no. 102 small block plane.

Stanley 102 plane, early catalogue excerpt.





Many English variants of the 102 type were made by Record, Hobbies, and Stanley U.K.



Mathiesen Thumb Planes

Rare and early dovetailed Mathieson thumb plane. Photo from Brown Tool Auctions, Nov., 2019.

Mathieson thumb plane, as illustrated in their 1899 catalogue. Profile was weighted towards the closed heel, and appeared much like a Norris no. 12 dovetailed thumb plane.

Reproduction of the same model Mathieson thumb plane by Bill Carter. General shape is more symmetrical than the classic British pattern thumb plane.  Photo from






The interesting and highly valuated Mathieson thumb plane sold in the November 2019 Brown Tool Auction for $4,746.00 (before commission).  We are unlikely to see another one come to market anytime soon.  George Anderson wrote that the thumb plane, in general, was the most challenging of all the British infill planes to collect.

Buck/Spiers Thumb Planes

Spiers thumb plane, model no. 9, marked and sold by George Buck.


Early Spiers thumb plane, with similar nib. Photo from Jim Bode Tools, c.2015.

Planemaker Konrad Sauer’s description of a Spiers no. 9 thumb plane in 2013:

[The Spiers no. 9 thumb plane] was a pretty amazing experience.  Everything was exactly where it needed to be.  There was an amazing relationship between the sneck of the iron, the top of the lever cap screw and the empty area at the front of the plane.  There was a complex and deliberate relationship between these points and they all worked together to provide a very comfortable experience.  I was pretty shocked and was once again reminded that simple looking, does not mean that complex design thought did not go into something.  I kept this experience tucked away until the time was right.


Spiers thumb planes, model no. 9.

Two different versions of the Spiers no. 9 thumb plane.  Example on the right seems older, with a longer lever cap, and similar to screw sided models.  But this type was photographed for the 1908 catalogue.  Plane on the left seems later, with features copied by Norris.  Similar examples have shown up with Buck 247 Tottenham Ct. Rd. (1867-1879), however.

Spiers no. 9 thumb plane, with squared off sole, sloping sides at toe, long lever cap, and large lever cap screw.

1909 Spiers catalogue.








No. 9 thumb plane was not in production and only made upon special order.  Possibly a picture of an older plane that happened to be handy when the catalogue was put together.  Lever cap not as long as the example on the left.

Buck/Norris Thumb Planes

Norris No. 12 Dovetailed Thumb Plane, in Norris’ c. 1908 Catalogue.

Thomas Norris’ first thumb planes were dovetailed and were classified as No. 12.  These were not produced in any quantity, but some of them were rebadged as Buck thumb planes.  While the dovetails are not visible in this photo, the iron shows a nib, which was not present in the 1914 and 1928 catalogues.  Norris’ No. 31 Thumb plane, in the 1928 catalogue, did show a rebate style sneck on both sides of the iron.

Thumb planes, as offered in J. Buck’s 1912 Pianomakers’ Tool Catalogue.



J. Buck 1912 Catalogue: Norris Thumb planes for 10/0 (No. 32) and 11/0 (No. 31).  Thumb plane with wedge for 6/6 was another make, probably unmarked.

In July 2020, an example of a Buck/Norris No. 12 thumb plane came to market on Ebay U.K.  Here are some photos of that plane (please excuse photo quality).  In the 1908 Norris catalogue, the no. 12 was included, but by the time of the 1914 Norris catalogue, the no. 12 was replaced by the nos. 31 and 32.  These pictures reveal, however faintly, the dovetailed construction of the Norris (Buck) no. 12 thumb plane.  The front infill differs from the later no. 32 Norris thumb planes, and the toe is shortened, not unlike some of the Mathieson thumb planes.


Before the 1914 catalogue, Norris started making their thumb planes with cast “Patent Metal,” or “Unbreakable.”  Photo from Ebay, 2016.

“Unbreakable?”  Do not believe everything that you read.


Two Buck thumb planes, both made by Norris. In the foreground is no. 32, and in the background is no. 31.

Two Norris thumb planes, with thick 1 1/4″ parallel irons, bright ground and marked “Buck Tot. Ct. Rd.” Both planes marked and sold by Buck. In the foreground is no. 32, and in the background is no. 31.  The two examples were made in the early 20th century, and depicted in the Norris 1914 catalogue.



“The Metal Thumb Plane, English type …is 5 in. long, and …1 1/4 in. wide [cutter]; it has a long cutter, which answers for a handle, and is secured with a gun-metal screw lever.  It is, I believe, a specialty of Mr. George Buck, whose address will be found in the advertisement pages of this book.”From “Modern Practical Joinery,” by George Ellis, 1908.















Norris/Buck No. 32 Thumb plane, with Buck, Tottm. Ct. Rd. iron.  Photo from

This plane iron with the mark “Buck Tottm. Ct. Rd.”  has been found on a Kerr thumb plane as well as a Holland thumb plane.  The iron on the left appears to be a parallel iron, while the iron pictured with the Holland thumb plane is tapered.  Other Buck stamps on Buck thumb plane irons are smaller and more subtle.

Buck Tot.Court.Rd. stamp on Norris No. 31 Thumb plane iron (same as stamp on lever cap).







The Norris No. 31 in gunmetal, and the No. 32 in malleable iron were sold in the Martin Donnelly November 2020 Tool Auction.  Photos by MJD Antique Tool Auctions.

Norris Nos. 31 and 32 in the 1914 Catalogue.

Norris Nos. 31 and 32 Thumb planes in the circa 1928 catalogue.



Norris No. 31 Thumb plane. circa 1930s.






Norris 31, in steel soled gunmetal and front infill. By Norris’ 1928 catalogue, this was how No. 31 was offered, rather than in “patent metal,” cusped lever cap screw, and open toe.

“…Certainly some of these planes, most notably Norris thumb planes, were marketed towards pianoforte case makers and the like.”  –C.R. Miller,


The Norris No. 31 gunmetal thumb plane shown above is a very late model.  Following details of this No. 31 thumb plane substantiate the assertion:

  1. Lever cap shortened in front of the fulcrum (more of the iron exposed immediately behind the bevel).
  2. Lever cap screw knurled in a general diamond pattern rather than the traditional Norris pattern in rows.
  3. Stamp on lever cap: lettering without serifs.
  4. Stamp on iron: lettering without serifs, (generally but not absolutely) indicating late 1930s production.

Here is another example of this late version of the Norris No. 31 thumb plane:

Norris No. 31, late Thumb plane. Photo by Jim Bode, c. 2017.

Norris No. 31 thumb plane iron, lettering on stamp without serifs. Photo by Jim Bode, c. 2017.








This plane iron, shown on the right, has machining marks typical of those found on some c. 1930s Sheffield plane irons.

In the 1920s Norris Catalogue, No. 32 was offered in gunmetal rather than malleable iron for 26/-.  Very few of these were made, and examples are extremely rare.  The  Norris No. 31 shown here, is in gunmetal, but without the front bun, which would have been a custom order.  Norris continued to offer custom made planes as late as the Rebate Mitre plane in 1941.

Norris No. 32 Thumb plane in gunmetal with steel sole. Image and text from MWTCA “Gristmill,” December 2014. Review of Sept. 2014 D. Stanley Auction in the U.K. by the late John G. Wells of Berkeley, CA.

Norris No. 31 in gunmetal, but without front bun. Shiny.  Photo from Jim Bode, 2020.








Photo of the same gunmetal no. 32 Thumb plane shown above. Photo by D. Stanley Auctions, September, 2014.

Norris No. 31 Thumb plane, in gunmetal, without front bun. Photo by D. Stanley Auctions, September, 2014.








Heels of two thumb planes.


The dovetailed example has a separate heel plate, and the Norris No. 31 is cast gunmetal.  The Spiers No. 9 Thumb planes typically have a U-shaped bend at the back, and no separate heel.



Norris A31 Thumb plane, with full length iron.

The Norris A31 was not just a No. 31 with the infill bed mortised and an adjuster dropped in.  The gunmetal casting is 3/32″ wider than the no. 31 shown above, and 1/16 wider than my no. 32 thumb plane.  Standard alterations include an open heel, with protruding boat stern shape; adjustment thumbscrew with #11526 patent inscribed; “Norris London” marked bridge with convex edges; the bridge thumbscrew is indented, for finger placement, not unlike a Stanley 102 block plane.  The mouth on the A31s were generally tighter than the late 31s.

Adjustable version of no 32 in Norris’ 1930 catalogue.  “For model and Violin Bow Makers.”

Norris No. A31 Thumb plane, showing adjuster, and modified wedge and iron.  Photo from








Norris A31 with light mahogany infills and draw bore wedge.  Photo from



Some Norris A31 Thumb planes had mahogany infills rather than rosewood, which altered the overall appearance of the tool.  The front bun looks as if it may have been stained at one time.



Related: Norris Chariot planes

Between 1914 and 1936, Thomas Norris continued producing specialist planes, while other makers, such as Spiers, discontinued them (except Coopers’ Plucker).  Only Norris kept alive the traditional chariot, mitre, and thumb planes during this period.

Norris no. 28 chariot plane, sold and marked by Mitchell, a British dealer. "Patent Metal" stamped on bridge.

Norris no. 28 chariot plane, sold and marked by Mitchell.


Norris no. 28 chariot plane as it appeared in the 1914 Norris catalogue.  Image from

Norris A28. From Norris’ 1930 catalogue.


John William Mitchell was a British dealer at 94 Newington Causeway, London between 1865 and 1910. Norris’ “Patent Metal” was stamped on bridge.  Most chariot planes were the bullnose type, like this one, with the mouth at the toe of the sole.  Also, chariots were shorter ~3 1/2″ and blockier than thumb planes.









Thomas Norris Jr.’s decision to continue making violin, chariot, thumb, and mitre planes after the Great War was conceivably informed by his grandfather Thomas Norris (1804-1886), who was a music engraver.  Music engraving was a prime example of the craft side of music.  And so was instrument making.   Violin, chariot, thumb, and mitre forms of planes were inextricably linked with the luthier’s tradecraft and piano manufacturing.


Buck/Holland Thumb Plane

Holland made planes at 68 Oakley St, Lambeth (1861-1870), then 93 York Rd. (1870-1890).  Holland took over the business of metal planemaker Charles Badger (at 93 York Rd. in 1869-70) in 1870. Thomas Norris worked down the street, at 57 York St., Lambeth London.

Buck (Holland) gunmetal thumb plane with ebony wedge and double cupid’s bow.

Wedge from a Badger & Galpin smooth plane.

Holland/Buck gunmetal thumb plane with flange at heel, strike button, and tapered 1 1/4″ “BUCK TOTT’M CT. RD. “ iron.







Note the similarity with the wedge in the Holland thumb plane.  I am not aware of any Badger made thumb planes.



This view of the heel shows a distinct arris, which emulated the convex rear plate found on the earlier Kerr type of dovetailed thumb planes.  In this example, the body was cast in gunmetal and not made of joined body components.

Reasons why I think Holland made this thumb plane: 1. Side profile similar to other Holland thumb planes. 2. Influence of Badger in the wedge.  3. Early use of gunmetal in a thumb plane. 4. Buck iron points to a working relationship, which Holland had with Buck.


George Kerr Thumb Planes

Kerr thumb plane, photo by Paul Blanche, circa 2015.

Kerr thumb plane, closed toe with front infill. Photo from David Stanley Auctions, 2013.









Early thumb plane, with some chariot plane features, made by George Kerr, 36 Store St., Bedford Square, London (address c. 1864 in Williams London Trade Directory).  This thumb plane was included in David Russell’s, Antique Woodworking Tools, no. 1093.  Originally, it had a tapered 1 1/4″ Buck iron, but that got switched with 1092’s Ward iron, another Kerr thumb plane.  Kerr may have had a trading relationship with George  Buck, or he could have just walked around the corner to buy the iron while work was in progress on this thumb plane.  No. 1092 had an open toe, and that made it appear much more like a classic thumb plane.

Kerr thumb plane, open toe. Photo from D.Stanley Auctions September, 2013.

Same Kerr thumb plane, in the Stanley September 2015 auction.









Kerr thumb plane (attr.), showing dovetail for rear plate.

Kerr thumb plane (attr.)

19th century English thumb plane, dovetailed and unmarked, although it may have had a visible stamp originally.  An early user tapped on the thick gunmetal bridge habitually.  Professionally-made dovetails on this plane are virtually invisible, with the exception of the ones for the rear plate.  The strike button at the rear (a cheesehead screw–now replaced with same) had been mightily pulverized, and probably slightly straightened the convex heel causing the dovetails to become visible there.  Fortunately, the hammering did not extend to the heel itself.  The Kerr thumb planes shown above, also had a separate heel plate, dovetailed to the sides.  On this example, the sides were cut for trailing dovetails into the sole which was part of the reason that the rear flange was made longer than most other English thumb planes.  Behind the bridge, the top edges of the sidewalls have a slight lip on the inner sides.  It’s an indication that those surfaces were burnished smooth rather than filed or sanded–an old method.  The infill bed, which was pinned to the sides, was also drilled out for lead weights, of the same type that would be installed in a quality piano keyboard in the factory.  This was a piano plane for sure, and it most likely came out of a piano factory.

Lead weighting adds mass, and the resulting inertia makes it easier to cut cleanly through difficult grain with a small plane.  This is the largest of all my English thumb planes at 5 7/8″.  It is also slightly deeper than the others, as the pictures show.

Unmarked Thumb Planes

English Thumb plane in gunmetal, with Brazilian rosewood infill.


This gunmetal thumb plane has a flat heel like a chariot plane, but in all other respects, it has a thumb plane design.  It is simple yet elegant.



Heavy English Thumb plane in bronze.


With the bronze heel of this English Thumb plane 5/8 inch thick at the center, this is a heavy plane for it’s size.  The use of lugs instead of a bridge as well as the use of gunmetal suggest a maker such as Badger or Holland.  Since there are no other clues that are apparent to me at this time, I would conclude just as easily that it was craftsman made.

H. stands for heavy!

5/8″ thick gunmetal heel.