EARLY METAL PLANES: BLOCK, MITRE, AND LUTHIER
This section includes a good number of early European metal planes from the 16th through 18th century, including both small block-type and instrument makers planes as well as mitre planes. Some 19th and 20th century instrument planes are also included as there was and is a link between them and the much older planes. A limited number of these early Continental planes survive, and a commensurately small number of photos of these planes exist. A notable portion of examples that remain extant are represented here. Because of this scarcity, I have used this webpage as a repository of images for these rare artifacts. I have include sources of the photographs where possible. Hopefully, this page will serve as a resource for those that are interested in this specialized subject.
In William Louis Goodman’s seminal history book on antique tools, “The History of Woodworking Tools” (1964), Goodman estimated that the early “shoe-shaped” block plane, or Vergratthobel, in German, originated in the late Medieval Period. The word was derived from the German word ‘Vergratten,’ which means to fit together; for example, to join the edges of a picture frame. These were not all block planes in the sense that we know block planes today because most of them (but not all) were set up with the cutting iron bevel down.
A key to determining a bevel up or down position, is examples where the opposite end of the iron was bent into a curve or scroll: when bent, they were invariably bent down, providing a curved contact point for the craftperson’s hand. Other indicators include evaluating the final cutting angle (angle of cutting iron + angle of bevel on bevel up planes) When there is a steep cutter angle, and the iron is bevel up, in some cases, the functional cutting angle approaches scraper territory in these short 4″ planes. In those planes, the iron was probably originally intended to be bevel down instead.
On the left side of this small painting (c. 1407-1415) is a small plane, with thin sides, apparently metal, and of the same basic type as other examples from this period.
The iron doesn’t look to be fully installed to me, and resting on the heel of the plane. But in these paintings, it’s hard to determine.
This Vergratthobel, which resides in the Arts and Crafts Museum, in Vienna, Austria, was studied by W.L. Goodman, for his book, “Antique Woodworking Tools,” around 1960. The plane is constructed of iron stock, brazed together, and is 5″ long and 2 3/16″ wide, with a 1 3/16″ cutting iron. Goodman concluded that this plane is similar to those depicted in the two paintings shown above.
Like other planes of this type, the body consisted of 3 sheets of iron: the single piece sole with mouth cutout; the sidewalls, bent into a “U” shape at the heel; the front piece.
The iron was set at 32 degrees, with the back of the iron resting on the rear sidewalls of the plane, and the cutting end resting on the rear edge of the mouth, which was 1 1/2″ long and 3/8″ wide.
It is not clear to me whether or not this plane was intended to have a bevel up or down iron because it has a fully flat iron. But I suspect it was intended to be bevel down. In the lower photo you can see the back of the iron, the metal wedge, and a second, smaller wooden wedge inserted between the cutting iron and the metal wedge.
The old craftsmen had copper brazing alloys which would melt at different temperatures within an oven, enabling multi-step assembly of the iron components. In this case, we have the U-shaped body, a separate front piece, a cross-pin, and the sole. Plane has a thick stock and is more sturdy than many of this type. The wedge typically did not span the full width of the interior of the plane body. This particular plane has a cormier wood rear infill, which greatly helps to bed the iron securely. Many examples of this 4-inch class of planes do not have a rear infill, and the thin iron rests on the the precipice of a thin sole and the heel.
In general, cutting irons were very thin before c. 1780, and may be steel, but may also be wrought iron, with the business end case-hardened. In many examples, the far end of the cutting iron was bent hot, into a curve, or scroll. Some French and Italian versions of this early 4″ block plane were ornate, and featured heart and clover cutouts, and intricately shaped edges.
Early Continental mitre planes followed, and evolved from the Vergratthobel, according to W.L. Goodman. Both the Vergratthobel and the Gehrunghobel utilized similar brazing techniques, but the mitre plane was a larger plane generally, from 8 to 12 inches long, with a bevel up cutting iron, set at a low angle, 20 to 30 degrees. The sole of the early mitre plane was often thicker than that of the early block plane. Also, the early mitres typically had a front tote. Decoratively, the mitre plane would have embellishments on the outline of their sidewalls, and feature baluster bridges.
Pictured below is an early 3″ luthier plane, with the same basic profile as we have today. Back in the 17th century, circular pipe stock was not available, so an overlap join was made at the toe. Circular pipe stock only became readily available around 1840; in the 18th and early 19th centuries, however, some luthier planes were constructed with applied soles and continuous metal stock for the ovoid body.
Where Early Planemakers Worked
Anonymous makers of 16th to 18th century block planes, mitre planes, and luthier planes typically were located around sources of iron and early steel blade-making, with delivery access to cities and communities where there would be customers for their products. Such early centers would include Firminy and Thiers in France, Bergamo and Brescia in Italy, and Solingen and Nuremberg in Germany.
Although the steelmaking industry in Firminy was established in the mid-19th century, the town had producing coalmines since the 14th century, and had a history of forging iron there for centuries. Thiers, the foremost knife and blade making center in France since the 12th century, did not have its own steel, coal, or iron industry, but instead relied on nearby Firminy and other areas such as Liège in Belgium, or Solingen in Germany, for iron and steel.
Jenzat is a major center for hurdy-gurdy making, which is discussed later on this page. Firminy was formerly called Firmin. The detail on this map is hard to make out, but the authenticity of locating places on a period map makes a difference.
This virtual tour of France shows some toolmaking locations, with an emphasis on the musical arts. Mirecourt, Jenzat, Thiers, and Firminy are touched on in this page; Villedieu-les-Poêles and Léon Pinet et Cie. of Paris are covered in other pages on this website.
More early 4″ block planes, from the 16th to 18th century, made of iron stock, brazed together in ovens
These early block planes were shaped like a shoe, with the heel bent around a form, just as the mitre planes that followed were also.
Shown below are two 5″ iron planes made by toolmaker, engineer, and artist, Leonhard Danner (1507-1585) in Nuremberg around 1570 for Kurfurst August of Saxony. The irons were positioned bevel down. Intricate etching, with hunting scenes and floral designs adorned the sidewalls, which were bent around in a long oval shape. The plane irons were fixed with thumbscrews in a fleur de lis pattern instead of a wedge, and the toes have intricately turned front totes. The toes and heels were covered under the decorated metal exterior.
W.L. Goodman had located these 2 Danner metal planes in the collection of Elector Saxony in Dresden, and a third Danner, slightly larger, at 5 1/2″ in the Arts and Crafts Museum of Vienna. A fourth example of the Danner plane was depicted in a portrait of the Nuremberg cabinetmaker, Friedrich Finkhauer, who died in 1571. While these 4 planes were custom made variants of the early ‘block’ plane, made for the elite and wealthy, they were not a one-off planes. And many more less ornate, and more workmanlike examples of the Vergratthobel from this time period, survive today.
Images from the SKD museum, Dresden, Germany:
Early Mitre Planes
Early mitre plane, 18th century or earlier, with sole extending beyond the perimeter of the plane body, and mouth aperture placed towards the middle of the sole. A similar plane was shown in Seiver’s “Il Pianoforte; Guida Pratica…” which described methods of piano manufacturing before the introduction of steam and electric power. Obviously, with an extended sole, these early mitre-type planes were not used with a shooting board on theirs sides. It underscores the notion that mitre planes had many uses, as described further on the piano planes page of this website.
They were typically decorated, sometimes even ornate. This one has a bronze or brass body sweated to a thick iron two-piece sole. It was found in Germany. Typical of the style, it has a complex, turned baluster bridge, and a protruding front hold or tote. The wedge is made of cormier wood, a hardwood almost exclusively found in continental Europe. Sole is proud of the sides, and the front extension has a hang hole, which can be observed on other similar examples.
In figure 21 we see s box mitre plane with a sole proud of the body, and a similar front handle to the plane shown above. Here is the key to the rest of the plate: Workbench; Bench planes: 24. fillister plane with nicker; 22. rebate plane; 21. 18th century iron mitre with proud sole and tote at nose; 18. coffin smooth plane; 17. large smoother, German/Austrian type with horn on nose; 14 and 15. 2 plane irons with chipbreakers, 23. radiused plane; 13. jointer plane; 16. jack plane; 19. Dutch gerf plane; 20. toothing plane; 25. nosing plane with double iron; 26. plow plane; 28. convex plane; 12. cabinet workbench with vises. 27. compass plane.
The following photos of early continental European mitre planes are from the collection of John G. Wells, (1929-2018) prominent architect in Berkeley CA. Photo from David Stanley Auctions, April 12, 2019. Photos from David Stanley Auctions, April 12, 2019.
Most early mitre planes were made in Continental Europe: Germany, France, and Italy. This example is possibly unique, in that it it may be the only English mitre with Continental features. Features include turned baluster bridge, curved front handle, and curved sides towards the front. Sold at David Stanley 2012 auction for 7,500 GBP.
Photos below by Jim Bode.
At some later date, it appears like an owner of this plane doubled the sides of this plane, in order to make the sides flush with the sole, for the purpose of using the plane on its side. Early cutting iron by John Green.
16th to 18th Century Luthier Planes (3″ or shorter)
In the late 18th century an Italian violin collector, Count Cozio (1755-1840), purchased a good portion of Antonio Stradivari’s tools from his workshop. These tools eventually ended up in the Museo del Violino (Museo Stradivariano), where they presently reside. At least 4 wrought iron planes and 2 bronze planes survived from this workshop, according to W.L Goodman, who visited the museum in 1961. Inge Kjemtrup, in a 2017 article in Strings Magazine, wrote about the contribution of Count Cozio:
Cozio revered Stradivari. His passion for the Cremonese master’s instruments inspired him to seek them out from sources all over Italy and beyond, and even, in an extraordinary act for the time, to buy the contents of Stradivari’s workshop from his son, Paolo. Today those contents—patterns, sketches, notes, labels, an array of tools—are in the Museo Stradivariano in Cremona.
Violin making originated in Northern Italy, with earliest examples depicted in period paintings around 1530. In the beginning, with the Amati family, the craft was carried out in small family workshops, with the father teaching his sons the craft. Later, in the late 18th, early 19th centuries, in Mirecourt, France, Mittenwald, Bavaria, Markneukirchen/Klingenthal, Saxony, and Grazlitz/Schonbach, Bohemia, high volume workshops emerged, producing what are known as trade violins. In some places, such as in Bohemia, much work was outsourced as piecework to members of the local communities. In other towns, such as Mirecourt, the workshops were more centralized, employing as many as 600 workers in one manufactory in the late 19th century. The United States among other regions, was a big market for these trade violins. All along, the very small and medium sized workshops co-existed with with these large operations, and these small traditional family workshops tended to custom build the finer violins, violas, ‘cellos, and double basses.
By the second half of the 19th century, in Mirecourt, the Violin business had grown so large that the community of craftsmen in the workshops could support specialists for the trade, such as hand tool makers. One such specialist was Joseph Jacquet (not to be confused with the Jacquot family of violin makers). Joseph Jacquet was born into an instrument making family; his father Joseph-Xavier (1810-1867) and his brother Joseph-Gabriel (1848-1899) both made double basses, and in his early working life, Joseph-Jean-Claude also made contrabasses. Additionally, Joseph-Jean-Claude was known as a “Tourneur,” or Turner, and this probably was on a metal lathe for toolmaking, but could also have been turning in wood. Joseph-Jean-Claude’s wife Justine Mathilde Barbesant was a luthier in her own right, and was born into the large Barbesant instrument making family in Mirecourt. Their son, Frederic Marie Joseph Jacquet (1898-1980) not surprisingly, took after his parents, and became a luthier as well.
Jacquet (Joseph-Jean-Claude) Barbesant, 19th century manufacturer of lutherie tools in Mirecourt, was born there on March 19, 1850. He is the third son of Joseph-Xavier. He married Miss [Justine Mathilde] Barbesant [1861-1949], in Mirecourt in 1879, and died in this city on July 16, 1900.
Michel Mailhot is a noted collector of ancient French tools, with many in his collection showing elaborate engraving, embellishment, and other adornments that were part of the practice of historical toolmaking in France.
Instrument Makers Planes: 1700 to Present
Construction of the earliest metal instrument makers’ planes closely followed that of the 4″ Vergatthobel from the late Medieval Period, with brazed together iron components, with the possible exception of steel for the cutting iron, in some examples. Other construction methods followed, and I will show some of them here.
The first and obvious alternative would be wood construction. Wood moves with humidity and dryness, and that has been found to be less than ideal in a plane with such small dimensions. Nevertheless, Japanese makers produce tiny wooden luthier planes today.
After the late 1600s, a very limited amount of iron, brass, and bronze became available in in circular, or continuous stock. This would then be cut into sections high enough for the sidewall stock of luthier planes, and then be compressed carefully, to form the familiar ovoid shape we recognise in instrument planes. Then, the sole would be brazed on, and the remaining pieces added.
You can see the join all around the perimeter of this Luthier plane. Joining the sidewalls to the top of the sole was the most common applied-sole method used for instrument makers’s planes. And the simplest.
The late Janet Wells, wife of noted Berkeley architect, antique tool collector, and author, John Wells (1929-2018) had her own collection of instrument makers’ planes that was separate from John and Janet’s joint tool collection. Janet Wells found this Luthier plane in the famous Brimfield Flea Market in Massachusetts in 1982.
Here is an example with an applied sole, but also with some isolated dovetails, usually added at the toe or heel.
The inset sole is much less common, and more difficult to make. This particular sole was rounded both ways: radiused and compassed. It was done to reduce the thickness of the spruce soundboard and maple (or other hardwoods) back, which were made crowned, or convex on the outside. This was done to optimize strength while also being very thin, which increased vibrational properties, and projection of sound. The compassed and radiused sole of many luthier planes, was ideal for working the inside of these two plates, which were concave. Rounded soles, however, could also be used on the outside of these components.
Coopers also used compassed and radiused planes for working the inside of barrels, which were arched to enhance strength and lightness. These were called Coopers’ Stoup planes
Another method of constructing luthier planes is by using multiple dovetails, which is almost unheard of, however. In 2014, David Barron posted some photos of a beautiful antique 1 1/2″ violin plane, probably English. At this small size, multiple dovetailing could be considered overkill.
Investment casting, or lost wax casting goes back 5,000 years, and was also used on some early instrument planes. Engraving on tools was primarily done in France and Italy; Germany and England had a more restrained style in their tool making.
The use of curved embellishments on the toe of some early luthier planes sometimes took the form of an acanthus leaf. This decorative form was also used on some elaborate French and Italian mitre planes.
Because the form of the ‘modern’ luthier plane is over 250 years old, it is sometimes difficult to estimate the age of these small planes. Janet and John Wells concluded that this plane dated from the 17th century. I didn’t think it was that old, but thought that the engraving suggested late 18th/early 19th centuries. That still may be true, but the cutting iron with the Ferry stamp (which could have been added later) belonged to that of Francois Ferry, of Mirecourt, a “tool maker whose mark we find on real, highly sought-after jewels,” according to luthier Roland Terrier. Born into the large Ferry instrument making family in Mirecourt, Francois Ferry (1889-1942) was known as a mechanic fitter and manufacturer of violin-making tools.
8 Quai Clasquine Mirecourt. Francois Ferry (1889-1942) Son of a railway employee and nephew of two luthiers sets up as a mechanic fitter and manufacturer of violin -making tools.
Francois Ferry married Charlotte Julie Monginot (1894-1940) on 7 October, 1913. They had no children.
Like the luthiers’ tools themselves, Francois Ferry’s Mirecourt Workshop had a timeless quality about it. A craftsperson could have plied their trade there in 1940, or 1640.
Use of a baluster bridge was another design element that could be found on some 17th and 18th century luthier planes as well as mitre planes.
The image of a luthier plane in Diderot’s plate shown here shows a compassed and radiused sole, and a parted toe, which was a decorative element in some European luthier planes from the early 1700s to about 1900.
Some books on violin-making, published at the turn of the 20th century still showed some luthier planes with the parted toe.
The French Evano violin plane (below) was made of pressed steel, which, if you stretch the rules a bit, could be considered yet another method for constructing violin planes. Evano luthier planes were probably made, circa 1900-1940.
693. Violinmakers’ planes in iron, in three sizes: small, medium, and large.
696. Wooden screws for clamping the table [soundboard] of violins/cellos/contrabasses.
699. Iron screws, for gluing violin necks.
Soundpost adjusting tool.
French Bowmakers’ Planes
Bowmaking was and is a specialty which requires the full concentration of the craftsperson, and those who ply this trade, make only bows, and not instruments. The bowmakers’ plane shown below, often had a toothing iron, just like many instrument planes, to cut across the grain of difficult hardwoods, such as pernambuco and snakewood, used for making bows.
Similar in form to the early continental mitre plane, the bowmakers’ plane could be considered a scaled down version of the early mitres, with a bevel up cutting iron. The bowmakers’ plane featured a scroll tote at the toe, and a doubled, or reinforced heel. Made in limited quantities, the bowmakers’ plane is still made in small specialist workshops to the present day.
This mitre plane pictured below is similar to the bowmakers’ plane in its configuration, but was used by hurdy-gurdy makers in Jenzat, France. Hurdy-Gurdys used a crank that turned a rosined wheel against the strings to create the sound. Here is description of the hurdy-gurdy from wikipedia:
Melodies are played on a keyboard that presses tangents—small wedges, typically made of wood—against one or more of the strings to change their pitch. Like most other acoustic stringed instruments, it has a sound board and hollow cavity to make the vibration of the strings audible.
Most hurdy-gurdies have multiple drone strings, which give a constant pitch accompaniment to the melody, resulting in a sound similar to that of bagpipes. For this reason, the hurdy-gurdy is often used interchangeably or along with bagpipes. It is mostly used in Occitan, Aragonese, Cajun French, Asturian, Cantabrian, Galician, Hungarian, and Slavic folk music.
One or more of the drone strings usually passes over a loose bridge that can be made to produce a distinctive percussive buzzing sound as the player turns the wheel.
Rear infill is shimmed with thick papers full of very old French script. Body is made of thick wrought iron stock, a 1/4″ sole, brazed together, with pillar and pin construction. Formerly in Russell collection, no. 810. Found in Allier area of France, which includes the town of Jenzat: a center for hurdy-gurdy making. Famous hurdy-gurdy makers there include Pajot, Tixier, Pimpard, Decante, and Nigout.
Jean-François Chassaing from http://maison-luthier-jenzat.fr/le-musee/ on the instrument making town of Jenzat:
The instrument-making centre of Jenzat draws the attention of musicologists because of the high quality of the work, and the makers’ specialization in a single instrument, namely the hurdy-gurdy. This heritage has long since aroused the interest of museums.
In 1959, Mr. Favière, the curator of the Bourges Museum, wished to set up two glass-cabinets devoted to hurdy-gurdies in the Montluçon Museum; to do so, he requested the aid of Mr. J.-A. Pajot, Maison Pajot Jeune at Jenzat.
As early as 1960, an important collection had already been made by the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires in Paris, as a result of several visits Georges-Henri Rivière, the curator of the museum, had paid to Mr. Pajot, and of the inquiries made in 1959 by two MNATP musicologists, Claudie Marcel-Dubois and Marguerite Pichonnet-Andral, research workers at the CNRS.
In 1984, an exhibition prefiguring the Jenzat Museum was financed by the Mission du Patrimoine Ethnologique of the Ministère de la Culture. In 1986, the foundation of the Maison du Luthier-Musée allowed the acquisition of a very important collection of tools (see the hurdy-gurdy workshop), through a donation by Jacques and Hélène Pajot, and as a consequence of the inquiries (1983-1984) made by Jean-François Chassaing, an ethnologist.
In 1991, the city of Montluçon bought a collection of tools from Mr. Boudet, an instrument maker, for its own museum ; originally, these tools were part of the Pajot Jeune collection.
After 1935, the major part of the tools for musical instrument making belonged to the Maison Pajot Jeune, for at the time their workshop was the last one still in operation in Jenzat. From 1991 on, the collections have been shared out among the museums of Paris (MNATP), Montluçon and Jenzat. The tools have been shuffled and reshuffled and dealt out, some coming from the Pimpard workshop, some from the Nigout workshop, others from the Tixier workshop, others again from the J.-B. Pajot workshop. Only a close study of the various items can result in finding out the identity of their original owners.
The Jenzat Museum has started research in this field, as well as in others concerning the circulation of hurdy-gurdies, the trade and restoration of the instruments, the use of certain specific tools, such as the Keyboard-rulers.
More Instrument Makers’ Planes
The ‘ears,’ form the flanges that hold the cross pin, and the void behind them leaves the iron exposed, with room to move the blade side to side. In this example, however, there is a small second ‘hump’ which adds embellishment to the side profile of the plane. The carved woodwork looks Italianate to me, but could also be French.
These three palm planes appear to have the same casting as the plane with the mark, B. Steffen, Berlin on the cutting iron. I have searched German records for a Bruno, Benjamin, or Bernhard Steffen in Berlin, who had some relation to instrument making, but have not had any luck finding the possible maker or seller of these planes. The plane with the beech wedge appears to be almost identical the the one in the 2015 Stanley Auction. On the toe of the other two palm planes are finger rests, one in rosewood, and the other in brass. The brass piece appears to be a factory part. Over the last 20 years, I have probably seen about a dozen of these German palm planes, and in that time have acquired these three examples. While I suspect these planes date from c. 1885 to 1935, I think the double crest decoration is an earlier decorative element, as shown in the c. 2005 photo from iluthier.com (defunct).
Preston and Norris Violin Planes
Preston and Norris violin planes look very similar, and small differences only appear with direct comparison of the two planes, which rarely happens. Also, some of these small differences can be attributed to variations in casting and machining batches.
An exception to this was the differences in knurling on the adjusting wheel. Preston had simple ridges at 90 degrees, and this was consistent throughout the many years of production of this plane.
Norris, on the other hand, went through an evolution, of at least three types. The first type had ridges at 90 degrees, with a dividing line around the center of the perimeter of the adjustment wheel(c. < 1920). This dividing line was consistent throughout Norris’ many years of production of their Violin plane.
The second Norris knurling type consisted of fine ridges at 45 degrees (c. 1920~1930). The third type of Norris knurling on their Violin planes was a coarse series of ridges at 45 degrees (c.1930-1943). This evolution roughly followed knurling patterns on other Norris planes.
Adjustment wheel on the Preston is 1″ in diameter, and the Norris adjustment wheel is 1 3/32″ The flanges for the cross pin are narrower on the Norris, and in general, the Norris has more delicate features than the Preston, has a thinner casting, and has a mouth opening that is overall smaller than the Preston. The functional mouth opening, with the iron extended, is fine in both planes, and is quite similar, however.
I examined the photos of a good many Norris Violin planes at Norrisplanes.com and also looked at a number of images of Preston Violin planes, which were made in greater quantity than the Norris planes, in order to confirm that these differences between these two planes extend to other examples as well.
Copies of Preston and Norris Violin Planes
Set of W.E. Hill & Sons England Violin planes. Photos by Jim Bode
W.E. Hill was a prominent London Violin dealer, who traded in some of the finest instruments. Additionally, Hill had an in-house staff of fine bowmakers, and instrument repairers, which earned them a great reputation.
Hull is on the Humber estuary in East Yorkshire County. Scarr was a well known ship building family in Hull, but I have not yet found G.E. Scarr, maker of luthier planes. While rare, there a number of these that show up on the market from time to time.
Some, but not all the better instrument planes with flat soles, were intended for them to be worked on, or rounded both ways. These two examples worked out just fine.
But not this one!
This Norris violin plane was originally compassed and radiused, but an early user decided to make the sole flat. Behind the mouth, he broke through the sole, and had to resort to soldering in a gaping hole. Furthermore, with such little metal behind the mouth, cracks developed at both corners of the mouth.
I’ve made worse mistakes.
The small town of Markneukirchen, Germany is home to 7,000 people today, and around 9,000 back in 1910, when the area was producing 2/3rds of all the string instruments made in the Western world. Violin making began in Markneukirchen, when after the 30 years war in the mid-1600s, a number of Protestant luthiers living in Schoenbach and Grazlitz, Bohemia moved to Markneukirchen and Klingenthal, Germany to avoid the Counter-Reformation that was happening in the Austrian Empire at the time. These towns became known for making high quality violins, and by the beginning of the 19th century the four luthier towns, also known as the Musikwinkel (Music Corner), were producing 18,000 violins per year. This period coincided with the industrial revolution, and with it, came increased demand for musical instruments. The region responded by establishing a piecework system, where self employed Bohemians working out of their houses would make separate violin components, such as backs, soundboards, fingerboards, scrolls, etc. and then send them to Klingenthal and Markneukirchen, where a master would customize, and assemble the various parts.
During this time of expansion, a need arose for luthiers’ specialized tools and supplies. In 1848, Johann Freiderich Dick established his company in Markneukirchen to supply these to the community. His business grew, and when his son Hermann took over, the company was renamed HERDIM (Hermann Dick Markneukirchen).
This piecework system remained in place in the region throughout the 19th century, and by 1913, the peak of production for the area, around 180,000 string instruments were made in a year. A third of this production was sold in the United States. Markneukirchen became one of the wealthiest towns in Germany, with the bulk of the money going to the dealers, and less going the the German luthiers. On the Bohemian side of the border, there was much poverty and disease, as they were selling their parts for a pittance to the Germans.
After WWI, demand for instruments decreased dramatically, and inflation in Germany was rampant, so production was scaled back. Despite this, in the 1920s, additional Markneukirchen companies were established in a support role to the stringed instrument business, for tools and supplies, including these two: Aehnelt in 1924, and GEWA (Georg Walther) in 1925.
Brothers Theodor and Horst Aehnelt founded their stringed instrument tool and supply business in Markneukirchen in 1924, with an initial focus on the local community of luthiers. Horst soon stepped back from his leadership role, leaving Theodor in control. Today, most Aehnelt tools are marked with the trademark “TA” (Theodor Aehnelt). After some years of success, the company expanded into supplies for brass and woodwind instruments as well as Lefima timpani. Aehnelt supplied most of the tools for GEWA for many years.
At first glance, these two luthier planes look alike, and they do have a similar body shell. But the older version on the left, with a rosewood wedge, is set at a steeper blade angle. The luthier plane on on the right, with a mahogany wedge, has a lower bed angle, and the mouth has been moved to the toe of the plane, and the bridge has been moved forward as well. In order to accommodate the shallower angle of the iron, the mouth was made a bit larger.
Aehnelt tools are still made in Germany:
“Our tools are manufactured to the highest precision level, in our own company, and are subjected to consistent tests and a final check. We have avoided cheap imports, and Asian production, and opt wittingly for the economical location of Europe instead.
General manager Stefan Aehnelt says, “We don’t see our staff as a cost factor but as the basis of a success concept, with which we accept the challenge of the international market.”
The bed is solid bronze, and the plane is unusually tall, with dead flat sides, which leads me to think this plane may have been intended for some uses on its side, in a miniature user-made chute board.
This Gewa luthier plane is tall and relatively narrow, for use within enclosed edges among other tasks.
The Herdim line of planes included a “Mittenwald” model, as described by Gewa, which has the same boot-like shape as the two planes shown above, but is clearly made by another manufacturer. The brass sidewalls are much thicker, and the bridge is brass rather than steel in the latest production. These Herdim luthier planes, sold by Dictum as their in-house line of planes, are available with either a lever cap or wedge of light colored wood. I am not sure what attributes, if any, constitute a “Mittenwald” style luthier plane, but Gewa was located in Mittenwald after WWII. In 2008, Gewa purchased the old Musima building in Adorf, next to Markneukirchen, where luthiers worked in a collective during the GDR days, and this is where Gewa is currently based.
Mittenwald is a picturesque town in southwestern Bavaria, of about 4,000 people. Luthiers have made violins there since the mid 1600s, starting with the Klotz family.
This is what most Gewa finger planes look like, that I have seen. Toothing plane marks on violin; probably scraping after. Never sanding, which clogs the pores of the wood, and inhibits tonal quality.
Since the 1980s, Ibex planes have been a leading line of luthier planes in the United States. Irving Sloane, the pioneering author of books on Guitar building, developed the Ibex planes in the 1970s. They featured a traditional violin plane shape, with a removable lever cap, with the adjustment knob underneath, as in Norris and Preston violin planes. The removable lever cap feature was somewhat similar to that of Karl Holtey’s, who made planes later. This particular plane has indentations for the fingers, like Stanley “handi-holds,” and also features an adjustable frog, to change the mouth opening as needed.
Ibex planes also have an indirect link to the Musikwinkel. The manufacturing of the the Ibex line is controlled by Metropolitan Music, a wholesale Stringed instrument supplies distributor based in Stowe Vermont. Metropolitan Music (originally called Czechoslovak Musik) was founded in New York City by Robert Juzek (1894-1975) and three of his brothers in 1920. The Juzek brothers imported violins made by, and bought in by, John (Janek) Juzek (1892-1965) another brother, who was a luthier based in Prague, Bohemia. John Juzek bought many of his violins from Schoenbach, Bohemia, and earlier in the 20th century, Juzek had a small violin making factory in Schoenbach. The Metropolitan Music Company is still owned by the Juzek family,
At a certain point, there becomes an overlap in size between the largest instrument makers’ planes, and the smallest pianomakers’ planes. But in reality, there is overlap, and a blurring of lines generally, between early 4″ Continental ‘block’ planes and early luthier planes; between early Continental mitre planes and bowmakers’ planes. And many other tools.