English Mitre Planes

CHRISTOPHER GABRIEL MITRE PLANES

Ornamental custom made continental mitre planes were made as early as the 16th century renaissance era and seem to have disappeared in the late 18th century.

16th to 18th century mitre plane. These early mitre planes from the European mainland were made as one-off efforts or in small quantity batches. They were typically decorated, sometimes even ornate. This one has a bronze 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.

Curved front totes on these early mitres were probably derived/inspired by the horn at the toe of early Continental wooden bench planes, and still offered on some new German planes.  E.C. Emmerich is a prominent German maker of new wooden planes featuring a horn, which makes pulling the plane, as an alternative to pushing, easier.

Bottom of early European mitre replica by modern maker Wayne Anderson in 2005, showing the through-tenons. This laborious method of construction was practiced after the earlier method of brazing iron components together in ovens. Note the fine mouth, which is placed near the middle of the sole: its an important feature which affects cutting characteristics.

Shop inventory (1774) of harpsichord maker Jean Jacques Malade from “Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making”, by Frank Hubbard, 1965, p. 302. This is a modern translation from French, so the actual word “miter” is Hubbard’s. But its likely an iron or bronze Continental mitre plane similar to those shown above. Showing only the beginning of the full inventory.

The no-nonsense, clean and simple English mitre plane design first appeared around 1780.  So there was likely some overlap between the end of ornate European mitres, and the introduction of the English box mitre.  Yet stylistically and functionally, a great chasm existed between the two plane designs.  Functionally, the blade angle was lowered from ~30 degrees to ~20 degrees.  As a result of this lower blade angle, the mouth was moved forward from close to the middle of the body, to around a third of the length of the sole, as measured from the toe of the plane.  The Continental mitre, with tenons through the sole, also had that sole proud of the body.  Early English mitre planes, in contrast, had a sole flush with the body, and the former tenons could then be dovetails on the perimeter of the sole.  Forming dovetails on the edge of the edge of the sole was a less laborious operation as compared with drilling out the sole for multiple tenons. English mitres could now be used on their sides for shooting mitre joints.  Dovetailing the sole was also a considerably more robust construction method when compared with simply brazing the body to the sole, a common practice in making early European metal planes.

Gabriel mitre plane no. 270. Note how the general appearance of this plane is much simpler than the early Continental mitre shown above.

By the 1770s and ’80s, the production capabilities created by the industrial revolution made it possible for a craftsperson to readily purchase strips of iron for the sides of the planes, and obtain tools such as files and chisels for making them–see the Malade shop inventory above. Other tools included metal cutting chisels, hand drills, and metal burnishers. Earlier makers of metal planes on the European continent (before c.1760) did not have these advantages, which is why they are found in even lower quantities.  Some of the preceding information was drawn from the 2010 blogs of Joel Moskowitz on mitre planes, and that is appreciated.

Gabriel mitres emerged with the now familiar box-like form, with wrought iron sides dovetailed to a two piece steel sole. Other English planemakers, contemporaries such as John Green and John Sym, as well as succeeding generations, adopted this general pattern for the mitre plane. Mitre planes were the only generally available metal plane, followed by the rabbet plane by Robert Towell around 1815-1825, then Stewart Spiers and others introduced a range of metallic infill bench planes in the 1840s and 1850s. A notable exception to this would be metal instrument makers planes, which first appeared during the Renaissance era, and made more or less continuously until the present.

Photo from Bill Carter, UK planemaker. Making a bronze mitre plane.  Here the bronze sidewall, with the dovetails cut, is being bent on a form.  Then the front plate is attached.  Its essentially the same way that Gabriel would have made his mitre planes.

The layout of the sole, using the sides as template. Body and sole are assembled, then peined together. Photo from Bill Carter.

“Many English toolmakers worked in small shops located in or near their homes. the working and living conditions of this Birmingham nailmaker probably differed little from that of many metalworkers who made tools under the “putting out” system [piecework contributing to multi step product to be finished at a unifying facility]. Ink and wash drawing, ca 1800, by J. Barber (1758-1811). reproduced by permission of Birmingham City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England.” From “Working Wood in Eighteenth Century America,” by Gaynor and Hagerdom, page 7.  Christopher Gabriel very likely used a piecework system like this, especially as his business and production levels grew in later years.

In the 18th century, what we now know as mitre planes were simply called “iron planes.”  The 1793 shop inventory for the French  harpsichord maker Pascal Taskin made references for “iron planes.”  Gabriel’s business record book for 1800 made the first English reference of “mitre planes,”  albeit  for wooden mitre planes with a mouth closing block or stop.

Wooden mitre plane by Daniel Arthington of Manchester, with boxwood closer or stop.  Working years for Arthington range from 1808 to 1852, and this mitre was likely an early effort of his.  The iron is bevel up  with a ~25 degree bed, and the rather thin wood often failed behind the mouth. Nevertheless, wood bodied mitre planes of this type were less costly alternatives to the iron mitre planes. Photo from ebay UK.

Gabriel still used the term “iron plane” to notate his iron mitre plane in the 1800 ledger.  Subsequent usage of the term mitre plane can be found in the Sheffield tool dealer J. Wilkes catalog of c. 1829:

707.   Strait block 2 1/4″        3  0………………..4    6  (Double)            

708.   Mitre do. with stop and iron reversed…….9    0

709.   Iron do.  steel faced…………………………25  0

From “British Planemakers from 1700″  3rd Edition, by Jane and Mark Rees.  Page 111.

Early English mitre planes were expensive!

The “Strait block” (strike block) plane was around 14 inches long and configured with the bevel of the cutting iron facing down with a bed angle ~40 degrees.  Historically, the strike block plane had a single iron, but by 1829, a chipbreaker, or “double” iron was available for a higher price. Strike block planes, which had parallel sides at 90 degrees, were primarily used for end grain, often with a shooting board.   Original examples are extremely elusive, however modern replicas are available.

Original strike block plane, with holes drilled for lead weights. Note the smooth wear on the side of the plane–it was used on its side to shoot mitres.  Photo from David Stanley auctions, 2016.

Christopher Gabriel (b.1746 in Cornwall) started making planes in London by 1770, and he continued making them until his death in 1809.  His sons continued making planes as late as 1822.  During the 1790s, after Christopher’s sons took over, the firm diversified into making beds and chairs, as well as parts for pianos.  A few years later, the family continued as a large wood supplier in London, and they remained in business until well into the 20th century.

The mitre plane, as it entered the marketplace around 1780, had arrived in its mature form, as created by Christopher Gabriel, John Sym, and John Green.  Overall proportions, construction, and features of the mitre plane remained remarkably stable throughout its production period, which finally ended in obsolescence with the onset of World War One.  Despite that general obsolescence, old-fashioned piano makers such as Steinway used the mitre plane for specialized tasks, like crowning the keybed, into the early 21th century.  “…A miter plane is a design rendered obsolete by mechanization early in this century.”  –Maurice Fraser 1993

C. Gabriel mitre plane, rosewood infill, 10 1/4" long with a 2 1/4" iron.

C. Gabriel mitre plane no. 220.  –With rosewood infill, 10 1/4″ long with a 2 1/4″ iron. Mitre has thin 5/32″ wrought iron sides dovetailed to a thick 1/4″ blister steel sole.  Stamp on the bridge is very weak, as a likely result of the relative hardness of the steel trade name punch used circa 1785-1790.Closeup of the Gabriel bridge. After more than 200 hundred years, the original inscription has been overwritten at least one, but much of the original Gabriel inscription is still visible.

Closeup of the Gabriel mitre plane bridge.  With this low number plane, Gabriel  resorted to etching the digits in, rather than stamping.  220 is the lowest Gabriel mitre number that I am aware of, and if these are production numbers, then it makes this example the earliest.  After more than 200 hundred years, the original inscription has been overwritten at least once, but a fair amount of the original Gabriel signature is still visible.  G__RIEL can still be seen.  ‘E’ doesn’t show as well as it could in this photo.  This Gabriel mitre plane is clearly marked with 220; many of the relatively few surviving marked Gabriel mitres are numbered.  As far as I know, no one definitively  knows what these numbers represent.

Gabriel & Son “Plane and Looking Glass Manufacturers,” (mirrors) Roger Wakefield’s Merchants and Tradesman’s General Directory for London, 1793.

From Gabriel’s early years, a full range of woodworking tools were supplied, but wooden planes always remained his core business.  Mitre planes were not stocked in anything but small numbers, and while relatively new and innovative in the English box mitre format, they were not a primary focus of the Gabriel enterprise.

Harwood’s 1813 map (partial) showing Old Street and Banner Street in East London, near Shoreditch. Gabriel worked out of 100 Old Street until ~1793. In that year the business was moved to Numbers 31 and 32 Banner Street.

Gabriel mitre plane. Gumetal sides. David Stanley Auctions. c 2013

Gabriel mitre plane, with gunmetal sides. Number 492, and also noted in the book “Christopher Gabriel and the Tool Trade in 18th Century London,” by Jane and Mark Rees.  10  1/4″ long, with a 2″ cutter.  Also in the book “Antique Woodworking Tools,” by David R. Russell, no. 870.  Photo from David Stanley Auctions. c 2013.

Gabriel gunmetal mitre plane no.492 in back; unmarked, but attributed to Gabriel, in front. Photo by David Barron.

In this book about Gabriel, Rees examined 6 mitre planes:

Perhaps the most interesting feature of these planes is that five of the six are marked with what appear to be serial numbers – 415, 492, 700, 701, and 720.  This feature has not been noted on the mitre planes made by other contemporary makers such as John Sym of Westminster (1753-1803), and the Ponders, the Gabriels’ successors in the plane-making business.”  Another signed Gabriel mitre plane with 309 stamped on the bridge, was featured in a blog by Joel Moskowitz.  Moskowitz estimated that there are around a dozen Gabriel mitre planes remaining extant, and that based upon the low volume of mitre components in Gabriel inventory records, mitre plane production was quite limited.  I believe that there are more than a dozen, especially when one adds in all of the unmarked mitres having Gabriel characteristics, but it seems unlikely as many as 720 were made.  If these numbers were actually serial numbers, then there should be a lot more of these planes around, as infill mitre planes show obvious intrinsic value, and would not have been thrown away generally by people who might encounter one over the last 200 years. [c. 2012]

Update 2019: After a few more years of observing Gabriel mitre planes, I have arrived at a new tally of 10 stamped and numbered examples.  Of course the number of examples are inadequate, but this is what’s available.  Numbers span a total of 500, ranging from the lowest at 220 and the highest at 720.  The numbers are: 220, 270, 309, 372, 394, 415, 492, 700, 701, and 720.  Gabriel nos. 220, 270, 394, and 700 are available to me for direct study, while nos. 309, 372, 492, and 701 I have observed through multiple photographs.  The infill woods used are beech, mahogany, rosewood, and walnut.  I could not find any pattern of wood chosen relative to the sequence of numbers.  Three of the low numbered, or early planes have pinned infills: 220, 270, and 372, while the remainder are screwed in at the front and back.  Nos. 220, 270, and 394 have exactly the same shaped front infill, with identical mouldings at the back.  Gabriel nos. 309 and 372 both have a plain beechwood front infill, with no moulding at the back.  The higher numbered, or late planes, 700, 701, and a similar unmarked example have thick bridges ~3/16″ with a bevel along the crescent recess at the front.  700 and 701 also have a reeded front infill attached with a cheesehead screw through the front plate.  The unmarked example also has a reeded front infill and cheesehead screw. All of the other earlier examples have thinner bridges, closer to 1/8″ thick, without the bevel along the curved front edge.  No. 220 has a weak GABRIEL stamp on the bridge, with the numbers etched instead of stamped.  The next two numbers, 270 and 309, have GABRIEL stamped on the rear of the front infill.   Metal (hardness) used for tool stamps would have advanced during Gabriel’s metal plane production (1780-1822) which may explain the weak stamp on #220, and the stamps on the wooden front infill for numbers 270 and 309.  Subsequent Gabriel mitres had strong GABRIEL stamps into the iron bridge, which would suggest utilization of a harder steel for the name-stamping punch.  So there is some limited indication that Gabriel mitre build details are linked in clusters with the ascending numbers.  That would be consistent with production in batches over the passage of time.

Gabriel mitre plane, signed and numbered with 700. The rosewood front infill has an interesting reeded adornment. Gabriel mitre plane no. 701 has a similar descending reeded moulding on the front infill.

Gabriel no. 700 and Gabriel-type mitre plane with reeded front infills and cheesehead screws through front plate into rosewood infill.  These two planes, along with Gabriel no. 701, probably came from the same production batch.  No. 701 also has a cheesehead screw on the front, to secure its reeded infill.  Common practice at the time was to have a handcut flathead screw countersunk into the front plate.  The bridges on both of the above planes are thicker than the earlier Gabriel mitre planes, at ~3/16″ and the crescent shaped indentation has a smooth bevel along the edge.  The earlier Gabriel mitres shown here, 220, 270, and 394 have 1/8″ to 5/32″ thick bridges with no bevel at the crescent.

Gabriel no. 700, left, and unmarked Gabriel mitre plane with reeded moulding on front infill and similar profile at the rear.

Gabriel triple reeding plane.   Photo by  Old Tools UK.

This Gabriel reeding plane is of a general type that would have been used to make reeded mouldings.  More specifically, the type of plane that was probably used to cut the Gabriel infills was a multiple reed plane.  “The development of the reeding plane required improvements in the construction of moulding planes in that they have many quirks, all of which need to be boxed if the plane is to be accurate and long- lasting. In some cases full boxing became the preferred option. The Gabriel firm seemed to be at the forefront of these developments…[c. 1780].”   From “British Planemakers from 1700,” by W.L. Goodman, third edition by Jane and Mark Rees.

Gabriel mitre plane no. 394.  394 was a number not recorded by Mark Rees. This example is in very good condition and has beech infill

Gabriel mitre plane no. 394, rear view.

Gabriel no. 394 sole, showing a fine mouth.

Gabriel 394 has an original 18th century iron by Phillip Law of Sheffield (1787-1833). The famous Seaton toolchest purchased from Gabriel in the 1790s, included some chisels by P. Law.

Gabriel mitre planes together: 700, 394, 220, and an unmarked mitre with Gabriel characteristics.  Here you get an overall view of common features and details.

Gabriel mitre planes: 700, 394, 220, and unmarked Gabriel-type mitre plane.  All four examples have a single large horseshoe bend in the sidewalls at the heel.  Later makers, such as Towell, made two bends, or rounded corners, in the sidewalls at the heel.

 

Gabriel mitre plane, number 270. This example is 10 1/8″ long and has an early 2 1/4″ Sorby iron. The wedge and infills are a red beech, and the front infill is stamped Gabriel, with the same stamp that is used on many wooden Gabriel planes.  No. 270’s bridge is 1/8″ thick with a crescent indentation, and the wedge underneath mirrors that shape.  394’s bridge and wedge have a similar configuration.

Front infill, showing embossed GABRIEL stamp.  Nos. 220 and 394 have identically shaped front infills as this one.

Gabriel mitre planes can be divided into three categories: those that are marked GABRIEL and numbered, those that are stamped GABRIEL only, and those that are unmarked but show sufficient build details to be attributed to Gabriel. This example was sold in a David Stanley auction in 2013, and was stamped Gabriel without a number. Photo from David Stanley auctions.

Gabriel mitre plane with rosewood infills and wedge. Bridge is stamped GABRIEL. 10″ long with a 2 1/16″ iron by Ibbotson.  This is another example of a Gabriel mitre without a number. Previously in the collection of the late David R. Russell, no. 871 in “Antique Woodworking Tools,” and now in the possession of Joel Moscowitz, Tools for Working Wood. Photo by Joel Moscowitz.

Gabriel mitre plane no. 309 with beech infill. Bridge stamped 309, and GABRIEL stamped on front infill. Photo by Joel Moskowitz, Tools for Working Wood.

#309 showing rear infill and bridge. Photo by Joel Moscowitz.

Gabriel mitre no. 309 with embossed Gabriel stamp into beech front infill. Infill is plain, without contours on the back, which is typical of some early mitres.  Photo by Joel Moscowitz.

Gabriel no. 372 mitre plane, with plain beechwood infill, with no moulding at the back. Front infill is the same as Gabriel mitre no. 309.  Photo from Ebay.

Gabriel mitre plane, no 372. This plane was sold in the October 2017 MJD auction as a Spiers mitre. Then it was sold by an ebay seller who also represented it as a Spiers. It was in rough shape, with pitting and a chasm for a mouth. Otherwise, it was fairly similar to Gabriel 394, with rectangular tenons attaching the bridge to the cheeks, and beech infills.

Gabriel mitre plane no. 372 as it appeared in the MJD auction in October 2017. Clearly, it has a replacement wedge.  Aggressive cleaning did not improve the corroded plane body. Photo by Martin Donnelly tools.

Christopher Gabriel, c 1770-1822, early English wooden brace, with button lock type chuck

Another diversion from planes. A rare Gabriel bit brace, made of beechwood, with incuse GABRIEL stamp, rosewood handle, and button lock chuck.  “The number of braces (stocks) and parts of braces included in the two inventories is evidence that these were a regular product of the Gabriel workshop.  We have examined four marked braces during the preparation of this publication, three plain, and one plated.  We are aware of at least two other braces by Gabriel that we have not seen and suspect that there may be others.”  From “Christopher Gabriel and the Tool Trade in Eighteenth Century London” by Jane and Mark Rees.

Mitre plane by Stephen Ponder, who took over the 31 Banner St. Gabriel tool business around 1823.  Marked on the front plate. 10 1 /2″ long with a 2 1/8″ J. Fearn iron.  Included in “Antique Woodworking Planes,” by David R. Russell, no. 872.  Construction and details of the plane appear more or less identical to those of Gabriel.  Photo from David Stanley, March 2015.

Gabriel’s lumber supply business. Pigot’s London City Directory 1839.

MOON MITRE PLANES

Thomas Moon (born before 1770; died ~1821), and later, son John Thomas Moon (1791-1841) made planes from ~1795 to at least 1841.  After John Thomas’ death, his wife Ann ran the retail operation located on 4 Little Queen St. from 1841 to 1851. Along with John Moseley & Son, the Moon business was one of the few tool warehouses in London that presented their tools in a true retail setting.

Storefronts on St. Martin’s Lane in 1830, including Thomas Moon’s retail store.  In 1795 Thomas Moon set up his original shop here at no. 145.  The Moon Tool Warehouse remained at 145 St. Martin’s Lane until the area was razed in 1830. Earlier, Thomas Chippendale & Son also had a shop on this street, no 60-62 from 1754 until 1813 (bankruptcy).   Chippendale wrote the influential book, “The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director,” which was a collection of furniture designs in Gothic, Chinese, and Rococo styles as well as domestic pieces.  It was published in 1754.  Chances that Moon and Thomas Chippendale Jr. never met would be close to none.  Drawing done by George Scharf.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields area in 1889. Little Queen St. is located between High Street and Great Queen St. to the upper left of  Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The Moon Tool Warehouse was located at 4 Little Queen St. from 1831 until 1851.  Map image from wikipedia.

Moon & Co. Tool Manufacturers, London Post Office Directory, 1843.

Moon mitre plane, dovetailed, 10 1/2″ long, with 2″ Ward snecked iron. This Moon mitre plane is visually similar to a Towell mitre until one lines the Moon up next to some Towells to see that they do not match. Moon made his own iron mitre planes, also featuring a Cupid’s bow on the bridge, as did many English makers of wrought iron mitre planes in the early 19th century.

Moon mitre plane. David Stanley auctions. c 2014

Moon mitre plane.  Number 878 in “Antique Woodworking Tools,” by David R. Russell.  10 1/8″ long, with a 2″ iron by James Cam, set at 23 degrees.  Dovetailed body, and two piece sole joined by tongue and  groove.  Typical metal plane construction of the period.  Looks like a former owner used a screwdriver on the wedge when adjusting the iron.   Photo from David Stanley auctions. c 2014

Moon mitre plane, 7 3/4″ long, with a 1 3/4″ iron. This plane may appear to have a moveable front sole piece, for adjusting the throat, but that is not the case. Its built of cast iron sides, applied to a steel sole rear of the mouth. In front of the fine mouth, is a separate front sole piece that is pinned to the body through four internal lugs on the sides.

DSC01988

MOON 4 Little Queen St. Lincolns Inn Fields LONDON. Front infill removed, showing 4 internal lugs that are pinned through the sole from underneath.  A separate sole going behind the mouth can be seen on the inner left cheek.  This arrangement has left the mouth fairly fine after almost 200 years.

St. Martin’s Lane, street scene. George Scharf, 1828.

St. Martin’s Lane in the 1820s.

 

ROBERT TOWELL MITRE PLANES

DSC01875

Moseley and Sons mitre plane, two inch Sorby iron, dovetailed, and made by Robert Towell. Moseley operated a posh tool shop at 17-18 New Street, in a retail district of Covent Garden during the 1830s.  Towell worked in the early 1800s, from c 1810, until about 1855. Robert Towell is generally recognized as the first full time maker of infill planes, first mitre planes, and then later some rabbet planes, and a handful of panel planes.  Max Ott was a 20th century cabinet maker and collector who was born in Switzerland but worked in England. He stamped most of his tools in the old style.

Towell Mitre plane, with 2 inch Newbould iron. “Rt. TOWELL LONDON” on bridge.  A distinguishing feature of Towell mitres is the consistently long front infill, which has the lip directly above the mouth.  And the Towell cupid’s bow took a deeper cut into the bridge while the general practice of Towell’s contemporaries was to take a shallower cut or filing into the bridge.  There are exceptions to this, but they are in the minority of  Towell mitres.  At the heel of Towell’s mitre planes are two bends, or corners at the sidewall, rather than one large horseshoe bend, as found on Gabriel mitres.  Also, sides on Towell mitres (3/16″) are thicker on average, than Gabriel mitres (5/32″).

Because little has been known about Robert Towell (Born March 28, 1790–died November 17, 1871), generally, I have included the following information on his life:

Robert Towell: birth and Christening. From familysearch.org.

Robert Towell’s Christening.

Robert Towell, marriage to Ann Grey, 29 January 1816.

Other Towell children include: Robert Jr., b 22 Dec 1816-d 1863 Shoreditch, London; Ann Frances, b 11 Sept 1820; Martha, b 01 October, 1822; Joseph, b 21 June 1824.  Robert and Ann had as many as seven children.

1851 census. Robert Towell, “iron plane maker.” Shoreditch.

Robert Towell “iron plane maker,” 1861 UK census.

Initially, during the 1816-1820 period,Towell lived and probably worked in the Marylebone district of London. At some point, after 1820 and before 1851, Towell moved to Shoreditch, and remained there until his death in 1871.  Here is a description of Shoreditch during the period of Robert Towell’s productive years, circa 1810 to 1855:

“In Shoreditch artisans operated from small workshops where they lived. Tailors, ironworkers, leather workers such as saddlers and cordwainers (shoe and boot makers) were all common. Printing and furniture makers were another two predominant industries in this area, particularly in the later period. The furniture industry boomed in the south Hackney area when the Regents Canal was completed in 1820, as this eased the transport of heavy goods and materials. The furniture trade provided work for many small specialist trades such as french polishing and veneering, likewise with printing there was work for bookbinders and stationers.

By Victorian times, although the industrial revolution had resulted in most industry moving from areas around the City walls to places where land was cheaper and goods could be produced on a large scale, some craftsmen had escaped the threat of mass production. These were people working in the finishing trades and with high value artefacts. Being close to fashionable markets, Shoreditch was ideally placed and traditionally the area had a pool of semi-skilled labour. The furniture trade’s centre was Shoreditch and it flourished partly because of the Regents Canal, built in 1820, which was utilised for transporting the heavy hardwoods needed. Piano makers and showrooms abounded too. By 1901 there were over five thousand piano, cabinet and other furniture makers in Hackney and they had spread out from Shoreditch as far as Homerton.”    From http://www.bonsonhistory.co.uk/html/hoxton___shoreditch.html

Robert Towell, widowed, retired cabinet maker.  Presumably an infirm “inmate,” in Shoreditch, London.  Towell was most likely destitute in old age.  familysearch.org

1871 census. Robert Towell, “cabinet maker.”

Robert Towell, death, 1871. Shoreditch, London.  He led an unusually long life for the period.  familysearch.org

Hackney workhouse; Robert Towell, admitted July 23, 1863, the same year as the death of his son Robert Jr.; discharged (death) November 17, 1871.

While on the subject of Towell, here is a photo of a Towell smooth plane. It was sold in the UK through thesaleroom.com some time ago. Panel planes and rabbet planes are known to be made by Towell, but this smoother was a revelation.

Towell panel plane. Photo from ebay.

Towell panel plane. Photo from ebay.

Towell mitre plane with auxiliary handles. One of the complaints about using mitre planes was difficulty in holding them for longer tasks. This plane was likely an experiment by Towell to address that issue. Body of this mitre is a little different as well: sidewalls bent at the front instead of dovetailed, and a brazed joint is placed at the rear of the the plane, making the sides one continuous piece. This would have created a weakness if users rapped the back of the plane.

This Towell mitre made quite a splash when it came to auction, circa 1986. At the time, Towell was extremely rare, and it was not known that he had a fairly prolific output spanning more than four decades.  There may be only two or three of this variation in existence.  Photo by Bill Carter.

Late Towell mitre, with lever cap and curved front. Photo fron Ebay UK.

Towell lever cap. Photo from Ebay UK.

Brazed seam at heel. Photo from Ebay UK.

Born in 1790, Towell would have commenced work around 1810, but until late career, Towell likely confined his efforts to traditional box mitre planes and rebate planes.  Because of the 1851 and 1861 UK entries for Robert Towell, which listed him as an “Iron Planemaker,” this gives indication that Towell worked a few more years than generally assumed.  So Towell would have worked until circa 1855, as a conservative estimate, rather than up to sometime before 1850.  And that would place him as having worked contemporaneously with iron planemakers such as Spiers, Kerr, J. Syme, Cox, Badger, and others.  It is likely that Towell’s innovations shown above–iron smoother plane, iron panel plane, lever cap, and experimental mitre plane– were introduced in the 1850s.  This would have been around the same time that other makers began making lever caps and iron bench planes.  Influence between makers was manifested in the 1850s; for example, the lever cap was adopted relatively quickly and widely.

Towell mitre and rabbet planes. Towell rabbets that I have seen, do not have a metal keeper or bridge, like later rabbet planes do, such as Spiers.

Incredibly small mouths on these Towell planes. Robert Towell was one of the best planemakers, ever.

I. Smith mitre plane:

I. Smith mitre plane. It is relatively small at 8 inches long with a 1 3/4 inch iron.  Nothing is known about this maker, to my knowledge, and it doesn’t help that his name is so common. In the last decade, I have observed more than half a dozen I. Smith mitre planes, two of which were in the Russell Collection, nos. 886 and 887. His working dates have been estimated to be the late 19th century by David R. Russell, and about 1860 by Joel Moscowitz. Looking at this Smith mitre, and photos of others, I’d venture to say about 1840 to 1850. Smith mitres were likely somewhat old-fashioned when they were new.

 

I. Smith also made iron rabbet planes.  Nigel Lampert in “Through Much Tribulation  Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr” estimated I. Smith’s rabbet planes to have been made during the 1840s and ’50s.

In “Antique Woodworking Tools” by David Russell, an “I. SMITH ” iron was used in a Richard Nelson (122 Edgeware Road, London c.1831-1852) Handrail moulding plane.  The handrail plane is no. 550, on page 181, and a photograph of the iron’s stamp is no. 193 on page 513.  Perhaps this is the same maker; its possible that the mitre and rebate planes were made around Sheffield rather than London.  No location for I. Smith was made on either the plane iron or the mitre and rabbet planes.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the letter J had become commonplace in the English language, and not as much interchangeable with I. ” J was introduced into English for the consonant in the 17th century (it had been rare as a vowel), but it was not universally considered a distinct letter in the alphabetic order until the 19th century.” From “History of the Latin Script,” wikipedia.  For that reason, I take the the “I SMITH” stamped on the bridge literally, and I am less inclined to think that we are looking for a James or John Smith. Nevertheless, a John E. Smith (b.~1861) was listed as a planemaker in his 1881 (Marylebone), 1911, and 1939 UK census entries .  James Smith (b. ~1828 in Birmingham) was another listed planemaker in the 1881 UK census in Brighton.  Justinian Smith, of 17 Horse St., Bath working years 1805-1825 had a different mark with a stag’s head. A J. Smith has been noted in Dudley, near Birmingham, during the late 19th/early 20th centuries; this working period is somewhat late.  And his stamp read: J. SMITH  DUDLEY.  Also considered was Joseph Smith, author of “Key to the Various Manufactories of Sheffield.” a tool catalogue published in 1816.  Joseph Smith was the engraver of the catalogue, which was used by various salesmen to represent several Sheffield maker’s product lines to customers.  So Smith was not necessarily the maker of these tools, but this does not rule him out either.  In the large profusely illustrated catalogue–there are only wood bodied planes–no metal planes. There was a Joseph Smith at 51 Carver St., Sheffield  working from before 1821 to after 1837, but again, the mark was different: SMITH and SONS  WARRANTIED.

In the 19th century, Isaac was by far the most common boy’s name staring with I in England.  Ian was rare, Ivor was popular in the 20th century, and Israel, Isaiah, and Ibrahim, etc. were not generally common then.

Isaac George Smith, a possible candidate for the maker of the “I SMITH” mitre and rabbet planes.

Isaac G. Smith, Clerkenwell, London. 1851 UK census. “Fancy Cabinetmaker, three employees.”

Larger 9 3/4″ I. Smith mitre plane with a 2″ wide throat. At the heel, the sidewalls have two bends compared to one on the smaller Smith plane shown above. Photo from ebay UK July 2018.  Another full sized I. Smith mitre plane came up for sale on Ebay in April 2019.

Bridge of I. Smith mitre plane. A rusty find. Photo from Ebay UK 07/2018.

 

EARLY LISTINGS FOR LONDON PLANEMAKERS

Pigot’s London City Directory for Tool makers. 1826.

Pigot’s London City Directory for Planemakers, 1826.

Pigot’s London City Directory for Planemakers, 1839.

In the London City directories, by the late 1870s, the section for planemakers changed to ‘planing mills,’ etc.

STEWART SPIERS MITRE PLANES

Introduction from Spiers 1909 catalogue.  “…Piano and Organbuilders, and other hardwood workers, all over the world still pronounce [Spiers planes] the best.”  It goes without saying that Spiers was not the inventor of the dovetailed plane.  When you make the distinction of an all ‘steel dovetailed plane,’ however, there’s a greater chance that it is true.

Stewart Spiers (1820-1899) made his planes in Ayr, Scotland, on the west coast. Spiers played a major role in developing and popularizing wood infilled metal planes, including panel, smoothing, thumb, shoulder, chariot, and improved mitres.  Although, its fair to state that Spiers was not necessarily the original inventor of  these forms, with the possible exception of the improved mitre plane.

Early Spiers mitre plane. Several features indicate that this original pattern mitre was made between the 1850s and 1870. These include a flying saucer-shaped or domed lever cap screw, tapered iron, lack of sole extension at the heel, and side screws to secure the lever cap. Also, the sidewalls at the heel form one large horseshoe bend with two curved dovetails.  It does not have the earliest version lever cap, with the long narrow neck; this lever cap was made to be more robust.

Spiers mitre plane. Earliest version, from the 1840s and ’50s. The lever cap neck is very long and slender. Spiers later discovered that the lever cap does not need to be so long for sufficient leverage with holding down the iron securely. In fact, later Spiers planes have much shorter lever caps. An example of a very short Spiers lever cap can be seen on an improved pattern Spiers mitre plane further down this page.  Body of the plane is fairly similar to the later Spiers mitre shown above.

Spiers mitre plane, 10 1/2″ long, with 2 1/8″ iron. It was made between the 1870s and ~1895. This mitre is old enough to have the front and rear sole dovetailed together (at the mouth) rather a simpler diagonal butt joint which was employed later.  In general, an upside down stamp on the lever cap does not necessarily indicate early manufacture. The pinned infills, snecked iron without dog-eared corners, rear sole extension, and larger diameter of threads on lever cap screw suggest later manufacture. Also, the sidewalls at the heel have two bends, or rounded corners, rather than one large horseshoe bend with curved dovetails, as featured in the earlier full sized mitres.  Front infill has a longer top than the earlier style, and a simple concave shape under the lip, at the back, compared to a long exposed ogee on the earlier mitre infill.  Later in the 1890s, Spiers changed the lever cap screw to a plain unadorned domed shape.

Front infill from early Spiers mitre plane.  Photo by Paul Blanche.

1909 Catalogue. By this time, Spiers’ box mitre was no longer in regular production, but available by special order.  Note that the catalogue image show a cusped lever cap screw, but actual examples in 1909 would have been a flat-topped screw.

Three Spiers mitre planes together.  Here you can see the evolution of Spiers’ traditional mitre plane with lever caps.  Quality is steady throughout, but planes become more practical in use, with the passage of time.

Spiers mitre plane, with traditional wedge, pinned later style infills, small Spiers inscription right side up, and sole extension at the heel. c 1870s to 1880s.  By the 1880s, any wedged Spiers planes were rare (with the exceptions of the shoulder and rebate planes), but in general, Spiers favored the lever cap arrangement from the beginning of his career.  Even Spiers chariot planes had lever caps when other makers almost invariably used bridges and wedges.  Front and rear sole pieces are dovetailed together at the mouth in this example.

Spiers mitre c. 1845 to 1863, with inverted cupid’s bow Speir (Rutherford) type bridge.  This example has the standard SPIERS AYR stamp upside down.

Bridge of same.

Same bridge with Rutherford stamp.  Photo from internet source.

Some speculation exists around who made the planes with the unique inverted cupid’s bow.  Some think the examples marked “SPIER AYR”  were made by William, Stewart Spiers’ father, while others believe that they were made by Stewart’s nephew.  I am inclined to think that all planes with this bridge design were made by the same person, and that would likely be George Rutherford.  In his book“Through Much Tribulation: Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr,” Nigel Lampert discounted the notion of more than one Spiers making planes in Ayr:

“Its has been suggested elsewhere that the use of alternative spellings might indicate that more than one planemaker was responsible for early planes usually assumed to be by Stewart Spiers’.  However, there is absolutely no hint or evidence that another planemaker named Speir ever existed in Ayr (or indeed elsewhere) during this period, and given that some early mitre planes marked ‘Speir’ are also marked ‘Ayr’ as well, and an early block smoothing plane is known stamped with both ‘Speir’ and ‘Spiers Ayr’, it is a reasonable assumption that the Spiers family used and/or responded to a number of spellings of their name.”

George Rutherford was born in New York around 1824 or 1825, but his family was from Scotland.  The Rutherford family returned to Ayr, Scotland sometime before 1845.  George’s mother ran a drapery business  at 124 High St., Ayr,  and his planes were made at that address as well.  George Rutherford made planes from approximately 1845 to 1863, at which time he had the opportunity to enter the grocery business, eventually becoming the business owner.  Along with Stewart Spiers, George Rutherford was most likely the only other maker of iron planes in Ayr, Scotland.  In his book about “Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr,” author Nigel Lampert suggested that Rutherford made some of his iron planes for Stewart Spiers.  Certainly, some of the mitre planes show great similarity, with the exception of the inverted cupid’s bow bridge.  Perhaps the reason for the similarities had to do with Stewart Spiers’ requirement for conformity with his own mitre plane product.  A very small amount of Rutherford cast panel planes and smooth planes have also surfaced..  These show little similarity to the building practice of Spiers’ dovetailed planes.

The inverted cupid’s bow bridge on the mitre planes was inscribed at least four ways: SPIERS AYR; SPEIR; SPEIR AYR and G. RUTHERFORD.  While some of the mitres are nearly identical with Stewart Spiers planes of the period, with the exception of the bridge, significant differences exist on other mitre plane examples.

SPEIR gunmetal mitre plane, as photographed in a David Stanley Auction in 2014. Planemaker Bill Carter was the high bidder, and after purchase he made a new wedge to replace the old damaged one.

After examination, Bill Carter found that this plane differed from standard Spiers mitre planes of the period in the following ways:

“…In my mind this Speir plane has absolutely nothing to do with Spiers, I think it is earlier and it is entirely different to the later made Spiers.  The bridge has a beautiful cupid bow which is identical to the Rutherford makers in Nigel’s book.  Again, very little is known about Rutherford as a maker.

These are the differences I have found between Speir and Spiers of Ayr:

Speir plane: The brass sides if the plane and bridge are much thicker. 2) The bridge is fixed either side with three pin brass pins, they could be tenons. 3) The cupid’s bow bridge is identical to a G. Rutherford plane and so are the overall dimensions of the plane itself. …6) The joint at the mouth appears to be like a bird’s mouth, not a tongue and groove.  7) The spelling Speir completely different, Speirs if Ayr always appears on his planes, it always has an S on the end (this is a really big difference between the two makers). 8) Brass and steel construction on his first type of dovetailed mitre plane.  Spiers of Ayr did no use these materials on his first type of mitre plane.  9) The infill is solid rosewood, not made up of two pieces.  10) The front infill is a different shape.”  From http://www.billcarterwoodworkingplanemaker.co.uk/new-infills/

Same bridge with SPEIR AYR stamp. Photo from internet source.

With regular Spiers Ayr stamp. Photo from ebay.

 

Early Spiers no. 5 improved pattern mitre plane, circa 1850s. Early features include fairly long necked lever cap, flying saucer shaped lever cap screw with small diameter threaded stem, screwed sides, and small side indentations on rear tote. Photo from spiersplanes.com.

Early Mathieson improved mitre plane, circa 1850s and 1860s. All metalwork–body and lever cap/screw–resemble Spiers, but rounded infills are unique to Mathiesen. Its a very rare and sought after plane. Photo from Ebay UK.

Controversy surrounds the subject of improved mitre planes, with some favoring them as an actual improvement over box mitres, while others refute their usefulness on any count.  Contested applications would include shooting mitres as well as general smoothing, primarily on various hardwoods.  Improved mitre planes were the type that Stewart Spiers was most likely to have invented from scratch.  Overall configuration–20 degree bed angle iron bevel up–was derived from the traditional box mitre plane. For the rest, Spiers borrowed from the new bench planes when coming up with his design: the front bun and general side profile came from his early panel plane, the lever cap came from his early mitre plane (and others), and the rear tote was adapted and modified from his unhandled early improved smooth plane.  Collectors seek these planes out because of their rarity and uniqueness.  It doesn’t hurt that Norris made a limited few improved mitres and those have become something of a holy grail with aficionados.  Norris planes have always held a certain mystique, and that has captured the imagination of some collectors.

Norris no. 11 improved pattern mitre plane. Most of Norris’ line of planes borrowed heavily from Spiers, and this mitre was no exception. Some Norris improved mitres were rebadged as Mathiesens.  Drawing from Norris’ 1914 catalogue. Image from Norrisplanes.com.

Norris no. 11 improved mitre plane. Photo from norrisplanes.com

The vast majority of antique improved mitre planes, however, are the Spiers examples, which were made from the 1850s right up to the onset of World War One.  Improved mitres were always a relatively low production/specialist type plane for Spiers, but because they were made for ~60 years, they’re rare, but not the rarest.  Several modern planemakers produce improved mitre planes, and the small market that created this demand consists of current traditional woodworkers as well as collectors.  For example, Wayne Anderson and Gerd Fritsche are both planemakers who produce improved mitre planes currently.  New improved mitre plane products give today’s woodworkers a chance to experience these low angle bevel up planes for themselves.

Spiers no. 5 improved pattern mitre plane circa 1880s. Cusped lever cap screw, riveted sides, and small SPIERS AYR stamp indicate vintage.

Rear view showing large tote with no shoulders at the back, but large indentations for clasping on the sides.

Spiers 1909 catalogue. Image shows a very short lever cap and cusp on lever cap screw. Not sure how current the image was in 1909.  Bench planes in this catalogue show flat lever cap screws with no cusps. So strong selling planes were shown with the latest features while slow sellers and special order/out of production models showed older features.  Planes that showed 19th century details such as a cusp on the lever cap screw included the Improved mitre, Box mitre, Thumb plane, and Chariot plane.  Very few of the latter listed planes were made after 1900.

Spiers improved mitre plane with very short lever cap with a small SPIERS AYR stamp correct way up. Because the lever cap screw has a cusped design with a small diameter thread, I think that this was a late 19th century plane rather than an early 20th century example.  Photo by spiersplanes.com.

The following two photos show a Spiers no. 5 improved mitre plane made in the early 20th century, as late as the onset of WWI.  It shows a large SPIERS AYR stamp and a completely flat-topped lever cap screw, typical of c. 1910 or so. Truly the end of an era; there were no Spiers mitre planes manufactured after the Great War.  Also discontinued at that time were the chariot and thumb planes. Photos by Aled Dafis (photobucket).

Spiers no. 5 improved pattern mitre plane circa 1890s. This example differs from the previous short lever cap by having a large acme thread on the cusped double screw.  –And an original iron with straight sides rather than dog-eared.

Rear view showing slightly smaller rounded tote and shoulders at the back.

Two ‘improved pattern’ Spiers mitre planes, both made c 1880-1900, with the small right-side up Spiers Ayr inscriptions. The plane on the right has a small lever cap similar to what Norris used in their mitre planes later on, and a double lever cap screw somewhat like C. Bayfield, Nottingham, but with a cusp.  Mitre in front is slightly larger than the other one, and has thicker gauge steel stock, but the plane in back is by no means of light construction.

GEORGE BUCK tool supplier to the piano trade as well as others.

Norris-made Buck planes, c. 1908.

George Buck ad in “Modern Practical Joinery” by George Ellis, 1908. They offered bow drills, planes, tuning, voicing, and regulating tools to the piano trade. In planes, they carried the revered Norris line, but they put their own attractive mark on their tool merchandise. George Buck has carried other infill plane makes during their long tenure in business, including Towell, Spiers, Holland, Slater, and Miller.  I have a signed George Buck tuning hammer with a previous mark filed off, quite probably R. Reynolds, who provided Buck with most of his specialized piano tools.

Buck and piano tools: Music Trades Directory 1912.

George Buck was one of several businesses run by various family members of the Buck clan:

George Buck, London Post Office Directory, 1843.

Buck & Hickman, London Post Office Directory, 1843.

Joseph Buck, London Post Office Directory, 1843.

Joseph Buck 124 Newgate St. London. Bridge of a Towell mitre plane.  Photo from Hans Brunner, 2016.

George Buck (1805-1865)

George Buck in sartorial splendor.  (1805-1865)

For those of you who have read this page previously, regarding the following two BUCK mitre planes, one from the 1860s and the other made after 1880, you will realize that I have changed my opinion regarding the maker of these planes.  What is learning, if one’s thinking cannot evolve?  I used to think that these mitres  were made by Thomas Norris, but I now believe that they were made by John Holland.  The 1860s Buck mitre has some markings on the bridge, which I did not notice before.  And the post 1880 Buck mitre has “J H”  in very small letters near the nib of the original iron.  I also missed this before, and I was distracted by the fact that both of these planes have clear definitive BUCK stamps on the bridge.

DSC01882

Dovetailed George Buck mitre plane, 242 Tottenham Court Road, London. Most likely made by John  Holland; bed, iron, and wedge all have  matched fitting numbers. Post 1880, as Buck occupied 242 Tottenham Court Road from 1880 to 1930.   There is a very small set of J H initials up near the nib, which will be shown in another photo.  Buck must have been strict about not revealing the makers of his planes.

DSC01807

Buck mitre plane, convex bridge, with Cupid’s bow.  Buck, 242 Tottenham Court Road, post 1880.  Its unusual to see many box mitre planes made after 1860, and more so to see a plane with a cupid’s bow bridge after the 1870s.

Buck mitre plane, earlier version of this type; 245 Tottenham Court Road, probably circa 1862-66, when the address was actually 245-247 Tottenham Court Road. The stamp is otherwise the same as the other post 1880 Buck mitre, with similar features, including the convex bridge.  The bridge is less convex than the later mitre, but it is still noticeable.

BUCK marked bridge, with initials J H scratched in or acid etched. This is exactly the same photograph that was previously posted, when I thought the plane was made by Norris. Some of the letters are now circled, most of which run along near the left cheek of the plane.  Some markings have JH letters running together, sharing the left vertical line of the H, in a monogram. It must be where Thomas Norris got the idea for his TN monogram.  Circa 1862 to 1866, when Mrs. G. Buck was at 245 and 247 Tottenham Court Road.

When John Holland would have made the  Buck 245 Tottenham Court Road plane in the 1860s, he would have been just starting in his career.  It makes sense that Holland would try to take credit for the plane, because most people starting out in a career have something to prove.  That may be why the later Buck planes, that were unmistakably from the same maker, did not have such prominent markings.  Subsequent mitre planes coming from John Holland, and rebadged as BUCK, more often than not, had identification relegated to J H initials on the cutting irons.  If any at all.

In addition to the convex shape of the bridge, the cupid’s bow is not deeply cut as one would expect to see from Robert Towell.  This cupid’s bow is identical to the later 247 and 242 Tottenham Court Road marked bridges shown on this page for comparison.  Letters for “BUCK” are more spaced apart than Towell’s stamp, and the address is done with fine incuse letters with a slant, in Gothic.  Holland/Buck used this stamp from the 1860s to ~1890, when Norris/Buck switched to “BUCK Tot. Court Rd.” in small upright Gothic letters.  A variation of this post 1885–90 stamp read “BUCK Tottm. Ct. Rd.”  These later stamps seem to be applied by the Buck the dealer, rather than the maker, as they are sometimes found not perfectly straight.  The slanted Gothic lettering stamp was used during the tenure with Holland, from the late 245 Tottenham Court Road address, throughout the 247 Tot. Ct. Rd. period from 1867 to 1879, and into the 1880s at 242 Tot.Ct. Rd.

Sole of Buck mitre plane, showing the mouth.

Convex bridge from same type of Buck mitre plane, showing address of 247 Tottenham Court Road, circa 1867 to 1879.  Note the same stamp format as well as an identical cupid’s bow to the two mitres shown here. Photo from internet source.

Considering that Buck bought in planes from Towell, Spiers, Slater, Holland, Miller, and Norris, which of these makers can be eliminated as the possible maker?  Since the two Buck planes with a convex cupid’s bow bridge were dovetailed, only Spiers, Holland, and Norris dovetailed their mitre planes.  Towell dovetailed his planes as well, but his productive years (1810-1855) were too early for consideration here.  These planes were made ~ 1860s to 1890.  Miller did not make any mitre planes, and his planes were all cast iron or gunmetal.  Slater may have made a very small number of cast iron mitre planes, appearing either unmarked, or rebadged, such as for Tyzack.  Buck did rebadge and sell Spiers planes, and two examples can be seen below.  They do not appear to be different from Spiers signed planes in any way.  This is to be expected, as it would be unlikely for a plane maker to sell their planes at a lower price, wholesale to the trade, with any special new designs or modifications unless required by the dealer.   Holland would be the remaining possible maker of these dovetailed mitre planes, other than Norris, and there’s a dearth of Holland’s  examples available for comparison.  What makes these two planes unusual, even unique, is that they seem to be limited to the Buck dealer stamp, and do not appear elsewhere with the original planemaker’s stamp.  Of course a maker-stamped mitre might show in the future, and if it does, it could give a more definitive answer as to who made all the Buck mitres with cupid’s bow and curved bridges, from the 1860s and into the 1880s.  While these Buck mitres are rare, a fair number of this vintage and type  have shown up over the years.

Working years for Holland ranged from 1861 to 1892, which encompassed the time in the 1860s when the earlier plane was made.  While Norris advertised that he was established in 1860, it was realistically more as a tool dealer rather than maker.  After consideration, I now think that these planes were most likely made by John Holland rather than Thomas Norris.  A definitive Norris no. 10 mitre plane is shown rebadged as a BUCK further down this page.  There are no differences between the BUCK and a Norris no.10 other than  the stamp on the bridge..

Below you can see the curved bridges of both Norris and Holland.  The influence of Holland on Norris is obvious.  And that applies to the two previous Buck mitre planes as well.

John Holland mitre plane that sold in the March 2015 Brown auction. You can see where Norris found inspiration for his early gunmetal bridge.

Norris gunmetal bridge from a no.10 mitre plane.  Mitre and smoothing planes with this bridge can be found marked BUCK also.   Photo from Jim Bode.

Buck (Spiers) mitre. Photo by Bill Carter.  Standard design for the Spiers mitre plane with lever cap in the 1870s.

Buck (Spiers) mitre plane. Warman’s Price Guide, Clarence Blanchard, 2011.

Buck mitre plane, 245 Tottenham Court Road. This mitre is much earlier, dating from the late 1830s to the 1840s. 245 Tottenham was George Buck's address from 1838 to 1861, but his plane was made by Robert Towell, who ceased making planes sometime in the 1840s.

Buck (Towell) mitre plane, 245 Tottenham Court Road. This plane is much earlier, dating from the late 1830s to the early 1850s. 245 Tottenham was George Buck’s address from 1838 to 1861, but this mitre was made by Robert Towell, who ceased making planes sometime in the 1850s.  The “BUCK 245 TOTTENHAM Ct. Rd.” stamp used the same lettering font/format as the “Rt. TOWELL LONDON” stamps.  It makes for a strong indication that Robert Towell himself applied these stamps in his workshop.  For more information on Robert Towell, see the section on Towell earlier on this page.  This plane is also very similar, if not identical to the one used to plane spotted metal for organ pipes at G. Fincham Organ Builders. 

Dual marked plane: Buck on bridge and Towell on rear infill. Photo by Patrick Leach. From website http://www.oldhandtools.co.uk/blog/english-mitre-planes

Buck mitre planes together: Buck (Towell), Buck (attributed to John Holland), Buck (attributed to Holland, post 1880), Buck (Norris no. 10).  David Russell wrote in “Antique Woodworking Tools” that Norris stopped making the cupid’s bow bridge by 1875, but I suspect they were made as late as the 1890s.  Perhaps later.  The two Buck mitres in the middle share the same type of name stamps, and nearly identical wedges and front infills.  Shape of the heels on both are essentially the same as well.  Even the grain on the rosewood–being the same species–is probably from the same supplier.  Differences include screwed infills versus pinned, and differently shaped front extension.

George Buck mitre plane, identical to the Norris no. 10 mitre plane.  Circa 1885 at the earliest, and 1913 at the latest.  Typical Norris curved bridge reads “BUCK Tot. Court Rd.”   Design of the bridge, with a shallow arch at the bottom and a cupid’s bow at the top showed an influence from earlier makers, such as John Green.  Additionally, some of Holland’s gunmetal bridges, such as those on his smooth planes and mitre planes, have a similar shape to Norris’, without the cupid’s bow.  Length is 8 1/4″ with a 1 3/4″ Mathieson iron, that was numbered to the plane.  In the 1908 Norris catalogue, no. 10 was included, but by the 1914 catalogue, no. 10 was discontinued.

Norris no. 10 mitre plane with lever cap rebadged as Mathieson. Mathieson bought in Spiers planes in the 19th century, before making the switch to Norris.  Image from Trinder’s Tools, UK.

Buck, 247 Tottenham Court Road (1867-1879) Spiers no. 1 panel plane.  Its a Spiers type 3 panel plane, and the Buck address lends further clarification of the time frames for Spiers’ production.

Lever cap on Buck panel plane, with its c. 1860-1885 trade stamp.  Buck would contract with several planemakers at the same time.

A 1 1/2″ gunmetal shoulder plane marked and sold by Buck, but made by George Miller who worked at 24 Ampton St., St. Grey’s Inn Road, in London, from 1890 to 1914.  Ebony infill.

A brief diversion from planes: Two Buck bow drill stocks, found together, one is rosewood, and the other is dark rosewood with the spool possibly ebony.  Drills appear darker in this photo than they actually are. The rosewood drill is shorter and narrower than the darker one, but the shape of the handles suggest that they were made at the same time. Both Buck drills likely were used on the same factory shop floor.

Inside the caps of the Buck drill stocks: serial numbers 165 and 168.

BUCK THUMB PLANES

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

Distinctly English thumb planes were never produced in quantity; chariot planes were the most similar English 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.  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.  Working in the early to mid-19th century, Kerr 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 1892.  The last historical manufacturer of the thumb plane was Thomas Norris (late 19th century to ~1940), and Norris made more of this type than anyone else in the trade. Thomas Norris and John Holland both lived on York St. in Lambeth, 71 and 93 respectively, and they were there concurrently between 1872 and 1890.  It would have allowed plenty of time for an exchange of ideas between these two planemakers.

American block planes were the closest domestic equivalent to the English thumb plane, but their introduction circa 1873 postdated the thumb planes by at least 20 years.  English influence from the thumb plane on Leonard Bailey was apparent in the side profile of his Excelsior pattern block plane.

Bailey Defiance adjustable block plane.  It 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 English thumb planes, the Bailey/Stanley block planes caught on like wildfire, and were made in prolific quanties and variations from the 1870s until World War Two.  On average, American block planes ranged from 6 to 7 inches long, compared with English 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.

Since so few English planemakers made thumbplanes, 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.

Reproduction of a very rare Mathiesen thumb plane by Bill Carter. General shape is more symetrical than the classic English pattern thumb plane.  Photo from infill-planes.com

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

Two Buck thumb planes, with thick 1 1/4″ parallel irons, bright ground and marked “Buck Tot. Ct. Rd. Both planes made by Norris. 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 thumb planes, 1914 catalogue.

Adjustable version of no 32 in Norris' 1930 catalogue.

Adjustable version of no 32 in Norris’ 1930 catalogue.  “For model and Violin Bow Makers.”  Norris thumb planes were also marketed towards workers in the pianoforte industry.

Gunmetal thumb plane, with ebony wedge, and 1 1/4″ tapered iron marked “BUCK Tot. Ct. Rd.”  John Holland probably crafted this elegant plane.  Holland made planes at 68 Oakley St, Lambeth (1861-1870), then 93 York St. (1870-1890).  Holland took over the business of metal planemaker Charles Badger (at 93 York St. in 1869-70) in 1870. Thomas Norris worked down the street, at 71 York St., Lambeth London.

Here are some sources regarding the sale of Badger’s shop at 93 York Road, Lambeth.  Research was posted on pinterest by A. R. Clarence.  I posted it because so little is known about Holland or Badger:

“Sheffield Daily Telegraph  March 19th 1870:

To Saw and Tool Makers–An old established business of twenty years’ standing to be disposed of, in consequence of the Death of the Proprieter–apply Mrs. Badger York Road Lambeth London.”

“South London Chronicle  December 10th 1870:

Re: Badger, deceased 93 York Road Lambeth–Toolmaker’s Stock; also the lease and fixtures of the above desirable, excellently fitted.  Business Premises, with workshop at the rear held for the expired term of 14 years at the annual rental of 44 GBP.

Mr. Mallet will sell by auction on the premises as the above on the 10th the remaining genuine stock of Carpenters’ Joiners’, Cabinetmakers’, and Wheelwrights’, Tools, Engineer’s files, cutlery, iron cramps etc. in addition to the lease.”

Scottish chariot plane, with 1 1/4″ iron, and made in the mid 19th century. Its actually closer in design to Spiers and Norris thumb planes, with the fine throat opening well back of the nose of the plane. Scottish chariots of this type likely influenced Stewart Spiers when he made his first thumb planes.  A stepped toe, flat heel, front infill, and sweeping profile as shown above, distinguish the type. Scottish chariots were different from the so-called ‘Irish’ chariot planes, and of a higher quality overall.  This example has a mouth as tight as the better Norris thumb planes.  Two other examples of similar Scottish chariot planes are shown in “Antique Woodworking Tools,” by David R. Russell, nos 859 and 860.

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

Buck thumb plane, made by Stewart Spiers, model no. 9.  Unusual sneck, or nib, on iron, which was not bright ground, like those of Norris.  This is not a cast plane; it has a separate sole, and the sides are very thick.  It makes for a heavy little plane.  Typical Spiers lever cap screw, with rounded cusp.

1909 Spiers catalogue. No. 9 thumb plane was not in production and only made upon special order.

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

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 John William Mitchell, a British dealer at 94 Newington Causeway, London after 1865, left before 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.

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

Norris no.11 adjustable mitre plane, circa 1930.  No. 11 was the last mitre plane produced by a classic maker until the form was revived in the late 1970s.  And it was also the only historical mitre plane to have an adjuster added as a feature.  This did not necessarily make it a better plane. Several modern makers have reproduced this plane, which has a stark aspect to its presentation.  Photo from David Stanley Auctions, February 2018.

Norris no.11 adjustable mitre plane, circa 1930. Rear view, showing adjustment knob. There is no front plate as well.  Photo from David Stanley Auctions, February 2018.

From “Encyclopedia of Furniture Making,” by Ernst Joyce, 1970.

Norris no. A11 adjustable mitre plane as it appeared in the 1938 Buck and Ryan catalogue.  Image from norrisplanes.com

The following quote comes from Maurice Fraser (1928-2016), a well known woodworking teacher at the Crafts Students League of the YMCA in New York, on the 1989 David Stanley auction price of a custom Norris mitre plane.  Leslie Ward (1901-1980) was the head harpsichord maker for Arnold Dolmetsch, (1858-1940), a leader in the original instrument revival movement.  Ward commissioned this mitre plane to his own specifications:

”   … [Norris survived] the 1930s Depression, and was even exumed, briefly after World War Two.  To postwar craftsmen, then, the varied Norris line of planes, even the somewhat debased, “austerity-years” versions of the late 1940s, remained the tools of choice.  Norris, thus, finally advanced beyond merely first among equals.  The company became the ‘Last of the Mohicans.’

Its rare with historical artifacts such as these, that we are afforded any knowlege of the person behind the tool.  …Dolmetch (1858-1940) was the most powerful force in the phenomenal 20th-century revival of historical musical instrument manufacturing.  The Dolmetsch factory in Haslemer, Surrey, England, occupies the site where those still-famous harpsichords, lutes, viols and recorders first saw light again, under the hands of such craftsmen as Ward and others…  Ward remained head of the harpsichord and clavichord division until his retirement in 1966. 

…[The auction is a] marketplace at its most emotional; an arena of  contradiction where, in the heat of battle cool reason is often overcome.

The successful bidder, Max Ott, is a long time professional woodworker, tool collector and currently the owner and manager of a cabinet shop in London.  The proud new owner, soberly, is reserving the tool for private use in his home workshop. …The extravagant 1989 price for Ward’s Norris mitre plane is an odd mix of reverence and irrationality.  Today, the astronomical pricing of what is perceived as art is little questioned, even though what is art is ever more difficult to ascertain.  …Commercially, the mitre plane has always been a loser: it promotes quality unhurried–not quantity, requisite in the press of the late machine age.”

Maurice Fraser   New York, N.Y. 1989