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.
Bottom of early European mitre replica by modern maker Wayne Anderson, 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.
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 tenons through the sole of the Continental mitre had a sole proud of the body. Early English mitre planes, in contrast, had a sole flush with the body, and the former tenons could now 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. Earlier makers of metal planes on the European continent did not have these advantages, which is why they are found in even lower quantities. 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 and bridge are added. 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. 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!
C. Gabriel mitre plane no. 220, rosewood infill, 10 1/4″ long with a 2 1/4″ iron. Mitre has thin wrought iron sides dovetailed to a thick 1/4″ blister steel sole. 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.
Closeup of the Gabriel mitre plane bridge. 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 really 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, 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 early planes have pinned infills: 220, 270, and 372, while the remainder are screwed in at the front and back. The 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 coutersunk into the front plate. The bridge on both of the above planes is 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 mitres together: 700, 394, 220, and an unmarked mitre with Gabriel characteristics.
Gabriel mitre planes: 700, 394, 220, and unmarked Gabriel-type mitre plane.
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 GABRIEL stamp.
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.
#309 showing rear infill and bridge. Photo by Joel Moscowitz.
Gabriel mitre no. 309 with Gabriel stamp into front infill. Photo by Joel Moscowitz.
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. Photo by Martin Donnelly tools.
Another diversion from planes. A rare Gabriel bit brace, made of beechwood, with 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. 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 Chippendale 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. 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.
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.
St. Martin’s Lane, street scene. George Scharf, 1828.
St. Martin’s Lane in the 1820s.
ROBERT TOWELL MITRE PLANES
Moseley and Sons mitre plane, 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 1850-55. 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 iron. “Rt. TOWELL LONDON” on bridge.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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 about 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.
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.
One Isaac G. Smith. He is my likeliest pick to have made this plane to date.
In the 19th century, Isaac was by far the most common 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 G. Smith, 1851 UK Census, Clerkenwell, London. “Fancy Cabinet Maker; three employees.”
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.
Early Spiers mitre plane, also from previous page. Stewart Spiers (1820-1899) made his planes in Ayr, Scotland, on the west coast. Spiers played a major role in developing wood infilled metal planes, including panel, smoothing, thumb, and improved mitres. Several features indicate that this 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. 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.
Spiers mitre plane, 10 1/2″ long, with 2 1/8″ iron. It was made between 1880 and ~1895. In general, an upside down stamp on the lever cap does not necessarily indicate early manufacture. The snecked iron without dog-eared corners, rear sole extension, and larger diameter of threads on lever cap screw suggest later manufacture. Later in the 1890s, Spiers changed the lever cap screw to a plain unadorned shape.
1909 Catalogue. By this time, Spiers’ box mitre was no longer in regular production, but available by special order.
Three Spiers mitre planes together.
Spiers mitre plane, with traditional wedge, pinned infills, small Spiers inscription right side up, c 1880-1900.
Spiers mitre with inverted cupid’s bow Speir (Rutherford) type bridge.
Spiers mitre with inverted cupid’s bow Speir (Rutherford) type bridge.
Bridge of same.
Same bridge with Rutherford stamp. Photo from internet source.
Same bridge with SPEIR stamp. Photo from internet source.
With regular Spiers Ayr stamp. Photo from ebay.
Speir gunmetal mitre plane. Photo from David Stanley, 2014.
Spiers improved pattern mitre plane, circa 1880s.
Rear view showing large tote.
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.
Spiers improved mitre plane 1890s.
Rear view showing slightly smaller 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 the sarecen-type cusp.
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.
George Buck in sartorial splendor. (1805-1865)
Dovetailed George Buck mitre plane, 242 Tottenham Court Road, London. Most likely made by Norris; bed, iron, and wedge all have the typical matched fitting numbers. Post 1880, as Buck occupied 242 Tottenham Court Road from 1880 to 1930. Norris discontinued their number 10 mitre plane before publication of their 1914 catalogue, and I think this Buck mitre is a variant of Norris no. 10.
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, which was a characteristic of the few Norris mitres with wedges rather than lever caps. The bridge is less convex than the later mitre, but it is still noticeable. Both Patrick Leach and Tony Murland believe this type of mitre plane was most likely made by Norris.
Closeup of Buck mitre plane bridge. Like some Norris planes, this example has an impossibly fine mouth.
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 Gothic slant. Buck used this stamp from the late 1860s to ~1885, when they switched to “BUCK Tot. Court Rd.” in small upright Gothic letters. A variation of this post-1885 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 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.
Buck mitre plane bridge, identical to the one above, except that the address is 242 Tottenham Court Road, which would be after 1880. Perhaps this plane was sold as new old stock. In any case, Robert Towell died in 1871, and probably ceased making planes in the 1850s, so there is really almost no chance that these are Towell mitre planes. Photo from Jim Bode Tools.
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.
If the maker of the three planes above wasn’t Norris, what other maker could it be? 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 three 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 three planes were made ~ 1865 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 planes, other than Norris, but they do not appear to resemble the few Holland mitres out there. What makes these three planes unusual is that they seem to be limited to the Buck dealer stamp, and do not appear elsewhere with the original planemaker’s stamp. After consideration, I still concur with Patrick Leach and Tony Murland that these planes were most likely made by Thomas Norris.
Buck (Spiers) mitre plane. Warman’s Price Guide, Clarence Blanchard, 2011. With brass bridge and half moon cut-out, its the classic design for the Spiers mitre plane with wedged iron.
Buck (Spiers) mitre. Photo by Bill Carter. Standard design for the Spiers mitre plane with lever cap in the 1870s.
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.
Buck mitre planes together: Buck (Towell), Buck (attributed to very early Norris), Buck (attributed to Norris, 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. 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. Tot. Court Rd.
Buck, 247 Tottenham Court Road (1867-1879) Spiers no. 1 panel plane.
Lever cap on Buck panel plane.
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.
Two Buck thumb planes, both made by Norris. In the foreground is no. 32, and in the background is no. 31.
“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.
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.
Norris thumb planes, 1914 catalogue.
Gunmetal thumb plane, with ebony infill, and iron marked “BUCK Tot. Ct. Rd.” Maker unknown, perhaps Slater or Holland?
Scottish chariot plane, mid 19th century. Its actually closer in design to Spiers and Norris thumb planes, with the 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.
Buck thumb plane, made by Stewart Spiers, model no. 9. Unusual sneck, or nib, on iron. This is not a cast plane; it has a separate sole. 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 at 94 Newington Causeway, London before 1910. “Patent Metal” stamped on bridge.
Norris no.11 adjustable mitre plane, circa 1930. It 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 an austere 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.