Adjustable Erlandsen-type rabbet plane. Gunmetal version. Very similar to the iron, steel, and rosewood version shown above.
Three marked N. Erlandsen rabbet/shoulder planes, all with skewed cutters. All have side openings for the blade which has a combination rectangle and circle, a development borrowed from Brandt. A circle was to allow for better chip ejection curling up.
- On the left is a steel rabbet plane, early, with a later J. Erlandsen skewed cutter, possibly a replacement. Its body is made up of a number of applied steel components, i.e., sides, sole and center portions; the sides are pinned together, but require a loupe with proper lighting to detect. All together, its a heavy, solid steel tool.
- On the right are two early nickel plated cast iron shoulder planes. Napoleon Erlandsen was the first of the New York planemakers to introduce a rabbet plane where the body was wholly cast in one piece. Even with extensive hollowed out sections above the adjustable sole, and under the cutter, these planes are heavy for their size, much more so than the Popping shoulder planes shown later on this page. Casting these planes would have required cores, which involved some extra time and expense for Erlandsen’s production. A sliding adjustable front sole piece is locked by the two screws on top, and a fine adjustment is added at the front of the planes. Both of these adjustable planes belonged to one T. Larson, and you can see that the wear marks through the plating reveal a similar hand position on each.
- On the plane in the middle, just to the right of the fine adjustment screw is the end of an alignment rod which sits inside a half round groove on the top of the sole, and on the bottom front of the main casting. Erlandsen was borrowing directly from George Thorested’s adjustable iron rabbet and mitre planes here, so this plane probably dates from the 1860s. Later, Napoleon Erlandsen moved on to his own design for an adjustable sole, using a raised trapezoidal alignment rail as shown on the shoulder plane to the right.
Note the steeper angle of the rabbet plane’s wedge as compared with the lower angle wedge on the two shoulder planes. Traditionally, the rabbet plane was used with, or along the grain, and had the cutter set at a higher angle. Rabbet planes were intended to remover larger amounts of wood relatively quickly. Sometimes, as in the Erlandsen example above, they also had a skewed cutter.
Shoulder planes were used historically for end grain work and would have a lower angle for the iron, as well as a smaller mouth than the rabbet planes. With the New York planemakers, these distinctions became somewhat blurred, with both shoulder and rabbet planes having relatively low angle bevel up cutters and small mouths. Shoulder planes typically had straight blades, they were not skewed as in the two examples shown in the middle and the right. I have seen these types of Erlandsen tools described alternately as rabbet or shoulder planes.
Erlandsen rabbet planes with fixed mouths, and available in six choices, as shown in the Jan. 1, 1885, Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. This was a cast iron model with a finger hole to balance the weight as well as to give another way to help grasp the plane while working. It was surely a simpler way to lighten the plane as compared to the extensive internal hollowing out done on the earlier cast iron rabbets. This 1885 catalog entry reveals that this model was introduced almost a decade earlier than what has been generally thought.
Two shoulder planes (named for planing the end grain on the shoulders, surrounding tenons), 1-1/4” width, and 1” width, by Joseph Popping, N.Y. Popping (b 1842 in Prussia) only marked the iron, never the plane body. This type of plane has the blade fully extending to the sides (or even a scant 1/64” proud), which were made square to the sole. Most frequently found of all the New York pianomakers planes, but do not let a place like eBay deceive you into thinking that these are common.
In 1869, Joseph Popping emigrated from Prussia to New York, and he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1874. Popping’s machine shop operations were established in 1873 and curtailed in late 1903 as shown by the New York City directories. His machine shop addresses were as follows: 55 West Broadway (1873–1874); No entries found for 1875–1880; 767 9th Ave. (1880–1881); 433 West 56th St. (1881–1883); 806 11th Ave. (1883–1902). The 1900 US census revealed that Popping was still working, although “unemployed” for two months out of that year, so business was either slowing down or Popping took time off for personal or health reasons. Joseph and Elizabeth, his wife, rented their home. The 1905 New York state census showed that Joseph Popping, 63, was living “at home,” which in the terms of the census, means that he was retired. Popping’s output was primarily iron and bronze planes, mostly for the piano industry, and some of it through Hammacher Schlemmer. Outside of the piano industry, Popping produced Hofstaetter’s hair picking machine, and earlier in his career, gunsmithing work. Joseph Popping’s death certificate revealed that he died in Manhattan on November 27,1906 at the age of 64.
Joseph Popping, not known for originality or innovation in some circles, actually held at least four U.S. patents. The first two, dating September, 16th 1873, and December 9th, 1873, were both titled “Improvement in Welding Iron and Steel.” While I don’t know enough about welding to evaluate these patents, it is true that welding cast iron can be tricky, and very few welders would attempt, for example, to weld together a cracked piano plate. Or a cast iron plane, for that matter. On December 2nd, 1879, Joseph Popping obtained his third patent: Improvement in “Machines for Splitting and Shaving Willow Withes.” These were used for making baskets, which were more universal in the 19th century. The machine in this patent drawing looks complicated, and if any actual examples were made, it would have been a challenging project. Popping’s fourth patent for a washing machine was received on January 9th, 1894.
Three bullnose planes, all with one inch blades: Popping, with a fine mouth and a large boxwood wedge, which is larger than I’ve seen on other Popping bullnose planes, which are typically rosewood. Perhaps Joseph Popping was just taking advantage of a good sized, unflawed piece of boxwood. Other Popping bullnose planes I’ve seen also have side openings with a small convex curve at the rear portion; the Popping shoulder planes shown earlier, have a convex curve with a larger radius at the rear of the side openings. Also, the rear ‘ears’ on the Popping do not extend behind the sole, like they typically do, as on the Preston bullnose in the back of the photo. The Preston is one of a general type which served as an example for Stanley, Popping, and Williams & Ham, of Troy, NY. Middle plane is a Stanley #90 from the 1920s ‘sweetheart’ era.
At $3.80, the No. 14 Popping mitre was a lot more expensive than $2.43 for the No. 9 in 1896 money, but less than the $4.50 for the equivalent Erlandsen mitre, No. 113A in the 1891 H.S. catalogue. Later on, in the Hammacher Schlemmer pianomaker’s catalogues for 1896 and 1903, prices on Erlandsen’s unplated polished steel mitre planes were lowered: 113A, 8″ with 1 3/4″ iron was reduced to $3.60, and 112A, 7″ with 1 1/2″ iron was reduced to $3.25. Prices for the plated Erlandsen mitres remained the same between late 1884 and 1903.
“[Popping mitre] planes have adjustable throats and will work in bone and ivory as well as the hardest wood.”
The throat was made to be adjusted by a single screw at the top of the infill, as compared to most all the other New York mitres where removing the infill and adjusting two or three screws on the upper front sole was necessary. Popping’s mitre had the top adjustment screw threaded into a large nut held inside a captive cage where the nut could slide forward and back. Bailey’s top adjustment for the mouth, introduced with the Bailey mitre plane in the early 1860s, provided the example for Popping, who designed his mitre plane with top adjustment around 1870.
Joseph Popping bought his lever cap screws for these mitre planes from Leonard Bailey (1825-1905), whose patents were bought by Stanley Rule and Level Co. Bailey lever cap screws, made for the Victor line of planes, would have been in production between 1875 and 1888. Popping probably bought enough Bailey screw inventory to continue making mitre planes into the 1890s. Production of Popping mitres, however, was minuscule when compared to the very popular Popping shoulder planes, because his mitres were never big sellers. The piano industry, large as it was in the late 19th century, consisted of a specialized, confined market, and the Popping mitre was competing with the less expensive Bailey/Stanley No. 9 cabinet makers block plane, as well as the upmarket nickel plated Erlandsen mitre. For those piano workers on a restrictive budget, temporarily making-do with the larger block planes, such as the Stanley no. 19, became an option. At least until an upgrade became affordably within reach.
Shoulder planes made by Popping, however, with the true shoulder plane profile and hand holds for challenging joinery, really had no competitor in the United States, except for the more expensive British imports. –Stanley shoulder planes, Nos. 92, 93, and 94, were introduced in 1902, when Joseph Popping was in the process of winding his operation down, and retiring.
Stanley provided lever cap screws for the earliest Popping mitres, roughly between 1873, Popping’s initial establishment in NYC, and 1875, when Bailey’s Victor lever cap screw became available.
Erlandsen’s role as piano tool and machinery supplier to the industry:
Popping had Hofstaetter’s hair picking machine, George Thorested had Nystrom’s calculator, and Lauritz Brandt had the Bruce typecasting machine. But the Erlandsen’s had their particular niche within the piano industry dominated with a wide offering of hand tools and machinery for pianomaking, supplying Hammacher Schlemmer, Schley, Alfred Dolge, American Felt Co. , and others, as well as their own modest proprietary offerings. Beyond the U.S., J.& J. Goddard in London, and Otto Higel in Toronto, Canada, also offered some Erlandsen tools. Erlandsen’s also provided machine tooling work for models and prototypes which they advertised in the “Scientific American.”
“Scientific American” May 11, 1889. 107 Rivington St.:
Even though Thorested and Brandt have held special interest for collectors seeking rare tools, it was the Erlandsens who truly left their mark on the piano industry. The bulk of Brandt’s tool production was between 1842 and 1860, with any subsequent output unsubstantiated. Thorested made his last planes in 1858. To put this in perspective, Steinway & Sons in New York was established in 1853. Chickering of Boston was the leading pianomaker in the U.S. from the 1840s to around 1870, when Steinway superceded Chickering as the leading piano company.
Based on the number of tools that have been found, Julius Erlandsen’s output appears to have been predominantly specialized piano tools, while more planes and bow drills with Napoleon’s mark seem to have survived. Concurrent market demands during the span of the Erlandsen’s output (1863–c1940) are in line with the numbers of various extant Erlandsen tools.
While the relatively small output of Thorested and Brandt did not have the impact or influence on the piano industry when compared to the much larger and broader output of the Erlandsens, the study of these makers uncovered the development of the New York pianomakers planes. And without question, Napoleon and Julius Erlandsen were influenced by Brandt and Thorested, as it can be seen in the design aspects of their planes and bow drills.
Another early New York pianomakers rabbet plane, this one was made from flat brass stock, which was cut, shaped and brazed together, then screwed into the mahogany infill. Ward 1-1/4″ snecked iron and rosewood wedge. Coming from a working shop, the rear infill had a small removable shim added to make up for wood shrinkage, and the consequential lower bed angle as compared to the front portion of the blade.
Stanley finger plane No. 101, made from 1877 to 1962. This very small plane was included in most of the piano supply catalogs between 1885 and 1940, because it was small, useful for a number of repairs, and could easily fit into a mobile tuner’s kit. These detail planes were used to remove wood in situations where today, sanding or filing would be more commonplace. This Stanley 100 with the squirrel tail tote was made in the 1930s, and the #101 in the foreground has the early Stanley inscription, which would date it to 1877–1884.
Improved versions of these planes are currently made by Lie Nielsen and St. James Bay, and various other copies are offered in recent piano supply catalogs. I have used small planes such as these for jobs on basswood keysets in 1950s-1970s U.S. spinets and consoles where the keys were so badly warped that no amount of spacing at the front of the key would give clearance at the back of the keys. In other words, the keys actually were rubbing against an adjacent key. In a situation like this, one of these planes with a properly sharpened blade, did a much neater and cleaner job of slightly narrowing the rear sides of the offending keys than either filing or sanding.
Two Stanley planes, Nos. 9 and 101. The No. 9, Cabinetmaker’s block plane, was made from 1870 to 1943. This was Stanley’s version of the Erlandsen mitre plane as well as the English infill mitre planes, and this model was also used in the piano industry. A No. 9 was among the planes found in Studley’s tool chest and It included the added adjustment features which were standard in Stanley planes. Stanley No. 9’s are avidly sought by collectors–modern copies of this plane were made by Lie-Nielsen until 2013. American Felt Co.,1911, although the pictured #9 is a earlier version. An even earlier version, the Bailey No. 9, can be seen here:
Three dovetailed steel English box mitre planes, generally these designs served as examples which influenced Bailey and Erlandsen. All three planes have fine non-adjustable mouths, especially the Moseley and the Spiers. On average, these English planes have smaller throats than either the Stanley No. 9 or the New York piano planes when adjusted to their narrowest aperture. There are notable exceptions, however.
- An early mitre, c. 1800-1830, heavily constructed, with a 2″ blade, beech infill and rosewood wedge, 2-3/8″ wide by just under 10” in length. The blade and wedge were replaced, probably in the 1870s, because the Cloverleaf blade, from Albany, NY, dates from that time. Its conceivable that this plane could have been used for piano work, as it has likely been in the U.S. for much of the 19th century, and there were a limited number of applications in cabinet work and related applications then, and piano work was one of them.
- Middle plane is a Moseley and Sons, London, c. 1820–1840, with the same dimensions as the the early mitre, and a 2″ cutter (Ibbotson) as well. The infill is rosewood, and the bridge constraining the wedge has a cupid’s bow design. . This one looks very similar to other Towell mitres, and probably was made by Towell.
- Large mitre on the right is an unsigned Spiers (Stuart Spiers 1820-1899 Ayr, Scotland), 2-3/4″ wide by 10-3/4″ long, with a 2-1/4″ Ward iron. This one differs from the other two in that it has a lever cap for the iron, instead of a wedge, to make blade adjustments easier. The Ward iron is snecked; the added fitting at the end of the blade allowing for tapping the blade back as necessary as well as providing another place for the hand to push this rather large heavy plane.
Miniature coffin-smoothing planes: the one on the left has a compassed sole, and the one on the right has a flat sole. These diminutive planes, like the full range of wooden bodied planes, became less used by the turn of the 20th century, and were not made in any significant quantity after the 1920s. These are very small planes, about 3-1/2 to 5-1/2 inches in length, usually with a 1-1/4-inch cutter, and they have also been used for model making.
Below this is a 1935 photo by Margaret Bourke White showing a worker in the Steinway factory planing the concave taper at the ends of the soundboard ribs. You can also see go-bars clamping down the ribs to the soundboard—the soundboard is likely one of the early diaphragmatic design types—the patent was applied for then. This worker looks to be using a compassed miniature coffin smoother, like the one in Fig. 125.
This plane was intended for the piano industry, as well as for cabinet makers. Number 97 was used to clean up interior surfaces right up to the edges, like a chisel, but with the added support of the sole combined with a fixed blade angle. It was also good for cleaning up glue lines and doing trimming (a protruding dowel, for example) without harming an existing finish.
These tools belonged to a Swedish cabinet maker who worked in the veneer department of a Boston piano factory in the early 1900s to the late 1920s. He dated many of his tools, and the Stanley #12 veneer scraper is stamped 1907 on the handle. These two mahogany ram’s horn scraper shaves were user made, probably by himself, and very well executed. His blades were made from an old saw, and the sole and blade holder of the one in the foreground was cut from bone, looking similar to ivory, making this a beautiful tool. Fine scraping was an older, standard method for creating a smooth surface on veneer, instead of sanding, which left the wood pores more open and free of sawdust, as well as being easier on the lungs. Veneer was a good 1/16″ thick then; most new pianos today have thinner, even paper-thin veneer coated with a thick layer of polyester resin.
This Swedish immigrant craftsman made hide glue brushes, presumably for attaching veneer to piano cases, out of the inner bark of basswood. Here is a description of this unique brush making process.
Andrew J. Boisvert (March 22, 1917- April 22, 1991) using a spokeshave for final shaping/fitting of a pinblock to the plate flange in a new Knabe grand. This was in the Aeolian American factory in Rochester, N.Y. during the mid-1970s. Spokeshaves have an angled cutter like a plane, rather than set at 90 degrees with the edge curled over as in the scrapers seen above. Close at hand is a chisel and a bit brace, which are also used in this procedure.