Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. 63 no. 1, March 2010
by John G. Wells
My first encounter with a French metallic plane by Chardoillet occurred in 1983. My wife Janet and I had been touring England and decided to go to Needham Market to see what Roy Arnold had to offer. As soon as we saw the long cast iron jointer, we were intrigued with its complex shape and enchanting detailing (see above).(1) The adjustment mechanism mounted in a towering frog and having the appearance of a hovering hawk was beautifully shaped and decorated with scroll work.(2) It not only had a separately adjustable cutter and a cap iron, but the pitch of the frog was also adjustable. The handle and front knob were fruitwood and had an absolutely lovely warm yellow-brown patina (Figure 1). It was in wonderful condition with all of the original finish intact. I had never seen anything like it before.
Roy said that he had bought the plane in France quite recently and that it had “Chardoillet” and “Brevete” (patented) cast in the side of the frog, but beyond that he hadn’t been able to find much else about it. We knew that we had to take it home with us. The only problem would be the question of how much damage the purchase would do to our modest budget and how we would get it home. We didn’t want to trust its safety to a shipper, and besides, once we got home in California, we didn’t want to wait for the plane to arrive.
Roy quoted a price, and we immediately agreed. Then we took the plane, wrapped it in my spare jacket, and stowed it in our rental car. We stopped at the first hardware store that we came to and looked for a long, sturdy cardboard box and were lucky to find one that the plane would just fit into. The plane, the box, and all of the wadded newspapers that I packed around the plane were a little heavy, but we would be going home the next day. I was counting on the box fitting in one of the overhead compartments on the plane; we were booked on a long non-stop flight back to San Francisco. Fortunately in those days, the flight attendants were accommodating, and airport security and customs in both the United Kingdom and the United States were a lot easier.
When we arrived home with our treasure, I found the latest copy of The Chronicle (June 1983), waiting for us.(3) I was surprised to see an article by Kenneth Hawley, a tool dealer in Sheffield, England, which included pictures and a brief description of two French planes he had recently acquired: a 12-inch smooth plane version of the Chardoillet adjustable pitch jointer we had just bought and an intriguing, small rabbet plane that was unsigned but obviously by the same maker; there will be more about that later (Figure 2).
At that time, Roger Smith was in the process of gathering recently discovered material to add to the second edition of his book Patented Transitional & Metallic Planes in America. In the first edition, Roger had speculated that the plane in figure 19 on page 22 could “possibly be Chardoillet’s patent….”—the pitch of the frog could be changed enough to adjust the depth of cut.(4) I excitedly told Roger about our Chardoillet plane. He said he wanted to include a picture of a known Chardoillet in the second edition of his book, reminding me that he had written in the first edition that, “Both Chardoillet and Loughborough patents provide arrangements for adjusting the pitch of the cutter, thus regulating the cut.” The Chardoillet plane was even described in William Loughborough’s April 4, 1854, patent no. 10,748. Roger said he had access to a smaller example of the Chardoillet plane and would include a picture of it. I was happy with that because it spared me the problem of getting my plane photographed. The Chardoillet plane is shown in Figure 17a on page 22, in the second edition of Patented Transitional & Metallic Planes in America.(5)
I have seen several Chardoillet planes with variable pitch frogs, the shortest being the 9-3⁄4-inch smooth plane that sold in Martin J. Donnelly’s September 2009 auction in Nashua (Figure 3). I also saw a very nice smoother, 11-1⁄4 inches long, on Tony Murland’s table in the dealer’s sale at Brown’s fall 2008 auction (Figure 4). Unfortunately, the buyer was writing out a check when I reached the table. Another smoother sold in January of 2007 with a fold-down hinged fence on the front right side for planing bevels.
Two of the Chardoillet planes have sold in David Stanley’s auctions. Lot 590 in his Thirty-Fifth Auction on March 25, 2000, was a 23-inch jointer. Its ornate frog and cutter adjustment mechanism was a gunmetal casting, and the frog pitch adjustment was an unusual rack-and-pinion mechanism. Lot 1001, a 20-1⁄2-inch jointer, in his Thirty-Sixth Auction on September 29, 2000, had the more common cast iron frog and a slide-and-lock frog pitch adjustment.
A 21-inch Chardoillet jointer in fine condition, found near Paris, was sold twice in Brown’s Auctions. The first time was in April 2004 and Dave Paling was the buyer. The second time was in March of 2007, and this time Dave’s estate was the seller. Dave loved to sell Chardoillet planes; he bought them whenever he could. He was always able to find good appreciative homes for them.
All of this is not to say that Chardoillet planes are common; they are very rare indeed. But I like them, so I notice them when they appear on the market.
A Close-up View of Chardoillet’s Planes
The adjustable-pitch bench planes that we have been discussing have a cutter adjustment and the cap iron adjustment that are independent of each other, and both are the direct-screw drive type. The cutter adjustment has an internally threaded block traveling on a threaded shaft. The block delivers the adjustment motion to the plane iron through an adjuster strap with a flared dovetail pin on the end. The pin is a tight fit in a dovetail socket on the top edge of the plane iron. The two thumb screws on the front of the frog lock the cutter in place and can be loosened slightly when making an adjustment and fully loosened when removing the cutter for sharpening. Sometimes pulling or pushing on the tabs projecting from the sides of the adjuster strap will loosen the pin in its socket enough to free it from the plane iron (Figure 5). The cap iron adjustment is a simple threaded rod traveling in an internally threaded adjusting nut held captive between a pair of supporting elements in the frog casting.
The frog tilting mechanism is quite interesting. Its purpose, of course, is to allow the adjustment of the pitch of the cutting iron to suit the requirements of various grain patterns and types of wood. Its range is approximately from 45 degrees to 80 degrees. The bottom edge of the frog pivots on a point about 3⁄16 of an inch above the sole of the plane, and the top of the frog is connected to a curved segment that controls the pitch of the frog.(6) The curved segment slides into a channel cut into the handle and is locked in position by a thumb screw on the side of the handle.
The Chardoillet plane in the March 2000 David Stanley auction, described above, had a rack-and-pinion adjustment for the pitch of the frog. The curved segment had gear teeth on its edge making it the rack; a small pinion gear in the plane’s handle meshed with the rack and was used to change the pitch of the frog. The only problem with the frog pitch adjustment is that it opens the mouth of the plane when the pitch is the highest, which is when you may want a smaller mouth opening. An adjustable mouth would have solved this problem.
Ignace Chardoillet’s adjustable pitch plane was patented in France, October 10, 1844, and the patent was amended October 26, 1846.(7) The patent, which was for a fifteen-year term, was the first known French patent for a carpenter’s plane. Ignace Chardoillet was from the town of Belfort in the region of Bas-Rhin, Alsace, in the most eastern part of France. His family history in this town can be traced back to 1524.(8)
Roret’s encyclopedia, Nouveau Manuel Complet du Tourneur, published in 1848 discusses a number of different planes designed by Chardoillet.(9) Figures A through E on page 344 shows five of Chardoillet’s bench planes, three of which have an adjustable pitch frog (Figure 6).
The plane marked “A” in Figure 6 is a traditional smooth plane with a single iron and a wooden wedge. It has an iron frame made of plates joined together with dovetails or through tenons and then brazed. This construction style was favored by metal smiths in the middle of the sixteenth century.(10) It is interesting that Chardoillet’s family history in the town of Belfort, France, can be traced back to that same period. Item “B” is a similar plane, but it has a metallic screw lock lever cap. The lever cap holds an adjustment mechanism for the cap iron.
“C” in Figure 6 is the adjustable pitch plane that is the subject of this article. It shows the adjustable cutter, adjustable cap iron, and adjustable cutter pitch. “D” is also a plane with an adjustable cutter, cap iron, and cutter pitch. Its frog, which has both a cutter adjustment and a cap iron adjustment, can be positioned anywhere along a pair of semi-circular crescents, one on each sides of the plane. One of the crescents is graduated to show the pitch of the frog. “E” shows a simpler, less expensive design; it has a single crescent on one side of the plane. A single adjustment is used to control the plane iron, which has an attached cap iron, usually called a double plane iron.
Three more planes by Chardoillet are shown on page 347 of Roret’s Encyclopedia (Figure 7). Between them they performed the functions of a rabbet, filletster, and plow plane. In a literal translation of Roret these three planes were described as “a bed of flowers” which may have some poetic truth. You can best understand what they had to offer by studying the Chardoillet rabbet plane shown in Figure 3 above. This little plane had it all: adjustable pitch, cutter, and cap iron.
Judging from existing examples, Chardoillet’s most popular planes were the smooth and jointer size bench planes with an adjustable cutter, cap iron, and an adjustable cutter pitch. The little rabbet plane in Ken Hawley’s collection is extremely interesting and by far the rarest example of Chardoillet’s work; it may be the only known example.
Perhaps we can best understand Chardoillet’s contribution to the development of metallic planes by putting it in context with other important developments in metallic planes of that era. Hazard Knowles’s August 24, 1827, patent began the serious use of cast iron for carpenters’ planes in the United States. In 1840, Stewart Spiers began making dovetailed metallic wood infill planes in Ayr, Scotland. Spiers may not have been the creator of the screw lock lever cap, but he was an early adopter and promoter of that device, replacing the wood wedge.(11) Spiers’s work, followed by Norris, Mathieson, and others, established the metallic wood infill plane movement in the United Kingdom. Leonard Bailey’s first patent, August 7, 1855, for an adjustment mechanism for a metallic plane; his cam lock lever cap, August 31, 1858; and his third and most successful adjustment, the patent of August 6, 1867, firmly established the direction of the adjustable metallic carpenters plane in both the United States and abroad. Charles Miller’s 1872 patent for a plow plane, and its eventual development into Traut’s 1884 patent for the Stanley no. 45 plane, and the subsequent no. 55, completed the transition from the wood to the metallic plane.
Chardoillet’s 1844 patent was early in this sequence of events. The patent text described the use of dovetailed metal plate construction for a woodworking plane, the use of a screw lock lever cap, a screw adjustment for the plane iron, and a separate screw adjustment for the cap iron. But the most unusual feature was a very practical method for changing the pitch of the frog to suit the hardness and grain patterns of different wood species. He applied these principles to two sizes of bench planes and a rabbet plane that were generally successful. His bench planes were probably valued more for their dramatic appearance than for their functionality. Judging by the condition of some of the examples that have survived, they were highly treasured.
Chardoillet’s October 10, 1844, patent may or may not have been the earliest use of a metal-screw lock-lever cap. Joseph Fenn’s, November 12, 1844, patent came a month later, and it was actually for a cam or spring-lock metal lever cap. Spiers began using screw-lock lever caps sometime between 1840 and 1851, when he was making planes at 12 Garden Street in Ayr. It could easily have been in 1844, the year Spiers’s father died and Stewart took over his cabinet-making business and work shop on River Street. Holly’s patent of July 6, 1852, for a plane with a screw lock lever cap was a little later. It could be that some or all of these four people began using metallic-screw or cam-lock lever caps ─ without prior knowledge of each others work simply because it was an obvious and very simple improvement over the wooden wedge for a metallic plane.
Chardoillet was a very imaginative early inventor who did a lot to advance the design of the adjustable metallic plane at a time when most craftsmen were more comfortable using a small hammer to make minor adjustments to their well-loved wooden planes. He deserves credit for his creativity and for his industry in pursuing the development of an overall concept, which would eventually become the accepted norm, but had not yet been widely accepted. Chardoillet’s work, like many other inventors at that time, played a small, but useful role in the transition from the wooden to the adjustable metallic woodworking plane.
Many thanks to those who have helped with this article, who have provided information, or whose books have been useful: Laurent Adamowicz, David Stanley, Clarence Blanchard, Kenneth Hawley, Paul Van Pernis, Frank Kosmerl, Roger K. Smith, and Niegel Lampert.
1. Sandor Nagyszalanczy, The Art of Fine Tools (Newton, Conn.: Taunton Press, 2000), 147.
2. David Stanley, in his September 2000 Auction Catalog, lot 1001, p. 34, commented that the frog on this one is cast iron, but apparently some later (or earlier) models were in gun metal.
3. Kenneth Hawley, “Some Unusual Planes,” The Chronicle 36, no. 2 (1983): 37-38.
4. Roger K. Smith, Patented Transitional & Metallic Planes in America [vol. I], 1st ed. (Athol, Mass.: Roger K. Smith Publishing, 1981), 22-24.
5. Roger K. Smith, Patented Transitional & Metallic Planes in America [vol. I], 2nd ed. (1990)
6. Hawley, “Some Unusual Planes.”
7. “Le certificat d’addition dont la demande a ete deposee, le 26 octobre 1846, au secretariat de la prefecture du departement du Bas-Rhin par le sieur Chardoillet (Ignance), et se rattachant au brevet d’invention de quinze ans qu’il a pris, le 10 octobre 1844, pour un systeme de rabot.” Bulletin des lois du Royaume de France, Volume 34, item 795, 1847. Google Books, Accessed February 24, 2010.
8. Correspondence with Laurent Adamowicz.
9. E. de Valicourt, Manuels-Roret Nouveau Manuel Complet du Tourneur ou Traité Simplifé de Cet Art, d’après les renseignements fournes par plusieurs tourneurs expérimentés, Tome III, ou Supplement (Paris: 1848), 342-351. This book is available on Google books. To retrieve it, go to Google books, and in the advance search section, enter the author’s name—E. de Valicourt— in the author’s section and Nouveau Manuel Complet du Tourneur in the title section.
10. Edgar B. Frank, Old French Ironwork (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950), 30.
11. Niegel Lampert, Through Much Tribulation: Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayre (Victoria, Australia: Oliver Publications, 1998), 22 and 25. Screw-lock lever caps are shown in the no. 12 Garden Street brochure, ca. 1851–1858; Spiers stated that he established his firm in 1840.
Author John G. Wells is a frequent contributor to The Chronicle. His last article “Four Sixteenth- to Seventeenth-Century Miter Planes,” appeared in the June 2009 issue (62 no. 2).