Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. 66. no. 2, June 2013
by Willard Anderson
I teach a workshop on restoring wooden planes at the Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, North Carolina. One of the students at the school brought in a tongue plane (one half of a tongue-and-groove pair, for larger scale work), shown in Figure 1. The plane had been purchased in central Ohio about thirty years ago in Amish country. This plane had a wedged-arm fence, and was 13-1/2 inches long, 2-3/8 inches wide and about 2-5/8 inches thick. There was no maker’s mark, owner’s mark, or layout marks on the plane. The style of the handle suggests a late-eighteenth or early-nineteenth century date for construction. The plane appeared to be professionally made, but possibly modified by the owner.
The sole and the fence had wear strips inserted along the length (Figure 2). The fence at some time in the past was dovetailed to accept three inserts, presumably of rosewood, but these are missing. The sole of the plane had two long sections of rosewood inserted into each shoulder of the profile. On first inspection, these inserts appeared to be nailed on. A closer look revealed that the “nails” were similar, if not identical to shoe pegs
In the plane, the iron appeared to be a cut iron, but when it was removed, it was shown to be a very clever user-made iron (Figures 3 and 4). There was no maker’s marks on the iron, which was of laminated construction. The iron was considerably narrower than the throat opening (1-1/2 inches compared to over 1-3/4 inches). The bed of the plane had been roughly excavated to accommodate the plane iron architecture. The iron overall was tapered in width along its length, being widest at the cutting edge. The inside edges of the tines of the iron were tapered back from the cutting edge. The two tines could be tweaked together or apart by moving a tapered metal wedge up or down the length of the iron. The setting could be locked in place by means of a sliding clasping collar. This wedge did not run in a track, but was fixed in position by pressure.
Possibly the woodworker had lost the original iron. Possibly the plane was modified for another purpose altogether (making tongues of variable thickness?). Alternatively, it is possible that the original irons in the tongue-and-groove pair did not match closely enough. This is not an uncommon problem with match planes. The simplest approach is to attempt to move the tongue iron tines in or out to match the groove iron. The iron in this plane appears to be a blacksmith-inspired solution, similar in some ways to the joinery in a leg vise. From a woodworking perspective, it is not a completely satisfactory solution. The user would have to not only tweak the spacing of the cutter tines, but also have to adjust the iron right or left to put the tongue in the correct orientation relative to the fence.
The iron is a very clever solution and represents the epitome of “thinking outside of the box.” I can just imagine the house joiner coming to the local blacksmith, desperate for a fix to get back to work, and then the blacksmith has an inspiration.