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The Woodwright's Workbook: Further Exploration in Traditional Woodcraft By Roy Underhill
Looking down on the moulding planes in their rack (left to right): smooth, dado, Chapin astragal, three McMaster hollow and rounds, bead and round, Flint match planes (for tongue and groove) and rabbet. Below them rest the panel-raising plane (left), the plow plane (center), and the skew "jack" rabbet (right).
Union Factory was begun by Hermon Chapin near New Haven, Connecticut, in 1826. He contracted with numerous planemakers to produce work under his mark and was the first to use power machinery to manufacture planes. Standardized power precision brought Chapin's prices down, putting his planes in many a craftsman's tool chest.
All of the moulding planes, then, seemed to be American made from the 18305. Jay shared my delight in finding such a tight chronological grouping. But there was more.
Largest of the bench planes was a single-ironed jointer, 26 inches long and armed with a 25/g-inch-wide Butcher iron with an unusual bell-like emblem. The clipped corner top profile of the iron was mushroomed from rough adjustment with a hammer. On the front end grain was one of my favorite marks—the trace of a bump against the sharp teeth of a bench stop.
Three of the big, handled planes had smaller counterparts in three of the moulding planes; a 21/2-ineh~wide, skew-ironed "jack" rabbet plane and a pair of plank or match planes for working tongues and grooves in i Winch stock. The rabbet plane had an unusual side-tilted handle. The wear marks on the sole of the tonguing plane showed that it had indeed been used on five-quarter stock.
A 2-inch-wide panel-raising plane had still another variant of the w. BUTCHER stamp, this one with two sunbursts over the words WARRANTED— CAST STEEL. Just ahead of the skewed iron was a simple inset knife-iron to precut the cross grain and prevent splintering. Joiners use this size of plane in making paneled doors, shutters, and wainscot.
Inside the front of the chest was a rack fitted to hold an orderly array of chisels and gouges. The surviving paring chisels (there were spaces for thirteen) were tang-ended, handled with turned beech, and fitted with ferrules of brazed copper. They were stamped with the mark of w m A s H & CO. One of Jay's books placed him in Sheffield from 1825 to 1852. The largest (2 inches wide) and the smallest (Vs inch wide) chisels were among the few that survived.
The rack had half-moon spaces for a dozen gouges, but again only the largest, a Butcher i !/2 inch, and a few others remained. It and the others were sharpened out-cannel, with the bevel on the convex side. This is what one might prefer for carving, but not for the paring and scribing of joinery, where the bevel must be in-cannel. Wondering at the gouges brought me back to my original question. Who was the man that owned this chest? What did he do? The purchased tools told when, but the tools that he made with his own hands would tell about the man.
Back at the shop, I searched the chest for more clues. In the chest were four handmade gauges—quality workmanship in rosewood, beech, and brass. Amid the trash in the chest were the raw pieces of rosewood stock for making the gauges. If finding the stock were not enough of a hint, the treatment of the scratching point of the gauges confirmed that they were all made by the same hand. Each point was centered in a 3/i&- inch-diameter hole with a slotted dowel sandwiching the blade. The panel gauge, the flooring gauge, and the common gauge all had this same pattern.
Besides the stock for making the gauges, I also found rejected parts from two of the gauges. The beam of the rosewood common gauge was protected from the set screw by a sort of notched pad. A similar but slightly less well fitted pad was sitting in one of the drawers. Unless it was for another gauge, it was rejected because it was a tiny fraction of an inch too loose a fit. The important point, however, was that finding the stock and the rejected parts in the chest was evidence that the man who made the gauges also owned the chest.
The slitting gauge bore the only hand-cut initials of the lot, a stylized EA on the side of the fence. This spectacular gauge bears a knife blade instead of a scratcher, and is used to cut out thin pieces of wood, such as the bottoms of the trays and drawers in the chest. I found a roller just like the one used in this gauge in one of the drawers. It was apparently rejected because it had an off-center hole. Wear on the beam of the gauge showed use at no specific width, but rather -an even fading of scratches to about 8 inches.
The panel gauge (used to mark out wide parallel stock) did show wear at a specific setting, exactly io]/4 inches. This happens to be the exact width of the panels of the door to the room in which I now sit.
The flooring gauge (also called a clapboard gauge) consisted of an arm attached to a triangular block with twenty numbered steps on it. By using these steps as the fence, settings of from 4 to 8 inches are immediately available. The only marks on the tool beyond the roughly penciled numbers were the tooth marks of a twelve-point saw blade. I tried the dovetail saw from the chest in it; the teeth fit exacdy into place. The marks could have been made by accident when they were stored together, or they could indicate that the saw was used to make this gauge.
Several smaller rosewood "jump-over" gauges were also in the chest. They were notched so that they could extend over a protrusion on the work being gauged. They must have been made for flooring. One of the gauges was set at iVa inches and the other at ilA—both common thicknesses for floorboards—and, indeed, wear on the bottom of the tonguing plane showed that it had been used on such stock.
The importance of a jump-over gauge for flooring needs some explanation. The old process of laying flooring required that the thickness be gauged only after the tongues and grooves were plowed. Nicholson described the process in 1816. Floorboards "should first be planed on their best face, and set out to season till the natural sap is quite exhausted; they may then be planed smooth, shot and squared upon one edge: the opposite edges are brought to a breadth, with a flooring gauge; they are then gauged to thickness with a common gauge, and rebated down on the back to the lines drawn by the gauge." The rabbeted edges of the underside of each board serve as depth indicators for the floorlayer as he adzes the board to the final thickness only at the points where it crosses joists. When the carpenter prepares such flooring, the tongue and groove must be planed in. before the thickness is gauged or else the planing would obliterate the gauging. Thus the need for a jump-over gauge that can reach over a tongue.
So who was he? I cannot tell you his name; the best I can do is the initials EA from the slitting gauge. But from the tools in the chest, the broad axe, the adze, and the boring machine, he must have been a carpenter-joiner, a skilled and competent workman living in America in the 18305. He knew his trade well by the time he bought these tools. But how did he develop his skills when his tools showed such little use? Perhaps he had just finished his apprenticeship, and these were the tools of his first job as a journeyman. From the wear left on the tools by his work, I would guess that he laid a floor, built a door, paneled a room— and then, for whatever reason, never picked up his tools again.
"The Woodwright's Workbook: Further Exploration in Traditional Woodcraft" By Roy Underhill
© 2012 The University of North Carolina Press