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Wooden Mitre Planes - John Green c. 1800


In the past few months there seem to have been a lot of interest in wooden, bevel up, mitre planes. There is a fundamental problem with bevel up wooden planes which is that the wood under the iron that forms the bed is very thin and can easily wear, break off, or bulge with wedge pressure ruining the accuracy of the plane. But bevel up wooden mitres definitely existed and were offered concurrently with metal mitre planes. The planes today are very rare and certainly as a design they reflected a dead end.

In the James Cam or Marches & Shepherd price list C. 1821-1841 three models are offered: a wooden mitre plane at 3/9, a wooden mitre plane with a "box front" (like the plane pictured above) at 6/6 and a metal mitre plane at the giant sum of 30/0. This is at a time when a good joiner made 25-30 shillings in a good week.

In the probably slightly earlier J. Wilks 1829 catalog we find the first extant written account that uses the term "mitre plane" but metal mitre planes date from an earlier time. Christopher Gabriel whose firm made some of the earliest English mitre planes that survive termed them "iron plane[s]" in his account books(1791 and 1800). At least one English mitre plane survives from the 1730's.

Getting back to wooden planes, Moxon recommends shooting mitre joints with a hand held "Strike-block" plane, which from the illustration in his "The Art of Joinery" is clearly a bevel down plane. You would still want a very fine mouth, and Moxon describes a plane that is longer than a typical smooth plane. A few strike block planes survive however with wooden planes survivability not only has to do with popularity but also use, and almost no sorter bench planes from the 18th century survive simpley because they were used up.

What isn't proved but I certainly suspect is that the wooden mitre plane was introduced later than the metal mitre plane as a much less expensive version of the metal mitre and isn't really a descendant of the strike-block plane.

The picture above shows a 2" wooden mitre plane by John Green(a prolific company) probably from the very early 19th century. The plane has a beech body and an early replacement worn tapered iron by Ward. The most interesting feature of the plane is the boxwood plug that is used to close up the mouth. This feature which cost the extra 3 shillings mentioned above allows for a hard wearing surface (the boxwood) right in front of the iron. This also gives the ability to renew the mouth when worn. The mouth block is wedged shape and just held in by the taper pressure. The boxwood is a small piece with a knot in it from a board of very fine quality.

Modern makers are making wooden mitre planes today primarily for use on a shooting board. Here's one on Philly's site. While historically the design was a failure for the reasons listed above the modern version is usually of harder exotics which should work better and the modern plane will hardly ever see the hard usage of a professional user of the early 19th century. So the modern planes should give great service for many years to come.

PS - at time permits I am planning a series of blog entries on the metal mitre plane and how it evolved. This may take some time but I hope you will find the results interesting.

Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 3
10/15/2009Stephen Shepherd

What angle is the blade bedded?

10/15/2009joel http://www.toolsforworkingwood
20 degrees - which is typical for metal mitre planes also.
10/16/2009Gary Roberts
Checking the Joseph Clark planemaker price list of 1816, I see no mention of a mitre or miter or strike block. Which surprised me as I has assumed it would be listed.

Peculiar. Unless the Picture Frame plane is actually a mitre for trimming the ends of picture frames parts?

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