History of Antique Wood Planes

Three antique planes

Used since ancient times, antique wood planes have been found in the ruins of the city of Pompeii that was buried by the eruption Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

The First Wood Planes

Archeologists in Italy discovered the first known woodworking planes used by the Romans as they explored the excavations of Pompeii and its sister city Herculaneum. Destroyed by the volcano's eruption that spanned two days, it covered the cities with more than 60 feet of pumice and ash. These extant tools are housed in museums. One such example is this Roman wood plane which was recovered from the Pompeii ruins. This ancient woodworking tool, which measures 21.3 centimeters long, is exhibited in the Naples Museum in Italy.

Although there have been some examples found of Roman planes that have iron sole plates riveted to the wooden bodies, most Roman planes were constructed of an iron cutter with a wooden body, push bar and wedge.

Archeologists unearthed an extremely rare example of a Roman plane constructed from elephant ivory in East Yorkshire, Britain near the town of Goodmanham. Known as the Goodmanham Plane, this ancient tool is displayed at the Beverley Guildhall. To view this antique treasure visit East Riding of Yorkshire Council in England, or you can see this photo instead.

Unlike the earlier antique hand tools used by the Egyptians to shape wood, the Roman woodworking planes are very similar in concept to those manufactured today. The tool used by the carpenters of ancient Egypt to cut the wood into exact size was an adze. Many people believe that wood planes evolved from the ancient adze.

Wood Planes from the Tudor Period

As the centuries passes, wood planes remained one of the most important woodworking tools throughout the world. The earliest surviving British planes are from the Tudor Period (1485-1603). The wood planes were found when the ship HMS Mary Rose, one of King Henry's warships, was discovered in the 1970s. It was brought up from the floor of the English channel in 1982. The HMS Mary Rose had been sunk 450 years earlier, in 1545, while doing battle with a French invasion fleet.

The HMS Mary Rose along with the contents of the ship, including the wooden wood planes, are on display in Portsmouth, England, at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Early Wood Plane Makers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

During the next several centuries, most of the wood planes continued to be made by the town blacksmith or by the craftsman himself. Sometimes the user made the wooden parts and had the blacksmith make the blade. During this time not many people became known for their woodworking tools.

The following are several of the earliest planemakers that did become known during this period.

  • Thomas Granford of London made planes from 1687-1713. There are several known examples of his work.
  • John Davenport was a London planemaker during the 1680s. Four known planes made by him Davenport are known to exist.
  • Robert Hemmings of London made planes from 1676-1695. However, there are no known examples of his work.
  • F. Nicholson of Wrentham, Massachusetts, was the first known planemaker in America making wood planes from 1728-1753.
  • Recent research shows that Frances Purdew of London may have been the planemaker for several of the planes that have been credited to Thomas Granford.
  • Robert Wooding

Antique Wood Planes: Mass Production

As the demand for furniture grew, companies began to manufacture wood planes in large numbers. Many of the planes were made for specific trades that included:

  • Carpenters
  • Coopers
  • Shipwrights
  • Furniture makers
  • Instrument makers

In high demand by tool collectors are wood planes made by companies during the later years of the1800s and the first half of the 1900s. Several of the companies manufacturing wood planes at that time were:

  • Stanley Rule & Level Company of the United States
  • Leonard Bailey & Company of the Unites States
  • Ohio Tool of the Unites States
  • Auburn Tool Company of the Unites States
  • Sandusky Tools of the Unites States
  • Alex Mathieson and Sons of Glasgow and Edinburgh
  • Mosely and Sons of London
  • Robert Sorby of Sheffield
  • William Marples of Sheffield,
  • Stuart Spiers started in business in 1840 and was the first to manufacture steel planes in Britain
  • Thomas Norris & Sons of London

The Stanley company purchased patent rights to many wood planes, as well as acquiring most of the competitive tool manufacturing companies. Patent rights and acquired companies included:

  • Bailey, Cheney & Company
  • Leonard Bailey & Company
  • G.A. Miller
  • Justice Traut
  • Dorn
  • Atha Tool Company
  • Hill & Crum
  • R.H. Mitchell & Company
  • Charles L. Mead

By the early 1900s, the Stanley Company dominated the wood plane market producing a vast array of wood planes for different jobs.

A Highly Collectible Tool

Highly desired by collectors around the globe, many antique wood planes are often used by craftspeople of today who enjoy using the well constructed planes of the past.

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History of Antique Wood Planes