Moderators: Random Orbital Bob, nev, CHJ, Noel, Charley

 Reply
By IWW
#1339249
Which is: "What are their special attributes?" Or the corollary - what particular tasks were they used for?

I guess the obvious answer would be. "If you don't know, then you obviously don't need one!" But I'm curious - I've done lots of searching, & reading what I can find on the topic, and no-one seems to have a really convincing explanation of why they enjoyed such popularity in the 18th & 19th centuries (much longer than the now better-known & more popular infill bench planes they preceded by more than 100 years), then lapsed into obscurity. It seems their demise preceded that of some of the other planes that lost out to mechanisation (though not sure of that - just an impression I got from a book I read) so it does not appear that was the cause of their near-extinction. Joinery methods did not change profoundly over that time, so it wouldn't seem the jobs they were best suited to just disappeared either?

Bill Carter obviously has a love-affair with them (or is that an understatement?). He shows off a bunch of lovely old examples in a video I watched, but didn't explain what functional attributes makes them so special. He was also demonstrating them on the (long-grain) edge of a board, whereas conventional wisdom (& the name) suggests they were used for trimming across the grain.

I have long harbored a desire to make one, mostly for the challenge - they would have to be the most difficult of the metal-bodied planes to make well. Splitting the sole to achieve a very fine mouth is one added difficulty, but I've managed that with reasonable success on a couple of low-angle planes (didn't quite achieve an invisible join with this one, but it's close):
Chariot 2.jpg


What had me intimidated for a long time was bending the back accurately, and then scribing & fitting the dovetails to the sole off the bent-up sides - a relatively trivial exercise with separate sides. However after watching Bill do it, & following a couple of recent WIPs, I'm feeling a bit more confident about that now. I've also discovered a source of more malleable brass, which will make the extra peening required on the tails a bit less fraught than if I were forced to use the more brittle grade I've used to date.

Of course I will probably go ahead & make one anyway (or quite likely more than one, since I have not yet made anything I have not thought could be done better 'next time'!), but it would be nice to have a reason or two for my folly other than "because I could"....
:)
Cheers,
By IWW
#1339398
Yes Andy, I admit I've just been dithering & stalling, but I would still like to hear what the brains trust has to say about what mitre planes can do for me. :)

One reason is so I can choose a good size to make. The old ones I've seen pics of were mostly in the 9-10 inches long range, and the planes Bill is showing in his video are about that size. Some of the modern builds are much smaller - does that limit or enhance their usefulness? Depends on what you do with them, obviously. Small can be good - I made this dinky little thumb plane just for fun & to use up some scraps. It's 75mm long & looks like a toy, but it's turned out to be far more useful than I imagined.
Thumb plane.jpg


There's a fair chance I'll end up making more than one, but my plane-making days are definitely numbered, thanks to my degenerating elbows & shoulders & arthritic fingers, so I do need to start being choosy about future projects.... :(

Cheers,
Ian
User avatar
By AndyT
#1339401
Well, I've seen a few larger, older mitre planes and very impressive they are, with invisible dovetails and very fine mouths. But I've also had the privilege of seeing and handling quite a few of Bill Carter's planes. His little mitres score very highly as immediately attractive, decorative and useful, demanding that every passer by will pick them up and handle them. Then admire the precision of the filing and the subtlety of restrained decoration on a small scale.

That's a longwinded way of saying that a cute little plane can score higher than a more practical sized tool.

Cheaper on the materials too. And for someone who has already made a really cute little infill... ;)
By Cheshirechappie
#1339449
Just a thought, chaps. Could we look at this from another angle?

What was the state of plane technology when mitre planes, and especially their fore-runners the strike block plane, came into being? Single-iron, wooden bodied planes. That was about it. When the joiners of the 17th century were developing veneering and marquetry, and experimenting with exotic imported (and hard to work) woods, what did they have to finish their panels, other than toothing planes and scrapers?

At some point, someone tried a thick, rigid iron bedded at a low angle, and to reduce damage to the planed surface tried a block of hard wood wedged into the throat to give a very tight mouth - which is the strike block plane. Later, someone tried the same with an iron body, and the mitre plane was born. Point being, that this happened before the introduction of the cap iron, which we think happened sometime around the middle of the 18th century - at least, that's what we have evidence for. Consequently, it was a good few decades before craftsmen had the option of a double-iron plane with the similar rigid iron, rigid frame philosophy of the strike block and mitre planes.

Mitre planes have some inherent strengths and capacities that Bill Carter eloquently demonstrates, and some inherent flaws (how the hell are you supposed to hold them in use?).

Consequently, instead of looking at mitre planes as a fully-formed end-point development for a particular planing function (which they performed well enough in the interim), maybe we should look on them as a step on the road of plane development? They did the job well enough, but had flaws that craftsmen lived with, until something better came along.

Edit to add - Moxon (Mechanick Exercises, 1683) mentions the strike block plane, and describes it's use for truing and smoothing mitres (hence the name for the later metal version). Maybe the early marquetarians tried the planes available, and found the strike block the best available for their purpose?
By IWW
#1339548
Thanks, Cc, that's just the sort of response I'm searching for.

There's no doubt in my mind that low-angle, bevel-up planes when properly constructed, have a solidity about them that shows up when cutting across the grain (as in trimming mitres!), but as anyone who has tried planing cranky grained wood with one quickly discovers, that is definitely not one of their strengths. I could never understand the sudden passion for low-angle bevel-up smoothers, which can only handle cranky grain effectively using blades with ridiculous bevels that make unnecessary hard work of it. As you suggest, the advent of the cap-iron probably contributed to the waning popularity of the box mitre plane.

I smiled at your implication that mitre planes are not the most ergonomic design - agree entirely! :) But I read somewhere that comfort was never a high priority with British plane makers. Your forbears (& mine, I'm of largely Scottish stock), seem to have derived some sort of masochistic pleasure from using uncomfortable tools. The pictures I've seen of old-timers using wooden jack planes show them using a most awkward grip on the toe.

So it's looking like building a mitre plane will have to be more a case of "because I can", than for reasons compelling enough to persuade a dubious spouse that it's an absolutely essential tool that I must have in order to make furniture to the standards she expects.....
:wink:
Cheers,
Ian
User avatar
By Hattori-Hanzo
#1339685
I find my small mitre plane really comfortable to use, sometimes more so than my block plane.
Though I did make the blade nice and long to get a good grip on and the raised front infill helps too.

I can imagine a large mitre plane of 9-10" would be very cumbersome to use on anything other than a well clamped down flat board. The sheer weight of it would need Pop eye arms to get it going!

The extra weight of my larger mitre plane does make it plane nicely but I wouldn't want to be using it all day that's for sure, that one was around 7-8"

Of the two I found myself reaching for the smaller one much more, it planed beautifully and like I say just seemed to fit nicely in my hand.

Personally if I were making my first mitre plane again I'd make a smaller one around 5-6" as they are a lot more usable.