Nicholson's Short Bit on Hand Planing

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Jacob

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Good point. One can't help but wonder how these books would have been received during the era of the strict guild system. Presumably they were perceived as not much of a threat, which if true says a lot about what's not in them and also their overall breezy nature.

Were Nicholson, Moxon, et al. burned at the stake, so to speak, over their respective books?
Moxon started as a series of essays, 6 to 10 pence per chapter apparently. They might later be bound, or published already bound.
The contents weren't guild secrets as such - they are pretty basic.
 

CStanford

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Well David, that's what makes it so tantalizing! What did they leave out? What might we be missing in planing and all the rest?

Did they happily jut their jaw into the wind and say "the guilds be damned, I'm putting it all down." Did guilds get to read advance copies? Have editorial input? Issue threats? Rattle sabres of any kind? All of this could easily be more interesting than the volumes themselves, which of the ones I've skimmed are pretty uninspiring. I do like Nicholson's treatment of certain geometry topics though.
 
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D_W

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The contents weren't guild secrets as such - they are pretty basic.

The same could be said for nicholson's description of planing. It may not be suitable for a Wood College student, but there isn't anyone on here who will find a more efficient planing method.
 

D_W

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Well, that's what makes it so tantalizing! What did they leave out? What might we be missing in planing and all the rest?

I think this is probably like a golf swing.

Imagine what you could do to describe a golf swing in three pages if dealing with someone who had not been instructed at all.

Where does that leave someone who makes a living playing golf. As much as a lot of people who play for a living like to say they don't have that many rules, you'll find out how many of their bits and bytes you violate as soon as you play with them and suddenly they have volumes to talk about. Not going over the line at the top, not getting quick and keeping the clubface facing target at impact - all good stuff. Pretty basic. Course management, playing well when your heart rate is up (or even convincing yourself that you prefer that) is the separator.

I would guess when you get down to planing in the early 1800s, the basics look like nicholson stated them to be. If there's a more efficient way to do it, I'd like someone to share (but I"m open to learning about the more efficient way, aside from plugging tools into the wall). All of the little things that you do beyond what's written would probably take 10 times as many pages. You can match plane a joint with a few fairly coarse shavings and get this result:
20220103_203741.jpg

For two reasonably well prepared boards, it takes less than a minute. It relies on some of the fundamentals that Nicholson talks about, but there is more needed.

Or you can do it any number of ways with checking and squares and all kinds of stuff and not have a joint that fits like this. This joint fits as shown (this is after glue) without applying any pressure.

That, in a shop where bookmatching anything, would be valuable. I would bet that it was universal. Why? Because I figured out how to do it without someone telling me anything other than that you can line two boards up together and match plane them. That leads to wondering how you can line two boards up and do it really quickly with nothing other than fairly coarse through shavings.

I don't play role play like some folks on here do, so I don't know what would've been a location (shop only) vs. regional vs. all those in the trade type secret. There is a lot of nuance in the plane setup and cap setting, etc, that goes into this, but it is effortless quickly - it becomes trivial - the key is in knowing what needs to be done. I haven't ever seen anyone teach what I did in this case - and is it that important? No - does it make hand work more pleasant than it would be planing, then checking, then taking a little off here and there? Of course it does.
 
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Jacob

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Well, that's what makes it so tantalizing! What did they leave out? What might we be missing in planing and all the rest?

Did they happily jut their jaw into the wind and say "the guilds be damned, I'm putting it all down."
No way they could put it all down!
If anything, over elaborating becomes a problem in its own right, then as now - detailed prescriptions get given guru status as the one and only "correct" way. In fact Moxon goes into a lot of unnecessary detail compared to Nicholson, with the risk that they become holy writ and perpetuated, right or wrong.
I guess what would really be interesting but missing was the course of study and practical work needed to get you into a guild.
 

CStanford

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I was being somewhat facetious of course. It's clear that the surface was just scratched in a lot of areas. Maybe to the extent what we've read confirms our own experience, an "a-ha" moment follows but there's always a general danger and a logical fallacy awaiting in that. There could be two or three little recommended tweaks, lost to history, that would resolve some particular aspect of the craft - planing or something else, that we'll never know. It's fun to imagine for a moment on a cold January afternoon, with not much else to do.

It's also possible, Jacob, that they would be appalled that we've tried to make something very hard out of something they considered pretty basic, and what they wrote really was all of it and it was so basic the guilds didn't care. I wish I knew.
 
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raffo

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This reminds me of a book I read as a kid, "The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structure of Alchemy" by Mircea Eliade.

What we sometimes miss in discussing the past is all the ritual, mysticism and secrecy of guilds and other (secret) societies. That book above gives an interesting view of an aspect of the past we in our secular world are oblivious to when we discuss the topic of metallurgy in that case. In the case of woodworkers, it may not be that romantic, but I'm sure there was some of that in those guilds, at the very least the gaining of status and the rituals associated with them.

The idea of some "secret knowledge" lost to the uninitiated is part of the folklore that has persisted.
 

Jacob

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What is interesting about the old texts, right up to early 20 century, is the big emphasis on geometric layout. Everything from dividing a line with dividers up to geometry of wreathed hand rails, and beyond.
Moxon has a whole chapter on Sundials:
"Mechanick Dyalling:
TEACHING
Any Man, tho' of an Ordinary Capacity and unlearned in the Mathematicks,
To Draw a True
SUN_DYAL........" etc
Very handy! They'd be very useful objects in general use and also good exercise in practical geometry - which is quite distinct from "Mathematicks"
 
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D_W

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Those things are there still for us to discover, but it's also the case that you can't make an economic proposition with it now.

What strikes me working by hand is there's a huge bunch of other things to add in that still halve the make-time and would be perceived the same by a client. For example, finding a sawyer who provides both the wood that you want, but also the sawn orientation. Working by hand, that becomes more important - I learned that the hard way by buying 600BF of #1 common cherry on the advice of someone that it would be the same except for the waste and by the time I cut that out, I'd have 80-90% of what I'd have gotten out of FAS and be far ahead.

My sawyer's FAS lumber is straight, sawn with pith on center - at least reasonably well. I can dimension it twice as fast. I learned a lesson. Sometimes $5 a board foot is better than $2.

There are some little things that make one plane that looks identical to another work far better - I mentioned the cap iron. A Plane with a tall highly sprung cap iron vs. something like an earlier ward or mathieson cap iron will probably cost a workman about 10-20% efficiency, and they'll be more tired. I don't know how close together mathieson and ward were located, but it's interesting that their cap irons are nearly identical. Some other earlier caps that were more highly sprung (I have one on a butcher set) don't function as well. Someone figured that out - if you were in my shop, I could give you two proportionally identical planes with nothing different but those caps and you'd certainly think one plane was much better than the other. If they were refitted with new wedges, the preferred plane would flip.

I'm totally into the little nuances that are easy to execute that make something like the matched joint above easy to get regardless of grain direction, regardless of wood type - just plane them, put a bead of glue on the joint, put clamps on the pair and take it out of the vise. It takes longer to fetch the clamps and get them on the boards than it does to do the joint - there's probably something I could learn on that end (not using giant bulky k-style clamps when they're not needed, for example).
 

CStanford

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Certainly a nice job David with a species on which a grain mismatch would have looked awful.

All of these concepts would have ported well to the period where most everything in English and continental furniture was veneered and different sorts of matches were used to achieve effects. Then, the skill in planing and stock selection would have been chosing material that wouldn't move as much under the veneer, getting it jointed up and glued properly, etc. Now, we're back to using solid material and having it show, which requires matching boards in glued panels as best we can. One would rather not walk up to a table and be able to immediately count the number of boards that went into making the top!
 

D_W

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Roger that - that's what pleases us. This pair is destined to be a guitar top. The ugly bit where there's a wye at the top will be gone under a fingerboard. It's fairly common for this seam to be prominent, but it's nice if you're making a guitar (even if something else is wrong with it) to make someone work a little bit to find the glue joint. It's also nice for the fitness of the glue joint to occur as a matter of routine (as in, it's just there - the fastest you can plane the boards to be joined, this is the quality level).

Too bad about the worm holes - the seller of the stock mentioned those after they were on the way (just presents a challenge to make them disappear after the top carve is done).

I would guess what made shops go, the real value was in teaching an apprentice to cut tenons off of a saw and quickly nail the shoulders with a chisel (no 20 strokes with a shoulder plane, no piston fit on regular work - just the conveyance of how to cut the tenon so the joint won't fail, but so that you also won't be standing at the bench scraping little bits until you get the things just so)

capable of tools by not doing something outright stupid is just getting at the doorstep of that stuff.
 

CStanford

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What is interesting about the old texts, right up to early 20 century, is the big emphasis on geometric layout. Everything from dividing a line with dividers up to geometry of wreathed hand rails, and beyond.
Moxon has a whole chapter on Sundials:
"Mechanick Dyalling:
TEACHING
Any Man, tho' of an Ordinary Capacity and unlearned in the Mathematicks,
To Draw a True
SUN_DYAL........" etc
Very handy! They'd be very useful objects in general use and also good exercise in practical geometry - which is quite distinct from "Mathematicks"

The geometry of it all completely fascinates me. I could go deep into that rabbit hole if I let myself.
 

CStanford

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David, I'm fresh off seeing some cringeworthy tabletops (not mine) made from tiger maple. The wood is beautiful, but it's just almost impossible to get any kind of a decent match. It's jarring, and a waste. That wood would have been much better of on a guitar or something smaller where one board would have potentially covered the necessary width.
 

D_W

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but I'm sure there was some of that in those guilds, at the very least the gaining of status and the rituals associated with them.

And the legal or quasilegal right to smash the sandbox of anyone trying to get the same status without being part of the guild.
 

D_W

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David, I'm fresh off seeing some cringeworthy tabletops (not mine) made from tiger maple. The wood is beautiful, but it's just almost impossible to get any kind of a decent match. It's jarring, and a waste. That wood would have been much better of on a guitar or something smaller where one board would have potentially covered the necessary width.

to be able to resaw a large board, have it be good enough for a table top (even figure from edge to edge, corner to corner) and not dimension out the thickness that would make the match "money" ....that's a tall order for a table top.

if there's an attempt to make the top out of more than a bookmatch and the figure is significant - dead end. Somewhere out there are buyers who admired Mrs. Roper's dresses, though.
 

CStanford

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Most egregious are hall tables in tiger maple that could have been done from a single, wide board. Same problem occurs in flame birch. There are some guys who can build like crazy, but are just complete aesthetic boobs.
 

Adam W.

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Well David, that's what makes it so tantalizing! What did they leave out? What might we be missing in planing and all the rest?

Did they happily jut their jaw into the wind and say "the guilds be damned, I'm putting it all down." Did guilds get to read advance copies? Have editorial input? Issue threats? Rattle sabres of any kind? All of this could easily be more interesting than the volumes themselves, which of the ones I've skimmed are pretty uninspiring. I do like Nicholson's treatment of certain geometry topics though.
They left a lot out.

Sheraton glosses over moulding planes, but leaves in a couple of interesting snippets, Moxon barely mentions them and there's nothing in Blackie either.

There is virtually no historic record on the techniques of how to use these things, which shows that the mechanics companions aren't for tradesmen who learn through lengthy apprentiships and not from reading vague books and then pretending to be experts, as we have in some instances today.

Another hint to the target audience of these books is in Nicholsons introduction to his mechanics companion and Chippendales' title "Gentlemans and cabinetmakers directory".

The guilds were set up in places like London and Venice to prevent outsiders setting up shop and competing with established master tradesmen, hence the titles Freeman of the Company and Freedom of the City. Once that status was achieved after serving a lengthy apprentiship and journeyman practice, freedom was granted by the guild for you to set up a business in the city and start trading.

If you weren't a Freeman, but had served an apprentiship, you had to work for a master as a journeyman.

Modern freemasonry shouldn't be confused with the masons trade guilds either.
 
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Sgian Dubh

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Richard, I think you're in the rare group of people who have done it in any volume without being able to flee and use something else (or without it being site work
There is one thing that sticks out in my mind - I can match plane a board set with a coarse shaving more accurately than almost anyone can do it with any method
David, I enjoy hand work, but in my working life it's been necessary to undertake most making using machines just to be able to produce at a fast enough rate; the market demands it.

Still, in my earlier days the grounding of my learning of practical skills centred on hand tools. I believe the great benefit of that, perhaps not comprehended by those without that sort of introduction to woodworking, is that the learning accomplished using hand tools transfers pretty readily to machine working. Learning through machine based woodworking I don't think transfers particularly well to hand work, although that doesn't necessarily mean you don't learn.

I remember when I was first introduced to machine planing. The guy I was with said something like, "Remember sonny, truing up a piece of wood on this machine is much the same as doing it with a hand plane, but upside down. If you can f*ck the job up with a plane, you can f*ck it up here, but fifty times faster." Something like that anyway. Hand tools get you up close and dirty to wood and if things go wrong they happen relatively slowly which gives you the chance, if you're observant and willing to learn, to see what's gone wrong and try not to make the same error again.

You mention match planing. Funnily enough, even now I still almost always pull out my no 7 or no 5 plane to finesse edges already squared on the surface planer prior to gluing up a multi-board panel. It takes only a minute or two per pair of edges and I think doing the little bit of hand work improves the prepared edges. Slainte.
 

Jacob

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........ associated with them.

The idea of some "secret knowledge" lost to the uninitiated is part of the folklore that has persisted.
Perhaps more interesting than the possibility of secret knowledge is the blindness to the knowledge in plain view in the chapters on geometry and layout.
They produced ways of doing things without standard measurements or instruments and with very little maths. Instead, dividers were used for precision (down to 1/64") and extending in the opposite direction they could build cathedrals - as we see with Adam's fascinating WIP! The MA thread - AKA Everyday Fan Vault Construction for Beginners.
Meanwhile our modern woodworkers struggle with Sketchup, can't use a drawing board, may not know how to work a vernier calliper or even how to use a rod!
Alchemical secrets - easy to forget that Newton was an alchemist - modern science had hardly begun. His most astonishing alchemical discovery was gravity and he made no effort to keep it secret. He was secretive about other work in progress, most likely because it wasn't going anywhere. I don't believe in lost secrets, other than locations of hidden hoards, lost recipes for beer, etc.
 
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Jacob

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..... I still almost always pull out my no 7 or no 5 plane to finesse edges already squared on the surface planer prior to gluing up a multi-board panel. It takes only a minute or two per pair of edges and I think doing the little bit of hand work improves the prepared edges. Slainte.
Me too.
I also use a 26" long wooden plane occasionally (technically known as a "long plane" according to Nicholson!) which is really useful for very long stuff.
It'd be just too heavy in metal - even a #8 is a bit too hefty really. Otherwise I use all metal except for a little ECE scrubber. Have a lot of woodies in cupboard but they are redundant nowadays, which is a pity.
 
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