Planecraft

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AndyT

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There have been one or two references recently to the book "Planecraft" which will be well known to many but not all, so I thought I would post a quick note to help anyone thinking of adding to their woodworking library.

The original book, "Planecraft, Hand Planing by Modern Methods" was written in 1934 by CW Hampton, who was a director of C&J Hampton, who traded as Record Tools, and E Clifford who was later described as 'one of the most knowledgeable plane men of his time.'

It was published and distributed by C&J Hampton, rather than through the book trade. It was revised and enlarged in 1950 and 1959. It was a hardback, 8 1/2" x 5 3/4", of up to 250 pages.
In the US, Woodcraft Supply Corp published a softcover facsimile reprint of the 1959 edition in 1980.

It covered the history of the plane, types of plane and use of the plane for woodworking operations such as squaring up, rebating and ploughing. Separate chapters described combination, multi, circular and router planes and also spokeshaves. These chapters were closely linked to the available patterns of Record planes. Indeed, although most of the book applies to any make of plane, there is a recurrent theme that planemaking has been perfected and that the only planes anyone will ever need are those made by Record. So, in its time, it filled a similar role to say, the Lie Nielsen videos on YouTube - it showed you how to use planes, while delivering the message about which planes to buy.

The writing style will be familiar to anyone who has read old Woodworker magazines from the same time - it can be quite terse, telling you just the one right way to get the job done.

in 1984 John Sainsbury published another, more radical revision under the title "Planecraft, A Woodworker's Handbook." Published by Sterling Publishing in New York, this had a larger page size of 10" x 7 3/4" and ran to 192 pages. In the UK it was distributed by Blandford Press.

This version listed CW Hampton as the original author. It kept much of the 1959 text, but toned down some of the repeated advice to buy Record planes, and even allowed pictures of other makes, such as the Norris smoother on the cover. The text reads better and the pictures are all larger and clearer.

Here are my copies of the two:

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This is the 1959 craftsman, wearing full PPE,

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but by 1984 this has reduced to just a special necktie:

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These pages show how the later version made the pictures larger and clearer, while generally following the earlier approach:

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So which version should you buy? Overall, I'd say that it doesn't really matter.

Sainsbury's version omits some of the extra detail such as the chapters which almost copied out the Record Catalogue. On the other hand, its not-just-Record policy allows for a chapter on "Contemporary Plane Makers"

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describing tools from the short-lived Henley Optical Company, RH Wood and Geoff Mather. It even includes a few electric planes.

A book with a slightly complicated publishing history is always going to confuse some dealers who are presumably trying to identify and list books by the pallet-load, and with sites such as eBay attempting to "helpfully" match partial descriptions to database entries there is plenty of scope for errros in online listings. A good tip is to go to bookfinder.com and search on just the single word "planecraft". This leads to many pages of slightly different listings but you may still need to contact the seller to check exactly which edition they are selling.

From what I could see today, there are a few old stock new copies of the Sainsbury book still knocking around but they were £35 and up with the P&P from the States included. There were plenty of used copies for under a tenner, delivered.

The original version is not rare and there were some copies for under £10, with many dealers asking more.

If you like the quirkiness and partisanship of the 1930s to 1950s, or if you want the full detail on the Record range, you'll want the original Hampton and Clifford version.
If you are like me, you will buy both!
 

Mike.S

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Thanks for that review Andy.

I have the 1959 version (minus dust cover) in my 'to be read' pile.
 

CStanford

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The Sainsbury volume is still in our public library's main branch as well as a very old edition of Planecraft but I can't recall the date. I have the Planecraft edition underwritten as a special printing by Woodcraft. It's certainly a keeper, and has a decent overview of the history of planes.

These types of books, including Hayward, Wearing, etc. are more than adequate. Nothing will beat personalized instruction to flatten the learning curve but if this isn't available, what else can one do -- read and experiment while trying not to go off on a tool collecting tangent.
 
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