Quantcast
  • We invite you to join UKWorkshop.
    Members can turn off viewing Ads!

The Ebbsfleet Plane

UKworkshop.co.uk

Help Support UKworkshop.co.uk:

rxh

Established Member
Joined
2 May 2011
Messages
697
Reaction score
62
Location
Surrey
At the London International Woodworking Festival in October I met a gentleman called Bob Williams who is a retired archaeologist and also a woodworker and tool collector. Bob told me about a plane found at Ebbsfleet, Kent, England during the building of the HS1 railway line. It is believed to date from early Saxon period AD 400 to 700. I expressed an interest in making a reproduction of the plane and later he kindly sent me photos and accurate measurements. The plane measures 139 mm long, 38 mm wide, and tapers from 21 mm to 26 mm deep from front to back and the iron angle is 52 degrees. The type of wood it is made of has not yet been identified but does not look like boxwood from the photos I have seen. I decided to make my reproduction of apple wood from an orchard in Kent.

This little plane is interesting for at least three reasons:
- It is made of wood. Surviving examples of ancient wooden planes are very rare.
- The size of the mouth opening is very large. This would usually be considered undesirable in a plane.
- The underside of the plane has a rounded groove or channel running diagonally along the length of the sole. It is thought that this is a wear groove caused by making objects such as arrow shafts.

I think a large part of the interest in making these reproductions of ancient planes is in trying out the completed plane and maybe getting an insight into ancient woodworking practices. With my Ebbsfleet plane copy I tried my hand at making "arrow shafts" and found that the plane worked very well. I did the initial rough shaping with a drawknife. I had thought that the large size of the mouth opening would be a problem but it turned out to be quite the contrary - it allows a finger to be used to eject the shavings instantly rather than having to stop and pick them out with a pointed stick. This would be a worthwhile saving of time when making arrows by the dozen. I felt quite excited to make this discovery.
 

Attachments

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,029
Reaction score
472
Location
Bristol
Brilliant. I'm so glad this has happened. I met Bob at a David Stanley auction in April. He told me about the plane and I told him about you and the other archeological specimens you have reproduced.

Then I forgot about it until now, so this comes as a nice surprise. Once again, you show how you really need to use a tool, or a reproduction of an ancient one, to understand how it works. Excellent stuff.
 

Sheffield Tony

Established Member
Joined
2 Aug 2012
Messages
2,080
Reaction score
81
Location
Bedfordshire
I suspect the original was never as pretty as the copy ... the wear groove - any clues as to whether that was all wear, as opposed to a design feature ? If it were for arrows, perhaps it could be an early "hollow" ? I don't suppose there was anything left of the iron.

Some time ago I read "Man Who Made Things Out Of Trees" by Robert Penn, and longbow arrows get a mention. The sheer number of them made for battle with the French is mind boggling, certainly enough to wear out a plane or too.
 

MusicMan

Established Member
UKW Supporter
Joined
1 Jul 2015
Messages
1,926
Reaction score
100
Location
Warwick
I was also thinking that was a design feature in the original. That would be a humungous amount of wear on cutting arrows. But a deliberate skew cut would be useful.
 

Droogs

Is that chisel shar ... Ow
Joined
14 Mar 2013
Messages
3,278
Reaction score
591
Location
Edinburgh
just a quick Q, looking at the sole, to me it seems to be a bull-nose edging plane and as such should it not have a shaped iron rather than a straight one?
 

MikeG.

Established Member
Joined
24 Aug 2008
Messages
10,176
Reaction score
666
Location
Essex/ Suffolk border
Such a utilitarian piece, yet with a fancy shape to the back end. I wonder why that is. Can you imagine it has any sort of practical function?
 

D_W

Established Member
Joined
24 Aug 2015
Messages
4,685
Reaction score
84
Location
PA, US
We are assuming that the original plane may have been made loosely or not to a high standard, but that's often not the case in older tools that we see that are in better shape.

Time and pride may have been different at that point, meaning that being seen with a plane that you made may have been an opportunity to show off your skills.
 

rxh

Established Member
Joined
2 May 2011
Messages
697
Reaction score
62
Location
Surrey
Droogs":330k515t said:
just a quick Q, looking at the sole, to me it seems to be a bull-nose edging plane and as such should it not have a shaped iron rather than a straight one?
That occurred to me too so I made a second plane with an iron with edge shaped to match the curve of the groove. It seemed to work slightly better but I think the main advantage is that the cutting work is shared by more of the edge so perhaps there will be a longer time between sharpenings.
 

Attachments

Cheshirechappie

Established Member
Joined
30 Jan 2012
Messages
4,749
Reaction score
29
Location
Cheshire
That's fascinating. There can't be many Dark Age tools around, but the standard of some artifacts from that era (like the Sutton Hoo treasure, for example) shows that people must have had not just the skills but suitable tools too.

I'm veering towards the groove being wear rather than deliberate, because if it was intentional, the natural thing would be to make it parallel with the body. I also suspect that the stones to sharpen a hollow iron would not be that common, but there were plenty of 'flat' or 'straight' edges on knives, swords and so on, and thus the means of keeping an edge on them. But hey - there aren't many Anglo Saxons about to ask, so we don't really know!

The shaped back is a bit more decorative than is needed just for a comfortable hold, but why wouldn't a craftsman add a bit of beauty to his possessions? It could be done with quite simple tools and a bit of patience, and it does look elegant compared to a simple block.
 

rxh

Established Member
Joined
2 May 2011
Messages
697
Reaction score
62
Location
Surrey
MikeG.":1c9880zu said:
Such a utilitarian piece, yet with a fancy shape to the back end. I wonder why that is. Can you imagine it has any sort of practical function?
It may a design evolution from a handle into something ornamental. Other ancient planes examples have more functional handles or something in between.
 

Attachments

Bm101

Lean into the curve.
Joined
19 Aug 2015
Messages
3,948
Reaction score
281
Location
Herts.
As fascinating as always R. I really hope these planes are being recognised somewhere important.
I'm sure what you are doing is of true historical significance.
Anyway. I was wondering....
Do you think thathat maybe your man the Fletcher who owned the original maybe had a few.
Seems to me that it would be a fairly commonsense option to have several if you mage your money per arrow. (Speculating wildly here but...) If you had 3 or 4 planes you could go from roughing stock to finishing much faster. Maybe there was a finishing plane with a bespoke groove for accurate 'machining' at the last stage.
If I made arrows on a price basis that's what I'd do at least. Maybe if you made 300 + arrow shafts a day that was unnecessary mind.
 

rxh

Established Member
Joined
2 May 2011
Messages
697
Reaction score
62
Location
Surrey
AndyT":3qjkfhkk said:
Brilliant. I'm so glad this has happened. I met Bob at a David Stanley auction in April. He told me about the plane and I told him about you and the other archeological specimens you have reproduced.

Then I forgot about it until now, so this comes as a nice surprise. Once again, you show how you really need to use a tool, or a reproduction of an ancient one, to understand how it works. Excellent stuff.
Thanks Andy. I enjoy making and trying these reproductions. I had a very interesting conversation with Bob and I have sent him one of the two Ebbsfleet plane replicas I have made so that he can try it for himself.
 

AES

Established Member
Joined
18 Feb 2011
Messages
4,480
Reaction score
154
Location
Switzerland, near Basel
Although I am far and away from being a tool collector, and have NO knowledge of planes whatever (apart from my Record No 6 and my Stanley No 4 as "daily" users), I too found this OP fascinating.

Firstly because I was born "just a short way along the river" (Thames) from Ebbsfleet - and my Mum was born even nearer), but secondly, knowing a bit about steel today, I have NO idea how the steel (??) for that plane iron was made back then, and in particular, how it would have been hardened & tempered (again a big ???).

AND (no excursions into "modern methods" PLEEZ) how would the owner have sharpened it?

Thanks for a very interesting post.
 

AES

Established Member
Joined
18 Feb 2011
Messages
4,480
Reaction score
154
Location
Switzerland, near Basel
Thanks Andy. I'll have a look at both. Something completely new to me. I guess your Youtube stuff will tell me, but are we talking about iron or steel here? I thought a Swede(?) called Bessemer invented steel making.
 

Trevanion

Greatest Of All Time
Joined
29 Jul 2018
Messages
3,775
Reaction score
555
Location
Pembrokeshire
I've always found early history from very interesting, this is even more interesting as it is actually a tool that was used by an actual craftsman circa 1500 years ago! It's a shame nothing more can really be gleaned from the tool itself to say what it was actually used for, could be for any number of things such as making boar hunting spear shafts as well as arrows, or perhaps removing the bark from sticks because of the large mouth allows the bark to eject easily.

I know it's extremely difficult to even remotely guess what timber the original is made from in that photo, but if I can hazard a guess on the wood, perhaps it's Elm? It's sometimes known to last a ridiculous amount of time in a very wet environment which is why they used it for water pipes.
 

Steve Maskery

Established Member
Joined
26 Apr 2004
Messages
11,791
Reaction score
126
Location
Kirkby-in-Ashfield
AndyT":1kg9gkmg said:
For historic methods of sharpening,
Andy, I'm shocked, quite shocked. I sure you meant to say

AndyT":1kg9gkmg said:
For historical methods of sharpening,
I need to go and have a lie down, and not just because it is midnight.
:)
S

Oh, and back on topic, excellent story of the plane.
 

Orraloon

Established Member
Joined
18 Oct 2016
Messages
388
Reaction score
12
Location
Blue mountains Australia
A very nice reproduction. My feeling is the groove is intentional if the plane was used just on round work. The angle is to get a skew cut so less effort. I have made a few longbows and tried a few ways of making arrows. Try planing something thin with a block plane and you soon get it slipping off to the side. The groove like the notched bed of a chamfer plane is to hold things on track. There are plenty of traditional archery people in England making traditional arrows so perhaps lend it out to see how it performs.
Regards
John
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,029
Reaction score
472
Location
Bristol
Trevanion":x7vjghma said:
I've always found early history from very interesting, this is even more interesting as it is actually a tool that was used by an actual craftsman circa 1500 years ago! It's a shame nothing more can really be gleaned from the tool itself to say what it was actually used for, could be for any number of things such as making boar hunting spear shafts as well as arrows, or perhaps removing the bark from sticks because of the large mouth allows the bark to eject easily.

I know it's extremely difficult to even remotely guess what timber the original is made from in that photo, but if I can hazard a guess on the wood, perhaps it's Elm? It's sometimes known to last a ridiculous amount of time in a very wet environment which is why they used it for water pipes.
I've seen a copy of the archeologists' description of this plane, and although they aren't certain, they suggest that it could be made of boxwood or, more likely, some sort of fruitwood. They also speculate that it could have been used for spears as well as arrows and say that the shaping at the rear makes it suitable for pulling along the work.

If anyone wants the full research report, it's available here

https://www.wessexarch.co.uk/our-work/s ... eet-valley

in volume 4.
 
Top