There’s No Tool Like An Old Tool

Collecting and restoring moulding planes like these is fun but more than that even is you end up with very handy planes to create short runs of moulding. They usually sell for around £10 via eBay here in the UK and any given day there will be 200 for sale to choose from. Amazing if you think about what you get for so small an investment. Don’t think that they don’t work either. You’ll be surprised and you’ll learn a lot about wooden planes in the process of restoring them too.

 

The saying goes that, “There is no fool like an old fool.” but it often seems to me it’s mostly in the negative vein of disparagingly criticising the elderly when they make mistakes or poor judgements. In a more positive vein, to counter the culture that espouses all new equipment as the progressive way forward, and, as it is in many cases, there is often no tool like and old tool. Moulding planes on most woods readily create a much needed six-foot length of pristine moulding in a heartbeat and you don’t need abrasives to remove the rotary cuts or burn marks machines leave in the surface either. Of course a thousand linear metres of the stuff comes best from the spindle moulder or router, that’s true, but for me, moulding a short run for a 12″ rim or lip, it’s an excess to set up the router, run the mould and then clean up afterwards. It might surprise most to know that only 5% of the cutting power of a router or machine is actually used. The rest is excess. In industry it can be a little different. Feed rates are measured and matched to the rotation per foot run, but in the home shop that’s not the case. I often hear table saws, routers and extractors running for minutes between cuts.  I’ve done it myself.

I used a combination of two wooden spokeshaves to shape the leg frame for the undercarriage here. Such beauty in use is very fine, and then therapeutic working goes with it all too.

Yesterday, working on my prototype, I formed a bevel 2 3/4″ wide by 1/2″ deep on the underside of the desktop with a vintage spokeshave made around 1880. Cutting the bevel might have been done on a table saw with the board stood upright and the blade tilted to the appropriate angle, but, because of the curved front, that would have made it impossible and highly inefficient. It would have worked on the end grain cuts but, well, it took me only a few minutes with the spokeshave before I was done. In this work I use the old spokeshave because I could remove thick, wide and heavy swathes of wood with a skewed presentation that I felt to be regulated and in control of. The tool allows me to refine the strokes and the thicknesses by a simple tilt of the fore edge to take less or more as I wanted. With its massive and quite unusual 4″ wide blade, my spokeshave allows for a virtual full-width cut when needed. Combining this now ancient tool with the converted Stanley scrub (Video on this here) gave me very refined definition but then following through with the smoothing plane, an older Record #4, and the under edge of my desktop needed no more  refining work.

A wide spokeshave is hard to come by, but narrower ones wiil achieve the same end result, just less quickly. We may well make a simple version to work with if you are a subscriber to woodworkingmasterclasses, which is free.
No matter the maker, the #151 model is a good, functional tool to work with. Just not as fast or with the same quality as the wooden versions.

When it comes to the end-grain the spokeshave, scrub plane and smoothing plane all ensure good production matching the long-grain, curved front under-bevel. Actually, better. The advantage the vintage models have is that the blade itself is the actual sole of the plane whereas the #151 types have evolved more as a plane with a main body inclining the bed angle of the blade as with a plane and thereby necessitating the element of a sole, albeit short. That said, the #151 will get it too, just not with the same alacrity. I say all of this because it shows how hand tools can be adapted to tasks they might not always be considered capable of. Oh, and you might be forgiven for thinking this only works well with pine! I did the same with the oak top too and achieved equal results just as readily.

I always keep my rag-in-the-can oiler handy on the benchtop which works well on spokeshaves used for this work too.

 

18 comments on “There’s No Tool Like An Old Tool

  1. Paul, Re your comments on moulding planes I for one would be interested to see a demo of their use. There seems to be an alarming and confusing array of sizes and shapes available and not much guidance out there regarding how to use the different types correctly. I am sure I would not be alone in hoping you could produce a video on this subject. The ability to make small runs of mouldings would indeed enhance anyones enjoyment of woodworking.
    Cheers.

    • You might find several articles and a video by Paul on sharpening and fettling wooden moulding planes interesting if you do a search within Paul Sellers website. However another newer video on all aspects of buying, renovating and using wooden moulding planes would be most welcome.

    • I agree with you Rob. I have many of these but don’t really use them because of the vagueness of the correct way to use them.

  2. Paul, How timely! I’ve just ordered a wooden Maples spokeshave (£12.50) to try out. Although I use a Stanley hand plane No.4 for most work, I also have a wooden Marples plane which, although a little trickier to adjust, I love using. I’m hoping I get on as well with the Marples spokeshave. As a point if interest, I believe originally there was a reluctance by woodworkers to accept the change over from wooden planes to modern steel planes. Modern planes are probably easier for most people, me included, to adjust quickly, but I’m not sure they’re nicer to use or do a better job. Woodworkers clearly adopted the use of steel planes as the norm in the end, but was that because wooden planes were simply no longer available? i.e. was the change driven purely by the commercial benefits to the manufacturers?

  3. I am finding more and more uses for the old tools that I have been acquiring on ebay. I, for one, would love to see something on restoring the old wooden planes. I have one hybrid plane — wooden body with metal blade holding structure — and I’m not sure what to do with it; that goes even more for the wooden molding planes.
    i have a fair amount of arthritis in my hands, so I use my table saw for major cuts and the like, but I am trying to do more and more by hand — I’m quite pleased that I can now cut a 1/4″ wide mortise, about 11/4″ long and equally deep — in about 15 minutes. I’m making a series of cabinet doors for a pantry and a cabin kitchen. I gut the dadoes with a dado blade on the saw, but have recently acquired a Stanley #248 plow plane that I will restore and start using.
    Thank you, Paul, for all of your wonderful and inspiring videos.

  4. Having restored half a dozen, my request would be a video on the basics of their use (what’s needed to start a concave plane etc) and the mechanics of the wedge – since many come with the ‘wrong’ wedge.

  5. Another request – how to use a combination of different moulding planes to match sections of old picture rails and skirting (in my case) from a Victorian house. Thanks Paul!

  6. Would love to learn how to make moulding planes. Is it a matter of starting with scratch stock to make the sole of the plane to a profile or do you make an iron to form the sole? I think being able to design the profile of a moulding is the ultimate in being able to create a piece that’s more ornate and has it’s own unique style.

  7. Peace and quiet that’s what moulding planes mean to me plus no sanding dust from cleaning router mouldings up. Also moulding planes leave a crisper mould because no sandpaper is used,which can soften a mould and ruin it.

  8. Great post! As some have alluded to above, the old wood bodied planes are a pleasure to use, and metal planes were a hard sell to those who had used wood bodied planes, and it was only after they became less available that many woodworkers made the switch. Moulding planes likewise are a joy to use when well tuned. A couple of resources out there I might mention. “Mouldings in Practice” by Matthew Bickford, a young maker of moulding planes, and Don McConnell has a couple of DVD’s on “Traditional Molding Techniques.”Both are excellent additional resources. But I have spent years wondering about the racks of wooden planes behind you in your shop, Paul, and would love to see you introduce them-it can be as much an eye-opener as seeing a hand cut mortise to one who has never seen it.

  9. Well Paul …as can be seen above….the pressures on?? ……when I read your blog about old tools I thought YES this is it BUT you slipped into wooden spokshaves

    The only benefit to me by you being a little “backward in coming forward” to give instructions on the use of wooden moulders, is that I am still able to pick up a few more before their price goes through the roof. As it is lots are now going for £10 plus…a kings ransom in the days they were made!

    Thanks John

    Thank you John

  10. I have not got round to buying a moulding plane yet but have three straight planes. The smallest has a rubber jacket when not in use which is a bit of old car inner tube . The largest plane works beautifully even without the front handle . The medium sized one has a bad habit of shavings jamming . There is some technical knowledge to understand how the shavings are guided out of a plane . I need to think that through .
    I nearly bought a curved narrow plane similar to one Stradivari used to scoop out the internals of a violin . I can feel an e bay buying spree coming on . I collected some nice handsaws after your lessons and they are working well fitting my solid oak floor this week .

  11. Hi Paul. I recently bought a Record A151 spokeshave off of eBay and I have a question about using it. I find when I’m using the spokeshave​ the front edge of the sole can dig into the wood if I’m not careful to keep it flat. Should I file the corner of the sole over a bit, or is this just a case of improving my technique?

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