Frank Fillipone wrote: " I had something that bugs me.... Why is it that most if
not almost all the miter planes I find are from England? I rarely find a US
based miter plane...So the question I am asking is what did US ( or for that
natter, German French, etc) makers of fine cabinetry use to square the ends of
Think of it historically. Shooting edges is much easier with certain features to
1. Tight mouth that would stay tight as the blade was sharpened back. So: metal
mouth, uniform thickness blade.
2. Great mass, to power through difficult spots.
3. Rigidity of the blade and of the seating, to reduce chatter.
4. Reliable right angle between side and sole of the plane, to reduce the
necessary skill by using a shuting board instead of shuting freehand..
Before the mitre plane developed in Britain, in the very late 18th or early 19th
century, the work would have been done with ordinary wooden planes, demanding a
high level of care and skill if it was to be done to the highest standards---but
mostly it doesn't need to be done to the highest standards. The "strike block"
plane, which died out early in the 19th century, was sort of like a coffin
smoother or short jointer but with square sides and a fragile low-angle bed, and
was a predecessor of the mitre plane. The mitre plane was a great improvement in
all four features, but at the cost of---well, cost, it was maybe eight times as
expensive to buy a mitre plane as an all-wood plane; so the mitre plane was
reserved for the costliest part of the work of the most expensive cabinetmakers.
And the British metallic planes in general developed later than we tend to
think: the earliest for-sure reference to a metal dovetailed mitre plane is in
the 1820s, and Spiers of Ayr got his start around the 1849s.
In America, most fine tools were imported and the development of native
toolmaking was a matter of patriotic boasting even after the Civil War. As in
files, chisels, plane blades; very basic things. American experiments with cast
iron bench planes began with Knowles in the, what, 1820s? and Bailey's basic
line was available by the 1850s, with the frog invented sometime before 1867. A
Bailey plane set fine had all the advantages over wood that a mitre plane had;
not, perhaps, to quite as great a degree as the mitre plane, but enough to be a
big improvement. And while a Bailey plane was more expensive than a woody, it
was still nowhere near the price of a mitre plane. So the market for mitre
planes in America, already tiny, was cut into even further by Bailey planes
after 1870. There were a few New York makers of mitre planes in the 19th century
(Blood and Gore's entry on the #9 refers to them, with one brief link) but
nothing to provide much competition for the more prestigious English mitre
planes or the cheaper but pretty much as good Stanleys.
For this I checked (and corrected) my knowledge in the 3rd edition of Goodman's
British Planemakers from 1700 and Vol. 1 of PTAMPIA, with a bit in Salaman's
Dictionary. The thing that surprised me the most in checking actual dates was
the degree to which British and American metal planes developed at the same
time, and pretty much in parallel. IT was often claimed in the 20th century that
the slow penetration of Bailey-style planes into the British market was due to
the conservatism of British workmen, and this may well be a big part of the
answer; but the similarity of dates makes this explanation seem a bit specious
at face value. A similar, more refined, analysis might be tried. In America the
rapid growth of the population and spread of built-up areas, and the
comparatively few opportunities to find apprenticeships, meant that there was
high-wage demand for carpenters even if they weren't very good (In California
during the Gold Rush you could make more money as a carpenter than as a gold
miner---and that was not different from towns all across the country, just a bit
exaggerated). High-wage half-trained carpenters had a need for tools that would
reduce the skill needed just to use them; and both half-trained and European-
trained immigrant carpenters would have money for expensive tools. In England,
with an effective apprenticeship system and less new construction, there were
more skilled carpenters chasing fewer and lower-paid jobs and so a higher price
for a tool that required less skill had much less appeal than in America. So
more-expensive metal planes found their niche only where they made a major
difference, in the very highest-quality work or among workmen who aspired to the
highest quality. In a way this is just baack to "British workmen bought mitre
planes because they were more conservative," but it gives a bit of subtlety to
how and why they were more conservative. Just speculation, but worth thinking