Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Art of Joinery - Moxon

The Art of Joinery

The Fore Plane
It is called the Fore Plane. becaufe it is ufed before you come to work either with the Smooth Plane, or with the Joynter. The edge of its Iron is not ground upon the ftraight, as the Smooth Plane, and the Joynter are, but rifes with a Convex-Arch in the middle of it •, for its Office being to prepare the Stuff for either the Smoothing Plane, or the Joynter.

This description by Moxon is pretty clear, it is called the Fore Plane because it is used before the Smoother or Jointer planes. The iron of the Fore Plane is ground with a heavy camber, or arc, to allow the iron to accomplish its task of quick heavy stock removal. Similar to a skewed iron the camber of the iron increases the shearing angle of the cut making it easier to use while still providing a relatively smooth but thick shaving.

Workmen fet the edge of "it" Ranker[*] than the edge either of the Smoothing Plane, or the Joynter and fhould the Iron of the Plane be ground to a ftraight edge, and it be fet never fo little Ranker on one end df the edge than on the other, the Ranker end would (bearing as then upon a point) in working, dig Gutters on the Surface of the Stuffs but this Iron (being ground to a Convex-Arch) though it fhould be fet a little Ranker on one end of its edge than on the other, would not make Gutters on the Surface of the Stuff, but (at the moft) little hollow dawks on the Stuff, and that more or lefs, according as the Plane is ground more or lefs Arching, Nor is it the Office of this Plane to finooth the Stuff, but only (as I faid) to prepare It, that is, to take oft the irregular Filings, whether on the fides, or in the middle, and therefore it is fet fomewhat Ranker, that it may take the Irregularities the fooner off the Stuff, that the Smoothing Plane, or the Joynter, may afterwards the eafier work it Try. The manner of Trying fhall be taught, when I come to Treat of the ufe of the Rule.

You mult note, that as I told you in Smithing? Hum. I. fol. 14, 15-, 16. it was the Office of the courfe toottfd File to take off the prominent Irregularities the Hammer made in the Forging? &c. and that you were not to file them more away than you need, fo the fame Caution Is to be g'iven you in the ufing of this fore Plane mjoynery? for the reafon there pledged in Smithing? whether, to a- void Repetition, I refer you ? only with this Con- Jideration, that there Iron, or Steel? was the matter wrought upon, and there a courfe File the Tool; but now Wood is the matter, and a Courfe, or Fore-Plane, the Tool.

Moxon is not discussing bad Mutton, when he mentions the term ranker. He is describing the extent of which the iron protrudes out of the bottom of the plane with Ranker simply meaning greater than. The Fore Plane's cambered iron is set much deeper than that of the Jointer or Smoother. The camber allows the iron to remove much thicker shaving while not tearing and digging splintered troughs through the work which in turn would require much more work from the Smoother or Jointer to remove. It should be noted that the Fore Plane is used for quick aggressive yet manageable stock removal therefore do not busy yourself with trying to leave the board smooth and flat. The planes which follow will address those marks.

Use great care when working with the Fore Plane as to not exceed the desired final depth. So while being aggressive it is important to leave a sufficient amount of thickness so that the following planes may remove all marks of the Fore Plane with out making the work thinner than desired.

Just as we know to use metal files or sanding paper from coarsest to finest grit in sequence, so also should we consider the steps with which the planes are used. Consider the Fore Plane the aggressive and efficient bastard cut file of wood planes, begin with it and work down in progression to minimize effort and increase efficiency when jointing the face of a rough board.

Modern Equivalents of the Fore Plane 
The picture at Left shows modern equivalents to the Fore Plane. This is not to say they are modern Fore Planes. In the last century Fore Planes have become synonymous with the Stanley Number 6 or Miller Falls Number 18. These modern planes are approximately 18 inches in length making them both longer also a bit norrower than the older Fore Planes of Moxon's time.

Of fetting the Iron.
When you fet the Iron of the Fore-Plane confider the Stuff you are to work upon. Whether it be hard or foft, or Curling as Joyners call Crofs grain'd Stuff: If it be hard or curling, you muft not fet the lron veay rank, becaufe a Man's ftrength will not cut deep into hard Wood and if it be not hard Wood, but curlings or knotty, and the Iron Ranker, you may indeed work with it till you come to fome Knot, or Curl, but then you may either tear your Stuff, or break the edge of your Iron; therefore you may perceive a reafon to fet the Iron fine for curling, and knotty Stuff. But if you ask me how rank your Iron ought to be fet; I anfwer, If your Wood be foft, and your Stuff free, and frowy, that is, evenly temper'd all the way, you may fet the Iron to take a fhaving off the thicknefs of an old coined Shilling, but fcarce thicker;  whereas, if your Stuff be hard, or curling, or knotty, you fhall fcarce be able to take a shaving off the thicknefs of an old Groat. Therefore you mult examine the Temper of your Stuff, by eafy Trials, how the Plane will work upon it, and fet your Iron accordingly. And obferve this as a General Rule, that the Iron of the Fore-Plane is, for the firft working with it, to be fet as rank as you can make good work with it, and that for fpeed fake.

It is important when setting the depth of the iron in your Fore Plane to consider the material being worked with. For example when working with soft woods such as fir or even hard woods on the softer end of the spectrum such as Tulip Poplar, Magnolia and Ash the iron can easily remove very thick curls. With harder lumber, or stuff, such as Rosewood, Pecan or Live Oak it is imprudent to expect thick shaving without great difficulty pushing the plane as well as tearing out large ragged troughs or dawks in the lumber. Another important consideration is the grain direction and knots. Knots can be particularly dangerous to the plane and your work as aggressive planing with a deeply set iron across a knot may even chip or break the iron's bevel. Moxon describes the thickest shaving possible on hard or highly figured woods from a Fore Plane as that of the thickness of an old Groat - again we are not talking about Mutton but of English coins about the thickness of a American Quarter. Moxon describes the shaving possible in soft woods as being the thickness of an old Shilling - again coin and a bit thicker than an American Nickel.

If your Iron be fet too rank, knock with an Hammer upon the Britcb of the Stock, and afterwards upon the Wedge; for this knocking upon the Britch, if you knock hard enough, 'twill raife the Iron a little,, and fit it fine; if you knock not hard enough, you mult knock again, till the Iron do rife; but if you knock too hard, it will raife the Iron fo much, that its edge will rife above the Sole into the Mouth of the Stock, and confequently not touch the Stuff: Therefore you muft knock foftly at firft, till, by trials, you find the Iron rifes to a convenient finenefs. But as this knocking on the Britcb raifes the Iron, fo it alfo raifes and loofens the Wedge; therefore (as aforefaid) whenever you knock upon the Britcb, you mull alfo knock upon the Wedge, to foftcn the Iron again. If you have raifed the edge of the Iron too fine, you muft knock foftiy upon the head of the Iron, and then again upon the Wedge, and this you may fometimes do feveral times, till you fit your Iron to a convenient finenefs. When you have occafion to take your Iron out of the Stock to rub it, that is, to fet it, you may knock pretty fmart Blows upon the Stock, between the Mouth and the Fore-end, to loofen the Wedge, and confequently the Iron. Thefe ways of fetting are ufed to all Other Planes, as well as Fore-planes.

In Moxon's time there were no Stanley iron planes like those of the last two centuries. No, infill planes were not on the scene yet either. The planes of Moxon's time were of wooden body, generally Beech lumber, and did not even have chip breakers. These tools were simple elegance and quite functional as is attested to in the incredible work surviving from that time. Similarly constructed planes have been unearthed in Pompeii and likely were in use much earlier than even that. That said let's discuss the adjustment of the wooden bench plane as Moxon describes it. Despite describing the parts of a plane Moxon does not show them illustrated. See the picture at Right for the components of a plane.

Unlike iron planes, wooden bodied planes have no adjustment wheels, lateral adjustment levers, adjustable frogs or mouths. That said, we need not despair! For wooden planes our one-tool-does-all adjuster is the humble mallet. With the plane sitting on a wooden bench place the iron, centered laterally, in its mortise and snugly insert the wedge. next check the protrusion of the iron from the sole. If the iron protrudes too far, or too rank as Moxon says, tap the rear of the plane with your mallet as this will raise the iron - softly at first until you learn how your plane behaves. This also loosens the wedge so that will require a tap from the mallet as well. To extend the iron for a thicker cut you may the tap top of the iron softly to advance it. Lateral adjustments can be made by tapping the top sides of the iron in either dirrection. To remove the iron and wedge you may tap the rear of the plane as above or tap the the top front of the plane, there is often a hardwood button inset here, to loosen the wedge. As there is no adjustment for the mouth of a wooden plane the planes have a fixed mouth opening suited to its job. The mouths are often in need or repair on older smoothing and jointing planes to close them a bit. Many antique planes also show damage as a result of iron hammers being used as an adjustment tool - never use a hammer to adjust a plane. Obtain, buy, borrow, steal or make a wooden or combination wooden and brass mallet if you must.

In the ufing of this, and indeed, all othef Planes, you muft begin at the hinder end of the Stuff, the Grain of the Wood lying along the length of the Bench, and Plane forward, till you come to the fore-end, unlefs the Stuff proves Crofs-grain'd, in any part of its length ; for then you muft turn your Stuff to Plane it the contrary way, fo far as it runs Crofs-grain'd, and in Planeing, you muft, at once, lean pretty hard upon the Plane, and alfo thruft it very hard forwards, not letting the Plane totter to, or from you-wards, till you have made a Stroak the whole length of the Stuff. And this fometimes, if your Stuff be long, will require your making two or three fteps forwards, e'er you come to the fore-end of the Stuff: But if it do, you muft comeback, and begin again at the farther end, by the fide of the laft plan'd Stroak, and fo continue your feveral lays of Planeing, till the whole upfide of the Stuff be planed. 

And if the Stuff be broad you are to Plane upon, and it warp a little with the Grain, or be any ways crooked in the breadth, you muft then turn the Grain athwart the Work-bench, and Plane upon the Crofs-grain. For, if your work be hollow in the middle,, you muft Plane both the Bearing fides thinner, till they come to a Try with the middle. Then turn the other fide of your work, and working Hill Crofs-graind, work away the middle, till it come Try with the two fides. 

This way ot Crofs-graind working, is, by Work-men, called Traverfing. 

Thus have you, in general, the ufe of all the other Planes: But the ufe of thofe Planes, that are defigned for other particular purpotes, I fhall fhew, as they come in Order.

Basic Parts of a Wooden Plane

Moxon describes generalized use of the bench plane here however he doesn't make a large distinction between the Fore Plane and the others. I will attempt to clarify this further as we proceed.

With the stuff or lumber placed flat on the bench, Moxon says you must work from one end to the other keeping the plane flat while also pushing down very hard. No excessive force is required with iron planes however the lighter wooden bodied planes of Moxon's time the mass or weight of modern iron and bronze versions. Moxon does not delve as deeply as one may when it comes to applying downward force on the plane as blindly doing so will cause the surface of the board to develop a crown. We will further address this momentarily. He says that if the piece be cross-grain'd it is necessary to spin the board 180 and proceed. What Moxon is referring two by this is grain run out. Some sawn lumbers have multiple directions of grain run out, Sapele for example will have areas of reversing grain making it necessary to reverse your planing in those areas. Another option for difficult or figured grain lumber would be to plain askew or across the grain or to use a higher bevel angle on the iron. The Iron's bevel angle is something he addresses later on. 

Basic Parts of an Iron Plane

Moxon cautions us against letting the plane rock side to side. If this is allowed to happen the resulting surface will not be Try - or jointed. This rocking of the plane, in regards to the face of a board, is most likely when using the Trying plane with its Rank Arched iron so this is a case when muscle memory and keeping the plane's bed flat to an imaginary trying line is very beneficial.  He further states you must make passes with the plane the full length of the board which can require you to step forward as you proceed. The only thing I will add to this is to plant your feet while progressing the plane and stop the plane while stepping forward. This adds better control and less amiss stroke to your technique. 
And if the Stuff be broad you are to Plane upon, and it warp a little with the Grain, - Its a bit confusing but Moxon is referring to a crown across the grain, ie the sides of the board or either higher or lower than the center. This is very typical and seen to a more exaggerated extent on wider boards. He again describes working the plain cross-grain'd however unlike before he is referring to actually going across the grain. Here we are certainly talking about use specific to the Fore Plane. He describes planing across the grain in this fashion to to take away all that is higher than the lowest spot. This is done on both sides but he passes over the concept of co-planer surfaces and leaves that for a later section. When using the Fore Plane across the grain, which he describes as Traversing, it is far more expedient to the end result to begin with the crown down. In this orientation the sides are higher than the middle and makes for easier flattening without following the curve. Eventually the other side will have to be addressed however learning on the hollow side promotes learning and technique building more quickly while also reducing frustration of it. 

 Of the Joynter
The Joymer is made fomewhat longer than the Fore-plane, and hath its Sole perfectly ftraight from end to end, Its Office is to follow the fore-plane, and to fhoot an edge perfectly ftraight, and not only an edge, but also a Board of any thicknefs, especially when a Joynt Is to be fhot. Therefore the Hand muft be carried along the whole length, with an equal bearing weight, and fo exaftly even, and upright to the edges of the Board, that neither fide of the Plane encline either inward or outwards, but that the whole breadth be exaftly fquare on both its fides; fuppofing its fides ftraight: fo will two edges of two Boards, when thus fhot, lie fo exatly fiat and fquare upon one another, that light will not be difcerned betwixt them. But yet it is counted a piece of good Workmanfhip in a Joyner, to have the Craft of bearing his Hand fo curioufly even, the whole length of a long Boards and yet it is but a Height to thofe, Practice hath inur'd the Hand to. The Jcynter is alfo ufed to Try Tables with, ( large or fmall) or other fuch broad Work; and then Joyners work, as well upon the Traverfe with it, as with the Grain of the Wood, and alfo Angularly, or Corner-wife, that they may be the more aflur'd of the flatnefs of their Work.  

Its Iron mult be fet very fne, fo fine, that when you wink with one Eye, and fet that end the ftraight fide of the Iron is next to the other Eye, there appears a little above an hairs breadth of the edge above the Superficies of the fole of the Plane, and the length of the edge mult lie perfectly ftraight with the flat breadth of the fole of the Plane: For the Iron being then well wedg'd up, and you working with the Plane thus fet, have the greater affurance that the Iron cannot run too deep into the Stuff, and confequently you have the lefs danger that the Joynt is wrought out of ftraisht.

The Jointer is a plane of utmost importance. The sole of a plane is it's reference point, the larger and flatter the reference then also the flatter the resulting work will be. This is why for long surfaces we need a long plane. The jointer is the largest of bench planes with the only plane larger being the Cooper's Jointer. The jointer can be used for straightening and jointing a board edge and for jointing the face of a board. Moxon describes the delicate work with a lot of excess pompery but it is true that you must maintain even pressure when using the jointer - or any plane. 
Modern Jointer Planes

The jointer does have subtleties which should be noted during it use. When jointing the edge of a board, the jointer must be kept relatively centered otherwise the plane will naturally take a heavier cut to the side it most hangs over. When done intentionally this can be used to our advantage for squaring the edge of a board to it's face.  

When jointing a flat panel or wide board Moxon says we must Traverse the board as well as work Angularly and with the grain. ie go every direction needed to make the board flat. The more variation of contact of the plane to the panel the flatter overall it will be. We are further cautioned to have the iron set perfectly even in the plane. The large reference area of the Jointer's sole is only effective if the cutting edge of the iron is also parallel to it. Moxon makes it very clear that the Jointer's iron should also be set very finely however this is not desirable in all cases. Match the tool to the work and set the iron a bit ranker until we approach a flat board and retract it for finer cuts. Don't stress over small lines left by the Jointer, those will be removed by the Smoothing Plane.

The Use of the Strike-block.
The Strike-block marked B 3. is a Plane fhorter than the Joynter, having its fole made exaftly flat, and ftraight, and is ufed for the fhooting of a fhort Joynt becaufe it is more handy than the long Joynter. It is alfo ufed for the framing, and fitting the Joynts of Miters and Bevels ', but then it is ufed in a different manner from other Planes: For if the Miter and Bevel you are to fit "be fmall, yon muft hold it very fteddy in your left hand, with the fole of it upwards, and its fore-end towards your right hand : and you muft hold your work in your right hand very fteddy : Then apply the fawn Miter, or fawn Bevel at the end of your Stuff, to the fore-end of the Strike- block, and fo thruft it hard and upright forwards, till it pafs over the edge of the Iron, fo fhall the edge of the Iron, with feveral of thefe thrufts continued, cut, or plane off your stuff the roughnef that the Teeth of your Saw made: But if your work be fo big that you cannot well weild it in your right hand, you mull fet the end of your work in the Bench-fcrew, and Plane upon it with sfmoothing Plane.

Don't let the name confuse you, Moxon's Strike-Block is not what we now call a Block Plane although there is certainly some link in the name. Only reading Moxon one could argue that he is indeed writing about a Block Plane - as we know them. It is a topic of great debate which we shall not spend a tremendous hill of words on. However this definition does emerge again in other places and with a length. Although it's nearly 100 years later, Richard Neve list the Strike-Block as being about 14 inches long in the City and County Purchaser's and Builder's Dictionary. In any case it is safe to assume that the Strike Block is a bevel down plane designed to be used with or without a shoot board to make minor adjustments of joints and joinery. Were the plane Moxon writes about approximately 14 inches long that makes it closet to our modern Jack plane or Stanely Number 5 in size. The Strike-Block plane was likely used in the same manner as both our Jack and the Stanley Number 9 as shown in The Superior Works for moderate fitting and shooting.
The Ufe of the Smoothing-Plane.
The Smoothing-plane marked B 4. muft: have its Iron fet very fine, becaufe its Office is to fmoothen the work from thofe Irregularities the Fore-plane made.

Moxon sure doesn't waste many trees on the Smoothing plane! Its a wonder actually given the romanticism that generally surrounds this little plane. He simply says the mouth must be tight and the iron extremely sharp to remove the traces of the planes that came before. The smoothing planes, with it's delicate gossamer shaving, has long been the Siren, with its song, to woodworkers. Its seducing, really, to render these fine little shavings so it's no wonder that its the topic of poems and song. Nonetheless, Moxon speaks very little of it. I believe this is because Moxon feels he has already covered, though generalized, how to use a bench plane. The truth is, there is little more to be said when those general principles are applied to the smoothing plane. Its small size and thin shaving mean little chance of gouging or tearing a work piece. Still, care must be taken of grain changes and knots. 
Smoothing Planes

One thing that Moxon does not cover, as he has on previous planes, is the grinding of the iron. There is speculation and debate as to how much camber this iron should have and if at all. I do believe that only the slightest of camber easing of the irons corners is desirable and simply to prevent the planes iron from leaving marks that would then require another tool to remove.

- Jean Becnel
L'ébénisterie Créole

© Jean Becnel, 2012. 
The material found herein is the sole intellectual property of it's author(s). 

Reproduction of this information is strictly forbidden without the written permission of it's author(s)

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