Hand Tools Archive

The Roubo planes

I have purchased the English translation of the Roubo manuscripts about the joiners and furniture making trades, "With all the precision possible". It seems to be a collection, I don't know the exact sequence of articles in the original French version. The makers of fine furniture, the Ebonist, is in the other translated book "To make as perfectly as possible". The original books were published about 1770.

Anyway I enjoy reading this new book a lot. Great effort. And maybe fun to discuss a few things. A book like this deserves discussion!

First about the planes. There is much that is new or strange to me. Just a few things.
- The French foreplane is very long! It seems that the half plane is being used for rough work and this plane is 21" long! Quite a contrast with the Germans, who do everything except edge jointing with short 8-10" planes. And the English had their jack planes of 14 and later 17" length. The Dutch had roughing planes in all lengths, the very short Gerfschaaf, a longer Roffel and an even longer Voorloper. I guess snooping a bit from every tradition.

- All French moulding planes seem to have an open mortice (open on the side). And they never learned to make them properly with a closed mortice it seems. Way into the 20th century they had an open mortice often with a batten glued or nailed to the side to close it up. Maybe this was because at that time the French didn't have a real planemakers trade? It seems that Roubo explains carefully how the workmen had to make their own planes while they bough the irons (which seem to come from Germany mostly).

- There is a bit of confusion about the fillister plane. Plate 13 clearly shows a fillester, it has a fence, but in the text it is called a rabbet plane. Error from Roubo or the translators? Plate 17 shows the real rabbet planes. The fillester is being used in making boards flat and square. As I understand it, after sawing or cutting the board to width, the fillester is used to remove most of the wood up till the marking line. And then the egde is made straight and square with the half plane and the jointer. I don't really see the need for the fillester in this context.

-The end [grain] plane. The word grain in brackets is an addition of the translators. Here is al the time used in combination with high angle planes. Even an end [grain] rabbet plane with 60 degree bedding. I thought that was an error and it should have been read end-plane as in "the last plane". A plane to finish cantancerous wood with a high cutting angle. Well, until we arrive at the mitre box and the mitre plane. That surely is a plane for endgrain (cut at 45 degrees) but it is a 60 degree plane too! That's peculiar, an extra high bedding angle for an endgrain plane!

Now I think about it, the Germans had mitre planes, often made of iron, in a bevel up configuration but bedded rather highly. A 25 - 30 degree bedding with a 30 degree sharpening angle also gives an endgrain plane at a very high cutting angle.

- Roubo doesn't know about the chipbreaker! Or he thought it was such an abominable new fad that he didn't give it a place in his book. The chipbreaker (capiron, double iron plane) was most probably an English invention. It's date of birth must have been somewhere around that time or a little earlier.

Maybe someone else read other interesting little facts about planes in these books. Please discuss.

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