Tuesday 28 October 2014

The medieval toolchest: the plane (part 3)

This post continues from the previous post on medieval planes from Northern Europe. The previous post discussed the planes with a toat, this post will concentrate on planes without a toat and Lapp-style planes. While there are more images of planes with a toat than that there are actual surviving planes, this is almost the other way around with planes without a toat, and certainly with lapp-style planes of which only excavated examples exist.



Joseph is carrying a basket with his tools while Jesus happily tugs at his cloak. In the tool basket a plane is visible (circle), but you can see only the sole. It could either be a plane with or without a toat. Other tools are a chisel, axe, brace, and an auger. Detail from the painting  'The Holy Family' by the Master of the Magdalena-legende. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium. 15th century.


Planes without a toat

Planes without a toat consist of one block in which the plane blade is set. There are no handles, to help to push the plane forward or to press the plane more firmly onto the wooden surface. There are some surviving examples of the 13th century, as well as from the late 15th century. The surviving examples are relatively small block planes. However, larger examples should have existed as well, as is shown on the miniature from the Hausbuch of the Landauer Zwolfbruderstiftung in Nuremberg, Germany.

Fridrich Punkauer  († 1571) on folio 45r of the Landauer Zwolfbruderstiftung in Nuremberg, Germany. He is working with a plane with a toat, while a large try plane can be seen next to the window.

One small plane was found in Bergen (Norway) and dated around 1248. It was made from taxus. It has a length of 15.7 cm, a width of 2.9 cm and the remarkable low height of 1.3 cm! Also remarkable is that this plane already had a grooved wedge; This is likely a necessity as a cross-pin held wedge would have weakened the plane to much.

Two views of the taxus plane from Bergen, Norway. 
Image scanned from 'Die geschichte des Hobels' by J.M. Greber.

 In France, a complete plane (except for the wedge) including the iron and the cross-pin was found in an submerged medieval village in the Lac le  Paladru near Charavines. The site became flooded in 1280, which makes it easy to date the plane. The plane is made from beech and 15.9 cm long, 6.4 cm wide and 4.2 cm high. The edges are rounded to have a more comfortable grip. The iron is set at an 27 degree angle, which is very low, suggesting that the plane was used as a low-angle block plane. The iron pin is set at mid-height, almost halfway the plane. The blade has a sharp triangular form, being much wider at the sharp end, much like the blades of medieval chisels. Another plane blade from the medieval period also has such a narrowing form, and one might wonder if this is the standard look of the medieval plane blade. (Then all the blades of our replica planes are likely wrong, but I do not feel the urge to change them). 

The plane from Charavines, France.

 Measurements and cross-cut of the 1280 plane from Charavines, France.

Two other views of the Charavines plane, together with some other excavated tools. You can clearly see the iron pin for the wedge and the 'triangular' plane blade.

Excavated medieval tools from Alvdal, Norway. The short triangular blade on the right is a plane blade. 
Other tools are files, a hammer and a knife. Image from excavation database.

This is a plane excavated in Hordaland, Norway. No dating has been provided for this plane, 
but the looks are similar to the medieval  toat-less planes.Image from excavation database.

Late medieval block plane (1500) made from beech with an iron sole. The plane has a grooved wedge, but it is placement is wrong. As a consequence, the wedge is too thick and the gap to remove the shavings too small. The plane is 13 cm long. Image scanned from 'Die geschichte des Hobels' by J.M. Greber.

A carving from the choir stalls of Amiens cathedral (France) 
showing a carpenter working a grooved block plane. Dated 1508.

The holy family. Joseph is working a plane. I think this is a toat-less plane, looking at the way he uses the plane. 
The shavings are expelled from the opening on the top of the plane. Spanish Book of Hours (1461) The British Library, London, UK. Manuscript Add. 18193, folio 48v.

We have only one toat-less plane in our toolchest. This is a small plane bought at Deagrad tools, a blacksmith who makes tool for re-enactors.

Our plane has the blade at the front at an angle of 45 degrees. The plane is 32 cm long, 5 cm high and 2.5 cm wide. The blade is 12 mm wide.

Left: A piece of wood was sawn from the plane body in order to cut the hole for the blade. After that the wood was re-attached with help of 5 wooden dowels. In the middle is a wooden pin to hold the wedge. Wedge and plane blade are shown above the plane. Right: Top view of the plane.

Lapp-style planes

Lapp planes are only found in the high north of Europe, in Norway. Lapp planes are supposed to be developed from the 'bâtastrek' or boat-moulder used by the Vikings to work the mouldings on the edges of the planks forming the hull of their long-boats. The planes have a horizontal toat placed at the front of the plane. It is difficult to imagine that the toat helps the plane to move forward. Here it more seems more likely that the toat is used to push the plane down. No medieval images of this plane exist, but two medieval examples, shown below,  have been excavated.

This is a Lapp style plane with a horizontal toat found in Tonsberg, Norway and dating from 1250-1300. 
The plane bears a runic inscription of the owner, saying 'Arni owns'.

A medieval plane from Bergen, Norway. It is a very small plane and therefore designated as a toy. This plane has a grooved wedge. Like the other Norwegian plane the toat is projected forward. The other wooden object is not a part of the plane.

A 'modern' Lapp-style moulding plane from Lillehammer, Norway. Detachable pins can be set at the sides to act as a fence, so that the moulding can be struck at either hand. Image scanned from W.L. Goodman, the history of woodworking tools.

Sources used:

J.M. Greber, 1956. Die Geschichte des Hobels. Reprint 1987. Th Schafer Verlag.
W.L. Goodman, 1978. The history of woodworking tools. Bell and Hyman Ltd.
Many thanks to Sylvestre of Aisling 1198 for the information on the plane of Charavines.


  1. Hi Marijn, I’ve been following the St Thomas guild blog for a few years now and find it a treasure trove of resources, so thanks for putting so much fantastic content online!
    I recently started a project to recreate the tools of a medieval cabinet maker, using only medieval tools and techniques, and have used the photos from this blog post as resources to recreate the plane from Chavarines, France (the only difference from the original is that I’ve raised the bed angle as I’m in Australia so will be using it on some harder woods). I thought you may be interested, and happy to share pics of my progress and results. I would be keen to find if you have pictures and cross sections of any 14thC planes from England as I’ve had little luck with that (best I have is the stuff fromMary Rose, much later period). Happy to chat via email if that works, please let me know and I can leave a comment with my email address in it.
    Company of the Staple
    Recreating life around the Company of the Staple in Calais, 1376 (based in Sydney, Australia)

    1. Hi Hugh,
      I am certainly interested to see your replica of the chavarines plane. As for archeological finds, there are not many medieval planes found. None from England. The only 14th century archeological plane find is from Greifswald, Germany. There are two more unusual german 12th century planes that will appear in part 6.
      If you leave your email, I will then delete the reply shortly afterwards, so outside exposure of your email will be minimal.

  2. Hello from the colonies! :@)

    I hope this finds you doing well?

    Will you help me find plans (I know where pictures are said to be but want plans) for a Mary Rose, flat, block plane, please? I have a fletchers' finishing (hollow) plane based on the one found on the Mary Rose but am seeking to replace my modern, flat, block plane with a period replica plane.

    Thank you for your time and kind consideration.

    May your arrows ever fly true,


    1. Dear Tim, the only information I have on the Mary Rose tools (and the planes) comes from the book on the mary rose (Before the Mast). If you supply me with your email, I can send you that information.
      It is possible that the mary rose museum website also has an online collection of the artefacts found on the ship.