W. & S. Butcher

Stanley Planes

English Braces


Working with Hands - James E. Price

  Lignum Vitae Planes  

Recently I purchased a Lignum vitae handled smooth plane to use with two others I had found a decade apart. 


I have never understood why such quality planes do not demand a high price on the old tool market. A month ago I paid $10.00 for the handled smoother at auction with about 60 tool dealers and collectors present. I paid less than that for each of the other ones.

Lignum vitae smooth planes were associated with wooden ship building and their shape departs from British and American coffin smoothers.

Most have Lignum vitae bodies and some softwood for wedges. Lignum vitae wood was imported from the Caribbean and the south coast of Africa for use in making dead eyes, belaying pins, a blocks, as well as other parts, for wooden sailing ships.

The U.S.S Constitution sports such fittings as well as many other ships. Since Lignum vitae was common in shipyards, craftsmen made tools, especially planes and mallets, out of it.

I have never seen one of these smoothers with a commercial manufacturer's imprint. All three of my planes have extremely high quality cutters in them and I was delighted to find a Moulson Brothers blade in the handled one.

The blade and cap iron were seized in the throat of the handled smoother and I had to work at length to free it and carefully relieve the wedge slots to allow it to freely slide into the throat.

Lignum vitae has natural oil in it and after 150 years the soles still easily glide over a workpiece.

James E. Price
July, 2016

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