A plane from The Dark Ages reconstructed

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Project by YorkshireStewart posted 04-09-2010 07:59 PM 3592 views 8 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

In the 1950s, W. L. Goodman, author of the 1964 book: ‘The History of Woodworking Tools’ did a conjectural reconstruction of a Saxon plane from around 600 A.D. The original had a body made of horn, set in a bronze soleplate. Here is my attempt at a similar re-construction. It’s made from beech with a sheet brass sole-plate & an iron cut from a ¾” chisel. I’m delighted with how it feels and cuts. This plane will go to a private collector in West Yorkshire, but I’m thinking I’ll do one for me! Here, here, and here are my other plane replicas.

I quote from his book to give the full story: “Surviving woodworkers’ tools from the Dark Ages are so rare that it was hardly surprising that the small object found in Sarre grave No. 26, when first published in Archaeologia Cantiana, VI, p. 161, was described as an “iron lock, with bronze plate containing a hole for its bolt”, and later in George Payne’s Catalogue of the Kent Archaeological Society’s Collections, p. 19, No. 775, as “lock-plate, bronze, attached to wood”. Closer examination has since revealed that this is indeed a small plane, with features relating it to roughly contemporary Frisian examples, and to their similar, but somewhat larger, Roman predecessors. It may be dated to about A.D. 600.

The body is of horn, 53/8 in. long, 1¼ in. wide and 1¼ in. high, with a bronze sole 1/8 in. thick projecting at both ends to make the total length exactly 6 in. The turn-up at the front appears to have been cast, while that at the back has clearly been folded to shape, probably to accommodate it to the piece of horn used for the stock. The sole is fixed with three iron rivets passing through the stock and fastened at the top to small bronze plates, of which the middle one, immediately behind the iron, has disappeared.

The plate at the back is roughly heart-shaped, while the front one is square with rounded corners. A finger grip is hollowed out behind the iron, which was probably about ¾ in. wide, with a slope of 43 degrees. With the help of detailed drawings (Fig. 1) made by Mr. L. R. A. Grove, Curator of the Maidstone Museum, the writer has made a suggested reconstruction, in wood and brass, of the original tool (Plate 1). The rivet across the mouth is the only conjectural feature, but is well-vouched for by the Frisian and Roman examples previously referred to.

This little plane is remarkably easy to use, and although the setting of the iron is rather tricky, it takes off quite a respectable shaving. The nearest modern equivalent would be the so-called “thumb planes” used by coachbuilders, or the small “violin planes” still listed in the specialised catalogues. This has prompted the suggestion that some such tool as this may have formed part of the kit of the craftsman who made the famous Sutton Hoo harp.”

-- Res severa verum gaudium - True pleasure is a serious business.

14 comments so far

View Bob A in NJ's profile

Bob A in NJ

1254 posts in 4564 days

#1 posted 04-09-2010 08:20 PM

Wow, cool little project, well done!

-- Bob A in NJ

View SnowyRiver's profile


51458 posts in 4046 days

#2 posted 04-09-2010 08:33 PM

Great project. Nice work.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3681 days

#3 posted 04-09-2010 08:40 PM

very niice little plane you have made
thank´s for telling some history from
the planes developing thrugh the
earlyer centuries
I didn´t new they used metal soles


View jm82435's profile


1285 posts in 4308 days

#4 posted 04-09-2010 08:55 PM

That is a cute little plane.
I am sure it just a matter of time before a post like this gets me fired up and make my first one. do you have build pictures? The box is a nice touch too. Good to see what you have created. Thanks for the post.

-- A thing of beauty is a joy forever...

View rwyoung's profile


412 posts in 4037 days

#5 posted 04-09-2010 09:12 PM

That is pretty darn neat! Glad you included the picture of your (?) hand for scale.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View stefang's profile


16875 posts in 3900 days

#6 posted 04-09-2010 10:38 PM

Very interesting and well done reproduction. It demonstrates how advanced woodworking really was so long ago.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View bigike's profile


4057 posts in 3854 days

#7 posted 04-09-2010 10:46 PM

another great looken plane!

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3852 days

#8 posted 04-09-2010 10:49 PM

I absolutely love your work. I have been fascinated bt your planes and really appreciate you sharing them with us.



View Alex Lane's profile

Alex Lane

553 posts in 4456 days

#9 posted 04-09-2010 10:50 PM

I think if I wanted a plane like this, I’d either have to learn how to make my own or get a better paying job!! If you ever want to send me one of these out of the goodness of your heart, let me know!!!

Great work!

-- Alex...builder of wooden wings for vintage sport biplanes...I'm your wingman :)

View donjoe's profile


1360 posts in 3596 days

#10 posted 04-10-2010 02:55 AM

A lovely plane indeed, down to the nice box to store it in.

-- Donnie-- listen to the wood.

View Cantputjamontoast's profile


416 posts in 3998 days

#11 posted 04-11-2010 05:07 PM

Thank you for posting that.
Pleasure to see.
Nice job

-- "Not skilled enough to wipe jam on toast!"

View aurora's profile


234 posts in 3818 days

#12 posted 04-25-2010 08:07 PM

Gorgeous job Yorkie !!! All your plane projects are works of art, we appreciate the your “schooling” us on the historical context of your work.

View YorkshireStewart's profile


1130 posts in 4467 days

#13 posted 05-09-2010 10:08 PM

Thanks very much one and all for your comments. I get the feeling that the so-called Dark Ages were far from ‘dark’. Those people knew what they were doing!

-- Res severa verum gaudium - True pleasure is a serious business.

View dubsaloon's profile


622 posts in 3359 days

#14 posted 12-29-2010 12:56 PM

Well done plane. It has a small blade but would get the job done. Thanks for sharing

-- The works of evil people are not the problem. It is the "Good" people standing by and watching not speaking up. Dubsaloon

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