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Recent Bios FAQ

71716 Don McConnell <Don.McConnell@a...> 1999‑11‑29 Re:Top Irons

I want to thank Todd Hughes for responding with:

> ....The 1767 ad in the Philadelphia's Penn. Chronicle was placed
>by S. Caruthers, one of Phila. earliest plane makers, it in part
>read "Double iron planes of late construction far exceeding
>any tooth planes or uprights whatsoever for cross grained or
>curled stuff"

As Todd notes, this came from Pollaks _A Guide to the Makers of
American Wooden Planes_. Under the listing for Samuel Caruthers.
Since I didn't know who had placed the ad I hadn't known to look
there. Under my nose all the time. =:^0

Without getting into the specifics of the claim (at least for now),
this does address one question I'd had. Specifically, I had
wondered if a part of the acceptance of double iron planes was due
to their being actively promoted by planemakers. Seems we have the
beginnings of an answer to this.

The mention of "late construction" indicates to me that Caruthers
was promoting a fairly new product to his market. Stands in some
contrast to an ad placed not quite 20 years later (April 18, 1786)
by Thomas Napier in the _Pennsylvania Mercury_. In it he simply
lists the various bench planes: first single iron, then ditto,
double iron. No targeted promotion at all.

Also, I did want to clarify the issue of comparative costs a bit. I
don't believe there is any real dispute that double irons and double
iron planes cost more than comparable single irons or planes. A
quick survey of any of the relevant catalogues makes this strikingly

Now for a bit of a detour, which will segue, I think, to a
clarification I wanted to make.

I also wanted to thank Todd for pointing out in an earlier message
that the 1791 Christopher Gabriel inventory shows a higher cost for
the top iron than the comparable plane iron. I hadn't noticed that

In that message, he also wrote of the Gabriel inventory:

> ... Except for the coopers irons it appears that all the irons
>sold by Gabriel were for chip breakers,and this was in 1791 ...

At first I was puzzled why Todd would say this, but then realized
that he'd probably based it on a note the Rees' made with regard to
the list (correct me if I'm wrong). The list begins with several
"Plane Irons" of various widths, about which the Rees' say:

     "This and the next twenty entries are plane irons. As with most
of the more numerous tools, these are counted in dozens. ... It is
not clear whether these are cut (i.e. slotted for attaching a cap
iron) or plain, but as the listing includes wide irons suitable for
try and jointer planes, it is probable that they were cut. Top (cap)
irons are listed separately below ..."

Most of the catalogues and price lists I've looked at list single
and cut irons at the same price (again, I can think of one excep-
tion). In which case, for inventory purposes (at least for
assessing monetary value), there would be no reason to separate
them out. The truth is, we don't know whether any or all of these
irons are cut (as the Rees' themselves acknowledge). Though some
surely were. So, why would they  conclude that *all* of them
probably were?

For what it's worth, if you compare the various quantities between
the Plane Irons at the beginning of the list and the comparable
width Top Irons following, there usually are more Plane Irons than
Top Irons. This may not mean anything, but certainly doesn't lend
any additional evidence toward concluding that *all* the irons
were cut.

In other words, I feel the Rees' are assuming a fact which isn't
in evidence. I'm not intending disrespect to the Rees' (their
contributions speak for themselves), rather, I bring this up because
I think the presumption behind such a conclusion demonstrates the
degree to which we've all been conditioned on this topic.

Which brings me to the point I was trying to make by comparing the
price/cost of a "premium" grade single iron bench plane with that of
a common grade double iron bench plane. I had already given one
example in the "Shoppin' at Shannon's" message some time back, but
I want to give one more in the hopes of making my intent clearer.

The 1910 Ohio Tool Co. catalogue lists their "regular beechwood"
Double Iron, Polished Start Smooth Plane at 90 cents. A few pages
later they list their Applewood (Finely made, with Polished Starts)
Single Iron Smooth plane at $1.30

My purpose in this comparison is not to get into a detailed analysis as to
why the Applewood plane cost so much more. I know I'm comparing
apples with oranges, so to speak. ;-) Rather, it's to point out that,
as late as 1910, some woodworkers were making a conscious decision
to purchase a single iron plane, though a less expensive double iron
plane was readily available. I think it's interesting to actually
consider why this would be the case.

Don McConnell
Knox County, Ohio

Recent Bios FAQ