D.L. Barrett & Sons Planemakers


Meet the young (he’s just 18) and skilled hands behind a near-perfect tool.
By Christopher Schwarz
Pages: 66-69

From the February 2009 issue #174
Buy this issue now

While modern carpenters might show off at the jobsite by driving up in a fully loaded pickup truck, the 19th-century cabinetmaker did the same thing when he pulled out his plow plane from his tool box.

Plow planes were usually the most expensive tool in an early woodworker’s tool kit. While all the other tools in the woodworker’s chest might be iron or beech, the plow plane could be made from an exotic wood, be highly decorated and use complex adjustment mechanisms. In fact, sometimes a particularly fancy plow plane would be presented to an employee as a retirement gift.

To me, it’s amazing that all this effort went into a tool that really did only one thing: cut grooves.

Because plow planes were some of the fanciest tools made, they also are one of the most collectible today.

Unlike a number of tool collectors I know, I don’t have a full-blown plow-plane obsession. Ebony screw-arm plows with ivory tips and silver fittings are beautiful and ingenious, but I’ve always thought that their flashy details somehow diminish them because they make them too nice to use – like a table saw with a solid gold top.

In my work, I’ve always used metal-bodied plow planes, though they eject shavings into your hands, are cold and seem heavier than their wooden cousins. The overriding advantage of the metal plows, however, is that their fences are easier to keep parallel to the tool’s skate than a typical wooden screw-arm plow plane.

As a result, what I’ve always wanted is a wooden-bodied plow that has a robust and easy-to-adjust fence. My search ended last year when I judged a toolmaking contest put

Meet the young (he’s just 18) and skilled hands behind a near-perfect tool. on by the WoodCentral.com web site and sponsored by Lee Valley Tools.

For that contest, we judged more than 60 tools that had been brought into Lee Valley’s board room in Ottawa, Ontario. The moment I walked into that room my eyes locked onto a beech-bodied plow plane with ebony arms and a simple metal fence-locking mechanism.


From the February 2009 issue #174
Buy this issue now