Chris Schwarz's Blog

Geeky Scrub-plane Data

Let’s talk about the historical and controversial scrub plane. First a little history, then the controversy.

Whenever I talk about the fore plane, the handplane used to get boards to rough dimension and flatness, there’s always someone handy who asks if the fore plane is the same as a scrub plane.

They’re not the same. A scrub plane has a shorter sole and a cutter that has an edge that is far more rounded. Traditionally, scrub planes were a European tool (the Germans called them Bismarks or Cow planes), and fore planes were an English tool. Yet Stanley made two metal-bodied scrub planes between 1896 and 1962, and Lie-Nielsen and Veritas make them today. So confusion abounds as to which tool one should use for roughing lumber to build furniture.

You can use both. I think the longer sole of the fore plane makes it easier to get a board flat, but I’ve seen people who can do wonders with a scrub.

OK, that’s the history. A few years ago I wrote an article for the Fine Tool Journal that discussed a little theory of mine that the metal scrub plane was more useful for working down the edges of boards on a job site than for working down the faces. And I have taken a beating for that article from a few people. And hey, that’s fine. I like a good airing of the grievances. (The original article is available at Wiktor Kuc’s fine site.)

Recently a reader, Jeff Ross, passed me a few entries from old Stanley catalogs that helps shed further light on the scrub plane and its historical role. It turns out that it was used both to remove wood from edges and from faces. Here is the text from an 1898 Stanley catalog:

“It is particularly adapted for roughing down work before using a jack or other Plane.”

OK, that sounds like it was used in a cabinetshop for processing rough lumber: Point: Critics. Let’s read an entry from a 1914 catalog:

“With these planes the user can quickly plane down to a rough dimension any board that is too wide to conveniently rip with a hand saw, an operation that is sometimes called …?hogging.’ “

OK, that sounds like working on edges. Point: me, mostly, I think. And then the 1958 catalog:

“A time and energy saver! When you have to remove quite a bit of wood from the edge or surface of a board , not enough to rip with a saw but a great deal to plane , use a Scrub Plane…. Use it to back out base boards, true up sub flooring, size rough timber, clean gritty boards etc.”

OK, that sounds like carpentry work, mostly, a view supported by a retired union carpenter I interviewed a few years ago. So I’d say that the scrub plane was probably used for any operation that was rough. Use it on edges. Use it on faces. Use it anywhere you need to remove a bunch of material in a hurry.

Any more theories or evidence are always welcome.

– Christopher Schwarz