In Chris Schwarz Blog, Required Reading

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“Ye Cabinet-makers! Brave workers in wood,
As you work for the ladies, your work must be good
And Joiners and Carpenters, far off and near,
Stick close to your trades, and you’ve nothing to fear.”

– from “Mechanics’ Song” by Absalom Aimwell

I’m fascinated by Roman handplanes. Ever since I stumbled on the form while reading W.L. Goodman’s “The History of Woodworking Tools” I’ve wondered a lot about the tools and their unusual grips. A couple years ago I even built a Roman-style plane (check the links here and here).

So when the December 2008 issue of The Chronicle showed up on my doorstep yesterday I was immediately sucked into an article about 15 of these planes, most of them discovered quite recently. The article, by Derek A. Long, shows that Roman planes were more diverse than we thought. He shows planes with wooden soles instead of the traditional metal. Plus, tools with different grips and shapes. And there are lots of photos to puzzle over.

As a result, I wasn’t much help with the kids’ homework last night.

There was lots in that issue that encouraged bad parenting. There’s an interesting article about the mechanics’ societies in early America and the cool certificates they issued their members (membership could be quite expensive , a week’s wage). These certificates were embellished with symbols of the trades, including a beehive for industriousness, Archimedes for the combination of the intellectual and the practical, and plumb squares to represent (at times) the balance between commerce and the service to the community.

These societies could even have their own songs (quoted above).

You can subscribe to The Chronicle by joining the Early American Industries Association (called the EAIA for short) for just $35 a year. If you are interested in traditional tools, the EAIA and the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association are the two best organizations to join. Their publications are excellent. And the research they support helps illuminate the past.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to start composing a Woodworking Magazine song. Anyone know a word that rhymes with “magazine?”

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 14 comments
  • Bill


    It’s possible the attribution to Aimwell is questionable. Aimwell is clearly a pseudonym for Benjamin Russell, whose identity can be confirmed. To make up your own mind, please see!+Brave+workers+in+wood%22&source=web&ots=kXoXpM3hj2&sig=4ZEMrlVZEVfcFSVm0I9VSJZnieM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA51,M1



  • Chris C

    I am embarrassed to say that the previous tune is likely
    "Stairway to Heaven". Or Heaveen?

  • LizPf

    Oh, the perils of a busy life … all my rhymes were taken, except one … Visine. And you could stretch to extreme, which brings up possibilities:

    There’s a worker in wood
    Who thought she was no good
    So she’s buying a Woodworking magazine
    (and she’s buying a Woodworking magazine)

    When she gets it, she knows
    If the Rockler is closed
    With the right bid she can buy a new old plane
    (Ooh, yes a Number 4 smoothing plane)

    And so forth … but the kids and *my* homework helping duties call.

    [Bonus points if you can guess the tune.]

    And Chris, if you have any more smoothers to give away … you have my e-mail {grin}

  • Mike Siemsen

    cuisine, caffeine, machine, hygene, Norm Abraheem….

  • Pedro Lanhas

    Alternative ending:

    She asked: where the heck have you been?

  • Pedro Lanhas

    Nice wooden plane.

    Rhymes for the whole word are difficult for a foreigner, but for the ending try this:

    Teen, Christine, haloween, 13, 14, 15, 16,etc…, canteen, I have been, Mr. Bean, James Dean,

    My uncle was a carpenter, since he was a teen;
    He started quite young, I think around 13;
    Once he built a kitchen for a school’s canteen,
    The cook was big and strong, called Christine;
    She asked: who made this cabinets? Mr. Bean?

    Out he went and signed a woodworking magazine;
    He improved as fast as I have ever seen;
    Now the cook doesn’t look so mean;
    She says: Yu’r the best carpenter I have ever seen.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Now *that* is the most helpful comment of the week.

    My song will write itself!


  • Karl

    Real rymes:
    Ball peen, mezzanine, Constantine, Dramamine, labyrinthine, Jimmy Dean, quarantine, dancing queen, that’s obscene, melamine.

    Poor form rhymes:
    Oxygen(e), Europe’n

    Looking forward to hearing the anthem.


  • Christopher Schwarz


    Mine is about 10-1/2" long. I used a basic Krenov plane kit from Hock tools as the basis, which got me close.


  • Jeremy Kriewaldt


  • Joe Jerkins

    Hi Chris,

    I too was blown away by the article in the Chronicle. I immediately added making a Roman plane to the top of my project list (it’s a long list with many "in process" projects). The picture above appears to be either longer than the one you made or with a different height to length ratio. Would you be willing to share the dimensions of your plane?

    As to your question, the only 3 syllable words ending in -ene I could think of that rhyme aren’t generally good for poetry – gasoline, kerosene, …


  • Christopher Schwarz

    Good question. After a year or so of using it I shipped it off to a woodworker who needed a good smoothing plane. I’ll have to ask him.

    In the one year I had it the plane moved about as much as any wooden stock plane. No more. No less.


  • The Village Carpenter

    How has the Roman plane you built held up over the years–has it stayed flat with seasonal changes and do you still use it?

  • Raney



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