Tool Test: Wooden Miter Plane from Philly Planes
Vintage wooden-bodied miter planes are fairly rare birds (at least in the Midwest), so I was quite eager to try a new one made by Philip Edwards in England.
While I’m well-versed in metal-bodied miter planes, I had to educate myself a bit on the history of the wooden ones before putting Edward’s plane to use in the Popular Woodworking shop.
John M. Whelan’s seminal book “The Wooden Plane” (Astragal Press) says that miter planes appeared in tool catalogs for about 100 years, starting in 1826. There are two major variations: an English tool with the iron bedded with the bevel facing up , like a metal-bodied miter plane. And an American version with the iron bedded with the bevel down.
Edward’s miter plane is mostly in the American style. The massive 1/4″-thick cutter is bedded at 38Ã?Â° with the bevel facing down, like a traditional bench plane. The miter plane’s iron is secured with a simple wedge and does not have a cap iron, sometimes called a chipbreaker.
This turns out to be a good arrangement. Because the bevel is facing down in this tool, there isn’t much of the wooden sole supporting the blade up by the tool’s cutting edge. So the thick cutter is a must to prevent blade chatter.
However, the plane does have a bit of English in it. Edwards added a strip of dense end grain directly in front of the mouth of the tool , an English feature, according to Whelan. Because of the way miter planes are used, this is an excellent detail.
Miter planes can be used for a wide variety of chores , not just for trimming the short grain of a miter. The block-like shape of the tool allows it to be used on a shooting board for trimming end grain. Also, the plane serves as an excellent large-scale block plane , it’s excellent for trimming the long-grain edges of boards. And the tool’s 10″-long sole helps ensure your edges stay straight.
All in all, the plane is quite well-made. The wedge and the wooden body (called the “stock”) are goncalo alves, a fairly dense tropical hardwood. The corners of the tool have handsome wide chamfers, like many early wooden-bodied planes. And the plane weighs in at 2 lbs. 12 oz., which gives it the kind of mass I like in a plane designed for a shooting board.
As far as fit and finish go, it is a quality tool, though not as refined as a plane from Clark & Williams in Eureka Springs, Ark. Nor does the Edward’s plane have the same price tag. Edwards charges 85 pounds Sterling for the tool (with the sorry state of the U.S. dollar these days, that’s about $170, a good price for a tool of this quality).
My only difficulty with the plane came while I set it up. The wooden stock had moved during its trip across the Atlantic and the sole needed to be trued up. A few minutes on a sheet of sandpaper adhered to some granite and the tool was ready to go. Truing the sole of any of these tools will tend to open up the mouth of the tool, and the mouth on the tester went from infinitesimally small to about 1/64″, which is still a very tight mouth.
For now, Edwards is a part-time planemaker. His day job is carpentry , fitting kitchens, hanging doors and the like. Edwards also has been writing articles for British woodworking magazines (Good Woodworking and The Woodworker) and plans to become a full-time planemaker in 2008. His web site , PhillyPlanes.co.uk , already offers a variety of wooden planes and accessories, including a sweet mini panel-raising plane that I reviewed in the February 2008 issue of Popular Woodworking.
Both of these tools are excellent workers, and I recommend them without any reservations. If these tools are any indication, I think Edwards is going to succeed in his new venture.
– Christopher Schwarz