Anyone recognize these little tools? If you are into violin making or bow making, you should.
If you look close at the picture, you can see very subtle cuts (looks more like a change in color) in the middle of the walnut board. That’s how fine these planes can work when set properly. Click on the images for a close view.
This set we have had in the shop a long time. They were acquired by George Wilson, the first music instrument master at CW, in his violin making days years ago. The brass ones are set up thus: one is compassed, meaning convex-soled with a flat blade, the other is flat-soled with a convex blade.
The bigger iron bodied plane, intended for cello work, is both compass-soled with a convex blade.
The little iron plane is termed a bow maker’s plane, made by George Wilson years ago amongst many other items for our trade shops (including the bi-fold rules in these photos). It allows the shaping of violin and cello bows, as the name implies.
While these tools are mainly the province of the violin maker, I use them frequently for the small, precision situations that arise in the spinet work here.
There is no doubt that these planes go back to the 18th century. Here is Diderot’s plate, from the Encyclopedie‘s section on musical instruments:
Additionally, follow this link to luthier Kevin Lee’s site that has his pictures of the tools owned by Antonio Stradivari, housed in the Stradivari museum in Cremona, Italy. Among them are “finger” planes. Thanks to Kevin for permission to link up to these photos.
I was pleasantly surprised recently to find that CW had a batch of violin planes in its tool collection. They are all compass-soled to handle the sculpting of the hollow interiors of violin front and back plates. We’re not sure how old the bodies are, but two of the blades are from the 1930s at the earliest (thanks to Jane Rees for a quickie research of the “C. F. Johnson” name stamped on two of the blades). The bodies could be older and the blades replacements. No real way to tell now. Here they are:
The two “Johnson” blades are toothed, which was an even bigger surprise for me. It would make sense in theory, allowing their use in any manner and grain direction. Scrapers would remove the scratches. This all returns back to my post on toothing planes. I have no experience using toothed blades at such a low angle as these planes have. Museum protocol does not allow me to test with these old ones. Here are the blades:
Any comments with further information about this aspect are very welcome . Granted, these are 20th century blades, but it is an interesting issue.
How do these tools fit into our very un-violin oriented work here in the Hay shop?
Kaare Loftheim made full use of the bow and small compass plane for the veneer work on our Seaton chest reproduction. For example, the bow plane refined the center oval to final shape.
After the light/dark stringing was laminated around the oval, he trimmed the edge of the curved crossbanding pieces to precisely fit against the stringing.
These tools were indispensable for this work.
On my spinet, the large iron cello plane helped shape the concave section of the baseboard after rough sawing it out:
The bow plane helped finish the convex portion of the same curve:
The bentside itself served as the template for tracing the curve and as the test piece for trial and error refinements of the fit with these small tools, scrapers and files.
The braces on the baseboard were glued and nailed overly long and cut back. I used the bow plane for final flushing of the ends to the edge of the bottom, working from both directions to avoid end grain tear-out.
These ends butt against their respective case walls, so again, their final shape was defined by fitting the case walls in place and testing. Trial and error again.
A combination of chisel work and the iron bow plane helped fit the soundboard liner on the backboard to its mate on the register. Here is the finished assembly, to give an idea of where the work was headed.
The liner was glued to the backboard prior to assembly. After rough chiseling the beveled end –
I further chiseled and planed out the bevel with the bow plane.
There are several sources for modern violin planes, from the regular hand tool companies to speciality instrument suppliers. The closest thing I’ve seen to the bow plane is a wooden one offered by Lee Valley. The bow makers out there may have some other resources which I don’t know about.
Very, very useful tools. Not just for the string instrument makers anymore!
PS. My hands are much improved, thanks to a couple of good hand therapists. Slowly coming back to work.