If you’ve read the couple of previous posts about the shaped edges of small metal plough and combination planes you’ll see that I’ve concluded that almost all the original blades from the main manufacturers were not supplied with squared edges that are rectangular in cross-section as you would expect, but are tapered from the back of the blade to the front –  that is to say a trapezoid shape viewed in cross-section.

Blade section


During manufacture, it’s obviously quicker (and ultimately cheaper) make square sections of steel on all sides; cutting an extra shape on it – like a trapezium – costs production money. The original manufacturers didn’t relieve the sides for the fun of it there was a reason – two reasons in fact.

  • First, the blades being mounted at about 45 degrees, a forward motion where only the front leading edge is in contact with the material as it travels presents less friction.
  • Second, less obvious but more important, is the essential cutting definition a clean side edge gives to the work.

Let’s explain that by comparing a plough plane blade with its bigger relative, the smoothing plane iron. Whatever method you use to sharpen a flat-bodied plane iron, it is essential to concentrate on fine-honing the meeting of the two angles along the cutting edge – the back and the bevel, after all, this is the cutting edge. Further, it is customary to ‘rock’ the edges on the stone to deliberately round them over – this relieves the sides and avoids the annoying ‘tram lines’ that edges produce on flat boards. This means that the blade’s cutting  action is deliberately furnished with a faint curve.

Getting back to explaining the second important reason about ploughs, combination planes, and by extension rebate planes, it is a function of the cut that the blade descends vertically in a trench. As well as cutting the base of the groove, the blade also needs to cut cleanly right across so that it leaves a smooth, straight, well-defined surface on the base and side. To do this the corner tips are one of the most important – and often overlooked – parts of the blade. A blunt corner tip will inhibit cutting and leave a ragged wall to the groove. A badly deformed corner can cause the direction of the cut to wander away from its intended course.

Each corner tip comprises the junction of not two, but three edges; that is the cutting edge, the sloping side of the bevel and the point where these two edges meet the back of the blade. In normal use, the bevel and backs are both honed to a good clean surface, so why leave the last one – the side – with the same ragged edge with which it left the factory?

This is the reason why, as well as polishing the backs, honing a cutting edge that is straight and at right angles to the sides, I also advocate stoning a good edge on the top of trapezoid side where it meets the polished back. It is only necessary to go this on the working part of the blade, say the last 1/2″ or so, but makes a huge difference to the performance of the plane and the quality of the cut.

If you use combination planes, I hope that you’ll find that it works for you.

On the subject of small metal plough and combination planes, (Record/Stanley 45/405/55 and the smaller Record 043, 044 050 etc.),   I recall reading recently that sharpening the sides of a modern metal plough (or combination) plane iron to provide a sharp aris was bad news.

The reason provided was that there’s a danger of the sideways thrust of the blade, as it descends in the cut, degrading the side walls in some way.

I can’t say that I followed that argument to a conclusion because all of these metal plough/combination planes work with the guidance of a side fence and all the user has to do – apart from providing the means of propulsion – is to maintain the thing vertical and keep the side fence in contact with the face side or face edge. A depth-stop will level the groove at the required depth and a truly sharpened blade will give clean sides. Sideways cutting either intentional or not is not on the cards as far as I can see………………… but you may have an issue if the blade is not correctly sharpened.

If you have one of these planes with their dedicated sets of blades it’s worth taking them out to have a look at them.

What is there, in general, to note about them? How are they different to other plane blades?

  • First, they are all – across the range of manufacturers – 1/8″ thick and have been for many decades. This means that, although there may be slots or grooves for the several types of fine adjustment, if you go to the plane and remove these adjusting screws, many are interchangeable and it’s easy to adjust the depth of a blade.
  • The metal tends to be softer than you would find in, say, a cabinet chisel of the same width. This makes them a little easier to sharpen; by the same token they blunt quicker. I don’t know why this is the case, though it’s possible to harden the steel if it is a problem (and if you know what you’re doing as a metal-worker!).
  • What about the sides? The probability is that they will not be parallel. With only a few exceptions almost all the sides of my combination plane blades are angled from the back to the bevel side. From my limited knowledge of geometry the shape is called a Trapezium. Some are steeper than others but almost all are angled to some extent. There’s only a degree or two in it, and you need to be looking for it to spot it but the sides and edges of these dedicated blades do not form a right angle when viewed in cross-section.

Don’t believe me? Try it for yourselves. Clean any gunge off the edges and hold three blades, backs uppermost, and view from the front with the sides touching; as they lie with the sides touching you should see a pronounced curve across the tops. It can also seen with a small engineers try-square held against a light.

Invariably, when new, the blades came from the factories with the cutting bevels ground to about 30 degrees; they should have been (and need to be) dead square across the cutting edge; the sides were formed but not ground and, as I mentioned, offset at a slight angle. As an afterthought, a good many of the blades supplied with Record planes had a sort of shellac coating to prevent rust, much of which persists to this day on blades that have never been used.

Here’s an example: three blades made by Record to fit their No: 044 plough plane.


I’ve selected these three from the same set to illustrate the point.

The top one has never been used. It still has the protective coating on the surface and there are a few patches where you can see that it has rubbed off.

The one in the centre also still has its layer of shellac or whatever it is, but look at the edge of the blade. This is how it comes from the factory; both top and bottom faces are parallel, but the side edges are unfinished from the grinder.

The bottom one is the only one to have been used. Although some of the coating remains, it has been cleaned off the parts which men business; the tip is square across, sharp and the sides have also been cleaned on a flat diamond plate; the sharp aris T the junction of the side and back is deliberately left sharp.


It’s tricky to get a good camera view but I’ve deliberately tried to show the effects of the side angles in a photograph. Here are the three blades again, arranged in the same order, bevels uppermost with their sides touching; . If these edges  were square all the way round it would form a flat line against the engineers square. You can easily see the effect of the slightly beveled sides in the pronounced curvature.

© HandMadeInWood 2014

It is the same with these three dedicated Record 043 blades – all the sides slope. All of the blades seen so far have been original to their planes, which means that they are at least 50 years old – probably a lot older  – and the same bevel is present on just about all of this type of blade that I have in the workshop. On some blades the angle is a little more pronounced than on others, but we are only talking about 1 or 2 degrees at the most – it’s very slight.

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………..as if to t to disprove the point, here are three blades that are actually square all round and ignore the Trapezium rule. These are very good blades, but sadly not of any age nor original to the planes. They are newly made replacement sets for missing Record 043 blades.

So, that leaves the question…. Why do the old blades have that Trapezium shape?  I think that there’s a good reason for it. ……….. which I’ll ponder until next time.

Ever since I did ‘carpentry’ or ‘woodwork’ as a lad in school I’ve had a soft spot for metal ploughs and combination panes.

In those days the school woodwork teacher had a high desk in front of a glass cabinet full of the trophy-tools that were seldom, if ever, taken out and used. I can distinctly remember that among these was an immaculate No 45 combination plane, all shining Nickel, sitting in splendour like Snoopy on top of its box. I think that my gaze must have been fixed on it each week. I can’t for the life of me remember the teacher’s name (most of them were best forgotten, anyway), but the memory of that plane endures and I cannot pass up a good metal combination / plough plane, so it’s no surprise that I have accumulated quite a few over the years. One of the advantages of doubling up on tools, be it planes like the combinations planes that require fence and depth settings, to simple mortise gauges is that if I make a large piece of furniture using multiple joints or with more than one size of groove I can set each one for a particular cut and lock the settings tight for the duration of the job……….. it goes without saying that each one needs to be labelled! Whilst it may be extravagant on tools, it does avoid the annoying differences setting and re-setting fences and depth stops each time.


Coming right down to earth and up to the present, the Record 043 plough plane (and the little No: 040 as well) has a reputation for being a bit of a toy, probably due to its small size and the fact that they were widely used in schools – that is in the days when schools taught woodwork. In the picture, the Record 043 is on the left, a Marples M40 on the right – this one came with its own pack of three blades.

According to the available information, they were made, (with some restrictions imposed on reserved materials, notably Nickel, during the war), from the 1930’s until the 1970s. Although they have not been made for forty-odd years, Record 043s appear regularly on the used tools market in the UK; A large number appear with their original boxes. Even if they are seemingly scarce and expensive elsewhere in the world a good, lightly used model from, say the 1950s or ’60s and still in its box, will sell for around  £30 to £40 here.  Incomplete and heavily used versions go for a lot less. Originally this one on the left would have retailed in the UK at 34/- in old money; that’s pre-decimal dosh, (sorry, I meant money) before 1971 and translates, literally, to £1.70 today. That’s inflation for you.

Compared to the bigger and more elaborate ploughs from Record, such as the No: 044, No: 050 and  No: 405, they were indeed small in size; only the No: 040 is as small, and comes with only one fence-bar but the blades are interchangeable. If you ignore the various adjustment screws, most blades are interchangeable through the sizes and across manufacturers.

The Record 043 is ideal for small hands because of their size  and excellent maneuverability with short pieces of work which made them perfect for schools. There were almost identical versions made by companies with a connection to record, such as Marples and Rapier and even, I’m told, a 1950s cheap Russian knock-off, though I’ve never seen one.

What can it do?

It can perform drawer-bottom grooves as a matter of course and is capable of quite substantial grooves across the range exceeding the widths of the three small cutters that come with it. Even so, its depth of cut is limited to a maximum of 1/2″ (12 mm) with the depth stop removed. Even so, that’s quite respectable for a plane this size.

Due to its short length, and on the rare occasions when a blind groove is required between mortises in order to hold a captive panel, they can finish blind into a mortise slot, provided that the mortise is cut out first and is as long as the nose section of the plane which is  1-1/8″  (27 mm).

(It is not unknown for the front section of the nose to be reduced slightly by some users, so if you see one on the second-hand market with the front 1/2″ (12 mm) of the nose cut away you’ll know what it’s been used for!)

If I need a single short section of plough, this is the plane I reach for first because it is quick to set up and easy to use. It’s only challenged on wider grooves and large runs; on those occasions I reach for its bigger cousins.

For example, it is ideal for cutting out the stepped profile for short runs of small mouldings. Where I may only need a one-off 5 or 6 feet length run it can do the basic stepped shape that can be the form of the required moulding prior to working to a finish with some hollows and rounds, all done very quickly and without fuss.


So, what did you get for your thirty-four bob in those days?

You received a cardboard box, plus everything in the picture, except the wooden fence – which I consider essential; but any woodworker could make one of those.

A lot of these planes get used without the wooden fence, but in my opinion it really does improve the performance when it sits squarely on the side of the work. This one is a later model, as I said before, probably from the 1960s. Some of the previous types differed only in that the heads of the screws that hold the fence to the sliding rods had a flat head instead of the knurled  nut in this picture – I don’t know why or when exactly they made the changes but I think that the older nuts were easier to tighten with the fingers.

Two side rods 5-1/2″ (140 mm)  long and 9/32″ (7 mm) diameter join the sliding fence to the main body and a depth-stop are attached to the main body. Originally  plane was sold with only three Imperial size cutters: 1/8″, 3/16″ and 1/4″ ( 3.2 mm, 4.5mm and 6.4mm respectively). These dedicated  blades came with plain ends (minus the nibs and grooves for adjustment screws) that were rounded over at the point where they protrude – otherwise the ends of the blades can impact in the palm of the hands during use; believe me – it  can raise a blister or two. However, it’s worth pointing out that any straight bade from any of the various makes of plough or combination planes will fit this tool, within reason limited only by the  hardness of the material being cut. I have used blades that are up to 5/8″ (15 mm)  diameter in soft pine, though there’s a strong case to be made for using a larger plane when you get to this size. It wont accept curved or fluting cutters.


As an example of the extra width from other types of cutters, here it is fitted with a No: 17, 5/8″ cutter from a Stanley No: 45. It’s cutting a wide groove in a piece of relatively soft Mahogany. This was effortless with a good sharp blade, but I would find this difficult in harder wood such as Oak, for example. Additionally, as this plane only has a single point of contact – the skate – it is essential to keep it upright otherwise you’ll get a sloping base on the groove, but there does come a point where you need to reach for a bigger plane.

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The blades are retained by the small curved bracket with a retaining screw in the picture. This blade retainer hooks under a protruding fillet on the main body and the screw tightens down onto the top of the blade. This type of retainer is common to the Record No: 040,  No: 043 and No: 044 and is interchangeable with all these, including the same types of planes made and badged within the Record sphere of influence such as Marple, and Rapier.  They are a loose item they are frequently lost and it is essential to store the plane with one of the blades locked into place. Because the 1/4″ blade is the commonest in use, it’s not unusual to find second-hand versions for sale minus the other two blades. I’ve ‘modified’ mine slightly by attaching the blade bracket to the depth-stop by means of a short piece of braided Nylon cord attached with a pair of cable termination lugs – that way it doesn’t end up in the shavings when I take the blades out. In use the short cord tucks out-of-the-way. Having two of these in the workshop, I can say with some conviction that the two smaller blades, 1/8″ and 3/16″ are seldom if ever used.

Sets of the three blades are still being made for those that get lost or worn out over the years, but replacing the retaining bracket and depth stop is not easy. In short, they are scarce. The newer blades are straight-sided; in other words the rectangular section of the blade is made of 4 corners, each at 90 degrees. You may find that some older blades (typically pre-war) the sides are angled very slightly from the back to avoid friction and jamming in the sides of deep grooves. It’s not always easy to spot unless you are looking for it. Looking at a section of the blade, it resembles a key-stone shape (geometrically defined as Isosceles Trapezoid).  This seems to be a feature that has been largely abandoned nowadays.  You may spot this tapering effect in some older style British-made pig-sticker mortise chisels along the shank of the blade, from the tip to the handle; it allowed the chisel to sink very deep mortises without jamming in the sides.

Will it work ‘out of the box?’

Probably, though a lot of users identify some basic problems. Over the years, the Record 044, in common with many other types of cast metal tools went through – how can I put this politely   –  periods of ‘variations in manufacture’. Expressed another way, they started cutting corners in manufacture.

There are a couple of basic tasks to do to turn it into a precise little plane.

The first thing to consider is that corners were cut and while some of the castings went through a clean up prior to plating, the finer points in machining were gradually dropped. For example, I have not seen an example made after the 1950s where the bottom of the skate (which is in constant contact with the wood) is free of transverse milling marks. Sometimes they are quite pronounced and  resemble the milling on the edge of a coin. All this will add to friction during planing, especially when they fill up with dirt and resin. The fix is simple, just involving a little elbow-grease and a flat plate with abrasive papers. With the blades out, run the base in a straight line, keeping it vertical at all times work down through all the grits until it is straight and smooth from toe to heel. Alternatively, you can use flat diamond plates. As well as getting rid of the marks, this exercise will also flatten the skate along its length. Finally, remove any sharp burr from the skate’s edges. Once done, you should never need to repeat this exercise and it makes a noticeable difference to the plane’s handling.

Next, as I mentioned, you need to fit it with a wooden fence, about  3/4″ to 1″ (20 to 25 mm) depth is sufficient. The metal fence only protrudes 5/16″ (8 mm) below the level of the cutting edge – this is all that’s in contact with the edge of the board in use and can generate some degree of wobble. It has two small holes for screws and although it works without it, this addition  makes a tremendous difference; to the handling and stability of the plane.

Are there any problems in Use?

Straight-grained stock shavings invariably curl upwards and out of the plane but there is no escapement for shavings to the right of the blade and with the depth stop fitted, there is sometimes a problem of shavings jamming.


To be absolutely fair, this occurs with all types of plough or combination plane, not just this one and needs  careful selection of the wood to avoid curly grain, though there are ways to avoid this problem with some judicious pre-cutting.

If you have big hands, it has a tendency to disappear into the folds of the palm. If you look again at the top picture you will see that I have left the rods protruding about 2″ on the right side of the plane; I find that this allow the index and middle fingers of the hand to straddle the plane’s body, resting the rounded ‘handle’ into the palm. You need, of course to ensure that the protruding cutter end is suitably rounded over or padded. This is, in my opinion, the most comfortable way to grip it.

So, is it a must-have tool?

Well, all I’m going to say in conclusion is that it would certainly be in the bag of bits I’d grab if the place went up in flames….. I’ll leave you to judge how good it is for yourself if you manage to get your hands on one.

Nothing to do with woodwork this time, more an exploration of the absurd aspects of some of the comments that crop up from time to time.

As this is a woodworking blog in the main, I do like to keep it all in context as well as relevant to the subject. However, some are completely unintelligible and in their own way, very entertaining.

I have a sense of the absurd and I have gathered a few of the more entertaining ramblings at random, lifted complete, dodgy spelling and all, from the original,  which was trashed.

First up, I think that this one originated in Brazil…..

Do anyone mind basically quote a number of your posts provided that I offer credit as well as sources back internet? My weblog is in the identical region regarding interest while yours and my guests would genuinely reap the benefits of many from the info an individual provide right here. Please let me know within the event that this ok along. Numerous cheers!

Whilst this offering posed an inscrutable riddle:

Do real estate also apply?

I feel deeply for this guy’s anguish………

Glasses were not comfortable in Sun and size was also big for me. It is non polorized glasses thus not as comfortable as it should be

It is neither  ‘Finnegan’s Wake nor Edward Lear………….. but this pinnacle of automatic prose may keep you awake at night.

It took the technology pointing to pouring air into cushion.
There are lots because of art auctions, nearly on the vast web and off, the fact feature this classification of American Asia artwork.


…… and a guy flogging knock-off fake handbags, provided this gem:

Your website each day understand everyone in the family likely carries their best dish, sadly may possibly that everyone will have a totally different belief that that they which experts claim sink in addition.

This one is truly absurd  –  my favourite in some respects:

Hello, I am writing in an unusual case … Some time ago, I used your services, and one of your employees face was familiar to me. At dinner with my wife, it turned out that he was a burglar, who 5 years ago broke into our home!!! This is ridiculous!!! How you can hire criminals? I found at least 3 bad entries for him at website for background check!! I am sure there are more!!! Please do something about it, things like that are ridiculous!!

Then there’s this little gem…..

Bills since 2010 and appeared in 18 games with seven starts during his tenure

I’ll conclude with true erudition………………

When some one searches for his vital thing, so he/she wishes to be available that
in detail, therefore that thing is maintained over here.

I hope that it’s provided a smile…If anyone has any idea as to hidden meanings, keep it hidden!

Socket chisels have been in use for, probably, centuries. If there are very large frames using large mortises these beasts will stand up to the continuous vigorous hammering.

Lie Nielsen brought out their socket chisels some years ago and it seems that Stanley intent on a bit of heritage-chasing resurrected a set of  750  ‘Sweetheart’ clones to compete.

Since then there’s been a few anguished cries about the socket and handles parting company on a regular basis and it’s a supreme inconvenience when your chisel parts company with its handle, resulting in damage to the cutting edge or even bloodshed.

Well, the unwelcome news is that handles are going to do that anyway.  It stands to reason – the tapering conical wooden handle is a friction fit into a tapering conical metal socket. The metal expands with a rising temperature and the wood shrinks as ambient humidity goes down……….. they part company.

The fact is that the socket-handle junction on a chisel was always intended to come apart. Indeed, some of the modern socket chisels are sold, intentionally with replacement handles to enable the same chisel to be used for paring.

Traditionally, frame carpenters making large structures in wood were journeymen: literally free-lance workers journeying from location to location, from job to job, hence the ability to remove handles enables the tools to be more effectively stowed for travel was an advantage.  On a large set of building frames with continuous, heavy hammering it’s not unreasonable to change handles every few days. Some may have been reinforced on the ends with iron registers but most handles were made on the hoof from spare bits of material, shaped to the contours of the socket and replaced when split or worn out.

Unless you have a need to continually batter the daylights out of the things into hard material of need to take them apart for travel conventional, chisels with bolstered tangs are quite adequate. But you can’t escape the cost factor – socket-tools have always been expensive to buy for the simple reason that the forging process is more involved.

I did some big framing once and was able to acquire a few heavy mortice chisels with sockets; they were more substantial than the conventional pig-sticker style mortise chisel and I was able to compare the internal parts of the sockets with some of the newer variety. The older chisels are forged and  the cutting shank is hardened in the normal way but the socket end remains malleable and is either hot swaged into shape or beaten flat and then folded and the seam forge-welded.Made this way, even the factory produced chisels tend to have unique contours; the handle from one chisel will not fit into another.

Invariably the newer chisels are smaller in size and the socket apertures are drilled and milled to a smooth-sided, uniform shape – hence the ability to interchange handles.

All the handles can be loosened, if you need to, by tapping the side of the socket with a hammer; the forged and swaged sockets don’t release the bond with the handle as easily as the new ones, as shown by the regular complaints that they come apart at will and some of the solutions for keeping them together.

I’ve heard of all sorts of ideas put forward to prevent this separation from happening, from epoxy based glues – a permanent fix – to anointing the mating parts of the socket and its wooden handle with hair-spray; (I must confess to a date check when I read that one).

Another very creditable suggestion that I came across involved using proprietary denture-fixing compound, which on the face of it, seems most plausible. I’ve still got my own gnashers, so I can’t vouch for the efficacy of that one, but an old craftsman once mentioned traditional method before carpenters used hair-spray ……………….  but we’ll come to that later.


Here’s a few of my own socket-chisels to illustrate the point that differing forging methods gave differing and quite wide-ranging handle adhesion….. or the lack of it. From the left, in no particular order, I’ve listed the size and the method of making the socket. I did try to clarify the issue with photos, but it is almost impossible to get a clear image down the socket, so you’ll have to put up with my description. There are a variety of makers, though the three mortise chisels at the left probably date from the 19th century, all except the modern production chisel on the right were bought over several years piecemeal, full of rust in junk shops and flea markets.

  • 5/16” Mortise chisel by W Marples. The blade is slightly tapered from the tip; the socket is round and internal lengthwise striations indicate that it was formed with a swage.
  • 3/8” Mortise chisel by Wm Marples. As with the previous chisel, the striations are length wise and appear swaged.
  • 15/32 Mortise chisel with a very faint remaining stamp on the shank that appears to be ‘Butcher Sheffield’. The only Butcher that I can find in Sheffield is mentioned in W L Goodman, in business from the 1820s to about 1900. Probably not in the same quality league as the Marples’ chisels, this socket is an irregular oval shape, with a very rough, probably corroded interior. There is a distinct internal seam, so this socket may have been formed flat and folded with a forged seam along the top, visible internally, but ground away on the outside.
  • 1 ¼” Beveled edge socket chisel by C E Jennings; also with an internal seam suggesting that it was folded and forged.
  • 5/8” Bevel edge chisel by Lie Nielsen. This one is drilled and milled. The internal surface is relatively smooth although there are some horizontal striations. The long handle was made by me to the exact size of the short handle supplied with it.

The perspective in the photo makes the handles appear longer than they are but all in this line-up were made by me. They will all come off if required, though in general the Mortise chisels have a tenacious fit and need a generous tap. Because the new chisel on the right is smooth-bore, as it were, it parts company readily with every handle introduced to it.

For a good fit on any socket chisel,stand the chisels socket-down in some boiling water for a few minutes, whack the handle in when hot and allow it to cool.

……..and the old carpenter’s trick for keeping the handle in the socket?

Smear some linseed oil on the mating part of the handle and dip it into builder’s sharp sand – tap it home and use it.  Either way they’ll stay together and you can keep your hairspray for your coiffure!

It seems to me that there has been some serious money spent acquiring very pricey planes by well-known makers in order to spend hours enthusing about the quality of the shavings produced.

You know what I mean. Perfect micro-ribbons of wood that eventually end up, most probably, in the scrap bin.

Well, for all those wood-shavings enthusiasts, Spill planes are probably the only device that is used to intentionally produce a nice, curly and uniform shaving as its objective – with this thing it’s not the quality of  the surface of the wood, but the substantial shaving as the finished article that’s important.

Before most of us abandoned open fires for central heating, before instant lighting was the norm and at a time when tobacco smoke was everywhere, we had the need for fire…… well, in the main we had fire, but more precisely we had the need for transferring it from one place to another. From the hearth to the candle, pipe or gas mantle.

This is where the spill comes in. At one time spills were ubiquitous. Every parlour and kitchen had them. In the 19th century, matches were becoming available but were relatively expensive to begin with. In the 18 and 19th centuries old soldiers and sailors, on the bread-line and just one step ahead of the workhouse, sold spills door to door for pennies.

R A Salaman describes both hand-held spill planes and those used inverted on the bench or with the fixed cutter uppermost, in his ‘Dictionary of Woodworking Tools’. There are illustrations of four types and he concludes with a brief description of the ‘Presto Patent Spill Machine’ which sounds very much like one made by Edward Preston Ltd.

Some of these spill planes have been seen on the ‘collectors’ market recently that were made by Preston. Edward Preston were one of the finest tool makers around as is proven by the prices that good quality Preston tools command today, even though they ceased trading as a company over 80 years ago. I have some Preston tools and despite some being well over a century old, they perform as well now as when they were brand new. Moreover some of their designs were successfully continued by Record (C J Hampton Ltd.) who acquired the toolmaking side of the business when they ceased trading in 1932.

As well as tools and rules, Edward Preston had a line in ironmongers’ items – or if you prefer implements for the home. They offered tin-openers with a bull’s head motif; corkscrews of all sizes and functionality; button hooks, tweezers, key rings; then there were the kitchen implements; herb choppers, mezza lunas intended for fine-chopping vegetables, cucumber slicers, ice mallets, tobacco slicers…… the list goes on. Finally they had spill planes. These were intended to be fixed to a table top or hooked over the edge in an inverted position, in other words with the blade uppermost. In some respects it resembled a narrow version of the cucumber-slicer. A skewed blade was fixed inside a slot and narrow boards, about  1/2″ to 5/8″ wide slid along producing the spiral spill.

 Carpenters’ spill planes tended to be home-made or converted from other tools. I have seen lots of shapes and configurations, but in the main they resemble a hybrid rebate/chamfer plane where the iron is mounted on a reversed skew, that is with the pointed tip trailing on the right-hand side going forward as opposed to leading the cut as if in a skewed rebate plane. It has a large mouth on the side to enable the spill to be cleanly ejected through the right-hand side, onto the bench and is used on the ‘spring’, that is at an angle.

So, what makes a good spill?  Firstly, it is an overlapping spiral which means that it does not droop in use. Each turn of the shaving overlaps and supports the next in front. Next, the material board used for spiral spills needs to be knot free. A clear, straight-grained  board preferably of resinous pine that will support a flame readily but burn slowly and be probably no more than 18″ (450mm) in length and about 1/2″ to 3/4″ (12 – 20 mm) wide. This will produce a tightly wrapped spill about 6″ – 8″ long. The set of the plane blade needs to be heavy but will be determined by experience in use. You aim to produce spills that are consistently the same length and rigidity. Too thick and they will not spiral well; too thin and they will droop and burn too fast.

Here’s what I mean – going from right to left in the picture below. They were all produced from the same plane, the only change was the set of the blade:


  • The first two at the right are too thick and won’t curl well.
  • The third one is better, but the curl is not good enough – it doesn’t overlap.
  • The next four are too thin but getting there.
  • Finally, after an adjusting tap on the blade, the last three are just right. The start of the spill tapers outwards – each turn overlaps and gives rigidity.

After that it’s a matter of turning them out, one at a time, with the same even stroke of the plane at a constant speed. As I said, a bit of practice gets it right.

Well, after all that, I’m going to own up to the fact that I don’t have a spill plane.

These spills were produced with one of the finest planes that Stanley ever dropped from production (in my opinion) – the No: 46 skewed rebate.


When it is not cutting excellent rebates, here it is in action making spills. As a matter of curiosity I measured a typical spill produced by this old 46 and the thickness is in the order of 0.5 mm (0.02″). The only disadvantage is that the spill emerges from the left – onto the floor! But we can’t expect everything and a large box collects the strays.

Can these be produced with a straight-bladed plane, in other words a blade presented at right angles to the board? Probably not. If the chip-breaker omitted to do as its name suggests and the shaving emerged in one piece, it would tend to come out in a straight curl. Besides, a blade presented to that thickness is hard work to move the plane through the wood. Because it cuts on a slant the 46 is easier to propel and the shavings are a continuous long, self-supporting spiral.

We burn wood every day during the winter and there’s nothing better than an open fire in the hearth. We don’t smoke in this house but getting a large grate-full of wood evenly lit all over without singeing your fingers is fraught….. unless you use the humble spill.


. ………. amidst all that blathering about those ropey dovetails, I forgot to say where they are


For all you box-jointing aficionados, you may admire them at Castell Coch, in Tongwynlais, near Cardiff. (The dovetails in question is in the red box, lower left corner in the second photo in this link) There’s a bit more detail about the long history of the place before the Marquess of Bute got his hooks on it here.

This is just one of the many hundreds of fortified places in Wales, of all ages – from pre-Roman times, right up to this Victorian expression of one man’s wealth and imagination. It would be totally out of the question now, but his architects did commence work on a genuine medieval ruined footprint. I suppose that you can do what you like of you own everything in sight.

Mostly, though, these castles are castles only in name, with many now lost through time and disuse, humps in farmers’ fields, or deliberately ruined in the Civil War. However the ring of Plantagenet period castles built by Edward I in North Wales are spectacular.

In fact, if you look at the banner photo above of the view from my workshop window, there’s a clearing and lump on the top of the opposite hill, which has been identified as a defensive settlement dating from the Bronze Age.

For all the dovetail fanciers out there, here’s a specimen that I spotted recently, in the wild, as it were.

These fine dovetails are not on a piece of furniture, as you’d  expect, but perched high up outside – literally open to all the elements.

On this example, roof-water drains into a lead-lined gutter which, in turn, cascades into a lead-lined box connected to a down pipe The dovetails are part of a wooden enclosure that encloses the lead box. It’s all connected to a metal down-pipe.

Splits in the sides apart, the metal support braces are cunningly arranged in order to keep the whole thing together but why they used dovetails in this external application is beyond me………… perhaps there’s something about old roof-top carpentry that I don’t know!



I went down to Rye in Sussex a few weeks ago and it was one of those warm holiday weekends, coinciding with Hasting's  'Jack-in-the-Green' festival,

But, appropriately enough for the festivities in Hastings, I spotted this unusually embellished door and frame in Rye, just down the road.

Look closely at the under-frame. The rest of the building facade is timber with plastered infill. It has been in place for some centuries - probably Jacobean or earlier - perhaps the infill was originally wattle and daub. There were often regional variations on English vernacular building styles and ancient English buildings frequently went from opulence to near dereliction and back again as the fortunes of the owners changed over the years.

Notwithstanding the modern wiring, junction-box and lantern fitting on the left, there, mounted upon the old Oak of the building is another ornamental frame and lintel that appears to be stuck on, along with its door. In fact the whole affair seems to be a marriage.

The linen-fold panel ornamentation seems a bit ostentatious for a street door and the two pear-shaped side brackets at the top are inverted. There's a pair of very fine wrought hinges, but what are those two inverted scrolls doing at the base of the frame? There's an obvious join down there.

This whole ensemble probably started life elsewhere; no doubt ancient demolition salvage which has been a thriving trade for centuries.

But this was a rapid grab-shot taken on the hoof.

Looking closely at the lintel above the first thing that caught my eye was a very stylised Green Man. I took the picture above as an aide-memoire to enable me to place the main subject.


He's very well carved. The more I look at this feller the more I see a mix of styles. There's a  wrap of Acanthus leaves, the hint of an acorn or two under the wings coupled with some rudimentary egg-and-darts contrasting with a better formed  array of egg-and-dart frieze embellishment above. Is this is a Rococo image applied to an early building or a later flight of fancy?

He's got a cheeky leer about him. An untrustworthy cross-eye squint; a pained grin, a cleft chin and puffed cheeks. Is it Falstaff  or Hals' Cavalier? Somehow I can see Jack Nicholson chopping his way through the bathroom door...............

It's very ornate in its own way; perhaps a transplanted relic from an old house elsewhere or a clever Victorian pastiche........... who knows.

It's lovely to spot these old carvings this still in place, but I couldn't wait to get back to Wales.

It has been a long winter and it’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good.

Be that as it may, whilst not particularly cold, with few severe frosts, this year has seen exceptional rain fall coupled with a series of rampant storms. What we didn’t get in snow and ice we got in wind and rain.

As bad as it gets – and winters can get very bad in the hills to the point where it’s difficult to get in or out – we don’t get hurricanes here in Wales. This year the worst of the stormy  weather has been on the south coast of England and in the Irish Sea, but I believe that they recorded winds in the region of 110 MPH in North Wales – unheard-of tempests of in this part of the world and there have been plenty of folk with severe flood damage in the Severn Valley, the Somerset Levels and the Thames Valley. One severe storm is bad enough but since last November, there have been a succession of strong storms from the Atlantic, one after the other.

The West Wales coast got hammered more than once, the sea wall in Aberystwyth was demolished in two separate gales but here in the Mid Wales uplands we have had no structural damage and thankfully no lengthy power cuts, but there were lots of trees brought down all over the place.

This was where the ill wind bit came in…..


This was a particularly fine Lime tree in the lower half of our garden. I’ve never seen a tree split vertically down the middle like this. Even though the tree was bare, still in bud, the wind took the canopy and split the trunk from top to bottom; one half was still standing, the other disappeared over the hedge. I think that the clean cleft was caused by the tree’s trunk that has a buttress habit; look at the section in the lower left in the picture where the bole of the tree separated since it was very young. I counted the rings and this tree was about 26 years old.



Clearly the vertical trunk was quite precarious and Sam-Saw cut the rest of it down for me. The brash went through a chipper and I was left with four large pieces of trunk to air-dry for carving…………………



………..plus some firewood…………………. to dry out.

I have never turned Lime; it is excellent carving material, therefore as it cuts well and cleanly, should be OK for turning, even though the wood itself has a bland appearance.

We’ve had plenty of ill winds in this part of Wales this winter, lets see if this one blew a little good.

We’ll see…………..

There’s no shortage of carving material here when it dries out, plus I’m preparing a stack of Oak boards to make a couple of big bookcases.

……………an expression generally heard in the UK as  an expression of exasperation when wrangling with unfamiliar metric terms.   It probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense in other countries, but we really did have Old Money once – and I don’t mean the hard-up aristocracy.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I splashed out on a second Record 043, going quite cheaply in an auction.

Why?  Well, although I already had one, these little Record planes are not expensive in the UK, nor are they uncommon.    There was a practical reason too. On occasion I make things that can have a multitude of grooves cut at different widths and centres. Rather than keep altering my settings, I prefer to use more than one plough plane. I set each one to its size, label it up and lock it tight for the duration of the job. It’s one of my strategies for reducing the potential for error.

The Record 043 plough plane was in production since the early 1930s but has not been made, to my knowledge, since the 1970s. They were popular with schools due to their small size. If I recall my wood-working school-days in the late 50s – early 60s, most of these ‘trophy’ tools  –  shiny combination planes, large and small  –  were kept under lock and key in a glass cabinet behind the teacher’s desk, on display but seldom used. I expect that it may have been the same with some private users. It isn’t robust enough to be a site tool, so a lot of them remained unused, in their boxes.


When it turned up in the post, original cardboard box and all, the retail price was written in pencil on the label  – 34/-.

Here it is. In old money, that’s thirty-four shillings……………….. thirty-four bob………………. One pound, fourteen shillings.

How old is it?  We went decimal as far as currency was concerned in 1971, so it has to be older than that. From that original retail price on the box, I’d hazard a guess at the early 1960s, give or take a few years. Thirty-four shillings was a decent amount of money in the early 1960s. 1


Here’s the other one that I have, showing that there were production changes over the years. The one that originally cost 34/- is on the right in the picture and has round, knurled fence-screws, whilst the other on the left is, I believe somewhat older – probably pre-war. If you look closely, you’ll see that it features wing-nuts holding the fence to the rods. In other respects they are identical, though the castings are not as well finished on this one.

I  consulted a reprint of Record’s tool catalogue from 1938. 2  In those days it cost 9/6 and the picture displayed the thumb screws.  If I recall, there was purchase tax back then, as well as in the 1960s, but the catalogue does not mention it.

I don’t know what the average chippie earned in 1938, but my memory from the early 60s – for example, 1963, when I began work as an apprentice – suggests that  tradesman would earn about £13 for a 40 hour week. That works out at about 6/-6d an hour. At that rate he would work about 5 1/2 hours to buy one of these. Rough figures, admittedly, but enough to put the relative values in context.

When you find one of these for sale, they are either in good condition, as these are, or with parts missing and not much in between. If there is one design failing with this plane, it is that the blade clamp is a loose, separate part, intended to be interchangeable with the larger Record 044 plane. As a result it often gets detached and lost, as do the spare blades.

It was supplied with three blades: 1/8”, 3/16” and 1/4”;  I have never found a use for the two smaller blades, though the plane will accept any  of the straight Stanley/Record pattern of combination plane blades, (width within reason) so that it is possible to make grooves wider than 1/4” in one sweep though personally it gets to be a struggle when you exceed 1/2” and there are larger plough planes that work better for this.

Anyway, there it was – thirty-four-bobs-worth of good, old fashioned top-quality plane….. though I paid a bit more than that for it.


1    Bone up on ‘Old Money’.

Nowadays the British Pound is divided into 100 pence.

Before 1971, we had LSD – Pounds (£), shillings (s) and Pence  (d); The origins of the terms go back to Roman times . There were 12 pence (d) in one shilling (s), 20 shillings in one pound (£). A further complication was the Guinea – twenty-one shillings and the half-guinea, or 10/-6d –  or what the Mad-Hatter’s topper cost, according to the label in the brim.

As with everything else, Old Money had its own nomenclature: pennies,  halfpennies (ha’pennies), 3d, (thruppeny bits)…. 6d, was known as a ‘tanner’ and a shilling was a ‘bob’.

Two shillings was a Florin (or two-bob), two shillings and six pence (2/-6d) was either ‘half-a-dollar’ or ‘two-and-a-tanner’; naturally ‘5 bob’ was a ‘dollar’.

And of course a quid was a quid and still is.

I could go on………………… But that’s enough.

2   Record Tools – Reprint of Catalogue No: 15 of 1938:     Leslie Harrison. 

Roy Arnold  –  2003     –    ISBN   0 904638 14 6

At some time, long ago in the 1890s, the City Fathers of Birmingham decided that they were running out of water. As a result, the Elan Valley came to be flooded into its current form – a flight of four cascade-dams on the Elan River and a further two on the Claerwen River. The history of the area is well described in this excellent site. Six dams in two adjoining valleys.

One of the legacies from the flooding of the Elan and the adjoining Claerwen Valley is the creation of some of the finest walking country in Wales. It is well worth searching the area and its history.

Leading westward into  the Ystwyth Valley, the Elan is a spectacular landscape, even today. An ancient drovers’ track, the source of almost continuous minerals since the iron age, nowadays it’s one of one of the few routes by road through the Cambrian Mountains.

Pen-y-Garreg lake is one of these. Flooded in the early part of the 20th Century, the Northern side  carried a standard-gauge railway installed for the duration of the works and then dismantled. The route of the old rail track is now a gravelled path which is ideal for walking the couple of miles or so to Craig Goch, the next dam in the system.

The north side , above the old rail track – is covered in Sessile Oak – the native Oak in this part of Wales. It is usually a stunted and curvaceous tree (nicer than saying it grows like cork-screw). The other side of the lake is mainly plantation conifers leading to open land.


Continuing the theme of carving in the wild, someone was let loose with a chain saw to create this fine bench overlooking the lake.

It is made from a solid tree trunk with the backs carved in the shape of acorns and embellished with the outline of an oak leaf.


Walk a little further on and there is this curious little bench.  The back started out as a couple of branches on an Oak tree. You may see the crooked branch, split equally down the middle  and scarfed into the joined brace.


……. while below is another variation on the crooked branch theme in this brace let into a mortise on a cross brace. It takes a little while to see that the two opposing stakes resemble an opposing pair of legs.

Two more bent branches form the arms of this eccentric seat back while the rest of it is a conventional bench seat, all set in the middle of nowhere.

This is the third part describing how I set about carving some house signs on Oak boards.

Part one showed how the pattern was developed and the second dealt with outlining the letters and the first roughing out cuts.


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These are ordinary cabinet-makers chisels and are what I will use for most of the straight-sided  work from now on.


So far, the main roughing-out cuts have been done and the paper pattern used to transcribe the letters to the boards has been scraped off. Before removing the paper pattern, I outlined the outside edges of each letter with a marking knife, intending only a scratch to be visible on the board.

From now on it is just a case of systematically cutting out the letters, finishing with slicing cut from each  edge to the root of the letter. For the final cut, I locate the chisel edge in the mark made by the knife.


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There are two lines of text and I need to establish the base datum; the ideal tool to do it is this Veritas wheel-cuter as it leaves a faint score line. I don’t run it all the way along as I would to mark a joint, I just mark the bits I need against each of the letters. This way there are no visible marking lines remaining when I have completed the cuts to the base line of the letters and the outlines of serifs.


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Cutting down the sides: I choose the appropriate width of chisel to suit the length of the cut. This one is 1/2″ (12mm) wide to suit the lower vertical of the letter ‘Y.

I take a number of light cuts, working outwards from the central trench. The angle of each cut is kept the same and wherever possible, I use a slicing action, letting the chisel follow its own line. After all, it’s a straight tool and wants to cut a straight line.


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Finally, probably what demands the most care is defining and cutting the serifs.

To begin, I did most of the heavy work, cutting out and forming the text, on my standard bench, which is 33″  (840 mm) high; I have now transferred the work to the Carver’s chops, which raises the carving surface to mid-chest height and allows me to see clearly exactly what I’m doing.

It’s worth getting some practice on these beforehand, because it is very easy to over-cut a serif; they need to be in proportion with both the size and width of the letter. Too thin and it is ineffective, cut too wide it’ll result in something that will look distinctly odd on the finished piece.

You may (and many carvers do) opt to use a flat fish-tail chisel for this type of detail work, especially the oblique grounding, but I have recently discovered that this Japanese-style marking knife is perfect for serifs.

Even so, It’s tricky because many of the flat terminations are aligned with the long grain and Oak long grain has a certain brittleness that means that an inserted blade tends to force a split rather than a cut. This marking knife has a blade honed to a point on one side, flat on the other.   Because it has two knife edges, it can be inserted obliquely and pivoted, cutting the fibres as it penetrates the wood. Finally, the curved sections of the serifs are done free-hand with a narrow No: 3 sweep straight gouge.


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……… and there, after some finishing strokes, is the house sign. I will take a small plane and some scraper blades to the surface to clean it up.


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Whilst I was at it, I made a couple of others……. The one at the back has been outlined in black paint, the other two are fresh from the chisel.

It’s a matter of personal choice whether you outline the carving.

Continuing  from the   First Part,  where I had begun to make a couple of house names carved in some pieces of Oak, I’ve got everything prepared and I’m going to make some cuts.

It’s best to start reading the previous post to cover what’s been done  thus far. But, to continue……..

The pasted-on text is dry and it’s time to mark out the centres of the letters for the first cuts. Any of the paper that is not needed has been pared away.

There is a sequential approach to carving signs like this:;

  1. Mark out the centre lines of all the letters in pencil.
  2. Strike the centre lines of each straight (vertical or sloped) component, immediately above the root, I stop just short of the terminations so that I can cut the interstices at an angle.
  3. Either strike the centres of the curved sections  (‘C’, ‘D’, ‘B’, ‘R’ etc..) in the same way with a curved gouge or, as I am about to do, excavate the bulk with a shallow Vee cut.
  4. Pare outwards from the centre line in each case, stopping just short of the finish line.
  5. Lightly mark the outside edge finish line of each letter through the paper with a striking knife.
  6. Remove the paper and complete the final finishing cuts.
  7. Lightly plane or sand the surface to remove any residual marks.

The base line drawn through the bottom of the text is aligned so that it is parallel to the edge of the board.  I can then strike the centre lines of each letter from it with a pencil and square located on the edges.

Each of the letter components will be marked like this so that I can set down the first cut with the chisel. The inclined parts are next, done with an adjustable square. I have to re-set this each time as the inclines are not all the same.


I set the adjustable square angle, aligned from the outside edge of the letter and transfer a line to its centre; next I do the same for all the horizontal lines. In this case, the angles vary, so it’s necessary to re-set the square each time.


When the marking is complete, it will look like this; pencil lines show the middle of each component where I can strike my first plunge cut.


I have a sequence of work when it comes to cutting letters; I tend to start at one end with all the straight cuts, rough carving one side of each letter. Next, I turn the block around and repeat the operation. Finally I do all the curved parts in the same way.

The alternative is to develop a certain amount of ambidexterity. It does help sometimes (I’m right-handed) to transfer the chisel to the left hand.



Concentrating on the straight lines first, they will all get a vertical stab cut with the carver’s No: 1 straight chisel. This chisel is sharpened with an equal  bevel on both sides so that the side forces from a vertical mallet blow are equal. This will ensure that the first outline cut does not wander from the original target line. As this is done with a mallet, it is important not to stab too deep.

When cutting straight sided letters, I use this carver’s chisel to outline all the straight centre lines, directly above the root of the letter, then retire it in favour of a conventional cabinet-maker’s chisel that is beveled on one side only to cut the angles of the sides. This vertical cut gets a clout with the mallet – the rest of it is done by hand-power.



In this picture the root centres are plunged and I can now start to carve the carve the letters.

Using a cabinet chisel (there are three separate widths to fit the sizes of letters), I begin to slice from the sides down to the root.  I’m taking a small slice each time, but stopping just a little short of the intended defined edge. I find that cabinet chisels cut the sides best because the chisel back can be aligned to the desired angle.



Lastly, the curved components: finishing with a couple of Vee-cuts to define the curved ‘D’s and the ‘C’.

There is an alternative method to the Vee and that is to plunge the cuts in the centres using a curved gouge in the same way as the straights, but this involves using an exact sweep of curved gouge.

You may use either approach, but I find this way with a Vee gouge quicker.



I’m outlining the curve of one of the ‘D’s with a narrow Allongee chisel That matches the curve of the letter. This part can be tricky: most curves on lettering are based on the ellipse, whereas carver’s gouges are arcs of a circle. Matching gouges to curves needs a bit of judgement.


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The shapes of all the letters are now roughed out and it remains to mark the exact edges of the letters on both sides. To do this, I am going to score a line through the paper with a marking knife held against a straight edge . The intention is to leave a faint scratch in the wood, revealed once the paper has been removed, that I can use as an index – a datum – in which to locate the edge of the chisel when doing the final finishing slice. This is why I finished cutting the bulk out a little short of the edge of the letter.


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The letters are roughed-out and the pattern paper is dampened and then scraped off.

At this time, I’m not concerned with slight blemishes on the surface: the whole thing will receive a few light strokes with a very fine-set plane when complete.


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This is how the board appears in close detail with all the paper shreds removed. If you look closely, you can see an example of outlining the borders with a marking knife. The letter ‘E’ shows the side outlines as well as the shapes of the serifs; ultimately, all the characters will terminate with a serif.

The final part will concentrate on cutting the letters to their final shapes, cleaning the sides and roots of the letters and outlining the serifs

It’s a long time since I did any serious carving in wood, but I’ve just completed some house names carved onto Oak boards.

If they are well-pickled in preservative they should last many years outdoors even in the constant wetness that we seems to have here in Wales.

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Carved lettering is a distinct form of carving in its own right but distils down in the end to accurate chisel work;  as ever, hand-work  knocks machine-made signs into a cocked hat every time.

Most of the effort, (much more than the work in conventional carving in the round or relief ), used to be in laying out the lettering on a prepared ground. Once the desired font is decided, it involved laboriously scribing the script onto the finished face.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that, as far as I am concerned, this part was the least interesting part of the whole process for me. I’m a woodworker, not a calligrapher and I will admit to struggling with achieving a pleasing layout.

Nowadays I cheat, if that’s the appropriate term, using the variety of fonts available on my computer.

There are dozens of faces in the average word-processing programme. Most of them are of no use whatsoever in carving. What looks good on paper will not necessarily look good incised in wood or stone. This was a problem solved in classical antiquity.

There is one type face, however, that is ideal. Made for the job, in fact – it’s Times New Roman, a font designed in the 1930’s to bully-up newsprint, though originally it dating from a classical design in antiquity that was intended to be viewed from all angles in daylight. Whether inscribed in stone or wood, it exploits the contrasting effects of light and shade. As well as the sharply defined sides and roots of the cut letter, the whole effect was enhanced by the use of serifs which outlined the terminals of the script, both from above and below..

The earliest known version using the Roman (as opposed to Greek) alphabet is attributed to the inscribed plinth of Trajan’s Column in Rome, dating from the beginning of the 2nd century and commemorating the wars in Dacia. But the use of serifs in script goes back much further – at least to the time of Alexander.

Anyway, here’s my attempt at the art and craft. But don’t take my word for it. A comprehensive book on the subject, good in my opinion, is  “Letter Carving in Wood: A Practical Course”, by Chris Pye¹

First, having printed off the text on paper, I prepare the board and layout some horizontal datum lines to align the text. The computer allows me to print the text in any size or even mixture of sizes, which is useful for over-sizing and emphasising capitals. When I’ve done this I cut the whole lot to size and paste the text onto the board, aligning the text with the layout lines. The paste I use is ordinary PVA wood glue, thinned down about 1 part to 3 of water. When the basic cutting out of the letters is complete, I can dampen the paper and scrape it off.

The board is faced flat, planed smooth and the text laid out to get an idea of the final positions. A pencil line joins the bases of all the letters printed on the paper and a straight pencil line scribed on the board to line it all up. But remember, the surface of the board will be finished when all the carving is done – it just needs to be flat enough to work on and give a clean cut.


I roll this lot flat and leave it to dry off for a couple of hours. It’s there to act as a pattern and I will cut the outline of the letters through it.


Here it is with a line-up of  some of the tools that I’m going to use…….. there will be others from time to time, but these are used in the main.

Most of my tools, with only a few exceptions, are British and so the carving chisels sizes and sweeps are based on the Sheffield numbering system. It’s not an exact standard and other patterns, typically the continental versions, may differ in shape, but  the differences are minimal and you get used to your own tools.

There are no set rules regarding the appropriate radii for the cut, so I select gouges and sweeps according to their fit on the layout. As far as I’m concerned, if it looks right – it is right.

At the rear of the picture, a couple of mallets. I use mallets for setting out the initial plunge above the root of the letter and for tapping a Vee gouge, otherwise it’s all done by hand. I’m not going to belt the daylights out of the work…. it is mostly a series of light taps.

In front, a straight edge and in the centre a pencil and stiff brush. This started out as a hotel-bathroom-give-away. You need to be a complete masochist to use this thing on your head: the plastic bristles are so rigid and unforgiving that they will strip the skin, but it’s perfect for removing chips and whiskers in carving. Made for the job. I collared one every time I checked in there. I also use a small brass wire brush, which is not in the picture.

The four chisels on the left side are just some of the straight Sheffield Pattern gouges that I use on the curved components of the letters. There will be more, but these are the ones I use the most, typically, No: 3 and 4 sweeps of varying widths.

Next and to the left of the brush is a Japanese style marking knife. You will probably see me using this a lot on other projects, but in carving it is ideal for stabbing the angled ends of  straight components.

Next, moving to the right, Is a No: 1  3/4″ .carver’s chisel, with a No: 2 carvers skewed chisel. To be honest, the marking knife works is better, but the skew is here nonetheless.  Then, two sizes of 60° Vee gouges.

Finally, of the 9 individual letters in this name, only 3 are straight, i.e. without curved sections. This means that I will need to cut straight lines for 2/3 of the work and this is where I differ from most carvers, because I use ordinary cabinet chisels. I’ll explain why when I use them.

The text I’m carving in this case spells “CAE NEWYDD”. Literally in English, ‘New Field’ or ‘New Meadow’.

For the purposes of carving, I have set out all the letters in capitals. The size of the capitals of each word, C & N, is 260 point, the remainder 200 point. The intention is that these signs will be legible from a distance of several yards.

All the letters, with the exception of C and both Ds, have straight components.

Next Time I’ll make a start with the fun part - cutting wood and explain my technique as I go.


¹     Letter Carving in Wood: A Practical Course.    –   Chris Pye

Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd, 1998.

ISBN- 1861080433


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