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.
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.