Unusual center bead plane


Well-known member

I recently purchased a 7/16" center bead plane which I believe to have a somewhat unusual feature. Photos can be seen by clicking on this link (I hope):


As can be seen from the photos, it does have some condition issues and was missing its iron. But that didn't concern me, as my interest lay in the unusual feature (and it was very inexpensive). I've decided not to identify the feature in this post, because I thought it might be more interesting to allow people to discover it for themselves. I have some ideas about possible implications, but am interested in thoughts from others in the meantime.

Incidentally, the plane was made by Nathaniel Chapin & Co., so likely dates from about 1838 to about 1850. The mark is "frequently found" according to Pollaks' _American Wooden Planes_, so it's not the unusual feature.  :)

Don McConnell
Eureka Springs, AR
Yes, the feature I am referring to is that the escapement is on the left side. Didn't think it would take long for people to identify it, since I had already called attention to the fact that there was something unusual about the plane.

When I ran across this plane we had just been asked, by someone contacting us through our web-site, whether there were any historical examples of planes intended to be used left-handedly. We make left-handed planes, but couldn't readily recall having seen any older examples. So, when I ran across this plane shortly afterwards, I wondered if I would have noticed the unusual placement of the escapement had this question not been on my mind. If not, then had I seen others without noticing?

The question remains, however, whether this plane was intended to be used left-handedly. My take is that it is intended to be used right-handed, likely guided by a batten (or side-gage as termed by Thomas Sheraton) along its right cheek. And there is some wear along the lower right cheek of the plane which indicates it was, indeed, used in this manner. In which case, the left-sided escapement would allow shavings to clear without encountering the side-gage.

Of course, there are also traditional pairs of planes, specifically snipes bills and side rounds, which we commonly refer to as right and left-handed. However, I don't believe they were intended to be used left-handedly. Rather, I think the pairs allowed them to be used in different circumstances without needing to turn the work around, which likely would result in planing against the grain. Of course, they could be used left-handedly, but I don't think that was the main intent, as there seems to have been a general tendency to discourage trades-people from working left-handed.

Though, on that latter point, I recently ran across an item which indicated that working left-handed wasn't always discouraged. It was in one of the early 18th century Builders' Dictionaries, and the item dealt with building a particular kind of free-standing stone fence. In effect, the item indicated that it could be advantageous to have two men, one right-handed and one left-handed, build this type of fence while facing each other. I guess a bit of caution not to be too dogmatic.  :)

Don McConnell
Eureka Springs, AR
Quick search on ebay for center beads and this one came up: so the left escapement maybe more common than thought...I just never noticed!