Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

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Building a new cooper's plane at the Woodwright's School.

Coopering, Traditional woodworkingRob Gorrell2 Comments

I have been wanting a good cooper's plane for a long time to use in my shop.  Finding an antique one that is in usable condition has not worked out.  The few that I have seen are completely worn out. My friend Ed S. loaned me one that he had that I thought I would use as a study piece. Here is Ed's plane.  As you can see, it has had better days.Ed's PlaneIt turned out that Roy Underhill's Woodwright School was going to be having a class over Labor Day weekend where I could make a bench jointer plane using all traditional tools and techniques. I approached Roy and the instructor, Bill Anderson about making a 6' long cooper's jointer instead of the 24" bench jointer that the other students would be making in the class.  After several rounds of emails and searching for materials Bill found a massive block of hard maple and an antique 3.5 inch wide Ward single iron. The iron came from Ed Lebetkin's great antique tool shop located above the school. It turned out that the iron had been in Ed's shop for a long time and it was a perfect fit for the plane we wanted to make.

The class was three days over Labor Day weekend.  They were full days and very physical for me, as he wood blank was hard as a rock and about all I could handle to move around.  Bill was a great instructor and very patient with my low skill level when it came to plane making.  I had no idea how much precision layout would be involved, or how many different angles had to be chopped, chiseled, parred, or filed with floats to make everything fit just right.  It was the hardest class I have ever taken, but one of the most rewarding considering how many new things I learned.

Coopering classroom

I did not take very many pictures during the class as I was hanging on for dear life to finish this beast.  Here is one of my new plane next to the antique plane that Roy and Bill found in an antique shop and purchased prior to our class.  We tried to match the antique as close as we could. I drilled the hole in the toe of the plane after getting home.

OLD and new plane

The plane in use...adjustments.

We discussed several options for the stand for my plane while in class. Most period illustrations that I found showed the plane with some sort of two-legged plane that inserted into the hole in the toe of the plane.  The lower end of the plane was usually shown bumped up against a wall, sill or heavy object to keep it in place.  I knocked together a prototype from scrap lumber to try out.

Plane with first standTwo things became apparent quickly with this type of stand. First, the plane was too low to be used comfortably at my height. I am assuming that the planes were kept low so that the cooper could really lean into the hard oak staves for barrels.  I am working with softer woods that are not hard to run down the plane.  Second, the base will not stay in place on the concrete floor, especially when it gets slick with shavings.  So I went with plan B, which is a more vertical support that clamps to the side of the plane.

Plane with new stand 2

This design is a major improvement over the first attempt.  It seems to stay locked in place well.  Drilling the second hole in the plane was traumatic, but had to be done.  I made it a few inches taller that the first setup and may shorten in later if needed.

The other adjustment that had to be made was to regrind the plane iron to fit the plane body.  The cutting edge was slightly skewed from the sole of the plane.  Once I reground and sharpened the iron all was well.

I am very happy with this plane. Thanks to Bill and the Woodwright's School I have a very nice cooper's jointer plane that should serve several generations of coopers.