Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 8, Issue 1 - September 2013    
From the Collection
By Gosh, that's Big
Cornice plane
If Joseph Montferrand (Big Joe Mufferaw) and Paul Bunyan had been joiners or cabinetmakers rather than being associated with the logging and lumber trade, the size of the plane featured in this article would be more credible. It is clear the creator followed the maxim "bigger is better" when making this monster.

This beech cornice plane is 16-3/4" long, 8-1/4" wide and weighs in at 11.9 lb (5.4kg). It has a massive hand-forged blade that gives an astounding 6-3/4" cut. Any plane such as this that cuts over a 4-1/2" molding is extremely rare. The plane is marked on the back with the stamped initials E. C. This gives some credence to the conviction that it was owner made rather than commercially made. The orientation of the growth rings, however, suggest that the maker was aware of the accepted convention that the sole was always toward the outside (bark side) of the tree.
Cornice plane dismantled
The handle is offset, as this was the style pre-1830. It might also be that this was the most sensible place for a handle on a plane of this size, as it would create force to hold the plane against the stock. The tug bar (apprentice bar) is a full 3/4 " in diameter. In use, a short piece of rope would be placed around the bar and the apprentice or helper would assist by pulling vigorously when using this plane. We will not visit the debate as to whether the molding was roughed out using hollows and rounds prior to the final passes with the plane that defined the mold. Either way, help would have been needed to pull and push it over a piece of stock while taking even a fine cut. It was probably used to create a cornice on pine or basswood only, as any hardwood (oak, etc.) would have been impossible to cut at that width.
By 1840, the use of portable steam power combined with rapid industrial growth in North America instigated the introduction of sawmills and planing operations close to existing timber stands. Along with lower transportation costs, the availability of standard and custom moldings in unlimited lengths at a reasonable price relegated the use of such planes to one-off custom installations. No longer was a craftsman required to create on-site joinery and detailing.

John M. Whelan in his excellent book The Wooden Plane describes in detail not only the use of the cornice in building, but also the varying styles that are found and created with extant planes. This particular mold is referred to as a "bevel and lying ogee opposite bevel and lying ogee". Quite a mouthful.
D.S. Orr

D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Recently retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.
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