Lee Valley & Veritas Woodworking
Lee Valley 35 Years  
  Volume 7, Issue 6- July 2013    
From the Collection
The Perfect Preston
Preston shoulder plane
A rare Preston shoulder plane featuring exquisite details.
Readers who received a copy of the Lee Valley 2012/2013 Annual Woodworking Tools Catalog are familiar with the excellent display of Preston tools on its cover. For those who shop online only, the cover (and the catalog's contents) can be viewed here: http://www.leevalley.com/us/home/OnlineCatalogs.aspx. We can debate the redundancy of a paper catalog at another time; however, for this writer, it is an indispensable and much thumbed item that I consider far superior to a computer, tablet or smart phone.

From 1825 to 1932, Edward Preston & Sons of Birmingham, England, arguably produced some of the finest and most complex woodworking tools that not only encompassed solid design and usability, but also highlighted the Victorian penchant for decorative embellishments. These ornate additions were never gaudy and at the time must have caused much talk among competitors. In some cases, these elegant designs are still in use by others today, although the skill of the pattern makers and sand molders would be hard to replicate in modern manufacturing. Yes, one could use permanent molds and lost-wax casting techniques, but think of it – these planes were made from a wood pattern with the sand hand rammed onto the match plate while in the cope and drag. The cores alone on this plane are extremely complex.
Preston shoulder plane dismantled
A side view of the dismantled plane. The registered design number can be seen on the side.
This shoulder plane is exceptionally rare, as it was offered for only a short period of time probably due to its fragility. The registered design, 215,628, was applied for on July 25, 1893. It was designated as the 1338P in the 1901 catalog, which also strangely informed the customer that the plane was no longer available. It is unknown how long the plane was actually offered. Given the high level of handwork that would have been required to produce it, it's easy to understand why it was discontinued. Additionally, there might have been a high return rate due to breakage, given the thin sections on the body. One mishap and it would be in pieces.
Polished cartouches
The polished cartouches on the lever cap
Underside of the lever cap
The underside of the lever cap
So what about the plane? At 8-1/8" long (excluding the adjuster mechanism) and with an adjustable 1-1/4" blade, there is no doubt that it would be most usable. It is simply gorgeous in appearance with its polished cartouches on the lever cap and nose and the extensive open void in the front, along with the sweeping sides of the polished body. It should be noted that the japanned recesses on the sides are less than 15 thousandths down from that polished edge, and the quality of the finish is extraordinarily high, another testament to the workers who fabricated and assembled this plane. It was supplanted by the 1368 series by 1909, and the method for holding the iron with the distinctive, sometimes breakable, lever cap is still used today. In this case, however, who would have taken the time to fit a steel piece on the end of the lever casting to allow for full pressure across the blade not only held by a screw but also having a locating pin to stop rotation? That attention to detail is not found today.

Did I mention this plane is very rare?
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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