The Last Marples Planemakers at Work
Plus, a 23-foot-long functional wooden plane
"Let us know our wood as we do our hands, and work with it in common respect and harmony." — James Krenov
William Marples & Sons was a major Sheffield, England hand-tool firm that, amazingly, produced handmade wooden planes up until the 1960s. Marples was selling wooden planes made by the London firm Moseley & Son as far back as the early 1860s. (Goodman's British Planemakers puts the date at 1873 but Roger P. Ball tracked down what might be the only remaining copy of Marples' 1861/2 catalog, which shows an extensive listing of planes.) Marples bought out Moseley in the 1890s and moved the planemaking operations to Sheffield in 1904.
In the 1930s Marples introduced a line of machine-made planes (the BB "British Beechwood" series) but a few men would continue crafting planes by hand for another 30 years. Norman Bayliss was the last molding plane maker. This film is from 1962, a few years before Marples stoped selling wooden planes.
The video is broken up into three sections; each one shows Bayliss working on a different plane. The third section, which starts at about 11:16, does the best job of showing how he marks out the profile, and then uses a backing plane — which has the reverse curvature of the plane being made — to shape it, and then files the iron to perfectly match the profile. Bayliss, who was born in 1921, works fast. It's hard to tell because of the editing but I think it takes him about 15 minutes to make one of the planes.
Albert Bock was Marples' last wooden bench plane maker. Filmed in 1965, the year before he retired, the video shows him making a jack plane from start to finish. If you use antique wooden planes, you may have wondered how tight the mouth on bench planes should be compared to their metal cousins. After years of use the mouth on a wooden plane widens and it's hard to get a sense of its original size. Based on the video, Marples' were probably slightly larger than a Stanley. While metal planes were by far the most popular style by the 1960s, both Bayliss and Bock appropriately use only wooden bench planes.
I can’t read German so I'm not entirely sure of all the details, but in 2017 a Swiss manufacturing company built a 23.4 foot by 6.9 foot (7.13 meter by 2.1 meter), 2.6 ton functional wooden plane. The plane was pushed by eight people and made three 39 foot (12 meter) shavings. I could only track down a few build photos but they're impressive. It topped the previous world record, a 21.3 foot (6.5 meter), 2.5 ton plane made by an Austrian company in 2003.
Happy New Year!