• Richard Arnold

What's in a name?

I have recently been giving much thought to the names we associate with wooden bench planes. By the end of the 19th century things had become fairly standardised with the smoothing plane, jack plane, generally about 17" long and trying plane at about 22" long, and the Jointer at 24" and above, but as we move back in time things become a little more confusing. Towards the end of the 18th century larger manufacturers in London, such as Christopher Gabriel, were offering a much wider list of bench planes. The smoother was much the same, but when it came to Jack sized planes we have a choice of Jack, fore, and something called a "short" plane at 14". triplanes remain at 22", but a 24" plane is now referred to as a "long plane". Anything above this is still known as a Jointer. Going even further back in time things become less easily defined. At the very beginning of the 18th century, Joseph Moxon talks of the smoother, but the next size of plane is now only referred to as a fore plane. He does however make a comment that the carpentry trade calls the fore plane a Jack. to try and find more information from this period I have been searching the old Baily transcripts from this period. While there are numerous references to Jack planes, the fore plane never shows up, which leads me to think the term had quickly died out early in the 18th century, only to be revived when large manufacturers required names for different lengths of bench planes.