A four Volume set of Books

Answering all questions about the what, why, when, and how of British metal planes 

What were these planes used for?      

Who made planes like these and who sold them?

Who designed planes like this and what are the roots of their design? 

Are the parts of these planes able to fit onto other maker’s planes?

How long was this plane in production?


Volume 1

Volume One of Four describes the original purpose of these mostly Victorian metal woodworking planes, their makers, and the reasons why they came about. Many collectors and users have bought or obtained at least one example of a British made metal woodworking plane, whether a pristine Norris or Spiers bench plane or just a battered un-named cast bull-nose plane. When looked at closely it may be found that the actual plane has seen little use, although many have lost their original cutting irons and may have replacement wooden wedges.
This project was always about putting these British made metal planes back into their original context. There is often a very good reason why these planes had seen little use, in that the job they were designed to do had been superseded by new technology and working methods before the Second World War.
During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) a great number of British metal planes were produced by selected significant makers, feeding an avarice trade that used these particular tools. These included volume makers like Robert Towell, John Holland, Thomas Norris, Stewart Spiers, and Henry Slater, also including relatively small makers like Kerr, Cox, Miller and Tissington. This is the fascinating story of these makers, who often made these planes alongside running their core business, regularly that of tool dealer or tool retailer.
Due to the natural conservatism of the average British carpenter, cabinet maker or worker in wood, the potential flood of cast metal planes from America, with their fancy adjustable mechanisms, was held back from increased sales. Due in no small part, to the misunderstanding of exactly what essential part of the mechanism’s operation, was required to be stable, for a good working metal plane. Leonard Bailey had found the answer, but this was not recognised then, by the trade in general, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Volume 1 of this, a Four Volume set, hopefully tells the story of these British metal plane making pioneers.


Volume 2

Volume Two of Four gives a context and a description of the Tool maker’s, dealers and retailers trade, many of who were not directly involved in the making or manufacturer of British metal planes but, were instrumental in putting the tools in the hands of the end user, the carpenter, cabinet maker, or worker in wood.

As a metal plane maker in a volatile market, it would have made perfect sense to run a shop or dealership as, if the demand for your product suddenly fell, due to perhaps a change in the what a user required of the plane, or an improved method to manufacture planes was found, (eg. from wrought iron to cast brass or bronze).

Tool dealers and retailers were the backbone of the trade in British metal plane making. These were the people who provided the interface between the bulk manufacturers of Joiner’s tools and plane irons, based in perhaps Sheffield, or tools made in the industrial areas of Birmingham and the West Midlands.

The London trade appears to have been the most influential in the making of metal planes, no doubt due, in part, to the deep water docks at the east end of London, bringing exotic woods to England and it’s access to diverse areas of London, provided by the network of canals, especially for supplying the small workshops scattered around North London.

This Volume provides the context and gives a small taste of the kind of Victorian world these makers, dealers and retailers survived, thrived and lived in.

Volume 2 of a Four Volume set, hopefully tells some of the story of these crucial British metal plane makers, retailers and dealers.


Volume 3

Volume 3 of Four, sets out to give an overview to the diversity and range of the British made American style metal planes starting with Record, Acorn and the Stanley Works (GB) Ltd., continuing with ‘home-grown’ ideas, to present an alternative product.

With courageous ideas and easier working methods developed during the Second World War, came the desire to see some of these ideas through to fruition, whether eventually ‘withering on the vine’ or taken to heart as cherished valuable tools, this is the story of post war Metal plane development and the people who bought these ideas to the public.

Gone were the days when these tools were made to provide a specific cut or task as in the previous century, these tools were made for the mass population to use and enjoy, whether for work, hobby or just to furnish an occasional use shed, workshop.

Pre Do-it-Yourself, it might be supposed that these Companies made working planes for the professional working man, it was certainly apparent that they were made with the intention of long life and hard use.

This book provides a context for many more manufactures, products such as, Acorn, Marples ‘M’ planes, Linford, Rapier, Paramo, Preston, Pemuvar, Patsy, TecTool, Woden, Whitmore, and many others. The massive number of tools produced during the post war period can be seen in the context of the previous centuries out-put.

Whether collectors use these planes or simply put them on display, the value has increased considerably and now there is a small but strong market for these gems of a bygone age. This Volume 3 of a four Volume set, hopefully tells some of the story of these mostly forgotten post war British metal plane makers.


Volume 4

Volume 4 of Four. Post the Do-it-Yourself era, after roughly 1960, Companies were looking for savings and thriftiness in materials, meaning that the general trend was to look at these tools with an eye to manufacture them economically.

Companies like, The Stanley Works (GB) Ltd., and C & J Hampton Ltd., makers of ‘Record’ tools were at the forefront of this market, providing economically made tools for the practical minded general public.

The market in D-I-Y was relatively short lived, with the reality revealed, that was the trend in the demand for metal planes and hand tools in general, remained downward.

 Although many of these Companies latterly, became aware of this drop in the standards and quality of their products, it was, too little, too late, with most of their efforts being eventually discontinued, if they ever even got to production in the first place.

This Volume 4 of four tracks the sad, but inevitable decline of the last crusaders of British plane manufacture in the British Isles, up to the end, leaving only the dwindling memories of those who made them, and a rich variety of British made Metal Planes for the discerning collector. After the year 2000 precious few metal planes were made in the British Isles and the desire for those earlier planes rose sharply.


Anyone who has started research into the history and development of British metal planes will very soon begin to realise that some extremely challenging and awkward questions need to be answered before any further progress can be made.

I started to compile material for this book in about 2004 although I had hoped someone else would have done something in the years following the publication of Rodger K Smiths pioneering works on USA made metal planes ‘Patented and Transitional Metallic Planes in America Volumes I & II’, published from 1981 however, nothing about metal planes made in the UK, containing any depth of research, had surfaced.

One of the challenging and awkward questions referred to, was that, surprisingly, there were very few patents or design registrations taken out for English made metal planes and if any are found, they mostly occur after all the major developments had already taken place empirically, without recourse to these institutions, there was very little to research to be found, in this direction.

There are however, a few books about the British made wooden woodworking planes, which were generally made by apprenticed trained or Guilded makers. Nothing like this happened with the makers of metal planes, they had to find their own methods of producing workable tools, useful to those craftsmen who used them. Consequently very little evidence of any kind of ‘paper trial’ was left for anyone to research.

Where possible I have used available research resources and have spent many a happy day in London at the British Library, British newspaper Library (now moved), National Archives, London Metropolitan Archives, Family Records office (now closed), the London Guildhall, Lambeth Local studies, and a few other holders of researchable material. But none of this mountain of paperwork really gave me a true picture of who was actually making and buying these planes.

Some other awkward questions are apparent, even to the novice collector, especially if they have managed to find a rebate, chariot or shoulder plane in good condition, questions like what was this plane used for? Why if this plane is a hundred and fifty years old is there very little wear? Who would have paid almost a week’s wages for a plane he never used? In these books I do not profess to have the concise answers to all these questions, but all I can do is put forward the best possible educated guess.

Over the previous 15 years I have pondered on the lives of these makers and recorded the evidence left in the form of the metal planes themselves to tell this story. In these four volumes I have set out to do justice to this intriguing subject hopefully coming to conclusions, it would be difficult to argue against.

This history of metal planes, by its very nature is subjective and is open to reinterpretation, especially in light of yet to be discovered reference material. Perhaps a family has some unknown important information about their ancestor, which could change the whole section on that particular person, time will tell. After many dedicated years of research this is the best interpretation I can do at this time. I hope at least some of the information herein these pages, hits the target and give food for further research.

To receive the whole set of books, printed and published in full colour by YOUCAXTON,  retail price - £250.00