Mike and I are working on the launch of a new program (soon-to-announced) that has brought us deeper into research of some historic texts. Although I’ve read through many of these, it’s always interesting to take a fresh look at the way processes or tools are described by various authors throughout history.
Take for example the trying plane. Is it just another name for a “jointer” plane? What in the world is a “long” plane then? Nicholson lists all three as distinct. Moxon only knows of the jointer. Denning sees them as distinct, but believes cabinetmakers rarely have any use for the jointer.
And don’t get me started about the “fore/jack” plane discussion.
I settled into my own understanding of historic plane terminology several years ago, but this deeper digging has kindled in me a desire to revisit these questions. The reality is that the world before the Industrial Revolution was much less standardized – local idiosyncrasies carried authoritative weight. And even though the standardization of knowledge has made it translatable to people from other cultures, it often comes at a cost. In gaining universal intelligibility, we lose particularity.
For many, questions of historic nomenclature are superfluous to shop practice, but I’ve found that my ignorance is often directly proportional to the number of assumptions I make. So, it is good practice to be open-minded and always inquisitive. You might just find a hidden gem that unlocks that vexing question about the lack of holdfast holes on certain workbenches or the concentration of axe marks at the end of a shaving horse.
Always be willing to ask.