If you have been around many hand planes then I’m sure you have seen a handle/tote that looks like the one above. When I first began seeing these broken totes I just assumed the cause was a dropped plane. As time went on I kept seeing this condition, but began to take note that the planes were almost never broken. How could this be? These early planes were cast from gray iron. This is ordinary iron with little or no alloying materials added. It contains a lot of carbon, in the form of graphite, and is very brittle, as can be seen in this video. The question became, how could all of the broken totes that I have seen occurred without breaking the brittle plane body or the frog? The answer……….they could not! So there had to be another cause, or more likely causes.
Recently two people have come to me with broken totes on planes that probably were not dropped. The first happened in use on an old plane that was purchased a month prior. The user was pushing the plane and Snap! The second plane was purchased on the web from pictures. In the pictures the tote was fine. When the plane arrived the tote was cracked. The first thing that comes to mind here is poor packaging or the parcel was dropped or both. While this is possible it is not necessarily the case. Here again if this parcel was dropped and hit the ground with enough force to break the tote one has to wonder why the plane didn’t break.
The early totes were commonly made from rosewood. Rosewood is a beautiful wood that splits easily. Also, if you examine these early rosewood totes you will notice that the grain is almost always quarter sawn to rift sawn. I have to agree with these early makers. Quarter or rift sawn wood makes the very best looking tote, but there is a price to pay for that beauty. Nothing is free. This grain orientation increases the risk of broken totes. Now add 70+ years and you have a tote made from a wood that splits easily, has quarter to rift sawn grain and is very dry. Now add in hold down studs and screws too tight or too loose and you have a broken tote just waiting to happen. Rapid changes in temperature and humidity, such as might be encountered when shipping a plane from one area to another, is another factor to be considered.
When you consider all of this it is truly amazing that we don’t see more broken totes than we do. These early manufacturers surely knew what they were doing. These old planes have been around for many decades, some a century or more, and they are still very serviceable even by todays high standards. And most of them still have solid wood.
As always thanks for stoping by and please feel free to leave a comment.