Peter McBride

Antique and Old Tools
Updated :- Friday, 09 November 2007

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Study of the dovetails on a Spiers, Ayr smoother and planes I have made. 

Years ago I bought an unhandled, dovetailed, Spiers - Ayr smoothing plane which had all the appearance of being through a fire. The infill was very badly replaced with a local hardwood and the lever cap had patches of oxidation. Also there were screws in the sides where pins would have been expected and the lever cap pin had been badly refitted. The lever cap screw had been replaced with one poorly made in brass, and worse still, the plane had been used as a hammer on both the steel sides. Looking closely at the infill planes in my collection has only given limited insight into how the dovetails were configured by different makers on the different types of planes. I've made a couple of dovetailed  planes, and have been configuring the dovetails in different ways to see which is the best method. There are basically three systems.

1.  Tails cut into the sides and pins cut into the base - so the sides must be brought in from the side to engage the base, and a recess is cut only in the bottom of the base.


When the brass sides are peened into the recess the double dovetail is formed.

 2.  Tails cut into the base and pins in the sides - So the sides must be brought down into the base from the top. This is the rear left dovetail of the Spiers smoother. I cut the side plate so the piece would drop out the bottom with as little distortion as possible


I have seen references that said Spiers Planes have tails cut in the base and pins in sides. This is confirmed by my sample. The sides were inserted down into the base. After the joint is finished it is not easy to tell which is the tail and which is the pin.  There was a recess filed in the corners of the tail ( on the plane base) at "a", and a recess also filed at "b" in the corners of the pin ( on the plane side plate ). The base was peened into that recess at "b". And the sides were peened into the base at "a" creating the double dovetail.

3.  No tails or pins, a finger joint cut into both the sides and base - so the metal must be peened into a recess cut in both the base and sides to form the double dovetails. I tried this method because of the lessons learned when I made the little bull nose chariot below.

To assemble the chariot plane below I needed the top to come down on to the base because of the brass tenon at the back. The sides had to be sprung open and the steel nose fitted in. That meant I couldn't use tails or pins for the other dovetails. So I thought finger joints on the bottom of sides with a recess cut on both might work. I was very pleased with the result.

Spiers, Mathieson and Buck dovetailed mitre planes I have, where the body is made from one piece curved around the back, or where the front and back were probably assembled first, are most likely made with the sides coming down from the top. That means the tails can't be on the sides, and so must be on the base, or like I have done above - no tails or pins. What I need now is a mitre plane to pull apart....


Copyright Peter McBride 2007