Sunday, March 29, 2015

Interpreting medieval art; part I - perspective

Nearly anyone interested in medieval history will sooner or later find themselves pouring over illuminated manuscript paintings in search of information to their particular interests. Since the time of the Roman Empire, artists have been using paintings to illustrate the more important or expensive books. These illuminations are some of the best resources we have on many objects from the Middle Ages, and are therefore a great resource to call upon when one is in search of information from those long past ages. Those interested in military subjects will search for clues to armour and weapons, textile enthusiasts can glean forms of clothing and draperies, whilst still others, such as myself; a cabinetmaker, search for clues to furniture and interiors. The crucial thing to remember here, however, is that the key word is clues. No matter how realistic the illustrations seem to be, they are not photographs, and were not actually meant to portray anything other than ideas and concepts. In many instances, it would be utterly impossible to make the objects portrayed because they defy reality. This blog posting will be dedicated to the interpretation of some of the curiosities which may be seen in such artworks, and show that we cannot simply try to recreate what we see in a manuscript by using it as a 'plan' for an object.

What are they eating?
WLB Cod.bibl.fol.23 Stuttgart Psalter fol 146v
Many modern would-be medieval enthusiast put too much of their own way of seeing the world into the way they look at medieval artwork. They forget that those illustrating the manuscripts were not doing so to show us, in the 20th century, what life was like at the time of their original creation. We can no more gain a clear picture of medieval life from viewing them, than someone a thousand years from now, would know what objects from our century looked like by viewing an episode of the Simpsons and watching Steamboat Willie, even though we, on seeing those images, know exactly what they are in reference to. It was the same way with the medieval illustrators; they gave a few strokes of the pen and brush and created images which would have made sense to those who originally viewed them.

Just as I mentioned in my last medieval topic posting, however, there were also the factors of skill and personal style involved in the artwork of illuminations. To make a modern analogy of this point let us ask, "are the artists of Peanuts less skilled than those who created Robin Hood' (one of my favourite animations) 'for Disney?" I do not know, nor will I try to make such a judgement, but anyone can plainly see there is a marked difference in the style of the two; the Peanuts creators chose a much more loose and minimalistic approach to their work, significantly more detail is left to the imagination of the viewer, yet we are still able to grasp what is not represented by the fact that there are enough suggestions in the strips to give us references to the things we know. Although, representationally, Robin Hood may seem more "realistic" with its more careful renderings, it is in fact, less so because all the characters are portrayed as animals. We have no problem 'translating' them in our minds as we see them, and hardly notice that they are not even human as we watch the story unfold.

Since these cartoons were created in our lifetime, we have no problem understanding what they represent, but what would someone a thousand years from now get out of the cartoons we have? Would they think people were yellow? Our cars were boxes with wheels? Modern reenactors can, and often do, make the same sort of mistakes with medieval illustrations, by interpreting whatever is depicted in them at face value. There are likely things we understand to show one thing, whilst the original creator had something entirely different in mind, and there might be no way of us learning our error. The easiest way to make such mistakes is to look at the pictures through our modern eyes.Take the illustration above; I would not be a bit surprised if I found this picture on some blog declaring that "potato crisps were consumed in the Middle Ages" because, to our modern eyes, that is exactly what it looks like they are doing.

When it comes to objects, we can often get tripped up by a simple misunderstanding of the way the original artist drew them. We have grown up with cameras, which (usually) capture things as they appear, and we have also benefited from the fact that the art of perspective drawing was perfected more than 500 years ago, therefore, we are accustomed to seeing things in a more realistically portrayed manner. 

I taught perspective design at an architectural design school in Korea right after college. The comprehension of the concept of perspective drawing came rather naturally to me, but I have also learned to recognise the problems created by those who have a harder time understanding it. One of the simplest ways a novice gets tripped up, for instance, is in drawing buildings with four square walls and a 'hip' (triangular in elevation) roof. This very problem is present in the above illustration where a hand offers some sort of building (reading the text which accompanies this psalm might help a bit to know what it represents) from the sky. This building just does not look right because it seems to have one end sawn off.

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 565, zt. 242

Here is another building from a different manuscript used to show how this sort of problem occurs. I actually got into a fight in middle school, with another kid in my class, because I was drawing houses in perspective and he thought they should be drawn like this. The problem comes from the fact that the artist is trying to combine two separate views into one. Basically, he is trying to incorporate a front and side elevation into one homogeneous image; he knows that the side wall is straight (green rectangle) and the roof is in line with it; he also knows that, seen from the end, the roof portion is triangular in shape (Orange). My classmate actually thought that a house drawn in proper perspective looked like the roof was cut off. I mention this because it might help to explain what a medieval artist could have been thinking as he worked.

The simple squared off building is only the beginning of the 'mistakes' one will encounter in many medieval illustrations. (It is also worth noting, that in all periods, some artists managed to get it closer to right than others.) Another common problem one encounters, is an attempt to depict too many sides of an object, Some pictures of buildings and furniture try to show three sides at once, which is quite impossible. I have even seen instances where all four sides have been attempted, leaving the uninitiated with the impression that the object must have had a polygonal form.

BNF Lat 8850 (Gospels of St. Medard de Soissons) c800
St Mathew composing his Gospel

Another problem that often crops up is getting all the parts to fit properly. Medieval artists did not have the advantage we have of a pencil rubber, therefore what they drew the first time was pretty much what they were stuck with. In the above illustration, we see a chair which appears to have a diagonal corner at the back. This comes from the fact that the artist wanted to have enough room on the seat to allow for the cushion, he also did not want to have the post at the back too close, or even overlapping, the column, which is what would have happened had he brought the back and side lines together. The solution, in his mind, was simple; just connect the two with a third line. As I said, he was not trying to show us what such a chair looked like, the original audience it was intended for, 1200 years ago, already knew.

Bodelaian MS Janius 11
the Birth of Cain and Abel from the Caedmon manuscript
c1000 AD
I already mentioned the attempts to depict too many sides of one object, but here is an example; Eve lies in her bed and has just given birth to her second son. Here the artist is completely uninterested in a "the way it would have been" sort of scenario, he is just trying, with a minimal amount of effort, to depict the notion of Adam and Eve and the birth of their first two children. Whilst this drawing might seem "crude", on first glance, if one looks more carefully, he will be able to notice the efficient use of  steady lines; the careful control of the pen gives weight and volume to the fabric and clothing of the figures, The equal of any modern cartoon artist; with the careful and deliberate execution of the most economical tick of his pen, this artist renders life and character to the faces of these figures, Though the perspective is all out of sorts, this is no slouch artist scratching around trying to get a picture together; this was simply his taste and style, as influenced by the other art he was exposed to, in his time and place in history.

To the modern person, looking for clues to medieval furniture, there is not much to go on here, the "bed" is simply a box; other illustrations from the time show us that beds looked like beds, with posts and so forth, so the artist was simply showing an object to represent any bed, not drawing a bed for us to reconstruct. (This is not meant in any way, however, to imply that there could not have been box beds; there certainly are existing examples from the 15th century.) One thing that is interesting, however, is the way he indicated framed panels for his box. In a world where the furniture was supposedly hacked out of logs, even this overly simplified drawing show more than that.

As topsy turvy as this illustration seems, it is less difficult to decipher than the chair in the next illustration.

Pope Gregory the Great
St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 376, Zt. 319
11th century

In this painting, it seems that the artist wanted to make a full frontal image of the chair in order to maximise the grandeur of the sitter. This was a formal pose used for important people going back even earlier than the Roman period, where we find ivory panels with emperors depicted on thrones in this formula. In this case, however, the artist also wanted to show a little of the way the chair was constructed, so he added the back legs inside of the front legs; this allowed him to show the horizontal stretchers connecting the front and back. Of course this is an impossibility, as the back legs would be directly in line with the posts supporting the drapery behind the sitter. If true perspective were used, the back would seem narrower than the front, which would not suit the purpose of the artist who's primary goal was to portray the expanse of drapery behind the pope. He actually has a bit of 'reverse perspective' going on with the seat, which is trapezoidal in depiction. As was already mentioned, using proper perspective would have made the back narrower than the front, which the artist did not want to do, though he knew from observation, that a trapezoid is the shape that a flat rectangular surface takes on when one is looking at it from a natural view point.

One certainly could not use this drawing to construct an actual chair, but it does give us some clues as to what such a chair might have looked like in the 11th century. What we can learn from this image, is that at least some chairs had a form familiar to us; with a tall back set between two post, a seat, and stretchers connecting the front and back legs. We can also observe that this was intended to represent a very ornate seat, not a simple or plain one. What it does not show us, is the form the legs have; are they round or square? Since the parts are all drawn two dimensionally it is not possible to know that answer. In Part Two of this article, I will show how, using this drawing and other types of medieval art, we can begin to piece together a possible idea of the type of chair the artist had in mind when he produced this fascinating work nearly a thousand years ago.

Videre Scire

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Table progress update...

This posting will be shorter than most of those I have done, because I am actually working on a couple more upcoming posts on medieval topics; the research and organisation for them takes a lot of time. It may come as a surprise to some, but what one can read in a matter of five minutes takes as much as 8 hours to prepare. When I do such a posting, I have to sort through my images to find ones which suit what I want to discuss, then verify the source, time period, (it would not be good to say something was from the 10th century, only to find out that it was from the 12th) and authenticity of what I am trying to share. Then, of course I must type, read, and re-type what it is that I have to say on the topic.

This week's posting, however needs none of that, since it is about the table project which I introduced a few weeks back (here). At that time, the overall idea had been resolved, but I had not made a final design presentation to the client; this past week I solved that little problem, and sent it off for their approval.

three-dimensional rendering of the table

The next step in the process was to acquire the timbers needed for this project. After several weeks, and a few false leads, I was able to locate and purchase the proper material; this turned out to be a much bigger undertaking than preparing the designs. The client wanted to use the elm which was used for the hanging shelf, (also featured in the above mentioned post) for the table. Although there are elm trees scattered throughout the region where I live here in Maryland, for some reason, this is not a commonly available timber. In fact, I have been asking at sawmills for the past 15+ years for some, and always got the same answer, "We never carry that".

About three years ago, we had a big storm which blew a fair sized tree down not far from where I live. A friend of mine, who has a sawmill on his farm, helped me to cut it up and we took it to his place and sawed it up. That would have been useful for making this table, except I used almost all of it up this past summer. Since the time we cut my tree up, I had come across a couple sawmills offering elm, so when the client asked for the table to be made of the it, I did not think it would be an impossibility to find. I found a guy in New Jersey who said he had some, but that did not work out, nor did a mill in Virginia advertising elm for sale. Fortunately my friend Steffen recently discovered a vendor of timber near Hagerstown Maryland, who had just recently gotten a new bundle of red elm. 

One thing I am still trying to locate, however, is some large stock to make the table legs. Almost no sawmills anymore, carry large dimensional timber, as no one really makes things from it. I, however, do not like the look of glued up layers of material to create a large piece, so I will keep searching; in the worst case scenario, I do have some which is almost large enough, and I can glue one piece to the side of it which will give me the dimension needed.

Profile for table legs; the green section shows
what would be added if the pieces I have were
glued up to get what I need. I need a 150mm square
billet for each leg.

Perhaps some readers are unfamiliar with elm as a furniture timber. I have read in a couple of books, however, that this was actually a more common wood than oak, prior to the 19th century, in the UK. This statement cannot be verified by the survival of actual pieces, however, because it is not nearly so durable as oak, which is why everyone thinks that is what all furniture of medieval and Renaissance England was made of; oak simply survives better. The colour is a rich warm brown, and the grain is not so course or open as that of oak. I would describe is as half way between oak and walnut on a scale of fineness.

Carpathian "red" elm

One of the reasons that elm does not survive as well as oak is probably due to the fact that it is not as hard. In fact, for that very reason, I plan to make the feet for this table out of rift sawn white oak. Horizontal feet of tables usually endure tremendous abuse. I have restored three or four pieces of furniture with this type of foot, and a couple of the pieces had lost nearly all the carving details. Since this table will have some nicely sculpted feet, I do not want them to get worn away in less than a hundred years.

A foot for a table I made some ten years
ago, made of cherry. This is similar to
the foot I will be making for this new table.

In the next few weeks I will be making a steam box to use to bend the curved pieces for this table. once I get that worked out, I will be making another post in this series on that topic.

some version of a steam box like this is what I will be using
(image linked from Fine Woodworking website)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

It has nothing to do with the age...

Most people have the general idea that everything coming from the roman period was superbly made with perfect symmetry and form,  but, after the "fall" of the empire, Europe was swept into an abysmal "dark Age" from which it took a thousand years to slowly crawl back out. Along with this notion comes its twin, which is the idea that the farther back one goes in the Middle Ages, the more primitive things become. While this may be true to some extent in certain regions and during certain eras, I am dedicating the remainder of my life to utterly shattering that myth as a universal, all encompassing truth.  The reality is much more nuanced and complex. Basically put, time has nothing to do with the quality of the creations that the talented and gifted craftsmen and artists produced during the millennium which we call The Middle Ages. This blog posting will begin to show the truth of this statement.

The following page, from a late 8th century manuscript in the St Gallen Archive, illustrates quite nicely most people's perception of pre-14th century medieval art in general. There is no denying that it is rather naive and primitive in appearance. The "barbaric"/Celtic forms of art are here in their most vivid form, therefore, proof of a standard much lower than what came before...or is it?

A medieval scribe is illustrated in this
civil document from the early stage of
Charlemagne's reign.
St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 731, zt. 234
Here is another page from a different manuscript of the same time period (within fifteen years). The Bibliotheque Nationale states this work as "around 800", but "before 814", Wikipedia however, says it is from about 827, Perhaps they know something the folks in Paris do not?

St Luke Composing his Gospel from the
Gospels of St Medard of Soissons
BNF Lat 8850 fol 11v
I have spent a lot of time pouring over medieval manuscript images, ones that the average person would consider dull and boring; decorated initials and illustrations of columns and arches like those above, which are called Canon Tables, and are used to notate similar passages of scripture among the Four Evangelist. Many of these tables are much simpler than this one, and a few are even more elaborate. Much can be learned from these types of illustrations; even though they usually do not portray any sort of 'picture', (as this one does) they can lend great insight into the manner of ornamentation used at the time of their creation, and show us the quality of workmanship which could be found in their era of execution. Another thing that can be observed about the images from this early time period, is the seeming rivalry between the 'Roman' model and the 'Celtic' mode of decoration (I will use the term "early" to refer to the 6th through 9th centuries, "middle" for the 10th through 13th, and "late" for those of the 13th through 15th. [yes there is some overlap; 1000 cannot be divided neatly into three equal centuries.] I also know that the first 'third' is actually weighted more than the others, but this is to distinguish the phases of development that more or less occurred in the style of art during these time periods. Furthermore, the split between middle and late would better be placed at the second quarter of the 13th century than at is close.). In many manuscripts, one finds either one or the other, wholly, whilst in others there can be a mixing of both types of artwork in separate illustrations, or, even mixed together in the same illustration. The first example would be one of wholly Celtic style, the second, that of a completely Roman model. 

It may surprise some readers, but in reading the 6th through 9th century contemporary writings of persons living in the regions formerly under the control of the Roman Empire, such as Gaul and Germania, the writers spoke of themselves as "Roman" and distinguished themselves from the "Barbarians", who were, by their definition, "not Romanised" Thus, while modern scholars consider the Roman world to have "collapsed" about 500 AD, no one bothered to tell the people living at that time about it, and they went right on considering themselves Roman. The whole bit about Charlemagne being crowned in Rome was to give legitimacy to him as a "western" Roman ruler, as opposed to the "Roman" rulers of the eastern realm, known in English as the Byzantine Empire, but in German as the Oströmische Reich, which translates to English as, the Eastern Roman Empire; this is precisely how it was viewed by contemporary peoples of both regions. (Of course the eastern half also wanted to, and did try, to re-unite the two halves under their control.)

Back to the above illustrations, I can imagine hearing many readers, familiar with the time of Charlemagne, saying, "but just a minute, that second illustration is from the 'Carolingian Renaissance School' also known as the 'Court School' and thus is an exceptional example from a brief bright spot in an otherwise dark age." Well, thank you, I am glad you brought that up, because again, like the first notion which we are discussing, this is a mixture of truth and on.

This next Illustration is another one of those Canon Tables which I mentioned a minute ago; however, in this case, someone never got 'round to filling in the appropriate text. This table is from "some time between 736 and 760", and thus earlier than Charlemagne's ascension as king of France, (768) and at the very least least, forty years before his coronation as Emperor in 800 AD. It is true that after he became Ruler, he did set up a "Court School" to promote the dissemination of learning and the arts throughout his realm, but in order to set up such a school, there must have been available talent, willing and able to come and teach at said school. The blind cannot lead the blind. Charlemagne went throughout the known (to him) world and recruited people (actually his agents did) from nearly every country, thus, there already was an established 'pool' of skilled craftsmen to pick from, before his school was begun. Given politics being what they are, and have always been, this does not even mean to say that the best were necessarily selected, as opposed to the brother's cousin, or the prime minister's best friend etc. etc.who was good at one craft or another and, some favour or other was either given or gotten in the deal. This canon table shows nearly the same level of craftsmanship to that executed by the creator of the second illustration above, yet whomever produced it would, in all likelihood, have been dead and gone before that famed school was ever conceived of . In a world in which students learn from their masters, under a system of apprenticeship, it is actually quite hard to completely erase a skill or craft. 

BL Add. MS 5463 fol 1v
That fact causes me to be baffled, when, in the context of the development or loss of skills and trades, I am confronted with the notion that somehow, whilst the arts of weapons, fabrics, and building continued to evolve and improve during the course of the Middle Ages, people expect me to believe that the art of making furniture was nearly snuffed out, to the point of furniture makers resorting to "dug-out chests, and planks set on tree trunks as tables". I am not making this up, I continuously come across such descriptions of furniture as being the types of furnishings used during the "early" (usually pre-14th century in these writings) middle ages. The following picture is from a Museum in Germany, and is talking about the "earliest forms of a chest" It says the word originated from meaning a tree, and that chests in the earliest time in history were so constructed; and continued to be used in remote places such as alpine valleys, long after the close of the Middle Ages.

To be fair, this museum did not define "earliest time in history" but most people reading this, seem to interpret it to mean "...of the Middle Ages" It is quite probable that at some point in neolithic history, chests were originally made in this manner, but we can go back as long ago as the Minoan civilisation and find representations of chests made with a post and panel construction.

This clay model of a chest comes from the 14th or 15th century BC
(that is 3500 years ago) and clearly shows one of the same forms
 used until at least the 13th century AD in Europe.
Just as the placard in the museum states, however, in some regions of Europe, log chests were made even into the 17th century. A few years ago this two part log chest was for sale at Christies; it was made in the second half of the 16th century.

A "primitive, medieval" chest; except it comes from the
Renaissance; the "age of enlightenment". It is contemporary
with some of the finest furnishings in the top museums.
These two pictures, alone, should demonstrate what was said in the title of this blog; that time had nothing to do with the quality or craftsmanship of an object. I want to knock a few more holes in most peoples notions of the quality of furniture during the medieval period before I go on, however. I mentioned something about planks set up on tree stumps for tables as well. I saved that statement and its source in my files, but it has since been lost and I have not found where I read the original statement again. I do have, though, from the will of Charlemagne, at his death, a brief description of a few of the items he had in his possession. The source of this is from Einhard's Vita Karoli Magni and though the description of most of his possessions are not very explicit, there is one delicious tidbit of information; is well known that among his other property and treasures are three silver tables, and one very large and massive golden one. He directs and commands that the square silver table, upon which there is a representation of the city of Constantinople, shall be sent to the Basilica of St. Peter the Apostle at Rome, with the other gifts destined therefor; that the round one, adorned with a delineation of the city of Rome, shall be given to the Episcopal Church at Ravenna; that the third, which far surpasses the other two in weight and in beauty of workmanship, and is made in three circles, showing the plan of the whole universe, drawn with skill and delicacy, shall go, together with the golden table, fourthly above mentioned, to increase that lot which is to be devoted to his heirs and to alms. (from the Medieval Source-book; this text translated from Latin in 1880)

None of these tables sound anything to me like planks set up on tree trunks! There is, in the 8th century biography of St Eligius, a brief story of him having constructed two chairs of gold and precious stones for the king, these, also were obviously sumptuously made, and had nothing to do with the general image most people have of early medieval furnishings. No one, today, knows exactly what those chairs looked like, because they have long since succumbed to the ravages of time, but there is a chair, from roughly the same time period as those made by St Eligius, which is now housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale, in Paris, and is said to have belonged to Dagobert. It has no jewels or precious stones, but it is still a very well crafted and beautiful chair.
You may look it up yourself on the internet, as there are many images of it, I chose to show this detailed view to demonstrate the skill involved in its making. Since it is cast of brass, this attests also to an whole other line of craft and the skills required to produce such an object.

So far, we have looked at objects from the end of the first third of the Middle ages, what about the 10th,11th and 12th centuries? Surely they were the bleakest of times, and the superb skill and exquisite craftsmanship had vanished by then, right?    Wrong.
Detail of the Dagobert Chair from the end
of the first third of the 7th century

Ivory reliquary in the V&A
mid 11th century

Obviously, someone still knew how to carve ivory in the 11th century...

Heinrichskreuz from the Quedlinburg treasury
early 11th century
they could still apparently work gold and gems...

Meister des Registrum Gregorii
Trier Stadtbibliothek
And without a doubt, this shows that they yet retained the skills to paint.

Years ago, when I first saw an image of this painting, I thought it was a fake, because, I too, had been fed the same notion of the primitiveness of medieval art and could not believe this was produced slap bang in the middle of the "darkest" period of the Middle Ages. On doing more research, I discovered what I am sharing with you now, and continue to discover more of, to this day. These discoveries are, as I said, that there were, in fact, times and places during the course of the Middle Ages, in which primitive, naive, and crude objects were produced; however, at the same time, there were always craftsmen of superb talent who produced impeccable objects demonstrating skill and craftsmanship. 

Please look carefully at the five pieces of furniture depicted in this painting and tell me which one of them looks like it was hewn from a log. The desk alone should dispel anyone's lingering doubts about the existence of finely made medieval furniture. 

From the 12th century, we find, in the Minden Cathedral, an altar or pulpit, which at one time was the back panel of a chair, probably belonging to one of the bishops of the cathedral. There is a book (which seems to be out of print), which is titled, Schatz der Staufers, or something of the sort (not the children's comic book by that name in print now) which featured several beautiful 12th and 13th century carved pieces of furniture, This panel is featured among them in an old photograph, dating from some time in the 19th century; it is depicted with its legs still attached. It is instructive to consider, when viewing such items as any of those which I have featured, that though these might be isolated objects and very rare in terms of their survival, that they did not just appear out of thin air; someone made them, and he did not just make one such object. Each of these pieces is testament to an entire career of a craftsman and his work. 

Former Throne, now as a pulpit front in the Minden Cathedral
Mindener Dom Altar, Ehemaliger Thron des Kaisers um 1170
I have come up with a phrase I like to use, which is that, "A lack of existing evidence is not evidence of a lack of existence.". Happily, though, there is plenty of evidence to prove that although there was plenty of the "crude" and "rustic" produced in medieval times, there were, also, in all periods of the Middle Ages, artists and craftsmen who produced fabulous works of art and artifacts. Man has always been a creature of cunning and skill, and the artists of society have always striven to produce works of outstanding beauty, this spirit was in no ways obliterated or extinguished during the age that is only "dark" because we have not really bothered to turn the lights on. 

In future blog postings, I will be examining other aspects which influenced the quality of items produced during the medieval period, including addressing such questions as to how two manuscripts, from the same country, and at the same time, such as the first two illustrations in this blog, wound up having such a marked difference in quality of workmanship.

Videre Scire

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Iron faced Planes

Three Iron faced planes which I have made over the past couple
years. One of walnut, which is a panel scraper plane, one of
cherry and one of beach. Each one was made for a specific
project which I was working on at the time I made the planes.
In the background are a couple of my holly rolling pins waiting
for their ends to be carved.
I primarily work with wood, but can be rather handy with metal as well. It is a very different medium to work, but extremely satisfying. As with my furniture, I primarily use hand tools for working metal, too. I do have an electric grinder which is used the way an old hand cranked one would have traditionally been used (anyone have one they would like to donate?) to shape the blades.

This week's posting is to show a type of moulding plane which I have developed from the inspiration of several antique planes and their methods of construction.

There has been a lot written on the web regarding the history of planes, and though I have a few ideas in my head on that topic, at present I have nothing to add to the matter. There is a great deal of good information and some surprising finds at St Thomas Guild.

My planes took their looks from a combination of Continental and English models, their method of construction from some medieval and later planes, and the idea of metal and wood from the 19th century "infill planes" such as this one.

Unmarked mid 19th century English, Rosewood infill plane.
The wedge was missing and I made a replacement from
mahogany about 16 years ago.; the plane works beautifully.
To make my planes I begin with a plate of iron about 300mm long and 75mm wide.

The blank, ready to begin
The first step is to joint the edge square, as they come rather rounded from the mill where I buy them.

The remainder of the steps will be explained in the captions of each picture.

The lower inside edge is chamfered to create the proper 'spring' 
to the plane when it is finished. This is the angle at which it
will be held whilst making the mouldings.

The plate is cut to length. (not sure why this did not happen first)

Using a coarse rasp, the heel is chamfered and rounded.

These two pictures are backwards, but the same
rasp was used to chamfer the top edge and
the toe; In all this took about 1 hour.

Using my trusty early model Stanley #55 to begin shaping the
wooden body for the plane. This will be the negative of the
shape which the plane will produce.

Using a tenon saw, the slot for the wedge is cut. 

The waste is removed with a chisel; a bevel square makes a
great depth gauge to check the work.

The inside face of the plane will have the Continental form;
I like this design because the channel serves as a bit of a handle.

The wood and metal parts will be joined with rivets. I got this idea
from some metal parts riveted to an early 19th century plough
plane which I own. The first step is to mark out the holes with
a punch.

I tried to find some rivets, but have no idea where one would buy
them, so, as usual, I got creative and decided to make some
myself; in the right hands a nail works great for the purpose.

A few minutes with a good file and the nail-head becomes a

Back to my plate; I drilled and countersunk the previously marked holes.

The two 'halves' were clamped together on a backing block and
the holes were drilled into the wooden body.

This next stage needs more space to explain. All the nails, cum rivets, were inserted from the back and then a metal plate was cramped (Notice they are heavy duty cramps too!) to the plane. In order to make the rivets, the nails must be clipped off with a pliers and then the stub ends are peened over with a hammer to fill up the tapered hole made with the drill.Notice my knee holding the block of wood which supports the plane; the table would not have stood up to all the hammering.

Once all the rivets were peened over, it was time to file off the
access material and flatten the face of the plane. An old auto-
body panel file called a float was used to dress the face down
quickly. This tool works almost like a plane, shaving away until
the piece is flat.

The next step was to address the blade. It was not anything close
to flat, so a lot of heavy sanding was in order. The blade is already
tempered and therefore could not be filed.
Several years ago, whilst operating my Philippine venture, I encountered a couple of fairly good local blacksmiths. These chaps were pretty handy functioning with very simple and rustic working conditions. It amazes me that both in the old days and in less "advanced" civilizations, people seem to be able to do more with less! They had a small fire using locally made charcoal, (not the stuff you use for your barbecue) and a small hand cranked blower which the helper boy turned to get the forge hot enough; their metal, for making tools, came from old lorrie leaf springs. They did have an electric grinder and various thicknesses of wheels to shape the tools. Their primary business was making carving tools and chisels, though they did make some straight plane irons as well. No one in the Philippines seems to have ever seen or used a moulding plane, they either use a router, or they carve it all by hand. The idea of a plane that made moulding was quite a novelty to them; the smith had a hard time grasping the idea of the blades as well. His results, even though I gave him a sample to follow, was to make one that would have been well suited for a giant's plane; they were way too long in both directions.

To get the length right, I used an angle grinder and scored it
to the approximate length needed.

A shifting spanner and the vice made the second half go a lot
faster than the first half of the cutting process.

A little rotary grinder made good work of cutting the profile.

Re-sawing a piece to make the wedge.

A bit of linseed oil and, hey, we have a finished plane...and
it works!

The face of the plane and the profile it cuts.
The inspiration for the wedge came from an illustration in one of Roubo's plates from his L'Art du Menuisier . In his version, the 'beak' sticks off to the side, but it seemed to me like a great idea if used in conjunction with a curved shaped piece to prise it out. It works much better than hammering on the plane, or a block of wood, or clamping the wedge in the vice, or any other number of ways people have come up with to knock the wedge loose.
Not a very good picture, but this was
the source of my inspiration.
So far I have made three of these planes, and I really enjoy doing so; they also work great. The metal face gives them a nice heft, and they go through just about anything without trouble. I used this latest plane to do the outside corners of some maple table legs; the little tear-out there was took only light sanding with 220 grit to remove.

This is the official end of this post, but as a bonus, here is a picture of an hanging cabinet which is trying to get finished. The carving is 17th century English style; the wood is elm.
A bit of carving and some veneer work I got done last week.