Antique woodworking planes in your inbox
Bringing back the wooden plane newsletter
From Rome to America, from England to Japan, wooden planes built the ancient and modern worlds. Welcome to the Working Wooden Planes newsletter, a monthly collection of history, photos, how-tos, videos and more.
Back in 1976, when collecting wooden planes was relatively unknown, a handful of men and women banded together under the name The British-American Rhykenological Society (from the Greek word "rhyken," which they translated as woodworking plane). They typed up a three-page manifesto, stuck a 13 cent stamp on it, and mailed it out to their friends and fellow collectors. Their newsletter would come to be known as “Plane Talk,” and over the next 15 years they published hundreds of pages of research, theories, musings, maker’s marks, drawings and photos.
Within a few years of launching, B-ARS’s membership grew to more than 3301 people and then many more as wood planes became a major focus of antique collecting. Planes that once could be picked up for a few dollars at an antique store now sold at auction for tens of thousands of dollars. Dozens of books chronicling the history and types of wood planes were published. The research that first came to light in "Plane Talk" (and other newsletters like "The Mechanick's Workbench") were used as the foundation for the collector's bible, "A Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planes." After the demise of "Plane Talk," the era of the research newsletter went on for a few more years – first with Michael Humphrey's “The Catalog of American Wooden Planes” and then Patrick Lasswell's "Sign of the Jointer" – before petering out around 2000.
Today B-ARS and "Plane Talk" are just a memory. Almost all of the founders have passed away. "The Chronicle," the magazine of America's largest historic trades organization, is now the source for wooden plane research. While prices have come down a bit in the past 10 years, collecting planes by important makers remains far out of reach for most people. But there's a new generation of woodworkers who aren't interested in collecting – they want to know how to use these antique tools. There are artisans who make and sell wooden planes. There are private classes and community college classes where you can learn how to make your own. There's a growing community of users on Instagram. Videos on how to restore and use wooden planes have attracted tens of thousands of viewers.
I want to bring back the wooden plane newsletter. I'll leave the original research to “The Chronicle.” There's a new audience out there who wants to know more about the history of these remarkable tools. I want to resurface interesting stories that have faded away, and talk about the lives of the people who built these planes and how they shaped the world we live in. I want to show how these tools were and are used, how to take obsolete techniques and use them to build beautiful things. I want to help resurrect the tools that built the world. Thank you for continuing this journey with me.
B-ARS membership list Oct. 1981.