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Handrail Planes


Last year I was lucky to find this set of 5 ogee handrail planes by R.NELSON with, I think, his 1817-1822 mark.

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The pair of straight ogees are 6 5/8th x 2 3/4 inch,compassed ogees are 5 3/8th x 2 3/4 inch all with moveable fence and single irons by PARTRIDGE. Lastly a radiused and compassed top capping plane 6 x 2 1/2 inch with a BUTCHER iron and PARTRIDGE cap. All have very fine mouths.

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British Planemakers 4 refers to the capping plane "In most instances the tradesman must have used the general tools available for the top surface as these planes are almost unknown". I've been involved with with the installation of new and repair of old geometrical staircases and continuous handrails for a while now. The making of new handrail components was by others or their CNC machines, but all repair work and some new needed "cleaning up" especially around joints after fitting.

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I use hollows and rounds on the straight sections, and as suggested by BPM4 a variety of spokeshaves, abrasive paper and most effectively home made scrapers (see example made from an old plane iron) on radiused work. A recent repair gave me an opportunity to try out the capping plane which was a close match and with a near set iron made the job easy. Unfortunately the ogee sections weren't a good enough match to try out the other planes.
I'm surprised that these capping planes are so uncommon as I would have thought them to have been indispensible in a specialist workshop. Perhaps they became separated from their brothers for use on non handrail work,borrowed and never returned.

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It's very difficult to find handrail specialists prepared to make small pieces for repair and restoration work,and my efforts to understand the process of setting out and making curved parts, aided by old books and some excellent American videos, has been limited by time. One of these books,"The Carpenter, Joiner and Handrailer" by Robert Riddell has the attached frontispiece showing work in a specialist shop entitled "Dignity of Mechanic Art". I can't spot any special planes,and barely a shaving on the floor but dignified and artistic it is.


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