Building the Melencolia plane

My next project (I hope).


Melencolia I – Durer

Like many woodworkers I have been fascinated by Durer’s “Melencolia I” woodcut. It is filled with amazing details and more than a few sweet tools.
I have already made a couple of “Melencolia Squares” and have even had a wack at reproducing the batten in the lower right corner. But the gem of the collection is still taunting me, and that is the amazing plane at the angel’s feet. I have looked at this for a while now and even found some examples of attempted reproductions of it on the internet. But looking at it is not really what I need as a builder, I have to make one of these things. Not just for curiosity, or some fixation on old tools (although I am afflicted with both of those things). No, I want to make this plane because I have a sneaky suspicion that this would be a really nice plane to use if built and tuned properly.


The Melencolia Plane

My analysis

Looking at this plane in high resolution I noticed it has some really nice features. Here are a few of the niceties that jumped out to me.

  1. It has a nice open throat for clearing chips. And unlike most wooden planes it has a pleasing rounded shape to the front of the throat which is just perfect for reaching in with your finger to clear the throat.
  2. It has an awesome front tote. All my hand built planes to date have been tote-less(except for my rebuild of a stanley #26) and I think I am ready for the additional challenges this plane provides.
  3. The wedge is also quite decorative(the picture makes it look like a cross between a barn owl’s face and Eddie Munsters hair), however it looks very functional as well when you examine the details, so I do not think this is simply an artist’s imagination at work. I am particularly interested in the business end of the wedge. It looks as if it has a cove running down to the sharp edge. Nevertheless I think shaping and fitting this wedge is going to be the most challenging part of this build. Instead of a simple wedge this is a sort of compound wedge(if it is proper to use such a phrase). If done exactly as shown it would require changing the angle of the shoulder of the journal that the wedge runs in to get a proper fit. I need to consider whether I will exactly match this wedge or cheat a bit by keeping the outer edges of the wedge square with the edges of the wedge. But either way I think this will be a real corker to execute well. My first thought is to cut a wedge with a higher angle, and then plane each side down to the final angle that I will layout on each side of the wedge blank. Then finally rounding the top and chamfering as shown. We shall see.
  4. Finally, I just like the looks of it. I think that shape would feel good in the hands. I am also going to make it on the large side of what the scale of this image allows. I am going for 10″ – 12″ in length and 2.5″ – 3″ overall width.

The Melencolia Square

Other Melencolia tools

I first heard of the “Melencolia Square” from Chris Schwarz’s blog. I have included a link to it here. He also gives free plans here. While I like the way they turned out(sort of a lovechild between a square and a french curve) I do want to make a couple more just to refine the form a bit. I mostly want to increase the width a bit to give me more reference area on the edge. I do not totally want to loose the narrow length to width ratio of the form though. I think it is one of it’s unique features as opposed to more modern forms of layout tools.


The Melencolia Batten

The Batten

I have also made a batten like the one shown in this illustration for securing things to my benchtop. However as I look at this image more and more I wonder if this really was not intended to be used more as a straight edge than as a batten. As a batten it’s narrow cross section does not give as much surface “grip” as a more conventional “doe’s foot” does. So I am thinking straight edge. But that is a matter of highly debatable interpretation. Some people really try to read a lot of things into the “real meaning” of this piece. I just like the tools.
Anyway, hope you enjoy the pic’s! When I get back to my shop I have a long list of “next” things to do. Looks like my list just increased by one.


Melencolia I – Durer

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