Building the Melencolia plane
My next project (I hope).
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.