Subscribing to the used tool list on Super Tool is a right of passage for many hand tool woodworkers (over 12,000 of us, apparently). Patrick Leach is renowned for being able to source an awe inspiring range of hand tool exotica as well as the more everyday essentials, all at good prices and in good condition.
I’ve been on the look-out for a 3/8″ square ovolo moulding plane for some time now. Caleb James appears to be alone in making new planes with this profile (and oh how I wish Philly would make one too) which means that a vintage example is really the only way to pick one up any time soon. Now, this sort of complex moulder does occasionally crop up on Ebay, or tool forums, for sale. What has stopped me putting down my hard earned cash down so far is that buying vintage tools from Ebay is something of a crap shoot. It is possible to get a real gem a low price, but there is also the potential to buy a complete mutt which will take an inordinate amount of time to rehabilitate (although I am full of admiration for people who do put in the hard yards refurbishing an Ebay or fleamarket find).
So when Patrick emailed out the May 2016 Super Tool list I was delighted to see that he had a 19th century 3/8 square ovolo moulding plane for sale at a very reasonable price. Even better, when I emailed Patrick to enquire about the plane, it transpired that he was due to be in the UK this week for the David Stanley auction, and would be in my home town on Friday. I’m not sure he hand delivers every tool ordered off the list (this is my first time ordering from Patrick), but I can’t say for sure that he doesn’t (there’s only one way to find out really, isn’t there).
So this Friday I found myself meeting Patrick over a cold beer to collect the plane and to talk handwork, the Studley tool chest, parenthood, and trade schools. Patrick is a fascinating, and incredibly knowledgeable chap, and I only wish we could have spent longer talking about any number of subjects.
The plane itself is an excellent user grade tool, and although it is certainly not a collector’s item it is very interesting. The boxing on the sole suggests that it was originally a beading plane that has been converted to cut a square ovolo profile. The right-hand side of the plane (as you push it) is secured by four screws, and this slip can apparently be removed so that the plane can be used to cut part of a wider and more complex moulding profile. There are also two owner’s marks on the toe – one of which is too faint to read, and the other belonging to an E.W Sparkes, who was so keen on the plane he (or she) also stamped their name into the heel. The sole was clean and the boxing in perfect condition, without any chips missing or wood pitch gumming up the profile. And the wedge fits snuggly without being over tight.
The blade had some light rusting, but cut reasonably well without any sharpening or cleaning up. I gently removed the worst of the surface rust with a Garryflex rust eraser, and polished the back with a drop of oil and some 1 micron and 0.3 micron Scary Sharp papers. I prefer to use Scary Sharp rather than my oil stones for this sort of work as replacing a torn paper is a lot less heartache than flattening a chunk taken out of the oil stone but an out of condition blade. The bevel was easily touched up by holding the blade upside down in a vise and polishing the edges with a series of translucent Arkansas slip stones – fortunately my set of slipstones included one curve which perfectly matched the radius of the plane blade. All of this took no more than 20 minutes, following which I took another series of test cuts. Even with such a limited and swift fettle, the plane cut a beautfully crisp profile across a range of hardwood test pieces.
I’ll be pressing this plane into use on some special projects later this summer, so regular readers can expect to see more over the coming months. Even more so, I’ll be scouring future tool lists from Patrick safe in the knowledge that his reputation for selling only high quality used tools is well deserved.