Transitional Jack Plane in its new habitat

My Favorite Use for a Transitional Plane

Transitional planes are the pariahs of the woodworking world. The tool collectors don’t want them. Patrick Leach burns them in a funeral pyre.  I’ve had a few over the years I got for a song and kept in the shop mostly for decoration.

Cleaned up timber frame post
Cleaned up timber frame post

As I got more into timber framing and working with green timbers it dawned on me that these transitional planes — at least in the jack and jointer sizes might be useful for cleaning up timbers. The large wooden sole doesn’t rust the way a metal plane would when exposed to wet wood for long periods of time and you have a more or less modern Bailey style mechanism. The one annoying thing about the mechanism on a transitional plane is the blade advancement wheel spins the opposite way a metal plane works, but after a few minutes you get used to it.

 Bill using a traditional jack plane to clean up timber
Bill using a traditional jack plane to clean up timber

For some timber frames I need to clean up and remove all the large circular saw or bandsaw marks. In a workshop or outbuilding being fresh from the mill is fine, but in a house all those rough surfaces can be a dust magnet or source of splinters.

With a nice camber it makes quick work of dressing a green eastern white pine timber
With a nice camber it makes quick work of dressing a green eastern white pine timber

On my jack plane I’ve ground a camber appropriate to a jack plane and take a reasonably heavy shaving. The work goes fast and I admit its fun to make a 25′ foot long shaving on some of the largest timbers.

At first I felt bad about using a plane from the 1870s for this sort of work, but if properly maintained it will have a surprisingly long life and I’d rather see this plane get used as opposed to being  in a pyre or on a shelf.

At the end of the day I make sure to remove the iron and wipe it down with oil so it does not rust and I’ll usually give the sole a little more wax.

Transitional Jack Plane in its new habitat
Transitional Jack Plane in its new habitat

I can usually find these planes in surprisingly good shape for $10-35. If you’re willing to take one with more rust on the mechanism or a replacement sole you can likely get it for even less or even free from some dealers if you buy a few other items. The next time you are at a tool swap you may want to take a second look at a transitional plane and score yourself a good deal on a solid workhorse for your own timber framing or green woodworking projects.


7 thoughts on “My Favorite Use for a Transitional Plane”

  1. your theory makes a lot of sense, most timber framing was probably done in the open as well, so less metal, less rust. Wood will survive a drop onto packed dirt, metal may bend or break. The advantage gained in the metal mechanism; blade advancement and adjustment would warent the extra cost and aditional maintenance over an all wood model

  2. Great idea.
    I definitely think that using a plane for a job like this is better than just having it sit idle or getting used as a restaurant decoration etc.

  3. For long planes, transitionnal planes seems to combine the advantages of wooden planes (light wheight, body rigidity, lower friction) with the adjustment mechanism of the metal ones.
    Best of both world?
    Alas, we do not see them on the flea market of continental Europe.

    1. Maybe you can find some from eBay or similar sites out of the UK or US that would still be reasonable after shipping and tariffs. Hopefully one or more will pop up at a local free market when you least expect it. 🙂

      Take care,

  4. Thanks Bill, as always I learn something from your blog. I will begin looking for some of these planes. I will use then when I make reproduction lobster buoys (my grandfather was a lobsterman in Maine and I have begun to make reproductions of his buoys as gifts for family members.)

      1. I will put your name on my list Bill! Will send a photo of latest one since I can’t figure out how to post a photo here.

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