JO FULLER Bench Planes

By Lasswell, Patrick | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., September 2016 | Go to article overview

JO FULLER Bench Planes


Lasswell, Patrick, The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


Joseph Fuller ( 1746-1822) was one of the most important American planemakers during the last quarter of the 1700s and through the early 1800s. He was making and selling planes as early as 1773 in Providence, Rhode Island, and died there in 1822.1 He seems to have been quite successful in his trade and produced products that were quite refined in their details and lines.

Researchers have outlined both Fuller's life and his planes in articles over the last thirty years.4 They have developed a chronology of his marks and a chronology of his plane details based on Fuller's molding planes. Presented here is a brief look at his bench planes, which is very much built upon and tied to this earlier body of work.

First, let's review the basic periods of Fuller's planemaking career as defined by his molding planes. (A description of the bench planes will follow this outline and, as you will see, they will share many of the same traits as the molding planes.)

In Chapter II of Wooden Planes in 19th Century America, vol. II, by Kenneth Roberts, Edward Ingraham set out the basic chronology of Fuller's planes, including both descriptions and photographs. Ingraham states: "Fuller's earliest planes, bearing simply the large embossed stamp 'JO FULLER', surrounded by a zig-zag border, were 10 inches long, constructed from birch, and supported a step, molded with a cove. The wedge was slightly relieved and shallow decorative notches were applied to the toe and heel."3 Examples of the three-dot stamps (A and B) are found in American Wooden Planemakers (hereafter AWP IV); the B imprint includes the location stamp "PROVIDANCE"£sic].4 These planes have 5/16-inch-wide flat chamfers that are mostly on the sides.

Ingraham's description continues: "The second period of Fuller's planes demonstrated several small changes in design; the relief of the wedge was more pronounced and the heel was rounded slightly more than previously and he adopted a new and smaller stamp which also noted his location, 'JO FULLER/IN/PROVIDENCE'."5 (See AWP IV stamps C and Cl.) These planes have slightly narrower flat chamfers, which average about 1/4-inch-wide that are still mostly on the sides.

After this point, Fuller modified the C/Cl stamps and omitted the "IN" portion of his mark yielding the D/Dl imprints."

Ingraham describes this as Fuller's third period. "Among the changes observed in Fuller's planes include a more sharply defined relieved wedge, deeper decorative notching on the heel and slightly narrower chamfering (3/16 to 1/4 of an inch)."7 Mike Humphrey, in his publication The Catalog of American Wooden Planes, dates planes with the D/D1 marks and that retain the flat chamfers to approximately the first half of the 1790s.3

Fuller then adopted rounded-top chamfers with flat chamfers on the toe and heel, that still had the flutes below and were 10 inches in length. Humphrey dates these planes to approximately the later part of the 1790s.9

Finally, at sometime around 1800 to 1810, Fuller began to shorten the molding plane lengths to the standard 9X inches and to incorporate standard nineteenth-century-style details, including the use of beech, the omission of the end flutes, and an unrelieved wedge with a swept-back finial.10 His last smaller marks, E and El, are used on these later fourth-period planes."

Now, let's look at the bench planes. Presented are descriptions and drawings of five Fuller bench planes-three jointers and two smoothers. These five planes fall within Fuller's first three periods as outlined above and are defined by the imprints and chamfer details.

The Jointer Planes

In 1999, I was privileged to add a JO FULLER bench plane to my collection. (Here I must admit to an affinity for both Fuller planes and eighteenth-century bench planes) This jointer, illustrated in Figure 1, falls within the later third period of Fuller's work. The plane is made of birch and has small rounded chamfers along the top of the body with flat chamfers on the ends. …

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