Fair Woodworking

December 22, 2013

Jack of one trade, master of one.

IMG_8428Unless you have a foundry, you can’t turn a jack plane into a scrub plane.  If you camber the iron and set a jack plane up for initial roughing of stock you have, voilà, a freaking jack plane – set up exactly as it was traditionally used. – Larry Williams

As posted in Quotables on Flair Woodworks

There’s a saying out there that goes something like this.

“Never get a framer to do trim carpentry. He will get it done fast, but it will be so sloppy you will have to get it re done. Never get a trim carpenter to do framing. The house will be framed perfectly, but it will take forever.”

If you google “Jack plane” you will most likely get a hit from Wikipedia. In their page they quote Jim Toplin (who I have great respect for), and his belief that the Jack plane is a “Jack of all trades plane”.  He could be right, but I’m pretty sure he is dead wrong. Sorry Jim…

Any bench plane can play the role of jack of all trades to some degree. It all depends on the size of the work to limit its uses. I don’t think the term Jack for planes is any more connected to the “of all trades” than any of the other compound words we commonly build out of the name Jack.

Who’s ever heard of a ‘Jack of all trades hammer‘, or a ‘lumberjack of all trades’, let’s not forget the age-old ‘hijack of all trades’.

Don’t make me laugh, it’s just silly.

So let’s dissect the name Jack Plane. We all know what a plane is so I don’t think we need to study that part, but if you google “history of the name Jack“, you will once again get a Wiki-answer among others. Jack is the old English slang for “man” or even “common man”. The North American equivalent would be “John” where we get John Doe, along with the prostitution term of a John, and we all know what’s happening when you go to the john…?

I think that the name Jack signifies that this plane is for common, unskilled, or rough work. Compare the use of a Jackhammer with finish hammer. Then consider the type of worker who would use the two. A jackhammer requires very little skill, and a lot of rough brawny muscle. A finish hammer is reserved for the skilled hands of a craftsman.


So when I look at the sole of my trusty #5 I don’t see a lot of versatility in it. I once threw it on the lapping plate out of curiosity. It’s not so flat in front of the mouth, and that could be a problem for tear out, so it’s almost worthless as a smoother. It’s also not nearly flat enough in its length to work as a jointer, but rough work?

For fat chunky shavings (though not scrub plane shavings), my #5 has one job, one simple-minded job for a tool that is smart like tractor. My Jack is a Jack of only one trade, but it is also the master of one, just one, simple rough trade.

I’ve read about this argument on other blogs, and if I could find them again, I be happy to give them credit for getting me going on this, but alas, I’m not that smart…

I guess you could say that I don’t know Jack… of all trades.


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