Comb. Planes

Plow Planes


Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better. - Christopher Schwarz


M.S. Bickford, Planemaker
Copyright 2010. This article originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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In going from high finance to planemaking, Bickford has made the transition look smooth.

It takes guts to show off the tools you're selling while using them on a workbench that's painted pink.

But that is exactly what Matt Bickford is doing this early spring day at a woodworking show in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He has a nice piece of cherry on his pink workbench and is showing how to make an ovolo moulding with his moulding planes. As he works, he tries to get other woodworkers to give it a try.

After working for years with trashed vintage moulding planes and the exquisite
Clark & Williams versions, I contend that the moulding planes by Matt Bickford
are an excellent combination of craftsmanship and utility.

"I am a huge proponent of learning the process and building the skills to use that process," Bickford says. "There's a place for these (moulding planes) in every person's shop. A lot of people don't know what they are or how to use them. The problem is the planes that are out there have been mishandled. Wood moves. The irons don't match. The wood is warped."

Bickford was convinced that he could make a living selling moulding planes. In fact, he was so convinced that he traded life as a high-powered derivatives trader in Philadelphia to make moulding planes full-time (and mostly by hand) in a basement shop in a house in Haddam Neck, Conn.

That's a risky career move. In fact, some people might say that making wooden planes in this age is even more gutsy than working in public on a pink workbench.

The Pedigree to Make Fine Tools

Bickford didn't start out life knowing that he wanted to become a toolmaker. He's a native of Hyde Park, N.Y., and graduated from Yale University with a history degree. He wanted a career in engineering or math, but he studied history because that is what he wanted to read about. After he graduated, he started immediately in the field of finance.

"I always liked the stock market," he says. "I liked the markets, betting on the markets and the like."

But Bickford soon stumbled into woodworking by accident. He met a cabinetmaker in Haddam Neck where his wife is from and visited his shop while the guy was building a sleigh bed.

"It was really the first time I had seen how things were made," Bickford says. "Yale has a phenomenal furniture gallery, and it never occurred to me that work like that was going on now. I saw his sleigh bed with the finials on top one was done and one was not. I realized immediately that this (woodworking) was now my hobby, despite never having done much of anything outside Boy Scouts. I fell in love right away."

With a simple rabbet plane and a handful of hollows and rounds, you can make almost
any moulding. The tools are liberating, like using a proper backsaw for the first time.

Bickford returned to Philadelphia and began doing more projects around the house. He began spending his vacation time in the shop of the Connecticut cabinetmaker. Before his first trip to work there he had never seen a jointer or a planer.

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