| A c. 1920s Frank J. Clements, American Number 4 1/2 planer
powered by a 1950 VAC Case tractor. Source: Iowa
A planing machine employs revolving metal cutters to shave
or chip the rough surface of a board or a timber in order to
reduce its dimensions or to produce a smoother surface. The
piece to be planed can be fed by hand or by a self-feeding mechanism
and can pass over or under the cutters. By 1800, Samuel Bentham
received various patents for planing machines in Britain. These
patents established an important principle of using rotating
cutters to allow for the continuous cutting of wood. In theory,
this process was much faster than the ancient method of using
various hand planes to smooth boards.
Machine, Facts On File,
The first reliable record we have of an attempt to supersede
hand planing by machinery is contained in a patent granted to
Hatton in 1776, but this seems to have been only a series of
crude mechanical ideas which were never put into practice. It
was left to Bentham to express practical ideas for development.
In 1827 Malcolm Muir, of Glasgow, invented an improved planer.
It had for its object the preparation of complete flooring boards.
The operations of sawing, planing, tongueing, and grooving were
all combined, and a number of the machines were put into operation.
John Cumberland, an American, brought out many improvements
in 1847, but the development in this country was greatly retarded
by the tyrannical restraint of the holders of a patent which
was known as the Woodworth Planer.
William Woodworth, an old carpenter residing in Poughkeepsie,
N.Y., and known familiarly as “Uncle Billy,” invented
in 1828 a Planing Machine which he described as “the combination
of rotary cutters and feeding rollers and of rotary matching
cutters so as to form a tongue or groove on both the edges of
the lumber at the same time that the principal surfaces are
At this time his patent extended for fourteen years, but was
extended from the day of its expiration for a further term of
seven years. Woodworth is not supposed to have profited by his
invention. The feeling against the machine by the carpenters
was very strong, and the mill in which the first machine was
used had to be watched both day and night for several months.
After the patent extension he decided to sell it out for what
he could get and succeeded in interesting Samuel Schenck, who
later controlled the sales in the New England States, John Gibson,
of Albany, N.Y., who handled the Middle States, and Samuel Pitts,
of Detroit, Mich. It is reported that Woodworth received not
over $5,000 for this valuable patent.
Gibson started a large shop at Albany for manufacturing the
machines, and a planing mill nearby where he could demonstrate
them in operation.
In July, 1843, the original patent was surrendered and a reissue
obtained which included “a small hold-down roll.”
From this time the prejudices of the workmen ceased and the
demand for planing machines increased rapidly.
The owners, through a mutual understanding, licensed a certain
number of machines, giving each mill owner the exclusive right
for a given amount of territory for which they charged a royalty.
In New York State the price was $7 per thousand feet, collected
by the mill owner, who paid $3 as royalty. Each mill owner was
required to render an account every three months for the amount
of lumber dressed and verify the same under oath, paying a royalty
within ten days thereafter.
Efforts were made to circumvent this patent because of the
strong feeling against the tyranny of those who owned it. Joseph
B. Andrews invented “two endless feed aprons.”
The Beckwith and the Gay machines in Pennsylvania and the Brown
machine in Massachusetts were all developed for the purpose
of evading the Woodworth patent, but their development was stopped
by injunctions and declared infringements. A man named Norcross,
however, was partially successful and withstood the suit of
the Woodworth patent holders.
By the time the first reissued patent expired, Gibson is supposed
to have been worth $1,000,000 and spent over $250,000 as his
share of the expenses in getting a further renewal. He succeeded.
Congress assembled December 1,1856, when the extended patent
had but twenty-seven days longer to run. Gibson and others interested
with him were there and succeeded so far as to have a bill introduced
early in the session to extend the patent for a further term
of seven years from December 27th, but when the remonstrance
was presented it resembled a roll of carpet more than a public
document. Officials concluded not to read it, but to unroll
and measure it, when it was found to contain two columns of
closely written names fifty feet long.
Thus ended the career of the Woodworth patent.
Gibson’s prosperity ceased, and he was obliged to sell
out his business to Daniel Doncaster, who had for many years
acted as his foreman and was well liked by his former customers.
Gibson later retired to a farm owned by his wife and died there
comparatively poor. Mr. Schenck removed his patterns to Matteawan,
N. Y. This company also ceased through failure after the expiration
of the patent. Mr. Pitts, of Detroit, never manufactured many
machines, but permitted his customers to buy them from either
Gibson or Schenck.
Users of this early machine were inconvenienced considerably
because of defective construction. The cylinder boxes used to
raise and lower perpendicularly, and it was necessary to shorten
or lengthen the belt for each change or adjustment. The finger
or star gearing that was used to connect the top and bottom
rolls allowed of practically no expansion and consequently these
had to be changed for each set-up.
These inconveniences were immediately overcome. In 1857 James
A. Woodbury, of Boston, patented a plan for moving both matching
heads by means of two separate screws.
Improved extension gears were invented by Charles Burleigh,
of Fitchburg, June 15, 1866, and J. B. Tarr, of Chicago, patented
a side head chip breaker, which was a valuable invention and
prevented the board from slivering while being submitted to
the action of the side cutters.
A dimension planer, known as the Gray & Woods Planer, was
patented January 24, 1860. It was a modification of the old
Daniels Planer and was developed for the purpose of straight
surfacing of boards.
A Short History
of Woodworking Machinery, from the 1920 edition of the
William H. Field Company Field's Wood Working Machinery
Reference Book, Old Woodworking Machines
The Woodworth planer patent, in its various reissues
and extensions (Patent 5,315X,
extended until 1856), is probably the most historically
significant patent for woodworking machinery. The drawing
for this patent was provided in 1841, about the time that
the owners were seeking to renew the original patent.
Patent 5,315X, Directory
of American Tools and Machinery Patents.
Woodworth Planer (1828, 1836), William Woodworth,
Hudson, New York
There are two Woodworth patents on planers, in 1828 and 1836.
The first patent was issued before the patent-office fire and
the major changes to patent laws (both in 1836), and was reissued
in 1845; the second patent was obtained in 1836, very shortly
after the new laws took effect. The first patent is the first
verifiable planing machine that used both rotary cutter heads
and feed rolls. The second patent provides a series of incremental
improvements on the original design.
Woodworth, Old Woodworking
The earliest successful application of this principle has been
associated with a patent granted to William Woodworth of Poughkeepsie,
N.Y., in 1828. The Woodworth planer used feed rolls and a rotary
cutting cylinder. Boards placed on edge were clamped to a moving
carriage and were passed through metal rollers until they met
with a rotating cutting cylinder that was mounted vertically.
By 1831, this type of machine could plane 2.5 to 2.7 m (8–9
ft) a minute, producing 400 to 500 planks a day. It held a virtual
monopoly over the large and profitable market for tongue-and-groove
floor boards used in the construction of buildings. But the
early machine vibrated considerably because of its wooden frame
and because it required better bearing designs. Most improvements
in the machine followed the expiration of Woodworth's patent
in the 1850s, when the machines became larger and operated at
higher speeds, with powered, spring-pressured rollers, chip
breakers, and more cutting knives in the cylinder. By 1853,
these machines operated at 4,000 revolutions a minute, planing
about 15 m (50 ft) of flooring a minute. Cutters required sharpening
about once an hour. Improved models were able to dress all four
sides of a board in a single pass.
The success of the Woodworth planer increased tremendously the
quantity of dressed lumber, providing incentive to develop machines
capable of boring, mortising, tenoning, and shaping, especially
when better steel allowed for more durable cutters. Occasionally,
the principles of the Woodworth planer were adapted for special
purposes. By 1880, a planer could smooth 500 doors in a day.
However, the Daniels planer was more commonly used in heavier
work required by the railroads and carriage manufacturers. The
Daniels machine employed a vertical revolving shaft with horizontal
arms, the cutters being placed at the ends of those arms. A
traveling bed delivered the work to the cutters, which operated
above the work at a very high speed. Most of these machines
were very large and heavily engineered, with cast-iron frames.
Machine, Facts On File,
Emmons Carriage-Feed Planer (1829), Uri Emmons,
Freehold, New Jersey
US Patent 5467
"According to PM&MinA, Uri Emmons built a carriage-fed
planer in 1824. The planer used knives mounted on rotating
disks, and cut on both the forward and reverse travel of the
carriage. It was, incredibly, hand-powered, and was known
locally as the "Flim-Flam," which isn't surprising
given the limited performance that could be expected from
a hand-powered machine of this size. Emmons received patent
no. X5,467 in 1829 for his wood planing machine. According
to an 1852 article in SA, Emmons's design was superior to
the 1828 Woodworth design, and in fact Woodworth's son had
his father's patent reissued in 1845, incorporating Emmons's
improvements. Check out patent no. RE71 for some wonderfully
clear drawings of this machine. It is not clear whether Woodworth
(or his estate) bought out Emmons, or whether they simply
used his ideas once the Emmons patent had expired.
Emmons, Old Woodworking