The Superior Works: Inner Sanctum

Hermon Chapin was the most important name in wooden planemaking during mid-19th century America. He took a small businesslocated north of Hartford, Connecticut, in the sleepy little town of Pine Meadow, and transformed it into one of the largest wooden plane manufacturers this country has seen. His Union Factory eventually produced boxwood and ivory rules, layout tools, patented planes, and even roller skates. Ultimately, his company was bought out by Stanley during the 1920's, long after Hermon went to that great 'plane' in the sky.

Chapin's Union Factory commenced operations in 1828 and quickly rose through the planemaking ranks to become the largest wooden planemaking firm in New England, rivaled only by The Greenfield Tool Company due north in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Upon Hermon's death, his sons took over the business and continued it for decades.

Planemaking was a family gig with the Chapins, as two of Hermon's brothers were successful planemakers in their own right; Nathaniel, who operated the Eagle Factory in the adjacent town of New Hartford, later removing north to Westfield, Massachusetts, and Philip, who went south (Young Man?) to Baltimore to have his hand at planemaking there, ultimately being the most prolific of the Baltimore makers. While Nathaniel made planes in the typical New England style, Philip soon adopted the style of Baltimore's planemakers, who favored more mass to their planes.

Many a planemaker cut his teeth in Hermon's shop only later to strike out on their own. Most went northward to populate the hill towns near the west bank of the Connecticut River as it winded its way through Massachusetts. However, one maker, Solon Rust, decided to head south for greener pastures, having decided to take his skills to the shop of Linson DeForest, the uncontested champion of plough plane making on this planet (DeForest offered an ivory plough with solid gold nuts for $1000 - email me if you ever find one - and he even offered one made of Zebrawood). It was under DeForest's command that Solon Rust became expert at plough making. The actual tools that Solon Rust used to make the planes still exist.

Chapin was able to lure Rust back into his fold during the mid-1860's. The two guys tag-teamed a gutsy patent that solved a common nuisance of wooden ploughs, that being a way to adjust the fence so that it remains parallel with the plough's skate. Rust's skills of plough planemaking were honed to produce a stunning plane as can be seen in the one photographed here.This plane is made of applewood with a boxwood adjuster and wearstrip dovetailed into the fence. Since the fence is adjusted about its midpoint, and assisted by the two slides fore and aft of the adjuster, the fence moves effortlessly toward or away from the body, keeping the fence parallel without your having to thing about it. Total freedom of painful plough adjusting now solved. Thanks Solon. We love ya!

The billhead that follows is a receipt from the Union Factory to The Providence Tool Company, of Providence, Rhode Island. The receipt is for an order of 2 dozen rules that have a sliding german silver caliper in each. The model number of the rules is "No. 37," which is referred as an "Iron monger's Caliper Rule, Ivory" in Chapin's 1853 catalogue. What a mix - grungy ironmongering with elephant's ivory. Wonder how many ivory calipers your basic ironmonger ruined in his life and how many elephants gave up their lives needlessly? Probably a lot.

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pal, February 28, 1998