Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chips with everything...

... or to Cap It All.

I've been musing on the Cap Iron/Chip Breaker question just recently. It's cropped up not only on UK Workshop but also recently on the Old Tools List, notably from the Never-Wronged Rev Ron, better known to the world as Ron Hock of aftermarket blade fame. His understanding of the purpose, and one I believe also, is as follows:

"...that the part formerly known as "chip-breaker" probably isn't breaking any chips but that doesn't mean that it's not doing anything in this system. It's adding significant rigidity to that springy bevel right down close to the cutting edge."

Now this is in Bailey planes, so don't come running with arguments based on woodies or infills or the legendary planes of the gods or nuffink, 'cos I'll just say "it's not a Bailey pattern" and laugh in your face. Yes, I will. So there.

Anyway, when I first came across the term "chip breaker", I was nonplussed. Well to be honest I thought it was just another example of the 'Murrican habit of giving things all the wrong names like "trunk", "faucet" and "rabbet" instead of "boot", "tap" and "rebate". Not that we love y'all any the less for these charming peccadilloes, but we do chuckle to ourselves and wonder when you're going to start learning English again... Hah, and just looking at "nonplussed" in the dictionary I see in North America it means exactly the opposite to what the rest of us mean - there you go again, you see? But where was I...? Oh, yeah, chip breaker. Chip? I mean c'mon, the plane famous for making chips is the scrub*, and that doesn't have a cap iron... Numerous folks better able to come over all scientific than I have demonstrated that as far as breaking shavings goes, it does no such thing.

But no matter, sez I to myself, 'cos here I am safe and sound in that backwater of guilt and apology-for-Empire called Merrie Olde England where a biscuit's a biscuit and not a cookie and a cap iron it shall be. But no, creeping insidiously into British woodworking is the dreaded "chip breaker", often from respected authors who, frankly, ought to know better. Now I'm not saying "cap iron" is the peak of semantic gorgeousness, 'cos frankly it could be describing a hot metal plate for flattening headgear in the North of England, but it has deep roots here and does not pretend that the darn thing does any kind of breaking of chips.

So with gladsome cry do I read Mr Hock's post and others in the thread rounding upon the term "chip breaker", grinding it in the dust beneath their boots and proclaiming the term "cap iron". And many of them of the 'Murrican persuasion too. Now take the hint; are we not on a current wave of handtool-using enthusiasm? We are. And who got there first; were, in fact, in the vanguard of promoting same? Why the Old Tools List. Spot the trend? Yep, if the "in" crowd are coming round to calling it a cap iron it's just a matter of time...

I now await the deluge of disagreement and possibly affronted Nationalistic pride that'll no doubt flood into the comments box. Hey, feel free. At least it gives you something to think about and leaves only one more blog entry tomorrow to keep my promise, which may or may not be the real point of this whole post...

*Or maybe the Record Spudmatic 1000, a short-lived plane from the late 1950s found in some fish & chip** establishments...

** Another example; "chips" equals "fries". Unfortunately it completely kills the joke, doesn't it?


  1. Well, English is a mongrel language so it is a just a natural progression.


  2. Alf, it's so nice to have you back on full form. I think you should do this every day :D

  3. What about those wooden things that we grab hold of to use the plane.
    Can we start calling them handles?

    I've never understood why the verb "tote" is used.


  4. Ah,touché!

    But I'd actually argue in favour of "tote", at least for plane handles. Firstly, because it's an easy way to differentiate between the rear handle and the knob without having to mention both if you don't want to. Secondly, because you tote the plane round by using it, don't you?

    So maybe I'm less against 'Murricanisms but rather misnomers? Nah, I'm just fickle... ;)

  5. Al
    Not going to go in to the 'Merican language thing but "chipbreaker" is my cup of tea.
    Never really trusted them, they just don't make sense to me (from use.....) Read a few things about Jap planes where the breaker is used to tension and support the iron, not break the chip. Made a lot of sense to me...
    You've seen Jim Kingshotts' video? His description of how a chipbreaker works makes perfect sense. But in the real world it just doesn't add up-you need to re-adjust the breaker everytime you adjust depth of cut. And really, the chipbreaker needs to be as close to the irons' edge as the thickness of the shaving. and that just isn't done by anyone!
    Tight mouth does it for me-and don't forget to sharpen the iron.....;)


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