Cabinet Moldings Vs. Joiner's Moldings
One of the great controversies among molding plane collectors is the identification of a tool as a cabinetmaker's or a joiner's tool. By shear statistics, the answer is usually the joiner. The role of a joiner is to create the fine interior trim and appointments on buildings, after the carpenter has completed the structural work. Cabinetmakers of course make furniture. For example, someone who builds kitchen cabinets is a joiner, not a cabinetmaker. In the nineteenth century, when most fine collectible tools were made, joiners were at the peak of their prosperity, while cabinetmaking with hand tools was a dying art. Thus most of the tools we find must have originally been used by joiners, not cabinetmakers.
In most cases the distinction of ownership for a tool is irrelevant, since the tools were interchangeable. In some cases; however, the difference is more real. The most obvious of these to the novice eye is the angle at which the iron is set. Joiners usually worked with soft woods such as pine or poplar, which would ultimately be painted. Cabinetmaker's typically worked with hard woods that would not be painted. To avoid tear-out in hard woods it is preferable to have a steeper pitch to the iron. Molding planes with this steeply set iron are scarce today, which correlates with the low proportion of cabinetmakers to joiners. The question is often asked, "why not set all irons at a steeper pitch"? This steeper pitch makes the plane much harder to push, and for the jointer, who would have been cutting much more lineage than a cabinetmaker, it would have greatly increased his work load. This difference in effort required is so pronounced, that even among planes clearly intended for cabinetmaking, the pitch may still be set at a normal angle. The common iron bedding angle for general purpose work is about 45 degrees. An extra 5 degrees was often marketed by British makers as York pitch. Yet another 5 degrees was marketed as Cabinet pitch. While all planes with more than common pitch are scarce, it is really quite unusual to find an American plane with a steeper pitch. Intuitively this makes sense, since the United States was much quicker that Britain to abandon hand-made furniture in favor of mass-produced factory products.
More subtle than the pitch of the iron in distinguishing a cabinetmaker's molding plane from a joiner's is the molding itself. Both groups had, for the most part, the same basic profiles in their repertoire. As a general statement, cabinetmaker's tended to favor smaller moldings, that could be used for furniture trim, and joiners typically would have owned most of the wide molders. For example, 1/8" beads, which are relatively scarce today, had limited utility for a joiner, but were frequently used by cabinetmakers as a door edge molding on such things as corner cabinets. A small bead like this was almost always used on a door edge of a heavily used piece of furniture, because as the fit deteriorates with wear, the molding tends to obscure that fact. The shape of the molding itself is actually an important clue. Moldings with sharply defined features would not be suitable for painting, and thus were likely used for cabinetmaking. Most molding planes have small flats at the point of any sharp angle, such as the tip of a piece of boxing. This is because when the molding was painted, these flats would fill in and create the impression of a sharp angle. These moldings can still be used on furniture, but should be done in such a way that paint flats are not left exposed.