Making an ancient handplane

My curly birch version of a c.1300 plane
Last Thursday, the Viking Museum Instragram feed posted a picture of a truly exciting plane that they use in the process of reconstructing Viking-era ships. It is based on one found on Skraeling Island and has been dated c.1300.

When I saw this thing, I knew that I had to make one and I found some time this weekend and put one together.

To speed the process along so that I could experiment with the plane more quickly, I chose to make a glued up body rather than chop the plane from one piece.

The glued up plane body. The iron is bedded at 45 degrees.

Such cool tool marks left by the in-cannel gouge

It took all of my self control to not leave the cool gouge marks in the body while carving the curves. Having worked with such tools before, I can tell you that those ridges, while attractive, are sure to raise a blister. So I smoothed them away with a rasp and sandpaper.

King Edward's dowel stock

Whenever I have oak scraps or cutoffs, I split them into dowel sized billets and put them in a cigar box high up on a shelf to dry out completely. One of the blanks was selected and driven through my 3/8" dowel plate with my new hand sledge.

I love the shavings that the dowel plate leaves
 This split oak dowel was used as the cross pin for the plane. The Viking Museum's example uses a steel cross pin but I didn't have any steel rod of the appropriate diameter. Also, based on previous plane making experience, I find that a wood pin seems to hold the wedge better than steel. Should the oak fail in use it will be a simple thing to replace as it isn't glued in.

The finished article
 Interestingly enough, the Viking Museum appears to use their plane on the push stroke. I tried this but found that the plane works much better on the pull, at least for me. This type of discovery is why I consider myself as much of an experimental archaeologist as I do a furniture maker: trying to replicate the work of the past (in this case the ancient past) is why I do what I do.

I should probably make some actual furniture soon but I'm having a lot of fun cleaning, reorganizing, and restocking the shop with some fun new tools.

As you can see, it works very well.

- Zachary Dillinger


  1. Have you been able to see the original? I suspect that the wear patterns on the wood body can reveal whether the plane was generally pushed or pulled more often.

    1. I've only seen a picture of two of the original plane. Mine is based only a photo of the Viking Museum copy.

  2. Odd that they push it. All the literature I have ever encountered on the Skraelling Island plane describes this as being pulled. I can send some sources, if you like, but they might be in Danish (don't have my computer here.) Indeed, it is very plane which got me into Japanese planes. Good work on recreating it - and from a picture at that. I am very impressed.

    1. Henrik, I would very much appreciate any sources you have. My mother actually speaks / reads Danish so I can get her to translate if necessary. My email is, if you find the time to send them. Thank you!

  3. I found pictures of similar planes made by the indigenous Sámi people living in Finnish Lapland. The Sámi had contact with the Vikings, naturally, living in the same area along the Norwegian coast. The images can be found in the digital archive, if your are interested. Use the search words "höylä Siida". "Höylä" means plane in Finnish, and "Siida" is the name of the Sámi museum in Finland. (I emailed you on this a while ago, but had the bad taste of sending you links. No one in their right mind opens links sent by an unknown person.) I wish you health and strength. Thanks for the blog post. BR! Leif

    1. (Tried to answer with full name, didn't succeed. BR. Leif Pietilä, Finland)