Thursday, December 12, 2013

Boxing for Wooden Moulding Planes

One hard thing to acquire when making a moulding plane is the material for boxing. For any of you that are not familiar with the term boxing it has to do with the wood that is inserted into high wear portions of the sole with a very hard wearing wood. The traditional wood was almost exclusively Boxwood (Buxus Sempervirens). The boxing wood is placed in such a way that it orients the end grain of the wood toward the sole of the plane. It is inserted on a bias to the sole that is parallel with the bed angle or the wear angle.

Moulding planes that would have this in particular are those with quirks of some sort that need a sharp area of a profile to project from the sole. Side bead planes are a good example of this. However, the sharp edge of a plane that receives high wear such as a rabbit or filister plane would commonly be boxed since its edge would be presented to the work repeatedly. At other times you may see the inside corner of a complex profile moulding plane's integrated fence being boxed since the fence would be pressed against the stock to keep the profile in position during the cut.

Cove with fence boxing and side bead with boxed quirk

Rabbit plane with persimmon boxed edge

So where can you get boxing wood? It is a real challenge. So I am going to help you identify some wood that is native to the US that you may be able to find that is appropriate for boxing. I am also going to share a source of Buxus Sempervirens that is sold here in the US currently.

First off is a native source that is the only North American tree in the Ebony family. It may be a surprise but it is Persimmon (Diospyros Virginiana). This wood is possibly in your backyard or neighboring forest and you didn't even know it. It often goes unnoticed because the forest grown trees may not bear fruit since they don't receive enough sunlight if they are in the understory growth with taller trees around. These trees often don't grow in groups and are sparsely populated in the forest. This could be due to an animal such as a deer eating the fruit and then the seed germinates wherever the droppings land. Generally I find the trees growing along the tree line to an open area or a path through the woods rather than out in the middle of the forest.

Here are some pictures of the most important way to identify the tree, the bark. You need to know what the bark looks like because very likely the tree that is big enough for you to cut down for lumber will be too tall to see the leaves well. The forest grown trees will be slim and tall with the foliage grouped near the top. Also the best time to cut most trees is during the winter months while the foliage is lost.

This is the bark of a relatively small tree, about 9" in diameter. Just large enough to get usable wood. Notice the bark is a rusty red color where it is broken. This is a good way to confirm you have the right tree. 

Now notice the bark if this much older Persimmon. It is much different. It looks more like a mosaic of plates of bark rather than ridges. This tree is about 14" in diameter by comparison.

This is a piece of persimmon lumber cut so that you can see the layers of bark. Notice that the layers alternate black to rusty red. The bark will break at the reddish layer. The layer that divides the bark and the inner wood is quite distinct as well.

Plain sawn Persimmon

This is the color of the wood that has been milled and air dried. It has taken on a light flesh tone color that will darken to a beautiful light brown tone when oiled.

Last, the supplier of Boxwood (Buxus Sempervirens) is Rare Woods USA. The owner is Rory though anyone one can help you that answers the phone. He is from South Africa and began importing exotic lumber to the US about five years ago. He is not new to the business since he worked with exotic lumber in South Africa for about 25+ years. I learned of his exceptional stock of woods from Tim Manney. Thanks Tim! He spoke well of Rory and after speaking to him myself I got the same vibe. He really knows his wood and very quickly understood what I was inquiring about. He does have a minimum order so please be aware of that. Currently it is $300+ shipping. This accounts for his valuable time in selecting the right boards that you may want. He also has quarter sawn European steamed beech for plane making up to 8/4. I encourage you to check out his video about his lumber on his home page. You will see what a unique place he has. If you buy from him please let me and others know your experience by posting in the comments below. I have not purchased anything from him but wanted to pass on the source.

Here are a few photos of some boxwood that I have. It was a very old tree by North American standards. It does grow here in the US but it is hard to come by in this size. You will mostly see it as very small hedges around homes, etc. I really love the smell of this wood. 


  1. Hey Caleb,

    Great stuff here. Thanks for putting up so much good info.

    Try hop hornbeam for boxing. It hard, resilient, and wears well. Super slow growing wood will do that, and I can't think of a more slow growing tree. If you want to try some, give a shout.


  2. Jason,

    I don't know of too many people that even know that wood much less its woodworking properties. I have considered trying to track some down and see what I think of it. I had dogwood higher up on the list to try first mostly because I know where some is and it of course is easy to identify.

    I think hophornbeam is more common up in the northeast so I haven't seen any around here. I would like to try some. I am planning to compile a list of woods traditionally used for planemaking and to supplement that with a list of woods that could serve as alternates with similar properties.

    Have you ever made any planes out of Hornbeam (Carpinus carolinians)? Some people call it ironwood or blue beech. I seem to think that would serve as a good wood but as I understand the trees are relatively small. I seem to think it might compare to apple or pear wood but I haven't got my hands on any as of yet.

    1. Caleb,

      I have not tried Carpinus carolinans as it is rare here. Some call it musclewood because its surface can be rippled like a bodybuilders arm. I use Eastern Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), also known as Ironwood or locally as "leverwood." This grows up to 12" DBH and can have a nice straight log. Good for bows, if you want. I would not use it for the body of a plane, just too hard. I tried making a small radius plane, but the abutments broke out. I wound up using a brass rod to brace the wedge.

      I agree that dogwood would be a good one to try. Millions of shuttles from the textile industry are a testament to its durability.

      Let me know if you want some E Hop Hornbeam, I think I have a small amount dry.

    2. Jason,

      I may hit you up for some. Thanks for the offer. I will let you know. :) Appreciate at the input as well.

    3. I know this is an old thread, but in case you see it. Musclewood (hornbeam) and hop hornbeam are different woods. I don't have any experience with working with musclewood, but hop hornbeam is a very uniform and hard wood with a small growth rings and a light colour. It is very consistent to work. I suspect that it would be a good choice for boxing a plane. I have personally seen it growing up to around eight inches in diameter, I don't know how big it can get.

  3. My father used to use persimmon for making golf club heads, around the 1930's. Where he managed to get it from here in England I don't know, presumably imported, and he once mentioned California. He told me it was the hardest wood that was suitable, and had a very good resilience to striking the ball.

    1. Hum, that is very interesting. I had heard that it along with dogwood was used for golf club heads. I recall seeing golf clubs that looked like persimmon but never followed up to verify it for myself.

      I wonder if California possibly supplied persimmon from the orchard industry out there. Otherwise I don't think of California for persimmon. I am sure it would grow just fine out there.

  4. It's fantastic seeing the planes you're making. Thanks for posting the plans and sharing the information.
    I've made a few Krenov style planes and want to try my hand at traditional planes. I'm having a very hard time finding a source of wood of the right type, grain, and dimensions. As a new woodworker, I still find it intimidating to visit the local hardwood lumber yard. They have a warehouse full of all sorts of exotics, but never anything over 8/4.

    1. Fitzhugh,

      I understand. It can take a lot of digging. Even then you might not find what you want. I find the wood suppliers to be a real mixed bag. Some are great others are really over priced and just not good quality. It seems to be an odd business.

  5. Thank you for this post. I really enjoy postings that detail what woods were used for different purposes. I know you (or maybe it was in the comments) mentioned you were thinking of collecting this info. I agree that would be great. Do you know of any good books that focus on this?

    I've enjoy wood as a woodworker. I enjoy forests as well but that historically has been for hunting a camping purposes. By knowing what the uses for different tress are, I can see myself wanting to learn to ID them better. It would certainly make deer hunting a bit more fun as usually I see are tress anyway. Sincerely, Joe.

  6. I have bought boxwood, beech and some other nice woods from Rory. Great place.