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Just What is a Tiki Torch, Anyway?

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

By now you've probably seen this image, which was created by Funny or Die:

While there's nothing funny about what happened at Charlottesville, more than a few pointed out the levity within the act of white supremacists presumably purchasing their torches at a Party City retail outpost.

Tiki Brand, the manufacturer of the torches, swiftly issued a statement distancing themselves from the Neo-Nazis wielding their products.

When some cried cultural appropriation, this got me thinking: Just where are Tiki torches from? So I did a little research.

First off, there is no Tiki people. Tiki is the name of the first human male in the Maori culture's creation myth; his counterpart in Christianity is Adam. Over time "tiki" was used to refer to stone or wood carvings, presumably of Tiki himself.

It was an American who introduced the notion of "tiki culture" to the 'States in the 1930s. Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, an adventurer who had spent years sailing around the Caribbean and the South Pacific, moved to Los Angeles in 1932. He started up a bar called "Don the Beachcomber," decorating it with Polynesian artifacts he'd collected on his journeys, and concocting a series of rum-based cocktails.

Beaumont-Gantt also served "exotic" Polynesian food, which was, hilariously, actually a series of Cantonese dishes. Considered exotic, Don the Beachcomber became a Hollywood hotspot, and what would later be called "tiki culture"—a marketing term if ever there was one—was born.

In the 1940s, following World War II, tiki-themed restaurants enjoyed a surge in popularity that persisted throughout the '50s and '60s. The iconic "tiki torch" was a mainstay of these "tiki bars" and "tiki restaurants," though there's no evidence nor record of who the original inventor might have been. Tiki Brand's website has only a vague mention of their origin:

In the 1950s, tiki culture was in full swing. Pacific Island-themed restaurants, bars and even living rooms were all the rage. At the height of tiki popularity, the first original TIKI® torch was produced, igniting a backyard tradition that still burns brightly over 60 years later.

That seems to indicate that that company's version of the torch was created in the '50s.

It's likely we'll never know what individual or tribe actually invented the tiki torch, or what its original name was. Meanwhile, internet sleuths are busy determining the identities of tiki-wielders that marched at Charlottesville with lightning-like speed.

What a time that we live in.

A Soap Opera Filmed in IKEA, a Look at a Fascinating Motorcycle from the 1990s and Lots of Nostalgic Architecture 

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

The Core77 team spends time combing through the news so you don't have to. Here's a weekly roundup of our favorite finds from the World Wide Web:

A look at one of the most fascinating motorcycles of the 1990s – the Britten V1000.

Here's how dumb we've become: This guy encounters a bear in his garage, first thing he grabs is his phone to record.

The world's largest floating solar farm is producing energy atop a former coal mine.

The nostalgic beauty of forgotten Pizza Huts. Speaking of nostalgic architecture... the forgotten artistic playgrounds of the 20th century.

An analysis of leaving downtown at rush hour in America's largest cities.

Quick-thinking driver narrowly escapes carjacking. 

An illustrated timeline of women's fashion every year from 1784-1970.

Roger Lee: Bay Area's modern architect for the common man.

Enjoy this soap opera series filmed in an IKEA store without letting anyone know first. The drama.Hot Tip: Discover more blazin' hot Internet finds on our Twitter and Instagram pages.

How a Traditional Korean Inlaid Lacquer Box is Made

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

For those of us who are beginner or even intermediate level woodworkers, making a delicate box with a perfect finish is hard enough. Imagine that you get all of that done, and then the real work starts. If you've ever been to Korea, you may have seen some of these lacquered boxes inlaid with what looks like pearl or shells:

View the full content here

Designing the Exoskeleton of a Medical Power Pack

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

Cardboard Helicopter Product Design has created an enclosure and base for a medical power pack. The pack has an exoskeleton made of stainless steel and injection molded plastic cover. Indicator and led screen to read out battery life and timer.

View the full content here

Reader Submitted: A Student's Take on Designing an Electric Drill for Non-Professional Users

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

This stylish power tool improves the user experience and product semantics for non-professional users. The drill is designed by Yu-Chung Chang for Electrolux in Birmingham City University.

Electrolux DrillCredit: Yu-Chung ChangUnlock triggerCredit: Yu-Chung ChangDrills straight, collects dust, shows depthCredit: Yu-Chung ChangWorking with LEDCredit: Yu-Chung ChangScrew holderCredit: Yu-Chung ChangStanding on tableCredit: Yu-Chung ChangChargerCredit: Yu-Chung ChangLuxury packagingCredit: Yu-Chung ChangLuxury packagingCredit: Yu-Chung ChangView the full project here

A Clever Piece of Graphic Design in Protest of the Current State of Affairs

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

Artist Mike Mitchell actually created this back in May, but it's suddenly more relevant now that our President has waffled on whether to denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

"Here's a high res copy which I'm allowing for personal use (signs, shirts, buttons)," Mitchell writes. "Spread it far and wide."

What Are the Practical Differences Between Different Tire/Rim Sizes?

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

I learned to drive on a five-speed Datsun 280ZX that had 195/70 R14 tires. (If you don't understand what those numbers mean, read this breakdown of tire codes.) Yes, 14-inch wheels sporting tires with high sidewalls. This was normal in the '80s, but nowadays the rage is to have beefier rims with low-profile tires, a trend that I suspect was advanced by car renderings. Every automotive renderer seems to draw rims that threaten to bottom out inside the wheel wells, with only the faintest sliver of black to indicate there's any rubber on them.

Nowadays you'd be hard-pressed to find 14" wheels on any car claiming to offer sporty performance. Volkswagen's GTI, as one example, comes standard with 15" wheels, but I'm guessing most buyers ponying up for a GTI over the Golf upgrade to the 16", 17" or 18" wheel options.

Which wheel size is faster? Which size is preferred if you live in rainy Oregon versus dry Arizona? Which size offers more comfort, makes more noise, or handles better? To find out, Tyre Reviews tried out three different rim and tire sizes—225/45 R17, 225/40 R18, and 225/35 R19—on Goodyear's test track in the south of France. Some of the results are surprising.

By the bye, how brilliant are Goodyear's executives for decreeing that their test track be located in the south of France?

Design Job: Is this Opportunity Fate or Science?! Science News is Seeking an Assistant Art Director in Washington, DC

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

Science News, a biweekly magazine and website, is seeking a hard-working and talented assistant art director for a full-time, on-site position. Science News is published by Society for Science & the Public, a non-profit 501(c)(3) membership organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Society’s mission is to engage the public in

View the full design job here

Interactive Map Shows You the Exact Opposite End of the Globe From You

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

This is one of my dogs, Betsy, right before she starts furiously digging. She does it every time I take her to the beach and I joke that she's trying to get back to Japan, where her breed, the Shiba Inu, originates from.

But assuming Betsy tunneled straight down from this New York beach and all the way through the planet, somehow managing to withstand the heat at the core of the Earth, would she wind up in Japan? When I was growing up in America it was common knowledge that digging straight down would land you in China. All of us eight-year-olds agreed this was true.

Well, now the folks behind the Antipodes Map show you precisely where you'd wind up if you tunneled directly through the Earth. I entered the zip code of the Core77 offices, not far from my apartment and "started digging."

Here's where I wound up:


If you want to try it yourself, click here.

Lastly I'll say that as a travel lover, I can handle flights to L.A. or Stuttgart. But anytime I've had to fly from JFK to Narita—a 14-hour ordeal if you're lucky—I found myself wishing that engineers had bored a tunnel through the Earth, directly from downtown Manhattan to Shibuya Station, and come up with some elevator (or Hyperloop, nowadays) that I could ride. It would have to be faster in a straight line, no? And if we went point-to-point, i.e. NYC to Tokyo, we could avoid that pesky molten core.

Reader Submitted: Students Parametrically Design and Digitally Produce a Chess Board

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

First semester students at the University of Arts, Braunschweig create a parametrically designed and digitally produced chess board during their 'Digital Crafting' classes.

Renderings of one of each student's figures produced from layered sheets of cardboardCredit: Manuel KretzerComplete setCredit: Maximilian Dauscha and Benedikt SchaudinnCredit: Maximilian Dauscha and Benedikt SchaudinnCredit: Maximilian Dauscha and Benedikt SchaudinnCredit: Maximilian Dauscha and Benedikt SchaudinnCredit: Maximilian Dauscha and Benedikt SchaudinnCredit: Maximilian Dauscha and Benedikt SchaudinnCredit: Maximilian Dauscha and Benedikt SchaudinnPoster of chess figuresCredit: Leon EhmkePoster of chess figuresCredit: Tim LüdersView the full project here

A Fun "Eye Test" for Designers

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

Of all the silly web games out there, this one is actually fun for Pantone-familiar designers. iGame's Eye Test presents a grid of colors, giving you 15 seconds to click the one tile that's off by a few shades. Click it and it presents a new grid with new colors. This starts off pretty simple…

View the full content here

Yea or Nay? Instead of the Selfie, the "Bothie"

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

Now that the Nokia brand has been resurrected, we're starting to see licensee HMD Global Oy take creative strides to make them competitive again. First they relaunched the 3310, essentially a vintage cell phone design that's 17 years old. Now they've moving into smartphone territory with their Nokia 8, and they're hoping a new technological feature, the "bothie," will capture market attention.

A bothie, as you may have guessed, uses both the front and rear camera simultaneously to let you capture both your precious face and whatever it is you're looking at. The Guardian envisions it being used like this:

Image: John Nguyen/Press Association

For their part, Nokia hopes you'll use their "Dual-Sight mode" to record or transmit shots of you and a friend opposite…

…or Facebook Live your experiences like this:

Now that most smartphones have both front and rear cameras, this is a relatively simple technological trick for manufacturers to pull off. Our question to you is, will the bothie gain traction? Or are smartphone users like certain narcissistic politicians in that they'll feel there's really only room in the frame for one person?

3M's Precision Standing Desk Gives You the Option Between Sitting and Standing in an Effortless Package

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

As our work environments evolve from stagnant cubicles to spaces that demand adaptability for the sake of efficiency and creative thinking, the objects around us should do the same. A need for flexible workspaces has led to the normalization of products in the workplace like the standing desk.

The productivity benefits that standing desks offer workers recently inspired 3M, a company ingrained with an understanding of the importance of quality engineering, to develop a standing desk of their very own: the 3M Precision Standing Desk.

Ergonomic Customizability

In addition to quickly and easily transforming from a conventional desk to a sit-stand workstation, the 3M Precision Standing Desk's embedded mechanisms allow for ergonomic personalization. Equipped with gas assist height adjustment technology, users can move smoothly and effortlessly between sitting and standing positions in mere seconds. Another unique detail of the 3M Precision Standing Desk is its fully customizable lever system—as there are no pre-determined settings, users are free to find their most comfortable work position down to a precise point. With its simple, innate functionality, transitioning from sitting to standing has never been more intuitive.

Smarter Components

The 3M Precision Standing Desk's strengths also lie in its incorporation of other quality products, such as the Gel Wrist Rest and Precise Mouse Pad with Battery Saving Design* and the adjustable keyboard. While the gel wrist provides wrist support throughout the workday, the innovative mouse pad extends your wireless mouse's battery life by up to 50%, taking away the need to replace low batteries. Additionally, the desk has an adjustable keyboard platform, with a +10°/-10° tilt range, to guarantee that you are typing in a comfortable position throughout the workday.

Plenty of Space

A great amount of careful engineering has gone into this desk to guarantee it can accommodate all of your work essentials. The stable work surface securely supports up to 35 pounds of technology and office supplies and is large enough to fit two 24" monitors.

The 3M Precision Standing Desk is also designed to coordinate with any products from the 3M Workplace Solutions portfolio, allowing you to customize every aspect of your workspace according to your needs.

No Assembly Required

You won't have to spend time fussing with minuscule parts and confusing directions with a purchase of the 3M Precision Standing Desk. The desk arrives at your door fully assembled, meaning no professional installers required, no stress, and you can immediately get to work at your brand new desk.

The 3M Precision Standing Desk is now available at 3M.com

3M™ Precise™ Mouse Pads with battery saving design extend battery life up to 50%. They draw less current than darker mousing surfaces, which results in extended battery life.

Another Crazy Optical Illusion: There are 16 Circles in This Image

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

This tricky visual is called "The Coffer Illusion." What do you see?

There are 16 circles in this image.

There are in fact 16 circles sitting right there in plain sight. Keep staring and eventually you'll see them, resulting in an odd feeling of satisfaction and/or a splitting headache.

According to Digg, here's why we can't see the circles at first:

The Coffer Illusion plays on the fact that the visual brain is heavily geared towards identifying objects. "Pixels" are grouped to form edges and contours, shapes, and finally objects.

Sometimes, as in the Coffer Illusion, there is no "right" grouping because the image is inherently ambiguous. Two different groupings make sense — a single set of horizontal lines can either form a circle, or be the intersection between two rectangles.

For most people, the grouping into rectangles initially dominates. This may be because rectangles (including the ones we see in door panels) are often more common than circles in our daily environment, and so the brain favors the grouping that delivers rectangular shapes.

Design Job: Fight Gravity as Astro Studios' Lead Industrial Designer in San Francisco, CA

Core 77 - Sat, 2017-08-19 03:46

Astro is currently looking for a Lead Product Designer. Lead Designers at Astro set the creative pace on multiple programs and at times, lead other designers and outside collaborators. All designers must be able to present strong points of view via killer visual & verbal skills to Astro teams and clients alike. In addition to collaborating on design, designers must have the ability to hit schedule & budget goals and support other design teams as needed.

View the full design job here

The 'Smart' in Smart Manufacturing Shows Up in Off-the-Shelf Appliance

Design News - Fri, 2017-08-18 04:17

One of the remarkable automation trends in recent years is vendor community’s ability to embed plant intelligence into the control system and its devices. The embedded digital intelligence frees control personnel from the considerable burden of original programming. To some extent, the equipment and its software have closed the skills gap by making the system smarter.

A recent example is Rockwell Automation’s tools that enable teams on the plant floor to make better, faster decisions by using an Analytics for Devices appliance and app. These off-the-shelf tools are designed to require minimal configuration while helping to solve common maintenance problems faster. The goal is to keep unplanned downtime to a minimum. The tools are intended to monitor the health of equipment and improve reaction time for maintenance.

Rockwell’s goal was to make it easier for plant staff adopt equipment analytics by creating a quickly deployable appliance to do the analytics. “Our strategy is to remove barriers and make people more productive – to get customers going on analytics, and to inspire them to do more,” Kyle Reissner, a digital leader at Rockwell, told Design News. “The bar to entry for analytics has been difficult, so we wanted to reduce the friction so people could get value out of analytics.”

The appliance combs the network for devices, completes analytics on the devices, then sends the results to all the team members on the network. “These tools scan your network and come up with instant analytics. All the user needs to do is download the app – which is free. Then the user can collaborate with colleagues on the plant floor to be more productive,” said Reissner. “We also have a fee-based version with enhanced alarms and other features.”

Ease of Use on the Plant Floor

Rockwell sees this appliance as a step in the trend of automation technology that deploys quickly and offers clear value. “We are playing into the macro trend of creating products that are instantly digestible. In the past, it took years for people to get value out of the system,” said Reissner. “Right out of the gate, this appliance provides descriptive analytics. Over the next 12 to 18 months, it will move into predictive analytics.”

These tools are some of the first subscription offerings from Rockwell. To further streamline the adoption process, an e-commerce portal is used to manage the appliance. All subscriptions and management are designed to take place within a single, self-service portal. 

Keeping the appliance simple is part of Rockwell’s strategy for making sure the bar to adoption remains low. “The result is an appliance that can be used by anyone. You can log into a browser and see all the disparate systems,” said Reissner. “The maintenance team can post a live trend that Joe in the back shop saw yesterday. This helps the team on the ground respond rapidly.”

Monitoring A Range of Devices

Part of the value of the appliance is that it can provide analytics on a wide range of devices. This embedded knowledge goes beyond Rockwell’s collection of Allen-Bradley equipment. “The appliance will perform basic analytics on anything it finds on the network. It tells you what the device is and how healthy it is,” said Reissner. “We have templates inside the appliance itself that move beyond basic analytics. The appliance knows the Allen-Bradly devices, but it also can do the analytics on any EtherNet-connected device. Each appliance can monitor 100 devices, plus you can add more appliances to monitor more devices.”




The appliance will be updated regularly to expand functionality as well as keep up on security and bugs. “The app is designed for continual updates. We’ve done nine updates in the last 12 months. We’re expecting to do an update every six weeks,” said Reissner. “The updates have a heavy focus on offering more features and functions while including bug fixes, additional analytics as well as support and security.”


Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Images courtesy of Rockwell Automation.


The Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) is back in Minnesota and it’s bigger than ever. Over two days, Nov. 8-9, 2017, receive in-depth education geared to drive a year’s worth of work. Uncover software design innovation, hardware breakthroughs, fresh IoT trends, product demos, and more that will change how you spend time and money on your next project.  Click here to register today!


Machines Text and Tweet, Eliminates Need to Write Custom Code

Design News - Fri, 2017-08-18 03:29

The ability to send to send text messages and/or email from a machine, triggered by specific events, is potentially an effective way to increase machine availability and limit downtime. The idea is that, by providing a configurable software block, users can create messages in just a few clicks.

A simple, obvious example would be an alarm message notifying a maintenance technician that there is a condition on the machine that demands immediate attention. The new mapp Tweet from B&R Industrial Automation also provides an ability to supplement the message with troubleshooting instructions that allow the technician to quickly and efficiently resolve the cause of the alarm. If the service technician isn't on site, they can connect to run remote diagnostics and adjust system parameters to resolve the error.

The mapp Tweet software block is just one example of how B&R has been expanding its mapp Technology software framework. The framework is a set of modular blocks that handle basic machine functions so that users, rather than writing lines and lines of code to create a user management system, alarm system or motion control functions, can simply configure a ready-made component.

Other new Mapp software components introduced this year are offering solutions in a wide range of areas such as safety, advanced closed loop algorithms and new tools for web-based HMIs.


The mapp technology software framework has added functions for sending automatic notifications that enable advanced maintenance concepts. Image source: B&R Industrial Automation


Web-enabled HMIs

State-of-the-art gesture control, custom content development and vendor-independent visualization are three key areas addressed in the mapp View software component for building web-enabled HMIs. Users can swipe between HMI screens, or use two fingers to zoom into details onscreen.

Two-hand operation opens up new functional possibilities, such as protecting critical input values and preventing unintentional equipment startup. All of the available gestures can be linked to various UI widgets available in the system. The number of UI widgets has also been expanded and can now be saved as a group to create small, predefined functional units to help create a common user experience.

Motion/Control Functions

Standard mapp components are available for programming single axes (mapp Axis) as well as for programming CNC machines (mapp CNC) and robotics applications (mapp Robotics).

One recent addition called mapp Crane is a component that enables large cranes to transport loads quickly without twisting or swinging out of control. An application that used to require custom code and elaborate calculations now can be addressed by configuring a pre-built component designed specifically for this type of control. One new technology area where mapp product development is expanding is in the safety domain.

The Cubiio: A Portable Laser Engraver!

Core 77 - Fri, 2017-08-18 03:11

This is so cool.

Shop tools come in two varieties: Bring the work to the tool (i.e. table saw, bandsaw) or bring the tool to the work (circular saw, jigsaw). A laser engraver has always been in the first category, but now a Taiwan-based startup called Muherz has created one that falls into the second category.

Behold the Cubiio, a portable laser engraver:

Due to power limitations the Cubiio can only engrave on wood, paperboard, cardboard, fabric, felt, leather (and pancakes, I guess), but not metal, glass, concrete, stone or ceramics. Plastics are iffy, with transparent materials "not recommended."

As for how you calibrate it, the developers say it first fires a weak laser beam that visually outlines the engraving area, allowing you to confirm it's correct before you do any actual burning. It appears you must have your material 150mm to 160mm away from the lens. And the operation is driven by smartphone app.

The Cubiio Kickstarter campaign has been wildly successful, with $212,980 pledged on a $25,000 goal at press time, with 34 days left to pledge. Early-birds are going for $299, with the device expected to retail for $449.

Tools & Craft #60: Do You Really Need an Adjustable Mouth on a Handplane?

Core 77 - Fri, 2017-08-18 03:11

For the past couple of decades, the adjustable mouth has always been on the laundry list of features a plane should have. For example, in an article in Fine Woodworking #171 by Chris Gochnour on shoulder planes, one big complaint he had about the Clifton shoulder planes is that they do not have an adjustable mouth. What he doesn't explain is why it matters.

The real question is not if a plane has or doesn't have an adjustable mouth but what, if any, advantage are they to the user?

I'm not arguing against a fine mouth on a plane, but rather why we should care if a plane has or doesn't have an adjustable mouth, as long as the mouth it has is fairly fine.

I would suggest that the only real reason for an adjustable mouth on any plane, bench, shoulder, specialty or otherwise is the ease of manufacture.

Traditionally made wooden planes do not have adjustable mouths. You will occasionally come across a well used plane where a later user has repaired the mouth of the plane and inserted a piece of wood to tighten up the mouth. But the planes weren't sold that way. Norris and other firms also made iron front plates which could be retrofitted to a wooden plane for the same purpose. But these were repairs, and once the retrofit was done to an old plane, the mouth was fixed again to a specific width.

English style steel planes by Norris, Spiers, and other makers never had adjustable mouths. Planemakers would fit planes for a fairly thin mouth, and that was that. You could "Adjust the mouth" by swapping in a thinner or thicker blade, but that required getting a new blade. There is user literature (I forget where) that suggests using a shim behind the blade near the sole to tighten the mouth of a plane or a shim behind the blade far way from the sole as possible to tilt the blade up and widen the mouth. Of course on a bevel up shoulder or mitre plane, a thicker iron doesn't effect the mouth opening.

In the wooden plane world, quality smooth planes came with very, very fine mouths and in use, as the sole and blade wore, you could either replace the blade or more likely start using the plane for less critical work and get a new plane for the very fine work. A well fitted cap iron also makes the mouth size less critical for all but the most difficult of situations, but that is another story.

For the sake of argument, let's suggest you want to make a plane with a .004" mouth (which is really fine). From a hand work perspective, it takes skill but not much else. The plane maker just makes the plane with an overly tight mouth and then skillfully widens it to whatever dimension is called for. Or you can size an iron to whatever thickness you want to. This method is reliable but also requires skilled labor. The biggest problem is that between normal variations of blade thickness and body manufacturing tolerances, making a mass production tool with a consistently fine mouth is near impossible, and in the 19th century, impossible. The steel plane makers such as Norris and Spiers (and modern makers) solved the problem by custom fitting each iron to each blade and then stamping assembly numbers on everything so that once fitted, it was easy to keep blade and body together during manufacture.

Shoulder planes by Norris, Spiers and others were made with very tight, non-adjustable mouths. The adjustable iron shoulder planes that Preston invented at the turn of the 20th century, that Record later bought out, and Clifton copied, didn't have adjustable mouths. Later versions of the same planes by Record and Lie-Nielsen did. On fixed mouthed shoulder planes of all kinds you will occasionally see planes with widened mouths but the finer the mouth of the plane the easier it is to control as it enters and exits the sides of a joint.

Part of the brilliance of Leonard Bailey's bench plane design was that it was made of easily reproduced cast iron parts that each only needed a little machining in a couple of places. The frog, where the blade rested on was just bolted onto the sole of the plane and it was adjustable so that no matter what the machining and blade thickness tolerances were, the frog could be positioned wherever you wanted to for whatever mouth wide you desired. There was no need for a skilled hand to hand tweak the metal parts to get a good fit. This allows for mass production.

If you have ever reset the frog of an older Stanley plane, you immediately find that even on a Bedrock there is enough play and tolerance in the fitting so that getting the blade square to the body can be quite finicky and isn't a five second operation. By transferring the responsibility of setting the mouth of the plane square and at the right width from the factory where it would need skilled labor, to the customer who could either do it or not, Leonard Bailey saved himself oodles of expensive labor.

The marketing argument for the adjustable mouth was and is that with an adjustable mouth, the woodworker can set the mouth of their plane to whatever opening they find suitable for the wood at hand. But in general most professionals didn't work a huge range of wood species that required changing the mouth setting, and in 30 years of collecting, using, and comparing planes I don't think I have ever found one that showed any evidence of anyone every adjusting the frog position. The only time I have ever seen stripped out screws and things is when it was on a plane were the frog was incorrectly set and someone probably tried to fix it.

This of course never stopped Stanley, the mass marketers of Bailey bench planes, to try to make it easier and easier to set the frog. First they added a screw behind the frog so you could "micro-adjust" the frog position. Then they introduced a "Bedrock" design which allowed you to adjust the frog with the plane iron in place. Back to back comparisons of the same vintage Bedrock series planes to standard Bailey bench planes give the Bedrock an edge in performance, mostly because the frog is bedded with more contact area to the sole in the Bedrock design, but you still don't see evidence outside of the company literature suggesting that anyone adjusted their frog position as a matter of course.

In general for a smoothing plane you will want to take a shaving of a couple of thou or less. If you use your plane a lot, the front edge of the mouth will wear so it's an open question if closing the mouth of the plane to only a few thou makes any sense. Also the tighter the mouth, the easier it is for a slightly out of square frog to cause trouble, and getting it perfect is time consuming. A mouth of say .010" is pretty wide from a super thin shaving standpoint, and if you look at people's planes it's rare that the mouth is set so fine. Don't get me wrong, there are cases where that's appropriate and having a super fine mouth makes sense when the blade is perfectly sharp, the cap iron set correctly, etc. But it's rare. But the more important point is that after you get your plane all set up with the fine mouth why would you ever move it wider?

The idea of an adjustable mouth being important becomes more ludicrous when you consider that the overwhelming number of Stanley planes were sold for use in construction and were used for trimming softwood on a construction site.
Modern plane makers such as Clifton, Lie-Nielsen, Lee Valley, and Wood River have the manufacturing ability to make an adjustable mouth with enough precision so it can be adjusted without needed a lot of fiddling, but that doesn't change the fact that it is far, far less expensive even today to built a plane with a user adjustable mouth, than have a skilled craftsman hand fit the mouth.

From a user standpoint is an adjustable mouth worth having anyway? The only time I have ever adjusted the mouth of a plane is when I have retrofitted older planes with newer, thicker irons. Certainly that's a reason for the old planes to have moveable frogs. But premium planes of today already come with thick irons so there is no advantage on that score. 

My best plane doesn't have an adjustable mouth, and I never felt the need for one. On a bevel up shoulder plane there really is no point. A tight mouth on a shoulder plane makes the plane easier to control on entry and exit on the wood. Less hooking on and damaging the edges.

Now I am not at all arguing the benefit of a fine mouth on a plane, and on a smoothing plane a very fine mouth. I am simply arguing that considering the actual thickness of shaving the benefit to the manufacturer of an adjustable mouth far exceeds the benefit to the user, and the main advantage is that adjustable mouth planes are far easier and less expensive to manufacture.

The lower cost, of course, is an important advantage to the user, but that's it.

The two planes in the picture are a late 18th century mitre plane by Gabriel and a 1920's vintage steel soled cast Norris shoulder plane. With bevel up planes a fine mouth—even on a shoulder plane cutting end grain, gives more control, but the real performance difference in steel planes is that the sole behind the iron comes to a knife edge and the blade is supported almost up to the cutting edge. Cast bevel up planes, even very good ones typically don't have this level of support and don't work as smoothly.


This "Tools & Craft" section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.