Buying Hollows & Rounds Planes
If you find that you like using dedicated molding planes, then you’ll certainly be excited about moving up to the next style of molding planes: hollows and rounds. A hollow plane makes an arch shape in the wood, and a round plane makes a rounded shape. By using a variety of sizes of hollows and rounds you can create nearly any molding profile that you can imagine for your furniture.
This is also useful if you’re trying to replicate a historical molding in your house or on a piece of antique furniture. With the aid of a rabbet plane, for removing waste, you essentially just use the hollows & rounds to remove one hill and valley at a time from the wood.
Aside from unlimited shapes that can be cut, one huge advantage that hollows & rounds have over dedicated molders is that they can be used in either grain direction. If you find a profile tearing out because of reversing grain, you can just start planing from the different direction to go with the grain, which will give you a cleaner cut.
Hollows and rounds were made in numbered sets, with each number consisting of two handplanes, which is a called a pair. For example, a #12 pair would include one #12 hollow, that cuts 60 degree hills, and one #12 round, that cuts 60 degree valleys. Every plane cuts 60 degrees of a circle, just a different sized section. Think of pizza slices; a large slice and a tiny slice have the same arc at the top.
A full set of hollows and rounds includes 18 pairs of handplanes, for a total of 36 planes. That’s a lot of planes! I’ve only ever touched one full set, which belongs to Bill Anderson, as you’ll see in the molding planes video that I mentioned earlier.
Many people opt for a half set, either an even sequence or an odd sequence. Odd sets are less common than even sets.
My set of hollows & rounds (shown below) is an even set, with pairs numbered from 2 to 18. This set will cover just about any molding that I’d ever want to make.
But most new hand tool woodworkers buy just the most common sizes. A well-known molding plane maker recommends that woodworkers start with just two pairs (or 4 planes): either a #6 pair and #10 pair or a #4 pair and #8 pair. Those sizes will work for a large number of moldings.
In addition to buying fewer sizes, budget-minded woodworkers can also purchase a “harlequin” set or a “mixed” set of hollows & rounds. A set that’s all “harlequin” is a set where none of the planes came from the same original set. A “mixed set” contains some planes and pairs that were originally together, mixed with some “harlequin” planes.
I liked the idea of having matching planes, so my hollows & rounds half set is all from the same maker: “Varvill & Sons Ebor Works” out of York, England.
But of course, it isn’t necessary to have a matched set like mine. You just have to be careful that a harlequin set of hollows & rounds has an accurate transition because not all plane makers had the exact same size standards.
Decent vintage half sets aren’t too difficult to find, especially if they’re harlequin or mixed sets. They usually cost a few hundred dollars. Matched half sets, like mine, are a bit harder to find. And full matched sets hardly ever come up for sale.
Brand new half sets and full sets are amazing, but will set you back nearly $4,000 for a half set and nearly $8,000 for a full set. Totally worth every cent, if you’ve got the money. But this option isn’t practical for most woodworkers. And if you’re really passionate about molding planes you can take a class to learn how to make your own planes.
What Features to Look for when buying Hollows and Rounds Planes?
Now lets talk about another feature to look for in hollows & rounds planes:
Molding Plane Pitch Angle
The angle at which the iron sits inside the plane, in relation to the horizontal workbench, is called “pitch”. There are four different pitches for hollows and rounds planes:
- “Common pitch” is at 45°, which is similar to bench planes, and is more suitable for softwoods.
- “York pitch” is at 50°. This pitch works well for woods that are in between soft and hard.
- “Middle pitch” is at 55° and is ideal for a wider range of hardwoods.
- “Cabinet pitch” or “Half pitch” is at 60°, and is good for very hard and difficult woods.
Years ago I followed the recommendation of some friends who suggested that I purchase a set of hollows and rounds that were either “cabinet pitch” or “middle pitch”. My planes have a pitch of about 55°, which would be considered “middle pitch”.
Molding Plane Mouth Orientation
The last feature to consider when purchasing hollows & rounds is the shape of the mouth and iron. The planes come in either straight (above right) or skewed versions (above left), like you can see on mine. Like with rabbet planes, straight planes are better for cutting with the grain and skewed planes are better at cutting across the grain. And just like with rabbet planes, the skewed planes usually cost more. But don’t worry. Either style will work for most applications, and you can always use sandpaper to clean up your moldings. But the skewed style will work better if you plan on creating a molding all the way around a table top or box lid.
Here are a few places to find vintage hollows & rounds sets: