Why You Don’t Need a Half Set

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A half set. This pictured half set is nearly all that you will need to reproduce the various moulded edges of all period pieces, regardless of period. It’s also much more than many hobbyists will ever need.


This is an excerpt from “Mouldings in Practice” by Matthew Sheldon Bickford.  

When I first became aware of hollows and rounds I read about the heralded “half set.” A half set of hollows and rounds is 18 planes, nine pairs, that incrementally increase in radius from 1/8″ at the low end to 1-1/2″ at the high end. The half set of planes is generally the even numbered pairs in the previously referenced chart. (A full set is 36 planes, and also includes the odd numbers.)

A half set of hollows and rounds is an extraordinarily comprehensive grouping of planes that allows the owner to produce a range of moulding profiles that exist in the smallest spice box and largest secretary. Centuries ago, the half set was often acquired over time.

For many users, myself included, the half set covers an unnecessarily broad range of work, and represents an undue expense. Many woodworkers narrow their plane choice down to match the scale of work that catches their fancy. For example, if you work only with 4/4 stock, then sizes above No. 8 may go unused. Starting with just a  single pair of hollows and rounds – and an efficient method to accurately establish rabbets and chamfers – allows the production of dozens of different profiles.

The simplicity of combining only one convex and one concave arc might seem limiting. There are, however, scores of profiles you will be able to produce with just a single pair of hollows and rounds. These profiles will often contain minute differences – adding a vertical or horizontal fillet, or flat, adjusting the size of that fillet, increasing the curvature or changing the general angle of the profile. These small differences are important and are often glossed over or neglected on a router table.

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Small differences. The differences between these profiles can appear as slight. To many woodworkers, however, they are significant.

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Examples Continued

Adding a second pair of hollows and rounds to your tool chest, a step I always encourage, increases the number of possible profiles far more than two-fold. Not only will you be able to create the 41 profiles shown above in two different sizes, you will also be able to mix the concave with the convex to form various cove and ovolo combinations and ogees. Additionally, you can mix concave with the concave and convex with the convex to form elliptical shapes. It is at this stage that you will unlock the true versatility of these planes.

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Add a pair. A second pair of hollows and rounds will allow you to, when building a chest of drawers, make mouldings that complement each other. They will not be merely derivatives of the same circle.

Meghan Bates

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3 Responses to Why You Don’t Need a Half Set

  1. Oh, sure. Now you tell me…

  2. tsstahl says:

    LOL@ Mark

    I’ve heard/read Chris recommend getting a single pair often enough.

    I was at a LAP open house a while back and overheard two woodworking luminaries talking about H&R’s to some fellow proles. It boiled down to getting pairs in 1/8, 3/8, and either a 1/2 or 3/4 would give you a lifetime of mouldings to choose from. Good enough advice for me.

    I’m going to make a 1/8″ set some day and buy the other two. I already have a couple scratch stocks around 1/8 and 1/4 plus a lie-nielsen beading tool. So far, I have not gone beyond their boundaries so I have not felt any great need to start building my own planes.

    I did see some cool dentil moulding made with a shoulder block plane, 1/2″ round, and chisel not too long ago. I can hear the siren song of that 1/2″ pair now…

  3. momist says:

    I love the final example in ‘Examples Continued’ Is there a name for that? It would look very good using a 5/8″ round and a 3/8″ hollow.

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