A Weird Plough

This has to be one of the weirdest ploughs ever invented.  It was made by Dryad, who called it a ‘junior plough’.  All ploughs are essentially a jigged knife blade held at 90 degrees to the clamped textblock, and trim the page edges. Dryad is known for making amateur bookbinding equipment; some of it works pretty well– I love my my 12 inch finishing press– and some of it, like this plough,may or may not work.  I would think just holding a round, swiss style knife flat on the press might work better.

The overall shape and staining of the wood reminds me of a 50’s shoe brush, or a telephone receiver. But when picking it up, your thumbs naturally fit into the grooves and it seems obvious how to use it. The condition of the label, and the fact that the blade still has the factory grind on it suggest this plough was never used.  If it was used, I doubt the ploughing was successful. Any information about J. M Nevins would be much appreciated.


According to the Dryad catalog from 1950, the junior plough is supposed to be used with this press.  The little foot on the press would help keep the press from sliding around when cutting. The image at the bottom right, shows the bottom of the plough. The blade can be screwed into the base, and advanced a couple of notches in the unlikely event you used this plough a lot, and wore the blade down by resharpening.

Tim Moore makes a modern interpretation of this press, sans bench hook, which he calls a ‘repair press’.

Dryad also made a more typical looking plough that is cheaply made and very difficult to tune and use– if you have one, be prepared to spend some time regrinding the bevel on the blade, a couple I’ve seen have about a 40 degree angle.  Their normal plough sold for pounds 1  9  6 (pounds sterling),  a 15″ lying press for  2  19  6.

They also invented the “plouplane”, which was “Specifically designed to meet children’s requirements”.  It sold for 2  16  6, and the Louet vertical plough plane is a modern interpretation of it.  The one I’ve seen worked pretty well, and it was convenient to clamp on a workbench when needed.

Hats off to Mindy Dubansky for donating this to my bookbinding tools and equipment collection. Donations are encouraged and gratefully received!

12 Replies to “A Weird Plough”

  1. It reminds me of an adapted wooden cupboard door handle, wonderfully ergonomic. I guess it was pretty easy for school children to use and also a safe way to hold the blade. As a matter of interest I have one of the presses which is the companion to the plough. It is a great piece of bench kit, and it has to be one of my favourite pieces of equipment – if it broke, I would seek another. It undergoes daily use and is really an extra pair of hands to me.

  2. Tim Moore makes a modern version, he calls it a ‘repair press’ Link is on the right column.

  3. I’m drawn to the repair press. I like the four legs, and it already had personality; it needs a tail.

  4. In the colonies we say Plow for Plough. Unfortunately, ‘ough’ is pronounced ‘awf’ as in , awful or cough. I just don’t understand why the British can’t speak English like we do.

  5. I have one of the Dryad “plouplanes.” Mine is very heavily worn and lacking the clamps to hold it to the bench, but it fits nicely in my woodworking vice. It is a lot like an ordinary plough in that it has a bit of play, and you have to learn to lean or twist the tool consistently in the correct direction in order to get consistent results, but it works reasonably well when you have figured this out. There are adjustments to the plough section that ought to take up the play, but I find that they either don’t take up enough of the play or else the completely freeze the plough. Parts aren’t interchangable: mine came with a spare blade which doesn’t fit. I have found it useful for cutting stacks of paper in half on occasions when I couldn’t get to a guillotine, and this seems to chime with what I have learned about the various 19th century vertical ploughs, which seem to have been favored more by stationers (and, in one instance, banknote printers) than bookbinders.

  6. You may not know: Dryad specialised in equipment that suited the English School curriculum from at least the late 1920s through to the early/mid 1960s, when crafts, including bookbinding, were taught 11 to 15-year olds. All their kit, and their extensive range of instructional booklets, all useful still, should be looked at with this in mind. The famous Curwen Press patterned papers were printed so long as the curriculum contained this craft element, and died when the education system was changed. Philip Larkin was probably right about 1963.

  7. I didn’t know that. Thanks! I have to confess a fondness for the often small size and functionality of their equipment. They seem to have held up quite well, in general.

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