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Leetsdale teen's project spotlights traditional Harmonist tool

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Michael Falcone of Leetsdale photographs a wooden plane for his sophomore project at Quaker Valley High School. Submitted
Michael Falcone, a sophomore at Quaker Valley, works on his plane project at Old Economy Village in Ambridge. Submitted

Michael Falcone's 10th-grade project at Old Economy Village in Ambridge is a first for the National Historical Landmark, said curator Sarah Buffington.

Falcone, 16, who has been a young Harmonist volunteer at Old Economy since he was 12, is putting together “A Plane Old Exhibit” featuring the woodworking plane, a 19th-century Harmonist tool used to create furniture and detailed moldings.

An opening for his exhibit will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Jan. 25 in the visitor center. The exhibit will continue through April.

Falcone, son of Michael and Susan Falcone of Leetsdale, came to Buffington with the idea at the start of the Quaker Valley school year and has been working on the project since November under the supervision of his teacher-mentor, Mary Kuchek.

The planes in the display are original tools that previously were located on site in the cabinet shop at Old Economy Village, which interprets the history of the Harmony Society, a religious communal society, and preserves and interprets the culture of the society.

“They all belonged and were used by members of the Harmony Society,” Falcone said.

“My plan is to have 23 of planes on display, a Harmonist bench with a piece of molding created by one of the planes and one of a set of two matching cabinets again with a piece of molding created by another plane.”

The three main types of planes on display will be molding planes, grooving planes and plow planes.

Falcone explained that molding planes are used to make decorative pieces, such as baseboards and the tops of furniture. Grooving planes are used to cut a groove into a piece of wood for joining two pieces together. Plow planes are, in a sense, grooving planes, however, they are more complex and one plow plane can take the place of several grooving planes.

Falcone will highlight the planes' features by showing the original objects and photos and labeling parts of the plane.

Falcone has been tracing the shape of the blades onto card stock and then taking the cutouts and trying to match them to certain pieces of furniture and moldings.

Photos of the Harmonists woodworkers have not been found, so Falcone will use the signatures of the woodworkers, dated planes with their initials and a photo of the cabinet shop from the 19th century.

Falcone became interested in Old Economy when his mother first took him there as a young child.

“I fell in love with the historical site and also ‘Miss Patty,' (Patty Clendennen), the director of the Young Harmonists. She really got me involved and excited about the program,” he said.

“I have always been interested in all aspects of the site, especially the trades.”

Buffington said Falcone is smart and excels at his volunteer job and has even made a YouTube video on the Old Economy site focusing on the Harmonist Society.

In the 10 years she has worked at Old Economy, there had been some college interns who have created small exhibits, but never a high school student, and there has never been a exhibit featuring the planes before.

“It's a great idea, but it's really complex. It's not an easy thing he's trying to tackle,” she said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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