Plane Types & Choices | Using, Sharpening, And Tuning (Fettling) | Wooden Planes | Technical

Hand Plane Information Part 2 - Using, Sharpening, And Tuning (Fettling)

Keeping A Plane From Skipping; Adjusting A Plane That Does Not Have An Adjuster

You think the problem causing your block plane to dig in and skip may be the difficulty in adjusting the plane's cutting depth without any adjusting mechanism. That may well be; it's one of four things I can think of that might cause that. First, a few words about adjusting this type of plane, then I'll get back to the other three possible causes.

Many less expensive block planes, and the vast majority of wooden planes have no adjuster mechanism. Adjusting the iron of one of these planes is a subtle art, but once it is learned, the adjusting mechanisms with their built-in backlash become superfluous. I can precisely adjust the depth of cut of my wooden planes at least as quickly as I can set my LN and Stanley bench planes with their Bailey type depth adjustment. One of my favorite block planes is a humble little Stanley #103. It has no adjustor, but I am able to set the depth quickly. It is not a difficult skill. I'm sure it took me less than half an hour fiddling with a plane to get competent at it, but I continued to get better at it over about a year of light plane use. Here are two ways to do it: one with a small hammer and the other using just your hands.

To adjust the iron with a small hammer, first set the fixing screw to tighten the cap iron just enough that the planing forces against the iron do not shift the iron back, gradually diminishing the cut depth. Set the tension in the cap iron maybe a little more than that, but not very much. Then tap the rear of the iron forward lightly to increase the cut depth or sideways to make the lateral adjustment. It takes a little practice to learn how much tension to put on the cap iron and how hard to tap the iron. That's all there is to it. Well, almost. There is this little problem if you tap the iron too far forward, so it cuts more deeply than you want. On a wooden plane you can withdraw the iron a teensy bit by rapping firmly on the heel of the plane. However, doing that to a metal plane risks dinging the heel, resulting in scratches in the wood being planed. With a metal plane, the cap iron must be loosened and the iron withdrawn slightly by hand. Then the process of gradually tapping the iron down until it cuts as you desire starts all over again. A key part of adjusting metal planes with a hammer is to try like the devil not to overshoot and get the cut too deep. Easy does it. This is where the Bailey adjustment has a real theoretical advantage. If the iron is extended too far, just retract it a little by turning the adjusting wheel. However, the backlash in the Bailey mechanism doesn't let you control the amount of retraction very precisely, and you end up having to start all over with it, too, slowly adjusting the iron down until it starts to cut again.

To adjust the iron by hand, you just loosen the cap iron a little; enough so the iron can be moved by hand smoothly, with no roughness or jumping. It helps to be sure the back of the iron and the bedding points of the main casting are smooth and free of burrs and paint. There should be a very light film of oil on the bedding points, too. Good light and magnification help a lot. I have one of those magnifying lamps that has about a 4" lens next to the light bulb on a stand with an adjustable arm. With the help of the magnification I am able to see much very movements of the iron. Then it is just a matter of moving the iron the smallest possible amount and reclamping the cap iron.

Using either of the above methods I can easily set an adjustor-free plane to cut shavings that do not exceed 0.001 in. The initial position of the iron should be as close as possible to the final position without being extended too far. The way I accomplish that is to set the plane sole-down on a smooth, flat surface, loosen the cap iron just enough to free the iron, gently position the edge of the iron against the flat surface under the plane, perhaps pushing the plane forward a little to help the iron settle into that position, and then tighten the cap iron. After that initial setting I gradually move the iron down, testing the cut on a scrap of wood. Some people do that by feeling how much the iron projects through the mouth with their fingers, but I have lost a lot of the sensation in my finger tips and can't do that.

Another thing that can cause inconsistent cuts and skipping is a less than optimally sharp iron. If the iron is dull it doesn't want to cut, and as a result you have to extend the iron a little farther than would otherwise be necessary. Then, once the iron penetrates the wood, its cutting angle pulls the cutting edge down firmly, the iron flexes down slightly, and the cut is deeper and more prone to tearout. I don't understand the mechanism, but the blade can also have a tendency to jump out of the cut and then back in again. Maybe it is just that the extra force you have to exert to push the plane forward exacerbates one of the following additional causes.

The third possible cause is poor bedding of the iron, which is common in block planes. Many block planes have a very narrow flat bedding area behind the mouth often only about 3/16" wide. The iron is supported only by that narrow flat area and at another point a couple of inches back, in the center of the iron. The bed is supposed to support the iron as close to the cutting edge as possible. The problem is that many block planes' cap irons do not extend over the little bed, but stop short. When you tighten the cap iron it presses down on the iron behind the bed, where it is unsupported. That holds the iron firmly against the only rear edge of the bedding surface. The iron is not pressed firmly against the front of the bed, and in fact may even be bent upward a little so that it lifts away from the front of the bed. On this kind of block plane the support for the cutting edge is much farther away from the cutting edge than it should be. As the iron cuts its bevel pulls the edge down into the wood. Because the support is too far away, the iron bends downward a little bit, and cuts deeper. Then it suddenly straightens out and stops cutting or cuts less deep before getting pulled down into the wood again. This happens very rapidly, and is called chatter. In the worst case this problem can make it impossible to set the plane for thin cuts. It doesn't cut at all, and then when you get the iron's projection large enough for the edge to engage the wood, the wood pulls the blade down, making too deep a cut.

There are two ways to fix this problem. One is to use epoxy to build up the bed so it extends back past the front of the cap iron. There was an article in FWW many years ago on tuning block planes that described the process, and the article was reprinted in a Taunton book on Chisels and Planes. It is a plausible fix, but I have not tried it. The other way is to file the bed area to lower its angle a degree or two. That keeps the iron tight against the front edge of the bed even when it is bent upward slightly by the cap iron. Leonard Lee describes this fix in his book on sharpening. This bedding problem is subtle, and will not give you any problem at all until you try to set the plane to take very thin, 0.001" shavings. If your plane works fine when set to make thicker shavings, but you find you cannot get really fine shavings, this is a very likely cause.

The fourth possibility is that the sole of the plane may be concave in length, so that the mouth is raised slightly off the wood. The iron then has to be extended farther to compensate for the concave sole. That effectively moves the support for the iron back a little farther than necessary from the cutting edge. The result is chatter and inability to set for a very fine cut, just like the previous possible cause. Just like the previous one, it is something to suspect if the plane works fine when set for medium shavings but is difficult to set for very fine shavings.

There is one other thing that can cause a plane to cut and skip that I will mention for the sake of completeness. The surface being planed may not be flat yet. If the surface is not quite flat the plane will cut only the relatively high spots, which is why a plane is good at making things straight and flat. There's a reason for the big sole surrounding the cutting edge of a plane.

Posted 10/4/04 rfeeser
Jointing An Edge Straight With Hand Planes

From what you said I'm not sure you have a problem; you just may not be finished. The plane itself doesn't automatically make an edge straight. You make the edge straight. The plane helps a WHOLE lot, though. In particular, a plane on its own, with no guiding intelligence, is actually pretty good of getting rid of a lengthwise concavity, but it will not generally get rid of a lengthwise convexity (which is what you have since the ends of the joint are gapping).

Here are some step by step instructions for straightening an edge. This isn't the "right" way, it's "a" way. Other people do things differently, to good result.

  1. Use a plane to get the edge at least close to perpendicular to the faces. You are going to need to evaluate the straightness yourself, and that's really hard if the edge wobbles from side to side.
  2. Using a trustworthy straightedge, examine the edge of the board, looking for high spots--places where the straightedge rocks.
  3. Lets assume there is one high spot. Mark it on the face of the board so planing the edge will not remove the mark.
  4. Use the plane to remove the high spot. Take a short shaving off of the edge right where the mark is. Then take another longer shaving centered on the same point. Use the straightedge to see if the area is still high. If so take another, still longer shaving centered over the same area. Keep taking longer shavings and checking until the high spot is gone. If your shavings get so long they reach the end, start over with a very short stroke, then several successively longer ones.

  5. A couple of points.

    - You are the one deciding where you have to plane and how much. You are not just running the plane along from one end to the other.
    - You don't have to worry very much about planing too much, turning the high spot into a low spot. The plane itself will keep you from digging a low spot very deep.
    - When you get rid of one high spot you may find another one at a different place. Just keep at it.
    - When you are done you may need to make a full length swipe or two before you get a continuous shaving. This time, when you get a continuous shaving you will be really close to straight.

  6. Once the straightedge tells you your edge is straight you could stop. But a lot of people will take another two or three very light strokes to push the edge down a trifle more at the center. Say a quarter-length, a half-length, and then a three-quarter length shaving, all centered on the center of the edge. Then make a full length pass or two until you get a continuous full length shaving. Depending on how you do that, it may get the edge a little flatter than it was before, or it may cause a very slight gap in the center of the joint. It should be only a thou or two (check with a feeler gauge). That makes what is called a "sprung joint" which you should be able to find some information on. At any rate, either edge will be fine for a butt joint.
If you plane both edges of the joint at the same time the first step had to get the edge reasonably square across both boards at the same time.

Getting the edge square to the face takes more skill, which comes with practise. I know that's not much help, but this post is already long enough to try everyone's patience.

If you joint the two boards together, square isn't so important, but straight across, with no crown is important. It is usually easier to balance the plane stably on the double width edge, but you have to keep checking with a straight edge to see that you are not crowning the edge.

People just do what works for them to get the edges square. Some insist that you need a perfectly straight cutting edge on your plane. Others feel that you can only do it if cutting edge is slightly concave. The key is to keep trying and critically evaluating your results.

Note that if you plane both edges at the same time errors in crosswise squareness cancel out, but errors in lengthwise straightness are doubled. You have to find whether one at a time or two at once works best for you.

Cheers. It takes practice and some thinking initially, but it is a knack that is actually easy to pick up, and like all procedures it is far easier to do than to describe. And it's fun!

Posted 6/11/2004 rfeeser
Squaring Edges With Hand Planes

The most basic technique is to check the edge with a square at several places along the length and to do it frequently. Correct; check again. Even if you do nothing else you will learn how to plane squarely.

Additional things: I want to reiterate. The basic technique involved is to use a square to check the edge of the board after every few strokes. Catch any deviation while it is still small. Correct the deviations. Before long you will find that there are not nearly as many deviations from square.

There is absolutely nothing about a plane that makes it automatically tend to square the edges unless it has a jointing guide. You have to be the one who does that.

You also asked about squaring ends of boards. To do that, use a shooting board. It is easy, accurate, and prevents chipping the back edge of the board. Once you make a shooting board and learn how to use it, you will be surprised how often you use it. It's practically a necessity with hand sawing.

So, maybe some of this will help take the worry out of being square.

Posted 10/29/2004 rfeeser
Why Plane Diagonally When Flattening A Rough Face?

The thread was discussing how to remove cup from rough lumber, and specifically whether to start out with the convex or concave side up. After starting convex side up was recommended, and the method of planing diagonally to just remove the raised center was described, the question was asked: "Why not just plane lengthwise along the center of the board to get rid of the central high area.

Some of the reasons for initially planing diagonally even in that situation are: If you just blindly use a very long plane and cycle through all of those directions, you will almost automatically end up with a nearly flat surface. Try it. You might be surprised at the results. Though you still have to test and find the high and low spots and any twist to really get a flat face, you can come close even without testing.

Posted rfeeser 12/16/04
Shaving Thicknesses And Lapping Soles

  1. Minimum shaving thickness of 0.0035" for a jointer or fore plane used as a substitute for a jointer is marginally adequate, I'd say. I'm not clear on whether you are intending to use it only for jointing edges, or for flattening faces, or both. A jointer plane does not have to be able to take super-thin 0.001" shavings like a smoother does. The very thin shavings help prevent tearout, but for the work a jointer does, a little tearout is acceptable. If the edge is going to be showing it can be cleaned up with a finer plane like a smooth or even a block plane. For flattening a face (which is not traditionally done with a jointer, but with the #6 you have) a little tearout is OK, too, because you will surely have to finish up with a smoother set super-fine to get rid of tearout.
  2. With planes, "good" performance is a moving target. They take a fair amount of skill to use and fettle, and as you get better at that your standards of performance get more critical. That leads to learning to do a better job of fettling, and you are on a circular path of continuous improvement. So you should feel comfortable accepting anything that you feel is good enough. Over time you may get more critical, but at any time you may reach your personal point where you don't see any need to go any farther. For most of us the game is cutting wood into small pieces and assembling them into useful or attractive objects. There is a point beyond which searching for better performance of the tools doesn't really get you anywhere. However, there are also those of us who obsess over our tools.
  3. As a quality check of jacks, fores, and jointers, I want to be able to get 0.002" shavings. It is not so much that they have to be able to go that thin to do their work, as it is that you know they are decently fettled if they can go to 0.002 in., and if they can't, you know something is not as well fettled as it reasonably could be. In use, for other than smooth planes, I consider 0.002" shavings "fine," and 0.005" ones are "coarse," with medium somewhere in between.
  4. Lacy holes in thin shavings are normally a characteristic of the wood that cannot be overcome by fettling the plane. In spite of lacy holes, if the shaving holds together it is a good shaving, and the plane is working as it should. However, the holes can also be indicative of tearout, which is bad. Examine the planed surface. If it is smooth, don't worry about the holes; if it is rough they are caused by tearout, which you may be able to prevent with a sharper iron and a better set up plane, or not, depending on the wood.
  5. For block planes, lap until you have the sole as flat as you think you can possibly make it. They are often useful for very fine work if they are fettled well, and they are small enough that it doesn't take too much effort to get them really flat. For smooth planes, which take more work because they are larger, but which are still used for very fine work, I feel that the sole is flat enough if I can take 0.001 in. shavings fairly easily. With jacks, fores, and jointers, I strive to be able to take 0.002" shavings. The entire sole does not have to be flat; the critical areas are the tips of the toe and heel, and both front and back of the mouth. In between it is not a problem if there are hollows, but humps must be removed. Those four areas must be in good contact with a flat surface.
  6. Conventional wisdom is that the frog and iron should be properly mounted and tensioned when lapping a sole or checking its flatness. The iron needs to be retracted of course, since there is no advantage to "flattening" the cutting edge. Similarly, for adjustable toe block planes, the toe piece fixing screw should be at it's normal tension, because tightening it does pull it concave. David Charlesworth marks his toe piece fixing screws so that he can always return it to the same tension after moving the toe.

    The frequently seen statement, "You can only make an edge as straight (or a face as flat) as your plane's sole is wrong. As long as you can examine an edge or face and identify the high spots with some degree of accuracy, you can make them that flat simply by using the plane to remove wood there. A long jointer or fore plane helps with the process, but it is the human who controls it. A good job of flattening or straightening can be done with a block plane, although that takes more attention to what you are doing. However, that said, if your plane is convex or concave, you will be fighting against it all the time, so flatter is better. It is your ability to use a good straightedge, winding sticks, and a square that limit the quality of the product, not the flatness of the sole.

    That's one reason the well known tendency of wooden planes' soles to move around with the seasons is not quite the problem it seems. Skilled users of wood planes minimize the amount of sole flattening they do, knowing that in six months they will be flat again if left along. Only when the sole curves badly enough to affect the planes' performance will they take any corrective action.
  7. I will send you a PM describing some techniques to use to keep the edge flat. I encourage you to look up that thread to see other people's suggestions, too.
  8. In addition to the cleaning, rust removal, lapping, and sharpening you have done, be sure the frog is bedded securely in the body, the upper surface of the frog is flat and burr-free, and that the very front edge of the chipbreaker makes good contact with the top of the iron all the way across. Also, reducing the mouth and moving the chipbreaker very close to the cutting edge of the iron help produce thin shavings with reduced chatter and tearout, but for a jointer or jointer substitute that can easily be overdone.
Posted 11/15/2004 rfeeser

I don't think this is often stated explicitly: there are two different waxings for plane soles. The first is protective. That's just some form of paste wax worked well into the metal and then buffed off. Other preparations, like Top-Cote, Slip-It, and Boeshield T-9 can be used instead, but it's my impression that most just use paste wax. I use Renaissance Wax, a clear synthetic wax, because when I was first learning ww, Highland Hardware said it provided the best, longest lasting wax protection. I still use it, but I have no idea whether it really is any better than all the others.

My hands and perspiration are very acidic, so corrosion starts quickly on my planes after use. Because of that I have to re-wax my planes at the end of the day any time I use them. Six months to a year between waxings works fine for the ones that don't get used.

The second waxing is for lubrication during use. This application is used on wooden planes as well as metallic ones. People usually use a harder wax such as canning paraffin or a candle. This is just scribbled on the sole. Many people make multiple diagonal strokes in both directions, making a diamond pattern on the sole. The lines are usually from one to two inches apart. If you run the wax from back to front it does not get shaved by the iron. There is absolutely nothing critical about this, except that you want the wax on the part of the sole that will be rubbing on the wood. The lubricating wax gets rubbed off as you plane, so you have to repeat the lubricating whenever you think the friction is mounting up again. Even on a plane that has a freshly applied protective waxing, this lubrication can make an amazing difference.

If you have a plane set for very thin shavings, say 0.001 in. thick, the thickness of freshly applied lubricating wax has a clearly perceptible effect, thinning the shavings still more for a few strokes. When the plane is set for thicker shavings the lube is not significant. So don't do a lube job just prior to setting the iron when smoothing.

I have also heard of people lubricating their planes with some form of oil. Some workbenches have a little shallow oil dish that swings out from under the top. One dips ones finger into the oil and then applies it to the sole of the plane, I presume. I have also heard of people keeping a small strip of carpet with some oil worked in. I believe they sit the plane on the carpet to pick up some more oil. The use of liquid oils sounds messy to me, and I don't know anyone who uses it.

Posted 8/23/04 rfeeser
Bevel Up Or Bevel Down?

Quote: Anybody know if the bevel is up or down? It was up when I got it, but the logo, or stamp on the blade is on the opposite side as the bevel.

It depends on the bedding angle of the iron, which is hard to estimate from your high side view. The bedding angle is the angle between the sole of the plane and the flat angled surface to which the iron is clamped. If the bedding angle is 45 to 85 degrees, the iron mounts bevel down. If it's 10 to 35 degrees, it's bevel up. Other bedding angles are very unusual, so you are unlikely to have to deal with one.

The rules are based on how a plane cuts wood. The following rules are sufficient to determine how the iron is mounted in any plane. Posted 9/5/04 rfeeser
Typical Shapes Of Bench Plane Cutting Edges

Smooth planes are used to smooth wood faces and edges to prepare them for finishing. Smooth planes are usually set to cut thin shavings (about 0.001 in. or slightly thicker) with the mouth set very tight to minimize tearout. Often the finish is applied directly to the smoothed wood without any sanding. The cutting edges are not straight but either have the corners rounded or a very gentle convex curve, or "camber." If the corners are rounded, it only affects about 1/16 in. at each end of the edge. If the edge is cambered, the curve is gentle enough that even when set to cut 0.001 in. deep, the shavings are approximately 75 percent as wide as the blade.

Jack planes are medium sized planes that can be used for just about any planing job in a pinch, but are normally used for rough planing. Thus, they are normally set to make medium to thick shavings 0.002 in. to 0.004 in., or sometimes greater, with the mouth opened wide enough to facilitate passage of these thicker shavings. The shape of the cutting edge depends on the use of the plane. A jack plane used to flatten rough lumber usually has a cambered edge that is rounded more than a smooth planes' so that the shaving is nearly fully the width of the iron when cutting thick 0.004 in. shavings. If the jack plane is used for jointing or for semi-smoothing, the edge will be given the shape used for jointer or smooth planes.

Jointer planes are normally used to straighten and flatten the edges of boards. Since their irons are usually wider than the edges they are used on, and since the jointed edges are often used in glue joints, the cutting edges of these planes are usually straight all the way across, with the corners left hard. Some people do lightly camber jointer iron edges and use the camber to make slight changes in the angle of the wood's edge to its face.

Fore planes are used to get rid of the plane marks left by jack planes when preparing rough wood. They are set to take medium shavings about 0.002 in thick and have mouths set about as narrow as they can be to pass the shavings. The amount of camber is midway between that of a jack and a smoother, again determined by the desire to be able to cut shavings that are nearly as wide as the iron.

Posted 9/13/04 rfeeser
Sharpening Abrasives

You will soon find there are many different ways to sharpen, each requiring a different kit. You will find lots of good instructions on how to sharpen, and they will all emphasize that the back has to be flattened and polished just as much as the bevel. I think there is less information on which type of abrasive to use unless you turn to a book, so I'll summarize the choices.

They all work if they have a suitable range of abrasive grit sizes. You have to have something coarse enough to do whatever repair work you need in a reasonable enough time, something fine enough to get the edge smooth enough to be sharp and stay sharp, and enough others in between to get from one to the other in a reasonable amount of time--just like using several different sandpaper grits on wood, working up to the finest grit you want to use.

You can mix different sharpening kit; all your abrasives don't have to be oilstones, for example. But most people stick with one kind of abrasive, at least initially. The most common use of multiple types is to use a diamond stone for the coarse work and then finer oil stones, water stones, or sandpaper. Just starting outlike you are, you need to read a bit, think a bit, then pick one kit and stick to it until you can get your tools sharp enough with it. Later, on the basis of your experience with that one, you may decide to try something else.

Here are the main options: Posted 12/25/04 (Merry Christmas!) rfeeser

You have raised a lot of questions in your first and subsequent posts. I'll let you know where I am coming from and then give my opinion on each of your questions. If you want, just skip to the numbered answers to the questions.

I used waterstones for years happily for years, but when I inherited a lot of antique planes and chisels and suddenly had about 100 edges to lap and sharpen I decided it was time to try other methods. I tried the inherited oilstones, including a very nice black Arkansas , but quickly decided they took too long for the major metal removal I was up against with the antique tools. I was surprised (I know, I shouldn't have been) that the black stone polished the metal just about as well as an 8000 waterstone. These stones were also well cupped. When I started flattening them with a coarse diamond plate I was really impressed at how slow the going was. Between the slow cutting speed and the amount of initial work reqired to flatten these well used stones out, I decided to look farther.

I worked with sandpaper on a granite plate for quite a while, trying different sandpapers. When I stumbled on Norton 3X sandpaper I found that it cut much faster than other papers of the same grit, cleaned much easier, and lasted much longer.

I tried lapping the backs with a mild steel plate and loose grit. I just couldn't get decent results. There is apparently something about the technique that has eluded me.

I also tried diamond plates. They cut very fast initially, but after lapping three or four plane irons they slowed down considerably and produced a finer surface. After that they maintained their speed indefinitely. Most of the manufacturers say in their instruction sheets that they initially cut too fast and too coarsely until the large loose particles get broken down. What happened is not that they wore out, but that they got broken in. I believe that once they are broken in they will continue to function for a long time. After they were broken in I found that they were slower than the Norton 3X sandpaper that produced a similarly scratched surface.

I now lap backs on a belt sander followed by Norton 3X sandpaper starting with 60 grit and working up to 400, then 400 - 2000 grit wet or dry paper. For any major work on the bevels I start with a Tormek grinder (also inherited) and then use sandpaper on granite to straighten or camber the edge and hone a microbevel. I cannot put a sharp enough edge on a plane iron using the Tormek along. The Norton 3X sandpaper is the fastest cutting non-power method I have found, and it stays flat as long as I keep the granite plate clean. The waterstones are almost as fast once you get up to an 800 waterstone or its equivalent in sandpaper, but I could never manage to keep them flat enough. For removing a lot of metal, though, I find the coarser grits of 3X sandpaper to be a lot faster than coarser waterstones. David Charlesworth says he reflattens his waterstones after about every four minutes of use. In the end, the reason I switched to Norton 3X sandpaper was because of the difficulty in keeping the waterstones flat.

Now that you know I am currently using sandpaper, and why, I'll address your specific questions.

  1. I agree that cost and space are negatives for sandpaper. I decided to go that way, though, because of the efficiency and results.
  2. I have had my King waterstones over a decade. I probably flattened them more than most people do. They have not worn appreciably. The coarser ones start out quite thick and are still very thick. The 6000 and 8000 ones start out thin but wear very slowly.
  3. The only problems I have every heard about oilstones is that they cut slowly (I vouch for that) and the oil is messy. On the "mess" front some people prefer an oily mess and some prefer a watery mess. You will hear this issue thrown out as a disadvantage for both waterstones and oilstones.
  4. I prefer to use stones at least as wide as my plane blades, but there are ways to work with narrower ones. Michael Dunbar uses sandpaper, and in spite of the relatively large abrasive area it has, teaches honing with a side-to-side motion without a honing guide. There's no reason that wouldn't work with narrow stones, either, except that it might cup waterstones too fast. That wouldn't be a problem with oilstones. If you use a honing guide, you would need to get one in which the roller is several inches behind the edge being sharpened. I am not sure whether any are available that will take the widest plane irons, though. You can then push the edge back and forth across the width of the stone. The very short strokes required that way may really slow things down, though, and you have to reset the sharpening angle every time you change stones because each one is a different height. There are ways to manage that problem with shims, etc., but it is an inconvenience nevertheless.
  5. When just touching up a dulled but not damaged edge, I: pull out my 8000 waterstone, which I keep dry; mist a little water on the surface; use a Nagura stone to work a bit of slurry up; put the tool in a honing guide; quickly sharpen the microbevel; strop on a flat leather strop; and finally clean the stone while it is still wet. Takes a total of a couple of minutes. If I am doing much planing I don't bother to clean or put the stone away until I am done, but just keep it covered so dust doesn't get on it. Used this way, the 8000 stone will last longer than I will. They wear very slowly to begin with, and honing the microbevel does not remove much metal.
Posted 10/6/2004 rfeeser
Sharpening Choices For Two Block Planes

Question: If you had 2 No 18's what angles would you hone the blades? Any benefit to having the 2nd plane at a different angle? (dimner)

[The #18s are large standard-angle block planes with adjustable mouths. Their bedding angle is 20 degrees. Although the question is about block planes, all the issues are the same if you have any two similar bevel-up low-angle bench planes. Also, the issues about edge shapes, i.e. straight vs. cambered, are the same any time you have two identical planes, or two almost identical planes. For example, a #3 and a #4 are almost too similar to tell apart.]

You have three choices here, I think.

A. Chinese menu: Pick two of the following bevel angles: 20 degrees (40 degree cutting angle), 25 degrees (45 deg cutting angle) and 30 - 35 degrees (50 - 55 deg cutting angle).

The 40 degree cutting angle is good for shaving end grain or shaving softwood with the grain. However, with hardwood it is prone to tearout and is likely to chip and/or dull rapidly.

The 45 degree cutting angle is a compromise for shaving both hardwood and softwood end grain and with the grain.

The 50 - 55 degree cutting angle is good for reducing tearout when shaving hardwood with the grain but poor for planing end grain or softwood with the grain.

The general tradeoff is that with hardwood the lower cutting angle leaves a better, shinier surface but is prone to tearout, while the higher cutting angle reduces tearout but produces a less smooth surface.

The other factor is the strength of the cutting edge. That is dependent on the kind of steel and the included angle of the very tip of the cutting edge, which is determined by the micro-bevel(s) if any, otherwise by the back and the main bevel. The smaller the angle is the weaker the cutting edge, making it prone to chipping out. If you decide to use a 20 degree bevel to get a 40 degree cutting edge on normal angle block plane, the 5 degree back bevel rarebear suggests keeps the included angle at 25 degrees, and keeps the strength of the edge.

B. Use the same angles on both but hone one iron straight across with the corners rounded slightly and the other with a slight convex curve, or camber. To oversimplify the uses of the two shapes, the straight edge is useful when cutting a surface that is not as wide as the plane iron, such as planing end grain, edges, and small pieces. The cambered edge is useful for planing surfaces that are wider than the iron, because the corners of the iron do not leave distinct tracks. The required camber is very small, sufficient so that the shavings taper off to nothing on both sides when the iron is shaving a flat surface, but small enough so that the shavings are still nearly as wide as the iron--say at least 75% as wide. With a slight camber, a sharp iron, and a tight mouth, a block plane can work well as a small smoothing plane.

C. Put the same edge on both, making them interchangeable. When one gets dull just reach for the other one and then resharpen both at the same time, later. Or keep one really, really sharp and use it only for final smoothing.

- Of course, in every case you have both the angle and curvature choices to make.

- Your choices will depend on what you use the planes for, which also depends on what other planes you have as well as the kind of work you do. Don't agonize over it too much because it isn't hard to resharpen a block plane iron to a different shape or bevel angle. One way to attack the choice is to decide what is most useful and just sharpen one iron that way. Leave the other iron alone until you have a positive reason for a different edge, and set the other edge up that way at that time.

Posted rfeeser 12/13/04
Getting Rid Of An Unwanted Camber In A Plane Iron's Edge

The wider honing guide rollers are more stable and help, but no matter what you use it's primarily the finger pressure you apply to the tip of the chisel and whether the stone is flat that affect the shape of the edge. As much as possible, the force should be applied with your fingers right at the tip of the tool--as close as possible without sharpening your fingers or bleeding on the tool. Let the guide roll along behind. A lot of people tend to hold and press on the guide instead of the tool.

Once you have a crown it is gawdaful hard to get rid of it by continuing to hone in the normal manner. The first thing you have to do is get rid of the hump. Until you get rid of it the tool will be impossible to keep flat. It will rock and perpetuate or increase the hump. One way to get rid of the hump is to lay a narrow strip of paper or something under a piece of sandpaper on a flat substrate. The strip should be about half the width of the chisel. Then hone for a while, centering the chisel approximately over the shim. Make a pencil mark on the sandpaper over the shim if it is hard to tell where it is. Keep checking the edge and continue honing this way until the crown is gone. Then go back to your normal honing. Once you have two widely spaced points for the tool to rest on, stability will be restored and you will be able to straighten the edge.

Posted 9/7/04 rfeeser
References On Fettling Bench And Block Planes

The most important thing you can do to improve performance of a hand plane is to get the iron really sharp. Expect to keep getting your irons sharper and sharper for years to come. If they keep trying to produce the sharpest iron they can, woodworkers usually find that their idea of what sharp keeps getting more refined. Many woodworkers will tell you that they get their chisels and plane irons sharper now than they did a few years ago, and they would have said that several years ago, too.

Aside from the cosmetics you mentioned, there are a lot of books that cover the fettling of planes: Posted 11/28/04 rfeeser
The information I've posted here regarding hand planes was written and compiled by Robert Feeser, aka rfeeser among the fine gentlemen who frequent the WoodNet Forums. He has graciously allowed me to reprint his exceedingly helpful document here on my website where I hope to add to its value by formatting it for easy reading and re-reading, navigation and the addition of links to all referenced resources online.

Thanks, Bob. I suspect the effort you've put into writing and compiling this guide to hand planes will be a godsend to countless beginners like me. - T.J. Mahaffey []