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

Hand Plane Information Part 3 - Wooden Planes

The subject of this part is wooden planes. My favorites. After using only metallic planes for decades because I didn't really know there was any alternative, I came into an "accumulation" of about 40 antique wooden planes (and something over half a dozen Lie Nielsen metal ones). They looked cool, but I didn't know anything about them, and didn't know whether they would be practical to use. After reading several books and then learning to tune and use them, and buying some myself to fill in gaps in the accumulation, I have found myself reaching for a metal plane less and less often, even though the LN planes showed me that metal planes could be a lot better than I had realized, too. I was really surprised when I found that, with practice, it is easier to set the irons precisely in wooden planes that have no adjustment mechanism at all than it is with Stanley bench planes with their adjustment wheels. All my experience with wooden planes has been with the antique ones; I have no experience with the more "modern" designs that are laminated from several boards, look like a stretched out jelly bean and use a crosspiece to hold the wedge in rather than an abutment on either side. Much of what I have learned about my planes undoubtedly applies to the modern ones, too, but I would be skating on thin ice to try to guess what applies and what doesn't.

I really enjoy using wooden planes. It's a personal thing. Lots of people have tried them and not liked them. If you want to give them a try, I hope this material will help get you up and running with them.
Wooden Vs. Metallic Planes

I prefer antique wooden bench planes to metal ones. To explain why, I have to start by contradicting your assumptions. No offense is meant; but I guess if I agreed with them I would not like wooden planes.

In my experience, an antique wooden plane in very good condition or new wooden plane is not less expensive than a good metal user plane. (Yes, LN, LV, and Clifton planes are more expensive, but they perform only a little better than a well fettled old Stanley. As far as performance is concerned you are paying more to avoid having to do as much work fettling. You are also paying for their beauty and for bragging rights.)

Tuning and maintaining a wood plane is much easier than tuning a metal plane. It uses simple woodworking skills that the user of a plane presumably has. (But you do have more frequent maintenance with a wood plane. You may have to flatten the sole a couple of times a year and rework the mouth or sole every three or five years.)

Adjusting the iron position of a wood plane is easier and faster to do precisely. (That would not be the case if Bailey adjustors didn't have so much backlash.)

Since they are not harder to tune, why doesn't everyone use wooden planes? Beats me. I prefer wooden bench planes nearly all the time. I use antiques, not wood planes from current makers. My observation is that many people who have an opportunity to try a well tuned wood plane become wooden plane users. Not always, of course.

I suspect the very obvious adjustment mechanism of the metal planes and complete lack of any on wooden planes is one of the biggest reasons people don't use wooden planes. A big, obvious adjustment mechanism has to be better than no mechanism, right? Well, no, not if it wasn't needed to begin with. It has occurred to me, however, that metal planes actually do need the adjustment mechanism because trying to adjust them with a hammer like you do a wooden plane would deal real damage. It does take some time to learn to adjust a wooden plane's iron precisely and quickly. But I learned how, and I still can't do as well with the Bailey-style adjustors that were all I knew for decades.

Wooden planes perform very well, and provide a more intimate feel of the action of the iron slicing the wood that is very appealing.

I also have to admit that I am swayed by the fact that a nicely finished wood plane in good shape is a beautiful wooden object to look at and touch and use. The love of beautiful wooden objects is one of the primary reasons I work wood.

Posted 10/25/04 rfeeser
Are Wooden Jointers Worth The Effort Until I Can Afford A Metallic One?

Ask not if the wooden planes are good enough. Ask rather whether metal ones are good enough to make do with until one gets a good wooden one.

I guess I overstated the case. If you know how to fettle and maintain them, they both can do excellent work. I use both but often prefer wooden ones. It's partly a matter of enjoying the look and feel of the wooden ones, but I don't use where they don't work as well.

I especially like the feel of horn handled wooden smoothers. The grip is, for me, more comfortable than a knob and a tote that I can barely get my hand into. However, a metal smooth plane has about twice as much mass as a wooden smoother, and there are times where that extra mass makes dealing with uneven grain easier. Ihave never used one of the Krenov style wood planes with rounded shapes and no handles; he says there is much more flexibility in how you hold them.

I also really like my long 26 - 28 in. wooden jointers. The additional length gives them a functional advantage over a 22 or 24 inch metal jointer in producing a straight edge, but the weight is a little less than a 22 inch metal plane, making them easier to use.

Most people who like wooden ones mention the advantages of wood sliding on wood and their comparatively light weight. The feel of a wood plane can give you a very good tactile feel of what the plane is doing. Their lighter weight can be very nice on very long jointers. Wooden ones go up to 36 inches long, although most are 26 - 28 inches long. Metal planes that long would be a lot heavier.

Those who prefer metal planes usually comment on the better adjustment mechanisms and less need for maintenance (the soles of wooden planes have to be flattened occasionally because of humidity related movement and/or wear.

It did not take very long for me to learn to adjust the blade of wooden planes, and now I can usually set them critically in less time than it takes me with the Bailey adjusters used on most metal planes. The excellent Norris style adjustors without backlash on the Lee Valley metal planes are something else, however. I have only one of those planes, and I can get its blade adjusted perfectly very quickly.

It is true that wooden planes require occasional truing of the sole. Also, over time, as the sole is flattened and the blade is sharpened, the mouth of a wooden plane gets larger. That's not much of a problem with jack and jointers, but can quickly stop a smoother from functioning well. However, these planes are very easy to flatten using a large plane, electric jointer, or sandpaper and scraper, and the whole sole or just a little portion of the sole in front of the mouth can be replaced easily. They are wood and we are wood workers, after all.

I think you can reflatten a wooden plane's sole and perform any necessary rebuilding of the mouth for quite a few years before you have invested as much time as it usually takes to lap a Stanley metal plane's sole flat when you first acquire it.

I think it is debatable whether metal or wooden planes are better. It comes down to a matter of personal preferance. With either type, however, there is a lot to learn before you can get the best performance.

Posted 7/13/2004 rfeeser
Why Do They Make Wooden Planes?

You asked, "Why do they make wooden planes? It seems like they would warp or get chipped easily." Knowing this is a controversial subject, I'll give you my opinion, just for information. I don't think I am RIGHT--this is just an individual viewpoint from one who used metal planes for a long time and then discovered wooden planes and prefers them. There are many others who have tried both metal and wooden planes and prefer the metal ones. The wooden planes do have disadvantages, but that's not what you are asking about. I use and am familiar with antique wood planes; I have not used any by the modern makers of wood planes and have not yet made any of my own because it's been so easy to pick up antiques and fettle them.

As far as chipping easily, wooden planes are more robust that way than metal ones. Drop one of each on a concrete floor and the chances are you will only have one working plane left--the wooden one.

Antique wooden bench planes have several positive qualities. Summarizing: Conclusion: I prefer wood planes because I find them aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, and easy to adjust; and I can do at least as good a job with them. Or, more briefly: They sing to my soul and they work.

Posted 8/19/2004 rfeeser
Adjusting Wooden Planes

How do I adjust wood planes? Oh, my; another long post, because you obviously know basically how it's done, so I don't think saying, "Tap the plane or the iron to move the iron until it cuts well," is very helpful. However, if you wish this post were shorter, stop reading right here, go out into the shop and practice setting a wood plane. You will get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Oh, still here? Here's the long version: So, that's it. To deepen the cut tap the top of the iron down then tighten the wedge. Tap; tap. Test the cut. To lighten the cut, tap the striking button or the heel then tighten the wedge. TAP; tap.

A wood mallet minimizes damage to the wood. A soft metal hammer minimizes mushrooming the edges of the iron. Any small wood and brass hammers work fine. However, it's nicer not to have to mess with two hammers. For a long time I used a nice little hammer whose head is brass at one end with a 1" square replaceable wood insert at the other, from LV. Later, I came across a shoemaker's hammer for a couple of bucks like the one Mike Dunbar uses in his book Restoring, Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools. It is soft iron and has an unusually large round, slightly convex striking surface. I now just use that one hammer on both the wood and the iron. With a little care, though, any hammer at all can be used without damaging the plane. A small hammer is best, though, because often there is very little clearance around the iron where you need to hit it, especially for making lateral adjustments. (Dunbar's book has a chapter on refurbishing a ratty old wood plane-- one of the two best write-ups of how to do that. The other one is by Bob Smalser, of course; there is a link to it on Cian's links page.)

Knight Toolworks' web site has a nice video showing how to adjust his wood planes. He says to drive the wedge of his planes really tight. I don't know why. It occurs to me that it might be because his wedges are held in place by a single crosspiece, while the wedges of the antiques are held by the abutments on the sides. But I don't know. He might drive wedges really tight in the antique planes, too. It may just be a personal choice like so many others in woodworking.

With an antique plane, if the wedge keeps coming loose, or if you really have to THWACK it in to keep it tight, it probably is not fitted to the plane well enough. With a plane that has side abutments to hold the wedge, rather than a cross piece, it is important that the wedge thickness match the abutments all the way along the sides of the wedge. It should tighten evenly all along both sides at the same time. To fit the wedge, locate any spots where the wedge is too tight and plane, sand, or scrape them down until the wedge contacts the entire abutment at the same time. A wedge that fits well usually does not have to be hit very hard to set it. I already mentioned how wide the wedge should be somewhere up above.

This whole process is much easier than the describing of it. It goes very fast once you are comfortable with it. But it is always a trial and error deal. It will always be: Tap; tap; test. Tap; tap; test. Tap; ... until it's right. Steve Knight's video shows that clearly. I think he was probably deliberately making that point in the video. It usually takes me less than half as long to set an iron as he does in his video, and I assume he's a lot better at it than I am. It also usually takes me less time to set an iron in my wood planes than it does with my metal planes, especially if I am trying to make very precise adjustments to cut extremely thin shavings. The backlash in the Bailey mechanism is a bummer. I'm think Bob Smalser has said that even with metal planes he makes the fine adjustment with a hammer, after making sure he has the backlash in the right direction so the Y-lever will not be broken.

How hard you have to tap the iron and wedge tends to be about the same for all planes with a similar design. But when you have to tap on the stock, bigger planes take a heftier blow.

You mentioned tapping the plane on the workbench to adjust it. As long as it works and damages neither the plane nor the workbench, it is good. As Duke Ellington said, "If it sounds good, it is good."

I hope that helps. To quote Ellington again, "I love you all madly."

(Anyway, that's better than what Thelonious Monk said in a Time magazine interview that sometimes applies to these forums: "When someone walks up to me and says something that's a drag, I just say something that's even more of a drag. I'm good at it; I get a lot of practice.")

Posted 11/9/2004 rfeeser

P.S. I didn't think to mention in that big post that there are "purists" who say you should never tap the iron itself. That avoids mushrooming the top of the iron. To increase the cut, tap ond grain of the toe of the plane instead.

I don't do that. It requires a significantly more energetic tap on the toe to move the iron down, and I figure that results in more damage to the toe than you are avoiding on the iron. Most manufacturer's stamps are on the toe, and I think they are worth protecting. Also, for lateral adjustments I really can't see banging on the wood cheek--the weakest part of the plane and the one place where damage may not be repairable.

Posted 11/9/2004 rfeeser
Holding A Wooden Plane To Retract The Iron

How to hold a wooden plane when striking it to retract the iron was an interesting question. I had to go out and try a smoother, a jack, and the big jointer to find out. My initial thought was that I lay the plane on the palm of my left hand, to keep the iron from falling out. But those irons are sharp, and I couldn't believe I was really dumb enough to do that. I looked at my left palm and didn't see any scars. So I went to the shop and hit a few heels to find out.

First, I almost always tap the heel even if there is a striking button on the top. Most of the striking buttons on my planes are not intact, so it's no good hitting them. That also tells me that if I hit them much they will be damaged, so I don't. But that sure enough is what they are there for.
  1. I pick the plane up with my left hand, by its center of gravity, with my thumb on the side toward me and the fingers on the opposite side.
  2. I rotate the bottom of the plane toward me so that the tote, if there is one, is horizontal and pointing away.
  3. I pick up a hammer in my right hand.
  4. I hit the heel of the plane.
There are two reasons why I do it like this. One is that I find it comfortable. In fact, it is just about the only way I can manage with my 32" jointer and still get a clear shot at the heel. The other reason is to keep the iron from dropping out accidentally if the wedge comes loose, to come to rest with the sharp edge as far into my shoe as its sharpness and weight allow. That could ding the edge.

Posted 11/9/2004 rfeeser
Condition Of Wooden Plane

It looks like a fine user to me. Even if the mouth is over 1/8", it can be easily repaired by inlaying a piece of wood just in front of the mouth, making it smaller. For a jointer, a mouth width of about 1/16" to 1/8" is normal--that's the open area in front of the cutting edge, not the total size of the hole, which is more like 3/8" to make room for the iron. Mouth repair was common maintenance and does not degrade the performance; it will plane like new. It is impossible to tell about checks and cracks in the photos, but it doesn't look like there are many. Even if there are the only effect is usually cosmetic. About the only thing that can keep these planes from being easily repairable are:

Depending on the humidity where the plane has been kept, I normally wait about a year for the plane to acclimate before doing much flattening of the sole. At least that's what I do when I have the patience. In the meanwhile I do all the maintenance and repairs it requires and even use it if the sole is not too badly curved. The soles have to be flattened from time to time just as a result of seasonal humidity changes. Every time you flatten the sole, the mouth opens up a little bit, hastening the time when a mouth repair will be required.

I love these antique wooden planes. They often have excellent irons and chipbreakers, perform well, are comfortable, and are beautiful as well, altough beauty is in the eye of the boholder.

Posted 10/292004 rfeeser
Removing A Tight Iron From A Wooden Plane

The previous suggestions are all worth trying.

Nordic: "I would just see if I could clamp the sides of the wedge in a vise (if a machinist's vise, use some wooden cauls) and then try tapping on the plane. Just be careful not to tighten it too much that it damages the wood. Another option might be vise grips, if you use the same precautions - wooden cauls, not too tight, light taps. Work patiently, it will come eventually..."

Bob Smalser: "Stick it in the freezer overnight.

"Hold it in your left hand upside down with your hand covering the wedge/iron/throat area....take smooth-faced brass or steel hammer of 6oz or greater....and whack the back til she pops loose."

I'll add a few comments, though.

A lot depends on how it is stuck and on the shape of the iron. It can be stuck between the cheeks because the plane has shrunk in width--which happens a lot--or it can be stuck because the wedge is too tight.

Check several things first:

PS: What finally worked for the poster, since the iron was tapered, was tapping the iron down to loosen it.

Posted 9/26/2004 rfeeser
Restoring Wooden Planes

These are the most important things I can think of: Posted 6/22/2004 rfeeser
Flatness Of Wooden Plane Soles

Well, this one is long even for me. I debated about really shortening it just as much as I could (Pat Warner is my idol). But it's hard to find much practical information about wooden planes, so I thought it would be interesting to some of you and might even help someone give wooden planes a try yourselves.

The following are opinions, based mostly on what I have been able to read about wooden planes, and I know of several good books, such as Whelan's that I haven't gotten to yet. I have the reading plus only about three years of experience using them. I had no experience with wooden planes until I inherited dad's. He never used any of them; he just bought them when he saw something cheap. He loved the way they looked but never said anything to me about ever having used one. So I haven't had the benefit of a tradition passed down. With only that much experience with them I still have a lot to learn, and some of what I say may be wrong.

So here, for what it's worth...

I use antique wooden planes. Their wood is usually at least 80 years old. I have been surprised at how seldom they need to be flattened. I believe part of that is that the old wood doesn't move as much. I don't know for sure whether that is so. However, I have certainly seen that in the harpsichord I made 10 years ago, which stays in tune and in regulation much better than it did at first.

Part of dealing with wood movement in wooden planes is understanding how the seasonal changes in humidity in your area affect them. Don't re-flatten their soles any more often or more aggressively than you absolutely have to. Not only is it unnecessary work, but also each time you remove a little wood from the sole the mouth gets a little wider because of the triangular shape of the throat (seen from the side). In smoothers, where you want the mouth to be something significantly less than 0.01 in., a few jointings of the sole makes the mouth too large. You can put a veneer or cardboard shim under the iron to move it forward and close the mouth, but only up to a point. Eventually the mouth gets too large for shimming, and you need to do a mouth repair or give it a new sole. Fortunately, like everything with wooden planes, only woodworking techniques are involved, and a mouth repair is a small, non-demanding job. After a whole lot of use, you will want to laminate a whole new sole onto the plane instead of making another mouth repair. That's more work, but still nothing dismal. Mouth and sole repairs do not in any way reduce the performance of a wooden plane.

In my area the humidity in my non-climate controlled garage workshop swings widely with the seasons. It is considerably dryer in the winter than it is in the summer. However, if I joint a plane flat early in the summer it stays flat all summer. Interestingly, if I leave it alone, it will also be nearly flat all winter, too, or close enough at least that it doesn't need any additional jointing.

However, for about a month in the spring and fall the planes are not flat and may require jointing before use. When the humidity increases rapidly and steadily for a time, nearly all of them get a bit of bow, becoming concave along the length. Conversely, when the humidity decreases they tend to bow again, into a convex sole. But remember I said that a plane I joint in the summer is flat in the winter, too? After the moisture in the planes has stopped changing rapidly in the spring and fall, the soles tend to flatten out again. That happens year after year with my antiques. I presume it happens with newer wood, too, but don't have any experience with that. I believe that what happens is that the thin cheeks change moisture content all the way through long before the stock does. It's a matter of about 1/4 in. thickness for the cheeks vs. the stock's 2-1/2 in.

To minimize the amount of jointing you do, and the length of time your plane will serve without a mouth or sole repair, there are several strategies.

First is the basic idea of not jointing the sole unless it really needs it. Really. Needs. It. For most uses the sole doesn't have to be critically flat. The adage that a plane can't make a piece of wood any straighter than it's sole is just isn't true. The trick is having the experience to know when it has to be really flat and when it doesn't. The only planes I have that really have to be kept flat for use are the smoothers. I think that's because I keep the shaving thickness with my smoothers to 0.001 in. or less. If a plane that can normally be easily set for 0.001 in. shavings starts to get cranky, wanting to bite more than that or not at all, the problem is usually, that the sole has bowed. A convex bow to the sole can also make the plane start to chatter, but that doesn't happen often unless it is really bad. I use jacks and longer planes more for removing wood than for finishing it, so they normally shave from 0.002 in. up to about 0.008 in., about the thickness of two sheets of typing (printing) paper. As a result, I find that sole flatness for these planes is not critical. Fortunately, smooth planes, the ones where flatness is critical, are only about 9 in. long or less, so their soles are short enough not to bow very much. Yes, a long jointer can bow enough to produce a slightly convex or concave edge, but when you check the edge's straightness, it is easy to straighten it out with an additional couple of passes over the high points only.

Second, don't use wooden planes that require a critically flat sole for the month or so in the spring and fall when the sole is not flat and moving. It's great if you have that luxury. If you don', then joint the plane and go, but be careful not to remove any more wood than is absolutely necessary, because in a few weeks you are going to have to joint it again to undo the changes you made, taking off still more wood. Or else have another plane at hand, not so good as the normal one perhaps, that you use only during the difficult seasons. This one will be jointed much more often than your other plane, and will need mouth repairs and sole replacements much sooner.

The third strategy is not striving for a truly flat sole, but only making it as flat as you have to for the plane to work well. The less you joint a wooden plane the less often you will have to joint it. I presume that the steady state shape of the sole is actually a little different in the summer than in the winter even though there is not enough difference for me to have to joint it again. If that is true, than each time you joint the sole truly flatten in one season you are increasing the amount it will be off six months later. With my antiques at least, the difference between summer and winter soles is small enough that a nice compromise between the two is really good enough year round except for the troublesome weeks in spring and fall.

You can jointing the sole in several ways. The traditional way is to use a plane, scraper, straightedge, and winding sticks. It helps if the plane doing the jointing is larger than the plane being jointed, but it is not necessary if you wield the straightedge and winding sticks effectively. When you know where the high spots are, they can easily be trimmed down with any plane, large or small. Trimming high spots is what planes do. If I am jointing a small plane, I mount the biggest plane I have in a vise, upside down so the sole is up, and push the smaller plane across the iron. I take care not to tighten the vise enough to damage the plane. If the plane being jointed is the larger one or nearly the same size, I mount the plane being jointed upside down in the vise instead because I am more comfortable planing a surface that faces up,

Do you see the chicken and egg problem? How do you get the sole of the plane being used to do the jointing flat? One solution is to use a metallic plane to joint the sole of a wooden one. But that obviously isn't necessary; craftsman jointed wooden planes before metallic ones were even a gleam in anyone's eye. For the last few years a tool booth I visit has had a six foot long wooden cooper's plane. It's iron is at least four inches wide. The first time I saw that, I immediately thought, "That's what I need to joint my wooden plane soles. It would make the job really easy. It's awfully big, but it doesn't take all that much space. If I move some things around I can shoehorn it into my shop." But that soon led to thoughts of the plane I would need to joint the six footer, and how much room it would take. Not in my shop, I'm afraid. But a huge plane is not necessary. It is the straightedge and winding sticks that do the job for you. The sole of the plane doing the jointing does not have to be straight enough to create a flat surface; it only has to be straight enough to remove the high spots. It's up to you to tell it where those are and then shave them down. If you have trouble learning the skill, circle the high spots with a pencil, and mark the entire sole with spaced pencil crosshatching. Then use the plane to remove the marks inside the circles,leaving them everywhere else. Then add marks to the clean parts, retest the surface, and circle the current high spots. If the high spots start moving around, you have the sole pretty flat, at least compared with your shaving thickness. Finish up with the scraper for making small changes. By the way, the iron should be wedged in place as tightly as it normally is in use, but retracted a bit to keep the edge out of the way. Just like with metallic planes, the only places that really have to be in the same plane are the heel, toe, and front of the mouth. And there must be no higher humps in between, although hollows in between don't matter much.

If you have one, you can also use an electric jointer. If it's set up well, it will do a fine job of straightening and flattening, but you have to be careful not to remove any more wood than is absolutely necessary. I'm sure there is no way I can use a jointer and remove as little wood as I do with a plane and scraper. The hammering of the jointer knives can work the iron loose so that it drops into the spinning jointer head, something you'd probably prefer to avoid. But don't joint the sole without an iron being wedged in tight, because just like with metallic planes, the forces holding the iron in place may change the shape of the sole slightly. Before using an electric jointer, make a hard wooden "iron" to match the real iron, and wedge that in place. Then you don't have to worry quite as much about dropping the iron into the spinning cutter head. Unfortunately, although jointers are great for making surfaces flat in the large, in the small scale the rotating knives produce a rippled surface that I don't like it on the soles of my planes, so I lightly scrape them off with a hand scraper held with about a 45 degree skew. If you don't skew the scraper, it just bounces around in the fine washboard texture (wubawubawuba) and actually make it worse. By skewing the scraper you bridge several crests of the washboard and just knock them off, quickly removing the texture.

The other way you can flatten the sole is using sandpaper on a flat surface, just like you do with metallic planes. One big difference is that flattening a wooden sole is much faster. Did I say MUCH faster? Another big difference is that the abrasive particles tend to get embedded in the wood. Too bad. Until they come loose they will scratch any wood you plane, and when they do work loose they will probably get embedded in the wood you are planing and scratch that nice cutting edge you just stropped on your plane iron with 0.5 micron abrasives. That's the reason for the old woodworking rule of never using cutting tools on wood after using sandpaper, only before. Avoid using sandpaper on a wooden plane sole if you can. However, if that's the only effective way you have to flatten the sole, just do it when you have to and learn to work around the problem. It is usually just a minor problem. As soon as you learn to sharpen and use a cheap hand scraper you can wean yourself away from the sandpaper. The scraper has two other advantages. It works faster, and since you don't have a flat plane or jointer surface to depend on, it teaches you to use the straightedge and winding sticks to tell where wood needs to be removed.

No matter how you go about jointing the sole of a wooden plane, check it frequently with a square, too, and keep the sole perpendicular to the sides. That's important even if you don't intend to lay the plane on its side on a shooting board. If you remove more wood from one side of the sole than the other, you are also widening the mouth more on that side. For smoothers, that quickly makes it impossible to keep the mouth really tight because even when it is tight enough to choke on one side it is too wide on the other.

You will also notice, if you use your wooden planes enough for wear to be a factor, that the part of the sole in front of the sole wears faster. It also develops a concavity near the front right corner if you often skew the plane, especially for edge jointing. That means if you remove minimal wood to flatten the plane you will repeatedly remove more from the front than from the back, and eventually the plane will get a noticeably rakish look, like it's leaning down into the work. You could deliberately keep the sole parallel to the top, but I prefer to just go with it if that's what it takes to remove as little wood as possible.

I have been talking as though a wooden plane's sole only bows along its length. That is true of nearly all of mine, but a few of them twist, too. Those planes do not return to the same position in the winter as they were in the summer, but instead go through a yearly cycle, twisting perhaps to the left in the summer and then to the right in the winter. Unless you decide to use these only once a year, they are going to require a lot more jointing and will require mouth or sole repair more frequently. I have read several places that this happens as a result of grain orientation where the annual growth rings in the end grain are diagonal, but the planes I have that twist with the seasons mostly have growth rings facing directly down (concave up), so I am sure that orientation is not proof against twisting.

I have noticed, that the soles of my few planes that have diagonal growth rings go out of square with the sides, leaning one way in the summer and the opposite in winter. I don't use those planes for shooting, and don't pay any other attention to that as long as the sole is flat. When jointing those soles, instead of checking that the sole is perpendicular to the side (because if it is now, it won't be in a couple of months), I just avoid making the mouth wider on either side.

In spite of the length of this post, with antique wooden planes there is really less than meets the eye to keeping the soles flat once you understand what's happening. I hope that's true with new wooden planes, too, but I don't have any experience with them

Posted 11/27/2004 rfeeser.
Skipping And Tearout With Wooden Jointer

jgourlay said: "I recently picked up a 26" wooden jointer made by "John Bennett". I sharpened the iron today (laminated) just like I would for the #7 and took it for a test drive. After whacking it around for a bit, I got it taking shavings about as thick as the ones that work best for my #7. But, on cherry, it seemed to want to skip and tear out. Problems not seen on the same board with the #7. Can you offer your thoughts? "


After the experiments I started last week I am beginning to think the fineness of the shaving is the most important thing that reduces tearout. I also suspect, but have not tried to verify, that a sharper iron may be able to take a thicker shaving without tearout. A month ago, though, my first suspicion with tearout would have been: iron not sharp enough, shaving not thin enough, mouth not tight enough.

Actually, I have never worried much about tearout with long planes. I only use planes longer than a #6 on edges, and I usually want to remove material fairly quickly until the edge is straight and nearly square. That means a fairly deep cut (0.003 in. or a little more), and that sometimes gives me tearout. If the edge is for a butt joint, I don't mind a little tearout. If the edge is going to show, though, tearout is not acceptable. In that case I follow the heavily set jointer with a full length or two with a lighter set fore or try plane (usually the old Stanley 5-1/2 that has a jointing gauge sort of permanently bolted to holes in its side because the nice clamps were broken off--I didn't do it, it was that way when I bought it), and finally make a couple of full length passes with a very finely set smoother. In other words, I handle a visible edge like a face when it comes to getting it smooth, going through a series of more finely set planes, except that I can't use a scrub plane and cut diagonally.

Maybe it's just lazy, but I don't worry about wide open mouths on wooden jointers and keep the mouths of my metallic jointer open, too.


The most likely reason for skipping, of course, especially with a long plane is that the surface isn't the shape the plane wants it to be, yet. Not necessarily flat, but the shape the plane wants. If the plane's sole is convex, for example, it will skip until the surface is concave by the same amount. If this is what's happening, the skipping will happen in the same place for successive strokes.

The second most likely problem is that chips are getting clogged in the mouth or under the chipbreaker. If that happens it is obvious when you check the mouth. Interestingly, I find that a clogging mouth can also cause skipping at the same place on successive passes.

Beyond those obvious situations, if any plane, wooden or metallic, skips it usually means that the cutting the force on the edge is pulling the tip of the iron down into the wood, making it cut deeper, and increasing the downward force, until it goes a little too deep. It then springs back up and stops cutting. So look for things that would let the tip of the iron move up and down. With antique wooden planes, those irons are usually quite thick, so it usually isn't the iron itself, but its bedding causing the problem. I usually check the following, in order:

- Flatness of the sole - Flatness of the bevel side of the iron and the bed - Good fit of the end of the chipbreaker against the iron - Fit of the wedge all along the abutments on both sides.

I find that it's usually the fit of the wedge fixes the problem, but it doesn't make much sense to carefully fit the wedge until the other things are taken care of, because any work on those will throw the fit of the wedge off.

If the mouth isn't pressing on the wood being cut, there is room for a little give of the iron and the bed under the cutting forces, letting the iron be pulled down and then snap back up.

Many of the old laminated irons are wonderful, but the bevel sides are often not very flat. Sometimes the plane's bed is also not flat. The wooden bed gives some, so the bedding surfaces don't have to be as flat as they do in metal planes, but they still need to be close. Flattening the bed is tricky; I have found it easy to screw it up worse than it was. First find out where the high spots are by putting something on the iron that will rub off and show up on the bed. White carbon paper can work well enough. Then use files or chisels to trim the high spots, and repeat. The problem is that I have trouble with files, and tend to make the bed convex with a hump halfway down; and trouble with chisels because they can dig in more than I want. I have ground the end of a chisel to an 80 degree bevel and use that mostly, because it works more like a scraper and has little tendency to dig in. Planemaker's floats are the bees' knees, of course, but I haven't yet been motivated to tackle making them. Metalworking phobia. The "scraper chisel" is working pretty well. I have thought that this might be a real application for a LN chisel plane but haven't really examined them to see if they would fit and work well in the mouth.

Once the iron is nicely bedded, and the chipbreaker fitted as well, the wedge needs to be fitted carefully between the chipbreaker and the abutment. It needs to extend as far into the throat toward the mouth as possible so that the chipbreaker, and hence the iron, are clamped down hard near the cutting edge. Also, it needs to clamp equally all along both sides of the iron at the same time. Again, it's a matter of getting something to transfer from the abutment or the chipbreaker onto the wedge to find the high spots. Then they can be scraped or planed down with a very thin set to the plane.

If there are any areas where the wedge is a little thin they must not be within about an inch of the mouth; you need the iron to be clamped really well near its edge. Clamping especially well near the top of the bed, too, helps keep the iron's lateral position from moving.

First, fit the back of the wedge to the chipbreaker. The old chipbreakers are pretty much straight right to the bottom end, with no hump like the thin Stanley style. Do the fitting with the chipbreaker screwed tight to the iron, because when they are tightened together they both bend a little.

I find it easier to fit one side of the wedge at at time. It's too hard to figure out what's happening when it can be happening on either side. To isolate the sides, insert an even shim between on top of the chipbreaker or under the iron on one side. A thin piece of brass is best because it's thickness is uniform and it will give to conform to the surfaces but will not compress.

Once you have each side independently fitting nicely, you have to make sure both sides are equally tight. To find out, put the shim in one side, press or tap the wedge home, and mark how far down into the plane it goes. Then shim the other side, seat the wedge equally hard, and hope the wedge sits exactly as far down into the plane as it did before. If it doesn't, you know that one side of the wedge needs to be relieved, and you know which side it is. A few even passes down the thicker side with a scraper should do it without changing the shape you so carefully made it so it would fit well.

Posted 12/20/04 rfeeser

I forgot one useful thing about the bed of a wooden plane. Although the goal is to have it perfectly flat, sometimes the only way to get rid of skipping is to deliberately make it slightly concave in length to help concentrate the clamping force of the wedge right down near the sole. I regard that as a "final solution" last ditch, emergency workaround. I avoid it at all costs because I think I should always be able to find the real cause of the skipping and fix that. Making the bed convex had never occurred to, me, but Carlos (I think) recently posted about having made a compass plane and mentioned having to do that before it would cut well. Once I understood what he was talking about, I tried it on one plane whose skipping I have never been able to cure. It worked. One more weapon for the arsenal.

Posted 12/21/04 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 []