The Scrub Plane Debate

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8 thoughts on “The Scrub Plane Debate

  1. I am in the process of planing down my new workbench top and aprons. It is over two feet wide and six feet long.

    I can follow what you are saying. I have been using a jack plane. It is working ok, but the iron is sharpened completely flat and it is a bit short.

    I think the wooden plane would work well for me, but I do have a question.

    Usually when you are facing wood, the surfaces are very rough and sometimes even have grit in them. I am not sure how it happened, but I even got a few scratches in the sole of my jack plan. Wouldn’t a wood soled plan get beat up really badly on that type of work?

    • Luke,

      The short answer is yes, but not any worse than a metal bodied plane in my experience. I will typically use a bench brush to sweep as much dirt and grit off the board as possible before starting, but scratches are inevitable if there is any sand left on the surface. However, they should be relativly small since large dirt and sand particles can usually be easily swept away. I get scratches on my metal planes as well. For the most part, it doesn’t hurt the performance of the plane except maybe to damage the cutting edge. Think of it as evidence that the tool is actually used :)!

      My fore plane definately needs grinding more often than my try or smooth planes. I sweep the shavings from the fore plane off the board again when I’m done so the problem doesn’t really exist for the secondary planes just the fore plane. This is likely why the mouths of the old wooden fore planes are usually found so much wider than the other planes, they just wore much faster due to the rougher & dirtier lumber they typically encounter.

      As for your workbench top, a longer plane would definately help you. I flattened my workbench with a #7 and that was even a little short for the long grain planing (my top is 7′). Next time I’ll use my 30″ jointer. Not that it can’t be done with your jack plane, however, you need to constantly check the top since the plane’s sole is so short compared to the length of the bench top.

      Transitional jointers and woodies can be had relatively inexpensively and are available in very long sole lengths. My woodie jointer is 30″ and I had and sold a transitional that was 28″. In my opinion, these longer planes are just the ticket for flattening a bench top, but a #7 (22″) or #8 (24″) will work in a pinch, albeit for a lot more money. A #5, while useable with enough care and checking, is not ideal for a surface this long.

    • Wire brush, quick course sanding, or even a few passes with a card scraper will help with the grit. Scrapes on a wooden plane won’t transfer to the piece you’re working on but scrapes on an iron sole will.

  2. Maybe it’s the kind of work you’re doing? Cabinet making is a lot different than house carpentry or boat building. I can understand being “horrified” if you only needed some simple surfacing.

    My scrub plans gets lots of use, but I’m very selective about when to use it.

    When building a workbench from Douglas Fir, the scrub was very handy for removing gobs of edge material to reduce some boards to a certain width. Chris Scwartz was right about this use; it’s a lot faster than ripping.

    My scrub also gets a good bit of use for thickness reduction when boat building. White cedar is a soft wood that I buy as “live edge” flitches. Imagine reducing 4/4 to 9/16. Resaw a 10″ to 14″ wide board by hand, or scrub it? It can be very rapidly reduced with a scrub, followed by a jointer. I can take much deeper cuts with the scrub than with a jack, and the lumber is not at all prone to tear outs. Not horrifying at all.

    No, I wouldn’t try it with Salted Maple intended for a cabinet panel, but for boat building, the scrub is great!

  3. Dear bob,
    I agree with you about the advantages of using a woody for flattening long rough boards. In this case the Stanley 40 or the bigger 40 1/2 have too narrow iron for a such job. However they work fine for smaller jobs and if you don’t exceed with camber of edge and use the right deep of cut, you haven’t to do so much job after.
    On larger boards I prefer a 17″ wooden plane, like you, but with a bigger cambered iron (if tearout permits this).
    I stop when any high spot has been eliminated, so I change to trying and smoothing plane.

  4. Chris – I’ll use my 605 and an old wooden scrub to cut through most of the issues but will switch to my #40 to slice through knots. Aim for the center of the knot and take several passes as you rotate through 180 degrees. The narrow blade and shorter sole allows you to create a slight hollow. That will drop the knot low enough to let the other planes do their work.

  5. Excellent work Bob. This article is very refreshing! I too would advise a wooden jack plane for initial surface preparation and they are not difficult to set at all. I think a scrub plane has it’s place but it is a very specialist tool that is not needed all that much for most tasks.

  6. I have a Millers Falls #18C set up as a fore plane, but since I don’t own a scrub plane, I also have a cheap handyman-style #5 set up with an enormous mouth and a big ol’ camber. I call that one my “Fore Jr.,” or “Megascrub” plane. It’s better for things that are just too small for the 18C and I’ll use it for anything up to about 8″ across.

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