Episode #11: Hand Plane Tune-up

Hand planes might just be the most used tool in the hand tool shop. We use them to face rough sawn lumber, we use them for joinery and we use them for moldings. While there are plenty of new planes out there that are just about ready to go out of the box, you still need to understand how they work and why they work well or don’t work at all. The best way to understand how a plane functions is to get an old one, take it apart and tune it up. Even if you buy a new, premium tool as a bench mark for performance, it’s still helpful to clean up and tune up an oldy but goody to better understand what kind of things can impact their performance. That’s exactly what we do in today’s episode.


 

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15 thoughts on “Episode #11: Hand Plane Tune-up

  1. Great episode, Rob, and I noticed that the sound quality was better. Maybe it’s been better for a little while and I just hadn’t noticed until now.

    You mentioned the illustrious fillister-head machine screw. I can’t speak for the particular plane that you’re working on, but the ones I have seen use a type of screw very similar to a fillister-head, but they are in fact called a cheese-head screw. No, I’m not making that up. 🙂 A fillister-head has a slightly domed top, and a cheese-head screw has a flat top, so that the head of a cheese-head screw resembles a wheel of cheese, whereas a fillister-head would resemble, perhaps, a cake layer fresh from the pan before the top has been trimmed flat for icing.

    About the shrunken wedge problem – can you glue on a piece of veneer to one or both sides to re-fit the wedge?

    I have to admit, I’ve never really used any of my wooden planes (they’re just shelf-candy for ‘ambiance’) and after watching you adjust that woodie half a dozen times to get a cut out of it… I’m even a bit less tempted to pull one down. Was that a reasonable depiction of what one goes through to set a wooden plane, or was that worse than usual?

    • Mike,
      Thanks for the clarification on the screw head.

      Sound was better than previous episodes as I’m using a new camera and mic setup now. I still need to workout some bugs though as the new setup is wide screen and I’m only getting single channel sound when it should be stereo.

      Regarding the shrunken wedge, I suppose you could trim off the lower ends of the wedge and glue pieces to either side and then reshape the entire lower half of the wedge. I just find it easier to start from scratch. What’s important is that there not be gaps between the sides of the wedge and the wedge mortise. If there are, shavings are gauranteed to get in there and jam the whole thing up.

      I did spend a lot more time adjusting that one than I usually do as I was trying to get a very fine shaving. I wasn’t tapping it very hard and I think that with most taps, the iron didn’t move much if at all (that’s not the iron that was originally in that plane but a replacement that someone put in there at some time when the original got lost or used up). Usually it just takes me two or three tries to get it. Then once it’s set, it stays that way until I need to remove the iron to hone it. It’s not a constant thing.

  2. Bob, thanks for another great show. Although I have read about a lot of what you talked about and have even done some plane tuning, it’s nice to see it visually as someone (like you) talks about it.

    I love that giant slab of granite you have. Where the heck did you find that?

    So is this the new orientation of your workbench or is it turned away from the wall just for filming?

    • Regarding the big slab of granite, that is a surface plate. They are traditionally used by machinists for layout and inspection. They can be had from any large industrial supply place. In Canada one of the best sources is KBC Tools. They go on sale now and then and one the size of the one in the video wouldn’t be much more than $50. The price is heavily influenced by the quality. For an inspection-quality Starrett Crystal Pink Granite surface plate of that surface size you’d be closer to $1000. In the states you can get them from McMaster-Carr, for one. Just search for “surface plate”.

      • Thanks for the explanation Mike. So how much different would it be if you picked up a piece from the millions of granite shops that make them for countertops? Granted it would probably only be 1.5″ to 2″ thick but I can’t imagine that makes too much of a difference.

        • Jeff,
          The granite I have is a 12″ x 18″ x 3″ surface plate. I got mine from Grizzly many years ago. They have them in a lot of different sizes. I think mine was about $50. I believe Woodcraft sells a smaller 9″ x 12″ one for about $30. It would be plenty big enough for smoothers. Jack planes don’t need lapping and I don’t recommend lapping jointers for the reasons I mentioned in the video so you probably wouldn’t need anything bigger than the 9″ x 12″ anyway. I got the bigger one back when I was experimenting with lapping metal planes but found better ways for the longer planes so really the size I have is unnecessary.

          A piece of granite countertop would probably be fine, just make sure it’s well supported. While 1-1/2″ might seem thick, when you put downward pressure on it, it can flex if it’s not well supported. I used a marble threshold from Home Depot years ago and it would flex because it wasn’t well supported. I only found out after having trouble lapping a couple planes. The flex in the lapping surface caused extra material to be removed at the heel and toe, resulting in a convex sole.

          • Could you please elaborate on these ‘better techniques’ for lapping a jointer plane? I just picked up a 24″ Sandusky which is in great shape. I’d love to put it into rotation in my shop but I can’t find a decent way to lap it to flat. It isn’t terribly out of true, but it is untrue enough that I wouldn’t trust it to true stock.

            Note, I have a limited set of tools and an unreliable workbench. My first project will be to build a decent bench.

            Any suggestions?

          • Is it a wooden soled plane? If so, the best way to true it would be to plane it with another plane. Treat it as you would any other board. Use a straight edge, take very fine shavings and just plane it straight, checking it all the way across with the straightedge and using winding sticks to make sure you don’t plane any twist into it. When you get close, switch to a cabinet scraper like the Stanley #80 to finish up.

            If it’s a metal plane, it requires a lot more machinist type work with straightedges and files. I don’t bother messing with the soles of long metal planes because lapping them can be very frustrating and filing them is a lot of work that I can’t be bothered with.

  3. You’ve commented much more extensively on adjusting the wedge of a wooden plane than on adjusting the lever cap on the metal plane. In my experience, correct adjustment of the tension on the lever cap is an important point for proper performance of the plane, yet this adjustment is rarely discussed in detail (and I can’t recall seeing any quantitative discussion). Can you address the proper adjustment of the lever cap of a metal plane in more detail?

    • Phil,
      Thanks for the comment. You make a good point and I agree that some discussion is in order. Look for a quick tip later this week. Thanks!

  4. I stumbled over your site at woodwhisperer, and I like your videos and the way you explaining thing but I would like to see some closeups when you explain things. It can be difficult to see what excacly that you mean. I have seen all eleven videos in one day. They are great and I bookmarked your site so I will look from time to time.

  5. I’ve ordered a #5 and #5 1/4 that I expect will need to be cleaned up and tuned. Thanks for the tips. Should I even try to flatten the sole?

    Also — how do you know when to replace the sandpaper?

    • Unless they’re severely out, I’d leave them alone they’re probably fine.

      You change the paper way before you think you need to. Honestly, sharpen and try the planes before you do any major work like that. They might be just fine as is. For rough work a sharp blade is all you need. Really flat tolerances are only needed for the finest smoother, and these should be short planes which are easy to flatten.

  6. What do you treat your wooden planes with? I’ve found a considerable amount of conflicting info online about using Boiled Linseed Oil (it may promote mold), beeswax (it may be tacky to the touch). I have a few planes that I purchased in rough shape but they have cleaned up really nicely. I have no idea how to clean and refinish them appropriately. I’d like to preserve the patina if possible but remove what dirt I can.

    Regarding BLO, I’ve also seen reference to soaking the plane in it, but I’ve also seen contradictory info saying that it makes the plane too heavy and a real mess to use in hot weather. Thoughts?

    What, if anything, do you use to treat the sole of the plane?

    • I typically just clean them up with some soap and water, let them dry really well and just wax them with some regular old paste wax. The Minwax finishing wax is typically what I have on hand. BLO works OK too. But it will darken over time, and I’ve heard the mold thing too, though I’ve never experienced it myself. I do know that museum furniture conservators have poo-pooed the use of linseed oil because they have seen issues with old furniture that has been continuously oiled over the years. They all recommend wax. Lee Richmond, the owner and tool buyer at The Best Things also recommends wax. Larry Williams and Don McConnell of Old Street Tools (formerly Clark & Williams) use Minwax Antique Oil finish on their planes, according to their web site.

      The sole of the plane gets waxed with the rest of the plane when I clean it up, but the wax quickly wears off with use. The simple act of using the plane burnishes the sole considerably, so there’s really no need to put anything on it.

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