In Episode #11 of the podcast I talked about needing to replace a wedge in a wooden plane if it had shrunk or for other reasons (e.g. improper wedge). My fore plane never had the correct wedge in it since the day I bought it. While it is better to get a plane with a proper fitting wedge if you can, sometimes that just isn’t possible or you don’t know until you get the plane that the wedge doesn’t fit right. Such was the case with my fore plane. I have tolerated the ill-fitting wedge since getting the plane, simply cleaning out the clogged throat every time it jammed with thick shavings. Since I mentioned making a new wedge in the plane tune-up podcast, though, I thought I would finally fix my clog prone fore plane by making a new wedge. So here’s how I do it.
The picture above shows the problem areas with this plane. The wedge is not original to this plane. At some point, someone put an improper wedge in the plane presumably because the original wedge was lost or damaged beyond repair. However, you can see where this has led to problems. The picture on the left shows how the wedge is narrower than the wedge mortise which leads to what you see in the picture on the right. The tips of the wedge are not tight to the sides of the wedge mortise and not as wide as the iron, therefore, as the plane cuts, shavings jam up between the tips of the wedge and eventually clog the entire mouth. The only solution for this plane is to make a proper fitting wedge.
It’s best to copy a good wedge if you can. In the series of pictures above, the top left frame shows the junk wedge from my fore plane (bottom) and a proper wedge that I took out of my smooth plane (top). Note the differences between the “bad” wedge and the “good” one. If you don’t have a good example of a proper wedge at hand, check out John Whelan’s book “Making Traditional Wooden Planes”. It’s a fantastic book for anyone interested in using wooden planes. Even if you have no interest in making them, reading this book will help you understand their nuances and enable you to troubleshoot them to make them work to your satisfaction.
To begin making a new wedge, I planed a piece of African mahogany to about 5/8″ thick (note: this is not really mahogany and I don’t understand why lumber dealers continue to call it mahogany, but that’s a subject of another post). This is not the best choice in wood for a plane wedge as it’s really stringy and splintery, but it’s what I had. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll make another new wedge at a later date from something else.
Once it’s planed to thickness, I ripped it and planed it to tightly fit the wedge mortise (top right frame). Once it fit the width of the mortise, I transferred the angle of the wedge taper from the old wedge because the angle was right (bottom left frame). If the old wedge wasn’t the right angle, I’d estimate the correct angle as it will need to be fit to the mortise later anyway. I plane the taper into the wedge and check its fit to the mortise of the plane with the iron assembly in place (bottom right frame).
In the series of pictures above, I fit the wedge tightly, tap it in place and check its fit to the abutments. I look for gaps where the wedge does not fit the abutments tightly and mark the spots where it does fit tightly (top left frame). I plane off the high spots and recheck the fit. I continue this process until the wedge fits properly and tightly along the entire length of the wedge abutments and holds the iron tightly in place.
Once the wedge fits properly, I mark it for the cutout for the mouth area and ramp (top center frame). I saw out the mouth area with a turning saw and clean it up with a chisel (top right frame). I then saw and pare out the area for the ramp (bottom left frame). The last step is to saw some angles on the corners and add a chamfer to the outside edges of the top of the wedge to protect the edges from chipping from the mallet taps received during adjustment (bottom center frame). The new wedge fits the plane properly and fills the width of the wedge mortise (bottom right frame). No more clogging for this plane.