Episode #27: Flat & Square

Note: All of my old podcast videos have been moved to my YouTube channel.  You can now watch this video here:



27 thoughts on “Episode #27: Flat & Square

  1. Excellent demonstration! This should be required viewing for anyone who advocates for electric tools exclusively, and for the people who think they can’t get into woodworking because they don’t have those electric tools.

    • Hi Jay,

      I agree… I use handwork myself. I also use machines for a lot of the grunt work. (You really do lose stamina and strength as you age.)

      I wonder though. Did our hand-tool forefathers sniff at some of their newer inventions, and say “We should still be using flint tools!

      I doubt it. They used the tools of their time. So I have no beef with the ‘machinery only’ workers. They are there…use them. After all that’s why a Shaker ‘invented’ the circular saw!

      John (UK)

  2. Hi Bob,

    I’ve been really enjoying your podcasts, lots of great information. But I do have a couple questions…I’m new to woodworking (actually haven’t even really gotten starting, still gathering tools and learning how to sharpen them), and you mention being able to do this with less than $50 in tools. Where do you find your planes? Or do you make them yourself?

    • Rob,
      Probably 85-90% of the planes that I own were found on ebay. The trick is to be patient and ask questions before you buy anything. Wooden planes and transitionals are very under rated tools in the woodworking community at the moment. Everyone seems to want to take old Stanley Baileys (or similar makes) and restore them to look new. That’s fine if you just want to have pretty tools, but I’m more interested in working wood than restoring tools. This restoration process does nothing for the performance of the tool.

      I used to use the old Bailey style planes, and got most of them off ebay as well. I didn’t “restore” them, I just tuned them up for use, and they worked well. Transitionals and wooden planes work well too, and in my opinion are easier to tune than the Bailey style planes, because there are far fewer parts and wood is just easier to flatten than metal. Of course I don’t flatten unless the plane needs it, but when it does need it, it’s easier to do on a wooden plane. And don’t be fooled into thinking you have to have a replacement iron either. Aftermarket irons are great if the iron in your old plane is all used up, but stock irons work just fine, as long as they’re sharp.

      At the rate that good wooden and transitional users typically go for, you shouldn’t have to spend more than $20 for a jack plane and $30 for a try plane, shipping included. And you can likely get them for less than that. I paid $15 (shipped) for my jack plane and $1 (before shipping) for my try plane. I can’t say as much for the Bailey style planes, which seem to be fetching higher and higher prices every day, for tools in pretty poor condition. Woodies and transitionals on the other hand are a fantastic value for the budget minded. Like I said, just be patient, be picky, ask lots of questions, especially about cracks in the body and pitting on the back of the iron, and only bid on the ones with solid bodies and good irons. Cosmetics are just that and don’t improve performance. A solid body and an iron in good shape are all that’s required for a good user plane. If you want a pretty plane, it’s going to cost you more. It all comes down to your own personal tastes and priorities. Do you want pretty tools, or do you just want to work wood?

      • Hi Bob,

        Thank-you very much for a very helpful, and thorough, answer. I guess the only problem is that patience is not my strong suit 🙂

        And I know that this isn’t directly relevant to the topic at hand, but…Did you follow a similar (to how you acquired your planes) process with your saws? I know that you had an entry about putting together a Wenzloff and Sons panel saw, but did you get most of your saws off ebay as well?

        And, sorry if you’ve answered these questions before (if you have, a pointer would be great), but for someone just getting started I find it helpful to know not only which tools I should get but the best (and possibly least expensive) ways to find them.

        • Rob,
          Ebay is good for saws too, just be careful that thy are straight. It’s hard to tell from most pictures on ebay if the plate has a bend in it. Also check local yard sales. You’d be surprised how many long hand saws I see just driving past yard sales. Most can be sharpened to be good users. Tenon and dovetail saws can be a little harder to find at yard sales, but occasionally they do turn up. They are pretty common on ebay, but backsaws tend to bring a higher price than regular old hand saws. You can get unbacked hand saws for crosscutting and ripping for $5 each all day long most of the time. Learn how to sharpen them and you’ll never run out of good old use saws.

          I made all of my back saws myself, and also my Wenzloff panel saw kit. My long rip saw and long crosscut saw are old ones from ebay. They’re very common.

          • Bob, again thanks for the answer.

            To me, because I know nothing about it, making back saws seems fairly complicated and I would think it would require a bunch of equipment that wouldn’t get much use…but that’s probably because I know nothing about it.

          • Rob,
            Definitely do not attempt to make your own saws until you are comfortable sharpening current ones. Start with older saws you can tune up into users.

  3. Hi Bob, Thanks so much for this great demo. I am beginning my first “hand tools mostly” project and I have learned a lot from your postings. Got a good workout this evening ripping curly maple legs for a shaker table with a ripsaw!

  4. Hi Bob,

    Thanks a lot for this episode. It’s a all-in-one video that was really interesting. I wanted to comment on http://www.logancabinetshoppe.com/blog/2008/08/the-scrub-plane-debate, but as this post is somehow related to the other one…

    I just got a Stanley 5 1/2 to be converted as a fore plane. The original iron has two bevels. I thought of buying a new iron from Stanley and trying to give some camber to the iron (while keeping the original iron for my #7). Do you think I’m nuts, or that could be a good idea (if I don’t mind the weight of that beast)?

    • Gounthar,
      Is there anything wrong with the current iron? I’d just grind a camber in the current iron, grind a new bevel, hone it up and try it out. I used stock irons in all my old Baileys when I used them and the stock irons were fine. If it’s an older plane, the stock iron is likely to be better than a new Stanley iron anyway. I don’t know how long or wide a #5½ is, but I used to use a #5 as my for plane and it did the job well once set up to take a thick shaving.

      • Hi Bob,

        Thanks for your answer. There’s nothing wrong with the current iron. I just didn’t want to ruin a piece of history (old english Stanley) as I never honed a camber in an iron. 😉 BTW, I really love your podcasts, they are really useful to me. Keep up the good work!

  5. Bob,

    Per usual, great demonstration. I do have a question, slightly off topic, regarding your workbench and its split top. Like a lot of benches, you have a shelf underneath for valuable storage. Do you find sawdust and shavings falling through the split and collecting on the shelf below (and the things that are stored there)? Or is it not much of a concern?

    Your series on building the workbench was terrific, and has inspired me to build my own. I love the split top design and its usefulness. I’ve resisted designing a bottom shelf because I’m afraid it will become a junk pile, but I realize it’s the natural place to store bench hooks and other appliances.

    If you had a larger shop with more storage, would you still include the shelf?

    • Eric,
      Yes, the shavings and dust do fall down through the crack. I do have a plan to address that (full length planing stop), I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Even with the mess it makes on the shelf in its current state, I wouldn’t do it any different. The split top is just so darn useful. I also wouldn’t go without the shelf. It keeps my appliances and longer planes close at hand. It’s a very useful addition, as every shop always needs more storage.

  6. Hey Bob,

    I just wanted to say that “Thanks!” for 27 excellent podcasts, which makes getting into using hand tools far less intimidating and much easier for a newbie such as myself.

    BTW, I came by your website by way of the Wood Whisperer a good while back and have been tuning in ever since.

    Thanks again for all the great information!

  7. Hi Bob

    Again another great episode. I have learned a lot from your podcasts. In fact, put together, they would make a great Fundamentals book.

    I do have a question about the camber in the fore (jack) and try planes. Can you estimate the radius of the cambers for me?

    • Guess I should have checked the archives….

      Found the answer in a 2009 post. Nice to know most questions I have are probably in the archives.

      Thanks! Keep up the good work!

      • No problem Robert! Just make sure to read the comments on that post. Radius really is only a good measurement when you are talking about identical planes. As soon as different iron widths, bed angles and bevel up vs. bevel down enter the equation, radius becomes a rather useless indicator of camber. It’s much better to use blade projection as an indicator rather than radius.

  8. Bob,

    You mentioned that your try plane was set up differently than your jointer plane. I am guessing that your jointer plane has a straight iron. What do you use your jointer for if you do your edge joining with the try plane?

    PS: Thanks for all the work you put into the website. I’m learned a lot from you.

    • Jason,
      I square edges with the try plane (when they need squaring). However, if I’m making an edge to edge glue joint, I plane the edge flat with the jointer plane with the straight iron. I typically match plane my edge joints when I can. This way the edges don’t have to be square. The straight iron of the jointer plane is better for match planing and glue joints. I don’t like match planing with a cambered iron as it doesn’t leave the two edges perfectly flat. The jointer makes the edges perfectly flat, but not necessarily square.

  9. Hi Bob,

    I’ve just started watching your podcasts and really enjoy your work. I’m a complete newbie so seeing the handtools at work is giving me confidence that I don’t have to buy a truck load of machinery to reach a reasonable level of work (I’m guessing high level might come a little later, with or without machines!).

    Anyway, my question is around thicknessing timber which I hope follows on from what you’ve done in this podcast. I can see here you are effectively jointing or planing one side, and you could do it for the other side quite easily also.

    But when you are doing the other side, how do you ensure that is is paralel to the first side you’ve planed?
    And if you had a number pieces that needed to be the same thickness to make say a panel for a coffee table top, how might you go about that?

    Appreciate your thoughts, and if you’ve already covered this somewhere, would you mind steering me to the right podcast?


    • Hi BJ,

      If you go back and re-watch this episode starting at about 11:50, I talk about exactly what you are asking. In the first part of the episode, up until the 11:50 mark, I plane a single face flat. Then at 11:50, I explain that in hand work, it isn’t always necessary to plane to a set thickness. Then at about 14:20, I talk about what to do if the board does need to be planed to a specified or at least a consistent thickness. Basically, using a marking gauge, I gauge the desired thickness on all four edges of the board, then plane down to the gauge lines. This makes the faces parallel. If you need multiple boards planed to the same thickness, plane one face of each board flat first, then mark the edges of all the boards using the same gauge setting on all of them. Then plane each board to the gauge line.

      However, if I’m gluing up a panel, I’ll typically just plane one face of each board flat, edge joint both boards using the flat face as a reference, then glue the panel up without planing the opposite face on each board. Then after the glue dries, I’ll plane the entire panel to final thickness. This saves a step because you aren’t planing both sides of each board twice that way.

      • Thanks Bob, I watch these podcasts on my phone while I’m getting the tram into work and now realise now I seemed to have only download to a certain point. Sorry about that!
        I’ve got some spotted gum (yes, Australia) which I’m trying to flatten today. Lets just say that you make it look easy, and I’m pretty sure I’m making it look harder than it is. Think I’ll have another look at your hand plane tuning episode because my plane is getting stuck all the time!

        • The wood could be making it difficult for you. A lot of Australian woods are damn hard. When I work really hard woods, like hard maple, I have to back the irons way off and take much lighter cuts. I also have to stop to sharpen more frequently. It simply takes a lot longer. That’s why we don’t see a lot of period furniture here in the States made from hard maple. Our ancestors knew it was a bear to work. Australia was the same. A lot of the older furniture that was made in Australia (and not imported from England) was pine for the simple reason that it was much easier to work with hand tools. The piece I’m working in the video is a piece of tame grained, well behaved walnut. This wood is a pleasure to work. My suggestion to you would be to try and find something softer like pine until you are comfortable with the process. I’m pretty sure you can get nice clear New Zealand pine there (I think it’s called radiata pine). We can even get it here. Then you will know what the tools can do and you will know what adjustments will need to be made for the harder Australian woods.

  10. I’ve found it easy for me to adding a extra planning step with a toothing blade in-between the jack and jointer planning step in my jointer plane to help reduce tear out while planning diagonally. Then hit it with the jointer along the grain to remove the toothing plane Not sure if others do this, but I found it easier to get the board flat without tear out.

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