How to set up a hand plane

I have been a woodworker for a while but never got into the hand tool craze, probably because I am a technologist by profession.
Now that has changed, I have fallen in love with my chisels and Japanese saws, and I have been picking up a few chisels. Nothing fancy, a couple of wood Japanese planes, 1 a jack and the other a smoother. I also have 3 Groz, a 7, 5 and a 4 I think. A couple Stanley, a block and an old rabbit plus a Bailey low angle block. I have perfected my sharpening, or so I believe, I use a Jet sharpener and ceramic stones to make a nice razor sharp hollow ground edge. I have set my edges about 2.5 degrees higher than the normal angles to make up for the hollow grinding.
The chisels are great and the couple planes I can get adjusted properly cut silky smooth translucent shavings on hard maple and walnut. But the issue is getting them adjusted. I usually get one of two situations, no shavings (or dust) or the plane won't move due to the big bite I am trying to take.
Is there a rule of thumb for how much blade is to stick out thru the sole? If there a "trick" to getting it there? Or is this strictly an eyeball type of process? I was thinking that if I set the plane on a flat softwood surface, and adjusted the plane iron till it was flat on the wood and square to it, then gave it a good nudge, it would be fine (didn't work very well). I would appreciate any helpful suggestions.
Neil Larson
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How easily the tool can be pushed. Crowning (curving) an edge has a big effect; heavily crowned irons can be set deep, as in the case of scrubs. A #5 jack with a 1/16" crown is easier to push than a block with a dead straight edge.

Turn the adjustor knob until it just bumps. Flick the lateral lever back and forth. That'll set or retract the iron a thou or so. Takes but a second. Woodies are even faster.
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Neillarson wrote:

There really is a lot to learn about using hand planes. I would start by reading as much as I can about how planes are supposed to work and the basics of setting them up so they can work. Using the right kind of plane, a flat sole, blade shape and angle, mouth adjustment, all matter. The blade's gotta be razor-sharp. And you have to learn how to read the wood grain, how to handle difficult grain, and the proper technique for pushing the plane too.
Once I get all the basics under control, I find that the method you mentioned works fine, i.e. start with the blade not touching the wood and move it down in small increments until it does. I adjust it by feel, making very small adjustments.
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" . . .start by reading as much as I can about how planes are supposed to work . . ."
Sounds like you never had to do it for the money. Like I have said over and over here, many of you folks worry too much, spend way too much time buying crap, and too little time actually messing stuff up---and I mean that in the positive way: GET TO WORK, as often and as long as you can. So many questions I see here are answered by themselves by just DOING IT.
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RM MS wrote:

There's a lot of truth in what RM MS said. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I can say that there comes a point where a hand plane becomes an extension of your hands and arms. This certainly won't happen the first time or even the tenth time you use one. But with each use the tool becomes a wee bit more familiar, and the feel of what it's doing makes more sense.
The first time I picked up a plane, I had the same kind of experience that the OP describes, and I didn't know what the hell was wrong.
Planes have a whole bunch of things that need attention: blade sharpness, blade angle, tightness of the frog screw, pressure on the board, etc etc. I paid attention to all of them at once and produced....garbage.
I took a course on very basic woodworking and was shown, in sequence, how to care for my plane. Spend what seemed like hours sharpening. Agonized over blade angle with the sole up to a fluorescent light.
I'd recommend something like that. The course had an objective of making a little curio out of pine, and I initially was disappointed by what would be the outcome. But that little course had so much information in it, taught by a guy who loved hand tools, that it really gave me the impetus to carry on.
Asking for information on a forum like this is a good idea, but it also has its limitations. There are just so many advantages to doing the work, analyzing what may have gone wrong, agonizing over what will fix it, and then hauling it over to someone who's been there for verification.
Tanus
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And there's a lot of nonsense there too. If someone asks for help, just telling them they spent too much money on tools and they need to go back to the shop and do the work is ridiculous.
I have done it for money and I know what cheap tools will do for you when in the middle of a job they quit.
Each of us has a different philosophy in our work. If the op will do what I suggested it will shorten some of the time in getting there.
I agree with attending workshops and classes in order to develop hand skills. :-)
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RM MS wrote:

I respectfully disagree. I don't think there is any inherent benefit to starting out not knowing about your tools and methods. Even if someone learns as much as he can from others he'll still make plenty of mistakes to learn from. Of course to work wood at some point you have to pick up the tool and start doing it but there is nothing wrong with learning what you can from others so that you don't learn everything the hard way.
I'm strictly a hobbyist woodworker but you can rest assured that if I dit it for money I'd read everything I could get my hands on just as I have done when learning skills that I did for a living.
Learn what you can from workshops, books, magazines, videos, the internet and then go work the wood.
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wrote:

My local Woodcraft stores offer one day hand plane workshops that are worth far more than the tuition. Most of them also include an hour or two of hands-on hand tool sharpening that may be the single most important skill a real woodworker needs.
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"My local Woodcraft stores offer . . ."
Think about that statement. Woodcraft "offers" you nothing and couldn't give a shit less what you do with anything you own after they SELL IT TO YOU. So, all you Kmart shoppers, you go to all the classes and seminars you want. Like a bunch of women to a Tupperware party.
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RM MS wrote:

You should try a laxative. You're obviously full of it, so do yourself a favor and let it out. You'll feel ever so much better and you'll no longer be so overly concerned with what people do with their time and money.
R
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I use my thumb to judge exposure, as a rule. Remember the problem of backlash when adjusting the exposure. Some designs are worse than others, but you want to end up on extension, not retraction of the blade. Then it's a case of adequate is as it adequately does.
Not unknown to have a frog problem that gives you a false extension that goes away with the second push. You should have set the frog properly on those planes having one in the initial fettling. Here's a great place to go for answers. http://www.amgron.clara.net/
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Holding the plane up to the light, sole uppermost look straight down the sole at the sharp edge of the blade and see the hairline protrusion.
Tim w
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Sorry, I got that wrong. Take your best plane and put it on a hard surface like a concrete floor. Using a good heavy club hammer hit the back of the iron as hard as you can. The concrete will stop the sharp edge from protruding too far from the sole.
Tim w
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Tim W wrote:

What?! You use the same surface for sharpening _and_ setting? You really shouldn't be giving advice!
I use the slab for sharpening so I can move the plane all over and not wear a hollow in one place on the slab. It's also fun to make car noises when you're running the plane along the slab. Then I use a concrete block or brick to whack the back of the plane until the iron is set correctly (this may take a while).
R
PS To the OP - start with a shallow cut and creep up on your desired depth of cut. You'll get the feel for it in no time.
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wrote:

Now that's a funny image! <G>
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You got a lot of s.a. answers, but in case yours is a serious question, start out with the lightest cut you can with a thin edge of wood in the middle of the plane iron. The wood I use will be 1/4" to 1/2" thick.
Next take a shaving on the left side of the iron, then the right side of the iron. Adjust the lateral lever until the shavings at the middle and both sides are the same thickness. The iron will then be square with the bottom. If your shavings are not translucent, they are too thick. If you use the Veritas MKII honing jig with the cambered roller, you can sharpen the iron with a slight camber in it and eliminate the tracks left by the edges of the iron.
I learned this technique at the Lie-Nielsen booth at a woodworking show.
If you have the chance to fondle one of their 4 1/2 planes, do so.
Happy planing!
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" . . . If you use the Veritas MKII honing jig with the cambered roller, you can sharpen . . ."
See, this is what Iam talking about--too many shoppers listening to too much bullshit from too many salesmen. A soft grinding wheel for beginners, or a hard one or any damn one for pros, and a friggin stone or 2, and enough sense not to burn your stuff on it is enough equipment to sharpen your planes and chisels, too. Also your pocketknife. GEEZE, man, cool off the catalogs
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RM MS wrote:

Any particular wood you'd like everyone to use? I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment (read the PS to my post), but you certainly seem inordinately hot and bothered about what other people do with their time and money.
R
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Neil, every different wood and every different job may require a tap on the back edge of the iron, or a turn of the screw to pull it off. Don't forget to re-screw the iron adjuster screw back against the iron if you back it off
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Thanks for all of your help (or at least those that actually tried to help)
I spent this weekend finishing up some sharpening and did some lapping of a couple of my plane soles that were pretty rough. I bought a cheap (17.95 on closeout sale at Woodcraft) Japanese Smoothing plane that wouldn't cut butter. After a nice hollow gring on the iron, a clean up of the chip breaker to ensure that it sits square and using some of the techniques suggested here, it is pulling full width paper thin curls the length of some pine I have. My Baily Low Angle is working great as is a tiny pocket block plane I picked up someplace. I was most impressed by the smallest of a 3 plane set I bought off Ebay last year. It is a #4, a #5 1/2 and a # 7. They look reak nice but the soles were a bit rough and the irons were barley able to cut butter. The #4 is now a breeze to use and cuts like it was a Lie Nielsen (well, maybe not that good). Now I have to work on the other 2. Lots of working doing the soles tho I am using a variation of the Scary Sharp system (home made) and it seems to be working fine.
Thanks again for all your help.
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