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.
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.
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.
" . . .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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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/
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.
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).
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.
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.
" . . . 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
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.
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
Thanks for all of your help (or at least those that actually tried to
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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