My general woodworking skills: Modest at best
My plane skills: None
I recently "inherited" a Stanley block plane that I intended to use to
fix a sticky door in my house. I asked how to clean the rust off it on
this forum and got rather more answers than I expected. I can't wait to
see the crop this question reaps.
The cleaning went fine, after which I blundered about trying to sharpen
the iron and adjust the plane at least well enough to shave down the
door. Despite my inexpertise, it went pretty well; the door now opens
and closes nicely.
But in the process, I noticed something interesting. I had set up a
scrap piece of 1x2 oak in a vise to test the plane after each clumsy
tweak. I of course hacked it to bits at first, but after a while I got
things reasonably functional. And the test piece (I was planing the
edge) got smooth; surprisingly so, and a different sort of smooth than I
would expect from sanding. It was glassy, or perhaps waxy, looking
rather than dusty.
I have no illusions that my junior high shop teacher would have
pronounced my scrap piece "SSS" (Straight, Square, Smooth) and I didn't
dare run a try square over it, but the finish was quite surprising. I
looked briefly online, and it seems there are craftsmen who prefer
planing over sanding, at least in some situations.
So I'm wondering if this has any practical use for an occasional weekend
shelf-and-cubbyhole maker like myself. If I were to get a proper plane
for the purpose, could I reasonably expect to, for instance, smooth down
a face frame? Or does it require more learning and practicing (both in
the sharpening and the actual use of the tool) than a guy like me is
likely to have the time or patience for?
Yes, I recommend at least a 15" planer with a spiral, segmented cutter
head of no less than 3 HP.
The carbide inserts can be rotated 4 times so last forever and no
sharpening skills are needed. The inserts require no adjustments so
that problem is solved. About all you need learn is that boards should
be a bit longer than needed so you can cut off the snipe that will
undoubtedly occur on all pre-cut to length boards. Oh, the sound is
sweet as well, nothing at all like a straight 15" blade whacking the
wood and waking the neighbors:-)
Add Life to your Days not Days to your Life.
Keep working on it. It doesn't take long if you pay attention to 3
things: your own body, the plane, and the wood. Once you get them into
some kind of harmony, beautiful things begin to happen.
That's the burnishing the plane does to the surface. Beautiful, isn't
That comes with time and practice. No worries, mate.
It's learnable. Go for it.
Next, we introduce you to the cabinet scraper. You're likely to toss
out all of your sandpaper the week after that. ;)
Books to peruse:
_Handtools: Their Ways and Workings_ by Aldren Watson
_The Handplane Book_ by Garrett Hack
_The Complete Guide to Sharpening_ by Leonard Lee (Of Lee Valley fame)
http://goo.gl/4kRSF Buy it even if you've already discovered the
Scary Sharp(tm) method. It covers a lot more types of tools.
_The Workbench Book_ by Scott Landis
http://goo.gl/ml9q9 You'll benefit by having and using a good bench
once you start using planes and scrapers more often.
Welcome to the slippery slope, Greg!
Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt
On Tue, 16 Aug 2011 11:07:24 -0400, Greg Guarino wrote:
I like using a plane. But while a plane can be expected to work on most
woods, it works best on relatively straight grain. It's getting harder
and harder to find such, so the amount of skill needed to use a plane
effectively keeps increasing.
Other than that, the only problem with (the face of) a face frame is
where the pieces join. I find it easier to plane before I join them,
with frequent testing to see if the pieces match as to thickness.
But don't let me discourage you. On those occasions where planing does
work, it's a joy to do and to view the results.
Intelligence is an experiment that failed - G. B. Shaw
Isn't a planed surface great? Reputedly the Japanese craftsmen would
plane and never sand. The thinking goes that sanding cuts up the wood
fibers and the little hairs that are left are dirt magnets/traps.
A block plane is very useful for many things, but something like a
Stanley 4 or 5 is also very useful for straightening wonky edges and
minor flattening of boards. Controlling a plane on a face frame is a
different matter. In that situation you might want to look at a card
scraper, or, if you've truly been bitten by the hand plane bug, a
scraper plane. A scraper takes a very fine shaving off and is much
easier to control. Wild grain and running into corners with
perpendicular pieces and grain is no problem for a card scraper.
Also, card scrapers are cheap. You should definitely have one to
complement whatever planes you have.
As far as your time and patience, it's obvious that you got the warm
fuzzies from cleaning up the plane, using it, and getting a nice
result. You had fun. If something is fun there's usually not a
problem with patience and you find the time to do it.
As someone else pointed out, much depends on the grain of the wood. Grain
rarely runs flat, generally "uphill" or "downhill". Look at the side of a
piece of wood 90 degrees from the surface to be planed and you'll see what I
If you plane downhill, the blade will tend to dig in and chip out pieces;
therefore, you want to plane uphill. Problemis, the grain often changes -
sometimes frequently - in the same piece of wood.
That's not to say you can't do what you want,merely that you have to take
care and understand what you are doing. It helps if the blade is really
sharp, you take off very thin shavings and if you skew the plane to the
work. A shooting board can help get things even.
When I was living in Mexico I took a piece of teak into a carpenter's shop
to get it skinnied down. I had bought it on a trip to Chicago and was going
to use it to make a dash board for my Fiat Spyder. The board was about 1" x
6" x 60" and I needed it reduced to 3/4.
I took it to the shop because he had power tools and I figured it would take
just a couple of minutes; instead, he used a hand plane, took him maybe 20
minutes to do an excellent job. When I asked what I owed, he said to bring
him a six pack of Coke sometime. We moved back to the US shortly after,he
never got the Coke, figure I still owe him and will pony up next time I am
I left it out of my post, but I noticed that very effect with my test
piece. The plane was digging in until I realized (or perhaps awakened a
brain cell that had lain dormant since Nixon was president - I may have
been taught this) that I should turn the piece around.
I hadn't thought of that. I'm going to have to look through my scraps
and do some experimenting. I knew I was saving that pile for something.
I think that's my biggest source of doubt here; my ability to get the
blade sharp enough and straight enough. To repair my door I used a
two-sided stone that I found in a blister-pak at HD. Even I could tell
that it was not terribly fine.
I somehow knew to hold the plane at a slight angle. I can remember my
Dad teaching me to do that with files and rasps. Perhaps they also
taught that back in shop class.
Just looked that up. It looks pretty useful, especially for a novice
like me. Thanks.
I hope more people chime in. I'm still trying to get a handle on how
much practice is required to get decent results.
An analogy: I'm a musician, among other things; I'm a lot more skilled
on the piano than I am at woodworking. I also dabble on some other
instruments. While it takes a lot of practice to get truly good at any
instrument, some are simply painful to listen to unless played by a
near-expert. Violin is like that. The learning curve seems to be "awful,
awful, awful, awful, awful, awful, awful, EXPERT". Whereas a novice can
learn to strum a few guitar chords and make a reasonably non-offensive
sound in short order.
So I'm wondering if planing wood is more like violin or guitar. Will I
get decent results that won't shame my family after a little practice,
and improve from there? Or will the first few years produce nothing but
That's only half the problem. Even bowing an open string can sound
pretty ugly in the wrong hands, of which there are many.
I have two aims. The more important one is make my (infrequent) projects
a little nicer each time. Someone suggested card scrapers, which I have
heard of, but have yet to try. My secondary goal is to try new and
interesting things in the hope of learning something. But given my
limited time, I'd rather not take on a "violin equivalent". I am very
much open to learning better techniques that a guy like me can improve
at at a reasonable pace. Bass guitar is on my list (really).
You REALLY Need To get "The Hand Plane Book" by Hack. I noticed this was
on the short book list Larry Jaques posted earlier. $16.47 at Amazon.
You can read a sample from it here:
(Amazon.com product link shortened)13532838&sr=8-1#reader_1561587125
BTW, I like stringed instruments too. My current musical interest is
mostly "Old Time Fiddle". One of my favorite albums is Hamilton
Ironworks which was performed by the late John Hartford, who was better
known for writing "Gentle On My Mind" which was put on the charts by
Glen Campbell. Of course, in Hamilton Ironworks, John Hartford was
playing the songs of Gene Goforth most of which he learned from some
other folks in his neck of Missouri... John went a step forward (or is
that backward?) in contacting some of the sources and mentions some of
their names in his album if you need them... It starts to get more
complicated after that, so I better stop there. Here are some samples
from the album if, after all that, you may be interested.
(Amazon.com product link shortened)13532907&sr=1-1
That and/or lessen the cut until you're taking 0.002" shavings. Later
adjust it for a finer cut.
There ya go.
I use 600 and 1200 grit diamond hones, then move up to 1500 grit wet
or dry paper, then a strop with Lee Valley green compound to finish.
Forget stones, which clog, break, develop ridges, etc. They're pains
in the arse.
Try Steve LaMantia's ScarySharp(tm) method as related here:
A carver I know told me how to determine if a blade was sharp, and
it's the best method I've ever heard. Rest the blade on your thumbnail
with only its weight on the nail. Now try to push it from the flat
side. If it hesitates (or raises a shaving) it's sharp. What might
feel sharp to your finger ain't. What cuts hairs off your arm ain't.
but that edge sticking into your calcified nail with just a few ounces
of weight on it proves that it IS sharp. ONce you've done this a few
times, you'll stop raising shavings off your nails. You can feel the
'stick' without damage.
Atta Boy! Look up the words and phrases you don't understand, then
ask for clarification here if you're still confused.
That all depends on your dexterity and ability at it -and- what you
try to make. Some things require violinesque practice, others
guitaresque. Try it and see which of your skills are which. It varies
for all of us by tool and by method. If one method doesn't give you
satisfaction, ask others if they have other methods for doing a
particular task. Some of us can cut dovetails by hand, with chisels
and saws. Some others need jigs, routers, bandsaws, and all sorts of
other stuff. Some like hand tools, others power, others a mix. See
what works for you.
...in order that a man may be happy, it is
necessary that he should not only be capable
of his work, but a good judge of his work.
-- John Ruskin
It does not take much practice with a well tuned hand plane to get
a smooth, straight edge on a board or a surface that is narrower than
the plane blade and is already straight and square. Using one to square
or joint an edge, or to surface a wider piece of stock does require
some practice and instruction. Take a look at a book by Garret Hack,
I believe it is titled simply "The Plane Book"
That said, as far as board edges go, many table saw blades these days leave
a pretty good edge. If anything at all, a pass or 2 with a plane is
usually all that is needed to get them ready for finishing and is a whole
lot quicker than sanding, with better results IMHO.
There is always an easy solution to every human problem -- neat,
plausible, and wrong." (H L Mencken)
I'll bet. In junior high we were given a piece of wood maybe 10 long and
6" wide. We had to true up the 10 inch edges with a plane until the
teacher could run a try square over them without seeing any light. They
also had to be square to the ends of the board. Once our boards passed
muster, they were to be the bases of our napkin holders.
Suffice it to say that by the time most of the kids' boards passed, they
were too narrow to hold many napkins. My Mom still has mine, made in
That's exactly the kind of thing I might like to try my hand(s) at. Any
recommendation for an (affordable) kind of plane?
If money is no object: Clifton, Lee Valley, Lie-Nielsen
If you have more time than $$: Stanley #5 to start, pre WW-II, then a #4, then
a #7 or #8
Block planes: Stanley 9-1/2 and 60 or 65
There's a lot of info available on the web about resurrecting these old planes.
A recent Fine Woodworking issue had a terrific article by Roland Johnson. I sat
through his plane and scraper talks at the WW Show and as far as I am concerned
he is the Grand Poughbah Of Restoring, Sharpening, and Tuning Handplanes Plus
Demystifying Scrapers Of All Kinds.
Couple of good threads last November included the search phrases:
Anant Bull Nose Rabbet Plane
Plugging these into a Google search of rec.woodworking ought to reveal some
spirited discussion as I recall.
Sorry, but I can't help much, as I was removed from jr high shop because I
took out the school bully with a plane. I was much older before I learned
about planes. I'm not proud of my improper use of a plane, but I have never
really regretted it.
Arn, wood, or transitional? I believe it was transitional for the
bully, in any case. Good shew!
(I treated my bully to an exercise in humility. He was in my PE class
so, when he approached me to push me around again, I stood up to him
on the track around the football field and left my arms at my side,
yelling at him "OK, Rex, if you want to hit me, then hit me. Here I
am, go ahead and hit me." That really threw him. He was flustered,
wondering why I stood up to him, wondering if I was setting him up,
and it embarrassed him. He just walked away and never bothered me
again. I was glad because wet shower towel whips really, really
Bullies are as bad as spammers and trolls.
...in order that a man may be happy, it is
necessary that he should not only be capable
of his work, but a good judge of his work.
-- John Ruskin
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