View Full Version : Can you help a hand plane newbie?

Matt Woodworth
08-13-2003, 8:48 PM
This is my first post on this forum but it's far from my first post in forums like this one. I did a little searching but I didn't find the kind of information that I need.

I have a pretty good set of power tools but I find my interests drifting towards the silent pleasures of hand tools. The trouble is that I'm having so much failure that I'm getting a bit discouraged. My current project is this workbench:


The legs, arms, and feet are made but laminating three 3/4" maple boards. Like most glue ups there is a small amount of correction involved. I have older #4 and #5 Stanley/Bailey planes that I "tuned" myself but they are not working for me. At this point it's hard to tell if it's my lack of tuning or my lack of planing skills.

When I plane I'm not getting thin ribbons. I seem to have a choice between pushing *really* hard (with all my body weight) and getting ribbons that are too thick or sliding the iron up just a tiny bit and getting a ribbon that is 1/4" wide. It's hard to get a flat surface with a 1/4" width at a time. Also, the plane leaves black dirty marks on my wood. I've rubbed it down with a towel many times but it seems to be hiding it's dirt/dust until it gets to my workpiece.

I flatened the sole of the plane and sharpened the iron using the scary sharp method. I put a 25 degree bevel on it with a 30 degree micro bevel. I also took a file to the frog to make sure the iron/cap seated as well as possible. Basically, I did what Hack's book told me to.

Why it is planing so badly? When I watch the pros on video they don't seem to be putting over 100 lbs of force behind their planing. Can somebody tell me what I need to do?

Matt Woodworth

Matt Woodworth
08-13-2003, 10:32 PM
Argh, I just spent about 1 1/2 hours retuning my planes. I'm covered with black dust, I'm tired, and the improvement is only marginal. I think that part of the problem is a lousy work surface. Bench 1.0 is covered by bench 2.0 so I'm trying to work on a pair of flexible saw horses. Do you think you could do a decent job planing something on saw horses?

Is there a howto or a faq out there about tuning planes?

Dave Anderson NH
08-13-2003, 10:37 PM
First off, welcome to our quiet little world. I would ask you to please edit your post to give us your name. It was decided some months ago that to avoid the hassles of some of the "less polite" forums we would use first and last names. This is helpful to everyone and also helps get us on a more personal basis. This doesn't mean for example if your name is David you can't use Dave, but rather we are trying to avoid the use of handles. If you have any questions about the policy, please contact me by private email and I'll try to help you. And now on to your questions.

I see several things which could be causing your problems either alone or in combination. I suspect you have sharpened just fine and this is not your difficulty. If I was go for the most likely cause, I would guess that a combination of the blade not being adjusted square to the mouth opening and/or a blade not sharpened straight across are preventing your getting a full width shaving. As a self proclaimed newbie, this isn't unusual. Take and measure the width at the top of the iron and again just above the cutting edge to see if they are the same width. If they are the same, the two sides are parallel. Now take your most accurate square and see if the cutting edge is perpendicular to the sides. An easy way to determine this is to hold them up to the light and look to see if there is a gap. Except for corners of the cutting edge radiused to prevent the iron digging in, there should be no light showing. Any angle of the cutting edge will appear obvious. If an out of square cutting edge is there, resharpen until you get it square. Once the blade is square, the lateral adjusting lever is your main tool to adjust until you get a full width shaving. Note that you want the iron square in the mouth of the plane, the lever does not necessarily reside in the center psoition when the blade is square. The mistake of assuming it does caused me no end of trouble when I was first starting out with handplanes.

The next potential problem is one of technique. To get started, place the toe of the plane on the surface you want to work until the extended cutting edge is about half an inch away from the edge of the wood. When starting your stroke apply a little extra pressure to the heel of the plane. As you finsh the stroke at the far end of the board, apply a little extra pressure to the toe of the plane by bearing down more on the front knob. This should help inprove your results after you have practiced a bit.

Another thought which is going to guide you further down the slippery slope of hand tools is that you need another plane. A #4 smoother and a #5 jack plane are both really too short for leveling a large planar surface. A # 6 or better yet a # 7 with their added length will help you get a more planar and level surface by riding over any dips until you plane them out.

Again, welcome aboard

Dave Anderson
Neanderthal Moderator
Chester, NH

Roger Myers
08-13-2003, 10:45 PM
re the black marks...after cleaning the sole of the plane, apply a thin coat of furniture paste was (make sure it does not contain silicone). You will find that keeping a cloth with wax on it, and reapplying while planing makes life easier.
re the narrow ribbons...You mentioned you tuned the plane and sharpened using scary sharp method...Did you first flatten the back of the plane iron? This is a critical, and often overlooked step by newcomers. The back of the iron miust be perfectly flat and well polished for some distance back from the bevel...say, at least 1/4 inch...I will typically make sure at least the first inch or so is flat.
A heavier iron often helps, but you didn't mention any problems with chatter, so you may be ok.
You need a solid surface to hold the work while planing...it can't be jumping around on you. No, I don't think sawhorses will cut it, although I've used them in a pinch.

Try the first two items and let us know how you make out!

Paul Barnard
08-13-2003, 10:53 PM
Great looking bench. Sounds like you have potentially 3 problems. First check that the sole is flat side to side. I'm guessing its a little convex. The second problem is the black marks. This may be as a result of the lapping you did on the sole. I had this problem with a block plane some time ago. I waxed the sole straight after lapping and it trapped swarf in the pores of the cast iron. The solution was to wash the plane with a solvent to remove the wax and swarf. I re waxed after this and didn't have the problem again. If flattening the convex sole doesn't get things moving then the third problem is probably sharpening. If you don't have your sandpaper completely flat you can dub the edge quite easily. A working alternative is to only use pull strokes when doing the micro bevel.
Not sure if these things will help but let us know if they do.

I of course meant concave not convex

Matt Woodworth
08-13-2003, 11:39 PM
Thank you for the advice. I'll take another look at how well I've adjusted the cutting edge and how well I've sharpened it tomorrow. I think I did a pretty good job of lapping the back of the cutting edge (it's nice and shiny :) ) so that's not my first guess as the trouble spot.

Regarding my name, it's Matt Woodworth. I looked around for a way to change the display setting but I didn't see anything. I tried to reregister but the clever software caught me and said that I'm already registered as vanguard. As I tried to reregister I notice the red text that asked me to use my real name. Heaven knows how I managed not to see that the first time.

I found a spot in the rules that said the admin would change my login in extreme circumstances. This doesn't seem "extreme" to me but I would like to have my real name as my login so that I fit in better with the group. Can you do it as a moderator?

Dave Anderson NH
08-14-2003, 6:11 AM
I'll get the user name change taken care of for you.

Doug Evans
08-14-2003, 8:33 AM
Hi Matt:

Does your plane have an adjustable frog? You may want to set the throat opening quite tight (0.010"). Also, your double iron should be about 1/32". I am not so sure how long the edge will hold on your iron in maple. Drop the iron about 0.002" or less below the sole.

Also, you lever cap screw could be too tight or too loose, setting up resonance in the iron/frog combination (you could test by loosening/tightening slightly).



Ross Canant
08-14-2003, 10:44 AM
One last thought, is your blade installed bevel up or bevel down? The bevel should be down on bench planes. This can cause the digging in that you are experiencing.

Matt Woodworth
08-14-2003, 11:30 AM
One last thought, is your blade installed bevel up or bevel down? The bevel should be down on bench planes. This can cause the digging in that you are experiencing.

It's funny that you mention that. It was installed correctly but it looked wrong to me. For a second I thought, "All right! That's the problem." But then I took a closer look at Hack's book and realized I had it right the first time.

I spent a little more time making sure the iron was well adjusted and I actually had improved planing. I used the lever to ensure that the iron wasn't angled, I think that was a big part of my problem. Also, the iron could be sharpened better than it is. When the planes came to me they were pretty bad. I only had enough patience and energy to get it the irons about 95% right. I'm going to give both the #4 and the #5 another round of effort. By the second pass things should be as good as my current skill level can take them.

BTW, I have a #7 in the mail. Why does it feel like I'm sliding? :)

One more question, are my expectations of a nice sliding action and long thin ribbons just off target for hard maple?

Glen Smith
08-14-2003, 12:14 PM
One more question, are my expectations of a nice sliding action and long thin ribbons just off target for hard maple?

I'm far from a handplane expert, but once you ge the plane set to where you think it should be, try to joint one edge of 3/4" stock. Rather than trying to smooth a 3" block to get your technique. This should tell you if the iron is sharp and set right, as well as give you a feel for how things should be going. Be sure to test the full width of the iron with several passes.

Once you are satisfied with the performance, you can move on to the real work.

Good Luck.
Glen Smith

Paul Barnard
08-14-2003, 12:29 PM
One more question, are my expectations of a nice sliding action and long thin ribbons just off target for hard maple?
Absolutly acheivable and a major kudos point when you get there. The biggest problem you will experience is edge life on the hard maple, it's not the worst by any stretch of the imagination but the iron will dull quickly and there is a tendency for edge chipping.

Sounds like real progress is being made, you are greasing that slope as you go :)

Matt Woodworth
08-15-2003, 2:56 PM
I thought you guys might be interested. I'm getting nice ribbons on maple now with my #4 plane. I'm still working on getting the #5 to perform as well. The #7 arrived today so I'll work on them together.

Roger Turnbough
08-16-2003, 8:51 AM
Morning Matt,

You may want to take a look at this article that was originally posted on the Old Badger Pond site. It is by R.J. Whelan and is a step by step process for tuning a metal handplane.


I hope this helps you out.


Joel Selman
08-16-2003, 9:29 PM
Hey Matt...and hello to all from a new member,
I once thought I had good success tuning and using my Stanley Baileys. I was quite happy and getting good results. All that changed when I broke down and bought my first "good" plane. I bought a #3 Clifton plane whose mechanism is based on the Stanley Bedrock series and I then knew immediately why they are called the best planes ever made. I then got a 605 Bedrock...love at first bite (ribbon).
I've been tinkering with my Baileys trying to get them to work as well as the "real" planes, but have had less than great success. As I do not have a 607, I am still using my #7 for straightening, and as I said earlier, I am still getting good results. None-the-less I am saving up to get either a 607 or a #7 Clifton.
Good luck!

Doug Littlejohn
08-20-2003, 4:33 PM

You didn't say, but what types are each of your planes. Most folks say the types 9 thru 12 are the best performers with the newer ones tending more and more towards ju*k.

The pre WWII type 11's seem to tune up to real performers and course beter planes are just that, BETTER!!

Try a Knight plane sometime (to name but one of many great current plane makers).

Matt Woodworth
08-20-2003, 9:00 PM
For those of you interested in my current planing status I thought I'd give an update. My inventory consists of pre-WWII stanleys in #4, #5, and #7 sizes. I also have a LN low angle block plane and a veritas cabinet scraper.

I've invested 5 or 6 hours tuning the #4, #5, and #7. I've been using it to clean up the workbench I'm building (http://www.employees.org/~vanguard/woodworking/projects/workbench/). The #4 and #7 are both working quite well. The #4 in paticular is a pleasure to use. I get nice thin ribbons on hard maple. The #7 also planes nice but the thicker pieces aren't the same pleasure to create that the #4 gives me.

As for the new tools, the cabinet scraper works great. It's really a nice way to clean up less the perfect panel glue ups. I haven't found the low angle block plane as useful as everybody said it would be. I chamfer edges with it but I haven't had that much end grain to take care of.

Finally, that darn #5 is still a son of a gun. It seems like my choices are 1) the cutter doesn't even touch the wood or 2) the plane takes so much off that the surface left behind is junk and it take over 100 lbs of force to move it. I'm pretty confident in my ability to sharpen now so it must be the adjustments. I think the space in the throat/mouth (I forget the term) is too large so I need to move the frog forward. However, it seems like if I moving the frog forward would leave the cutter poorly supported. Maybe it's worth a try anyway?