View Full Version : Hand plane tuning question:

Perry Schmidt
08-28-2003, 12:41 AM
The question about the LV block plane got me thinking? What does a good, well tuned hand plane feel like?? I have a couple of Stanely. I took the time to tune them properly, and used the 'Complete guide to Sharpening' by Lee as 'my guide'.

The results - very nice, works well, generally happy w/ them. BUT I'm always curious - how does a really good plane like a LV or Lie Nielsen work/feel after it's well tuned by someone who's done it before.

Can I purchase a Lee Valley (e.g.) and have it properly tuned up for me before they ship it so I can actually experience one that's been 'done right' before trying to do so myself? Short of knowing someone who has planes and can say 'come on over and try my Lee Vally', what's the best way to get a good, well tuned plane in hand to really feel what one is like so I know if I've got it right when I do it myself.

I don't mind working to tune my tools, but never having used or seen a well tuned good quality plane, what am I missing??



Dave Anderson NH
08-28-2003, 6:26 AM
This is sort of like the old chicken and the egg question. My best answer is that you should try and make contact with a school, club, or other woodworker in your area who has knowledge of and uses handplanes on a regular basis. Books, videos, and the net are really good sources of information, but nothing substitutes for actually wrapping your hands around and using a plane tuned and fettled by someone who knows what they are doing. Personally, my revelation about what constituted a properly setup plane came after I met a Galoot named Jon Gunterman and got the chance to handle and use some of his selection of Lie- Nielsen planes and a few of his antique users. After that experience I had something to compare with and found my own earlier efforts to be "somewhat lacking". I also had the good fortune to be in a Guild where Garrett Hack and Mike Dunbar are members and are quite expert at shoving folks down the slippery slope.

Look for info from every source possible, but I can't emphasize enough how much better and quicker things go if you can find a mentor or someone who will at least allow you to experience examining and using a properly sharpened and setup plane.

Don Kugelberg
08-28-2003, 11:01 AM
I faced your dilemma exactly. Not having Dave's "good fortune to be in a Guild where Garrett Hack and Mike Dunbar are members" I investigated the local colleges in my area and found one offering a course called "Woodworking with Hand Tools" which exactly met my need. I now know how to sharpen edged tools and how to tune a hand plane to produce wispy shavings. I learned how to tune and use a spokeshave and was introduced to a hand scraper. Oh, we also worked some wood! I learned how to S4S a board using planes and how to handcut dovetails and built a tool tote using only hand tools. Nothing like some hands on experience with a good instructor. I don't know what the colleges offer in your area but I'd certainly check them out. If this isn't possible, I suggest you get involved with the myriad of woodworking forums and make your desire to learn known. You may find a woodworker in your area who would be willing to let you try out his planes. I made just such a offer to a fellow woodworker on this forum named Lloyd not more than a week ago. Those of us who appreciate the non-tailed tools tend to be a friendly bunch!

Tom Scott
08-28-2003, 1:15 PM
Both ideas presented are excellent. Not knowing anyone skilled in hand tools when I (recently) started down the slope, I enrolled for a 6-day course at Homestead Heritage Homestead Heritage (http://homesteadheritage.com/woodworking) down in Waco. That was a great experience for me to see first-hand how to properly execute techniques. They also offer afternoon seminars in basics like sharpening, tuning, and such as well as 1, 3, and 5 day courses. Paul and Stan are excellent instructors and I learned so much that would have taken me forever to learn on my own. The time there was well spent.
I would be happy to get together with you some weekend so that we could compare notes and play with each other's toys. But being pretty new to this as well, I can't guarantee that I would show you a perfectly tuned plane...just the best I can manage at this current state in my learning.


Joel Selman
08-28-2003, 5:22 PM
My guess is that if you need ask what a well tuned plane feels like you don't have your planes quite tuned.
I can't speak for anyone else, but my first experience with a well tuned plane was with a #3 Clifton plane. The only modifications I made to it out of the box were to sharpen it scary sharp and apply wax to it. All of the milled surfaces appeared to be very well made.
The resulting nearly efforless full width wisp of a shaving made me shiver.
I have been able to duplicate that kind of tuning in my 605 Bedrock and have come close with my #4, #5, and #7 Stanley Bailey's, but have never been able to exceed it. I have also come very close with a #4 relatively new Record plane. I have been unable to properly tune some Craftsman planes. I don't know quite why.

Perry Schmidt
08-28-2003, 11:46 PM
Thanks for the suggestions.

Dave - as always good advise! Thanks,

Don - didn't think about the local colleges. I've been to some local clubs, but never connected w/ a hand-tool junkie. Most are powertool junkies :)

Tom - a BIG thanks. I didn't know about Homestead Heritage! Relatively close, looks like they have good courses, not too pricey! I told my wife about it and she's already encouraging me to take the next handtool course. Plus it's close to Hillsboro so she'd come down w/ me, and shop, shop, shop!! :)

Thanks again -


Wendell Wilkerson
08-29-2003, 4:25 AM
Just wanted to add my $0.02 about Homestead Heritage. I took the "woodworking with hand tools" class last summer. First, let me say I really enjoyed the class and would recommend it to anyone wanting to get started with hand tools. I learned alot about laying out the three basic joints: dados, dovetails, and mortice and tenon which has helped alot even when I use powertools to actually make the joints. The one thing that disappointed me in the class was the lack of attention to hand planes. They demonstrated the basic process of sharpening a plane blade and tuning a plane (lapping sole, flattening bed, squaring mouth and sides), but at least in the class I attended, there was no hands-on for the students. After the demonstration, basically no hand planes were used for the rest of the class. The class is really focused on using chisels and handsaws to make joints. Paul mentioned in our class that he was considering offering a class on restoring hand tools which would be more in line with what you seem to be looking for. Unfortunately, it looks like they offered that class last weekend and it doesn't look like they're offering it this fall. You might want to contact them and see when they will be offering it again. Also, I believe that the Woodcraft in Dallas offers a class on tuning and using handplanes. Good luck in the pursuit of the well tuned plane. Let me know when you have figured it out so I can have you teach me :D


Joel Selman
08-29-2003, 2:57 PM
In no way was I insinuating you are in any way lacking in your tuning skills. You may very well have tuned your Stanley's beyond my meager capabilities. I was simply suggesting that it is much more difficult to get some Stanley's properly tuned.

Perry Schmidt
08-30-2003, 12:25 AM
In no way was I insinuating you are in any way lacking in your tuning skills. You may very well have tuned your Stanley's beyond my meager capabilities. I was simply suggesting that it is much more difficult to get some Stanley's properly tuned.

No 'insunuation' taken...really! I actually have been quite happy w/ the planes performance. But just don't know 'if it can get better'. So far they've performed the tasks I ask them to do well. Not great, but well. Now I've never tried to plane a 2" wisp thin shaving on maple or oak, and don't think they could do that either. But it would be great if they could.

So I'm trying to do basically what you have done...that's all. And not having the resources of someone who HAS these planes that I know in the area...well, you get the rest.

I'm hoping someday to be able to say the same as you :)