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Thread: Getting Started With Hand Planes

  1. #1
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    Getting Started With Hand Planes

    Often those new to woodworking have no experience with hand planes and have no idea how to start. Others may have been using power tools in their wood working and are curious about how wood was worked in the olden days. This post is directed to the person who is new to hand planes, though those who have used planes for a while may find some of this information sheds light from a different angle than to which they are accustomed. Hopefully those who have techniques or ideas different than those presented will share their ideas and comments.

    Some of the details in this disscusion may be presented in a right handed format. If you are left handed, you may need to adjust these details to your own liking.

    One requirement all planes have in common is for the blade to be sharp. That is a discussion all in itself and has been pondered many times in many places. Though it will be mentioned in passing, there is enough to discuss about sharpening, blade camber, ruler tricks and all the other edge enhancement techniques to have their own documentation.

    This discussion will only touch lightly on tuning or trouble shooting problems with planes. For more details on tuning up planes try the following links.

    Block planes:

    http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=60970

    Bench planes:

    http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=5867

    and more bench planes:

    http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=114373

    Solutions to some of the mechanical problems encountered with a plane may be found in those posts.

    What planes should a woodworker have?

    The type of projects will determine the needs of the individual wood worker. The most often suggested "starter set" is usually a #4 smoother, a #5 jack and either a #7 or #8 jointer. These and a low angle block plane will get one through many planing tasks.

    If a person is working with rough milled wood, they may want to get a second #5 to set up as a scrub plane.

    If smaller projects are more your style a #3 may be preferred over the #4. If larger panels and such are more likely to be in your designs, then maybe a #4-1/2 a #5-1/2 or a #6 will better fill your needs. I like them all, so over time I have acquired the whole line of bench planes.

    To learn more about what these numbers mean, visit Patrick Leach's site, (Blood & Gore):

    http://www.supertool.com/

    So, now you have strained your fingers and have applied six bandaides to your arm in attempts to get as sharp an edge as possible on your blade, what's next?

    Setting the cap iron.

    I am sure many people have not paid attention to what is taking place and lost skin and blood by being careless at this point. I have had way too many moments of inattention around a sharp piece of steel on my bench and paid the price for such. That edge deserves respect. Even when clearing shavings from a plane, a lax moment, while paying attention to the two or three fingers above the plane forgetting about those under the plane may find them getting snagged by the corner of the blade. Been there, done that, OUCH!!!

    My method to put the cap iron on is to have it perpendicular to the blade while inserting the loosened screw through the large hole in the blade. Then draw the cap iron up the blade away from the cutting edge. It is then turned into alignment with the blade and carefully slid along the blade until it is the desired distance from the edge. This varies with the use. For a smoothing plane and fine shavings, I set it at about 1/32" from the edge. For a jointer and a bit thicker shaving as much as a 1/16" will do. Then the blade and cap are set on a piece of wood or on the bench with the sharpened edge pointing to the right with the assembly on its side while the screw is tightened. This is done in this manner to avoid mishaps if anything slips. Since the screw is being turned clockwise, if there is a slip, the sharp end will turn down instead of coming up under the palm of your hand. It is always a good idea to think about where sharp things will go if there is slippage or error, then keep any part of your body away from that area.

    Assembling blade:cap iron.jpg

    The blade assembly can now be set into the plane. I usually have a piece of scrap wood under the toe of the plane to elevate the blade area. This prevents damage to the bench.

    There is a cavity for the cap screw to set in and the lateral lever disk (in the case of Stanley and some others) rests in the slot of the blade. The depth adjuster will engage the rectangular hole in the cap iron.

    Blade on Frog.jpg

    Often people will be heard talking about backlash in the depth adjusters on their planes. For some it is bothersome, for others it is just another aspect of life. To make planes with zero backlash requires very exact machining and can increase costs. Some production models of planes may achieve this by chance. Some of my more used planes have as much as two or more turns of backlash in the adjustment nut. The Bailey style adjuster is more prone to backlash than the Norris style and many others.

    In the image above we can see one of the factors that contributes to the backlash in blade adjustment. The pawl in the rectangular hole of the cap iron has to have some room for movement. If it was a perfect fit, it would bind during adjustment. The space between the lands of the adjusting nut and the followers on the yoke also contribute to the backlash, also known as slop or play.

    In this picture the disk of the lateral adjustment mechanism can not be seen, but it needs to rest in the slot of the plane blade. If it doesn't, the blade will not seat properly on the frog.

    The blade should be centered between the sides of the plane.

    Blade Holding

    Another requirement common to all planes is a way to hold the blade in place on its bed. From a simple wedge to the more complex knuckle joint leverage cap, they all perform the same job, to keep the blade in the same place through multiple passes of the plane on the wood being worked. A wedge uses pressure and friction to do this job. Most of the other blade holding designs use leverage in various ways to hold a blade in place.

    Group of Planes.jpg

    There are always exceptions. On the right in this picture is a Stanley #90 rabbet plane. It uses tension on the cap to hold the blade. This plane was modified by a previous owner. The removal of the side lets us see the cap on the blade. The cap in this plane is tensioned by the wing nut at the heel of the plane pulling on a bolt that is through the cap. This plane can be expensive in its unaltered state. If a previous owner has opened up the side and the mouth, it can be had at a reasonable price and can be a good plane for trimming tenons, lap joints and cutting rabbets.

    It wasn't realized until after taking the photograph that there are actually two Stanley #90 planes in this picture. One is a bull nosed rabbet/shoulder plane and the other is a wood and steel skew blade rabbet. The skew blade rabbet is the one with the different blade holding style.

    I have seen other methods of securing blades, but they are outside the realm of this post.

    Also in the picture is a small hammer for tapping blades on planes that do not have adjusting mechanisms.

    The setting of the blade holding device whether it is a wedge, leverage cap or a tension cap should be forceful enough to hold the blade in position, but not so forceful as to stress the body of the plane. I have seen a few planes that have been damaged due to over enthusiastic tightening of the blade holding mechanism.

    In my experience only planes fitted with a wooden wedge or the Bailey style adjuster with a lever cap can have the blade's depth adjusted without loosening the cap. Failure to loosen the cap on these other planes can cause excess wear to the plane's adjusting mechanism. Others may have different experiences.

    Leverage Cap Adjustment

    My general rule of thumb with planes is if something is so tight as to be difficult to operate, then something is not right. A common problem with block planes is a lever cap gets switched with a knuckle joint cap. The screws may be the wrong length and the plane never works quite right.

    For most planes my method is to start on the loose side and then tighten the holding screw about an eighth of a turn, or less, at a time. To do this, the cap is placed in position with the holding screw loose and the cap in the locked position. At this point, the blade and cap should move freely. The screw is tightened until it just barely puts pressure on the cap and blade. The cap is then released to its open position and the screw is given about a sixteenth to an eighth of a turn. The cap is closed and the blade and cap are checked for freedom of movement. The amount of movement depends on the type of plane. Bench planes should have some ease of movement, block planes less. Though until one gets the feel for this adjustment, loose is better than tight. The important aspect of the cap tightness is that the blade does not move while planing. If the lateral adjustment changes or the blade slips while in use, then there needs to be a little more pressure. I often set my blade adjustment and then back off the adjuster into the area of backlash to check the adjustment of the lever cap screw. The blade may move under this condition, but it usually will take a few passes. It should not be difficult to move the lateral lever on a properly adjusted bench plane. If the lever cap is over tight, it can introduce wear into the adjustment mechanisms.

    For block planes, I like to set mine so the knuckle cap can be lifted half way to make a blade adjustment either for the depth or lateral setting. With the lever caps, I like to be able to change settings with the lever in the midway position.

    Another point to consider, I often have spare blades so a sharp one can be at the ready. If a blade is changed, even though they are of the same vintage, the lever screw may need adjusting. Usually only a sixteenth or so of a turn unless one is switching from a Stanley cap and blade to a Hock cap and blade.

    Making Shavings

    At this point, the blade is likely well below the sole of the plane. Retract the blade by turning the depth adjusting nut. Stanley planes made after 1891 will turn counter clockwise to lift the blade. Before we start, one needs to read the grain on the wood. Sometimes it will fool you, but most of the time, you will want the grain to rise in the direction you are planing. So find a piece of scrap 1X or 2X and clamp it in your vise. Start with the business part of the plane off the wood and just the toe (the part of the sole in front of the blade) on the work piece. This is how one usually starts a plane on a work piece. This is especially true when using a jointer. With a smoothing plane, one may at times just be working a small area on a large piece.

    Registering the Plane.jpg

    When it is flat on the wood and pushed forward, nothing should happen because the blade is retracted.
    Some set their blades by sighting down the sole and turning the adjuster until they see the blade. When you get to wearing bifocals and your close up sight needs different glasses, you may want to find a different way. I am not knocking the sight set method. I envy those whose eyesight is still that good.

    My method is to adjust the depth while pushing the plane on the edge of the scrap wood.

    Depth Adjustment.jpg

    This plane is a type 6. The depth adjuster turns to the left to lower the blade. Shavings are just beginning to appear in the mouth.

    At this point take a shaving on the one side of the plane and then the other to check the lateral adjustment.

    Lateral Test.jpg

    Notice that the shaving on the left are visibly heavier than on the right. With the Stanley plane, the lever is moved to the side that is cutting heavier to even out the cut.

    (The image that should be here was incorrectly labeled. This caused the wrong image to be uploaded. The correct image will be added later)

    Notice that the blade is being held on both sides by my fingers. This is so that any movement can be felt. Over time, you will get used to feeling how much movement is needed. Though some times a blade that is not straight or other factors can make setting the lateral adjustment a pain in the tukus.

    My preference is to set the lateral adjustment with very thin shavings. It just seems easier to tell if they are the same. After a bit of experience, you will likely be able to determine by feel if one side of the blade is cutting deeper than the other.

    Equal Side to Side.jpg

    The shavings shown are for all purposes equal.

    This will be continued at a later date with similar discussion of block planes and some planing techniques.

    Comments and questions are welcome.

    jtk

    To be continued.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  2. #2
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    Thanks for putting all this together, Jim. I think it'd be very beneficial to new plane users. I hope they make this post sticky.

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    The Correct Image of Lateral Adjustment

    Here is some of the text and the correct picture to explain the adjustment of the lateral lever.

    Lateral Adjustment.jpg

    Notice that the blade is being held on both sides by my fingers. This is so that any movement can be felt. Over time, you will get used to feeling how much movement is needed. Though some times a blade that is not straight or other factors can make setting the lateral adjustment a pain in the tukus.

    My preference is to set the lateral adjustment with very thin shavings. It just seems easier to tell if they are the same. After a bit of experience, you will likely be able to determine by feeling the shavings if one side of the blade is cutting deeper than the other.

    jtk
    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 09-13-2010 at 1:46 PM.
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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    I hope they make this post sticky.
    Or add it to the Neanderthal wisdom/FAQs page.
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  5. #5
    Excellent information in a very consolidated format!

  6. Question Thank you very much for making this thread!!

    I'm a hobby woodworker / guitartech / luthiere, all with the emphasis
    on hobby and also a newbie especially when it comes to hand planes.

    I've inherited some nice ones and I recently bought a few more planes and spokeshaves cause I love old tools.

    Now I hope it's ok to ask a "dumb" question here assuming it is here goes

    I'm wondering about the plane irons and especially the bevel orientation
    for example got a couple of real old wooden planes, a stanley no 3 and they all have the bevel down towards the material (flat side up)

    But I've seen several planes that has the orientation the opposite way, the flat side down towards the material and bevel up, for example some of those low-angle planes from veritas

    My question, are there any rules or charts or whatever to know which way to mount the bevel on certain planes etc .. thinking especially when trying to restore old planes with missing irons for example, or for that matter trying to build some smaller wooden planes myself.

    I hope this question make sense, since english is not my native language
    .

    thanks in advance
    regards from sweden

    //Ken1

  7. #7
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    Thanks Jim! From time to time I print off especially useful posts from here and have them in a folder for future reference. I just hit the print button on this one.

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    Thanks to all for the kind words.

    And Kenneth, Welcome to the Creek I am not sure, but I think there are a few others from Sweden viewing our pages.

    I was going to do a piece on bevel up and bevel down planes. I even made a crude drawing. One main reason for the difference is the need for a clearance angle under the blade behind the cutting edge. Both designs have advangates and disadvantages. With the lower bedding angle of the bevel up planes, the bevel would be too thin if the bevel was on the underside.

    Here is the drawing:

    Picture 3.png

    The arrows indicate the way the wood is going into the blade. Imagine the effect on the wood of the bevel down "pushing" on the wood as opposed to the bevel up "lifting" the wood.

    I will write more later.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  9. #9
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    how to start:

    1. go to www.lie-nielsen.com

    2. insert credit card

    3. call divorce lawyer

  10. #10
    Jim, you are the best - and generous with yr knowledge/time.

    I really appreciate it.

  11. Quote Originally Posted by Jim Koepke View Post
    Thanks to all for the kind words.

    And Kenneth, Welcome to the Creek I am not sure, but I think there are a few others from Sweden viewing our pages.

    I was going to do a piece on bevel up and bevel down planes. I even made a crude drawing. One main reason for the difference is the need for a clearance angle under the blade behind the cutting edge. Both designs have advangates and disadvantages. With the lower bedding angle of the bevel up planes, the bevel would be too thin if the bevel was on the underside.

    Here is the drawing:

    Picture 3.png

    The arrows indicate the way the wood is going into the blade. Imagine the effect on the wood of the bevel down "pushing" on the wood as opposed to the bevel up "lifting" the wood.

    I will write more later.

    jtk
    Thank you very much for answering, I look forward to
    read more about it, and other topics in this thread



    Have a good one

    //Ken1

  12. #12

    sticky??

    Great information. Sticky, easy to referr back to.

  13. #13
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    Bevel Down Planes

    Until recently, most planes with the blade bevel facing up were considered block planes. Some even consider the larger planes with the bevel up block planes and others have different opinions. It really doesn't matter what they are called, they are still planes. Here is an assortment of bevel up and block planes.

    Group of Planes.jpg

    Three of these planes are actually bevel down. The three "block" planes in the upper right corner.

    Most of these block planes are known as Low Angle Block Planes. The blades are bedded at various angles usually from as low as 8 with 12 being the most common. Standard angle block planes are commonly bedded at 20. In the picture, the side rabbets are bedded at 8. Three of the planes in the upper right have bed angles of 45. The #102 looks to be bedded at 20 as is the bottom squirrel tailed plane.

    The lower the bed angle, the weaker the bedding for the blade near the mouth. If buying one of these used, it is important to check the area at the sides of the mouth for cracks before buying. When buying on line, most of the people in my experience have been willing to supply clear pictures and assurances of the integrity of this area. If they are not so inclined, why give them your money?

    What is the difference between bevel up and bevel down?

    The bevel up design allows the user to change the effective angle of attack just by changing the bevel on the blade.

    There are a few tricks for doing this on a bevel down plane.

    A bevel down plane can be used on end grain, but a low angle bevel up plane can do a much nicer job.

    My thoughts on this are just my thoughts, but I still prefer bevel down planes for most of my work such as joining or smoothing. It seems the bevel up planes have a tendency for the blade to want to dig in. Looking at a drawing of the two designs may help to explain my thoughts.

    Iron Bevel Down vs Up.png

    The effective angle is the same on these two at 45. The bevel up drawing shows a blade bedded at 25. The arrows indicate the direction of the wood meeting the blades. It takes a little visualization of what is taking place. Imaging the wood fibers meeting the bevel up blade and the forces on the blade and the wood. The wood is being pushed and the force on the blade is pushing it toward the bed or frog.

    On the bevel up blade, we can imagine the wood is being lifted more than pushed. This would even be more so with a lower angle on the blade. The force being placed on the blade by the wood will be pushing back on the blade, but also applying downward force.

    Just out of curiosity a bevel up plane was tried with out it leverage cap. The blade tended to float on the wood, but when it caught, it really dug in.

    This is just my thoughts and your milage will most surely vary. Many people find they prefer the Bevel Up planes. The different planes for different work sounds good to me.

    To set the blade, some use the sight down the sole method. My way is to loosen the cap and start with the blade retracted and slowly move the plane on a piece of wood held on the bench while advancing the blade until it starts to take a shaving. My experience it the shaving is a bit thicker after the cap is tightened. This also seems to be the case on a #45 or #55 though they use a wedging bolt system.

    Setting the Blade.jpg

    The left hand is applying downward and forward pressure as the blade is being adjusted. Lie-Nielsen suggest about a quarter turn of the cap screw to lock the setting. I find that to be good advice. Cranking the cap screw down too tight is not good for the plane and offers no advantage.

    I drew lines on the side of the piece of wood to indicate the way the grain should be running in relation to the planing direction.

    For a knuckle cap plane the cap is held open with one hand and the blade is adjusted while moving the plane along a piece of scrap.

    For the pinned lever cap style plane, I move the lever to the half way setting and adjust them also while moving on a piece of scrap.

    Pinned Lever Cap Planes.jpg

    Just like a bevel down plane, the lateral adjustment needs to be addressed.

    Unequal Shavings.jpg

    This plane does not have a lateral lever. My method for this and many of the block planes is to loosen the leverage cap and move the blade slightly with my fingers.

    The Wonders of an Adjustable Mouth

    If for no other reason, this is one of the things that makes an adjustable mouth a great feature. With the mouth set narrow, you can see how the blade aligns to the mouth when adjusting the lateral or the depth setting.

    Watch the slit of light between the mouth and the blade to gauge how much the blade is moving. Once you get used to this, it is a wonder how one did without it.

    The blade may not be perfectly parallel to the mouth's edge. That is a matter for fettling that is not in the realm of this writing.

    Adjust Mouth to Set Blade.jpg

    For some planes like a pre-lateral bench plane or the #102, a small mallet (shown in the upper left of the picture of the group of planes) is used to lightly tap the blade. This is also used to adjust blades on planes without adjusters.

    Tap Adjusting #102.jpg

    The top image is tapping the back of the blade to set the depth.
    The center image is tapping the side to adjust the lateral.
    The bottom image is hitting the "strike button" part of the body casting to retract the blade.
    All of these are done with the clamping screw slightly loosened.

    One advantage I find with a low angle bevel up plane is when shooting end grain. A regular bevel down bench plane can also be used, but the LN #62 shown excels at this job. It takes a little less effort than a bench plane. For me that is important due to an old cycling injury to my shoulder. Any plane with a flat side can be used on a shooting board.

    Shooting End Grain.jpg

    The blade needs to be set for just a bit deeper cut when shooting end grain. A sharp blade will make shavings instead of dust. If you are getting dust, you may have a blade that needs a visit with the stones.

    One use that block planes are great at is to break the sharp corner on a piece of wood or to chamfer the ends or edges. Some careful hand work with one of these small planes can make a rounded corner over a length of wood. They can also be used for trimming dowels and many other small jobs a bigger plane would be awkward to use.

    It is my practice to make light marks on the sides of my work to help align dowels or other fasteners. A block plane set to take a very light cut comes in handy and leaves the work cleaner than an eraser.

    If I have forgotten anything or if there are questions, I will be happy to continue or answer inquiries.

    jtk
    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 09-15-2010 at 12:19 PM. Reason: Added text about bedding angles.
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  14. #14
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    Thanks for taking the time to write this Jim. I wandered over here to Neander looking for exactly this kind of information.

    Can you recommend a book which would be good for a beginner wanting to learn how to use and maintain planes?

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Schwake View Post
    Thanks for taking the time to write this Jim. I wandered over here to Neander looking for exactly this kind of information.

    Can you recommend a book which would be good for a beginner wanting to learn how to use and maintain planes?
    Scott,

    I am afraid that I may leave something out, but here are two, one I own and the other I have heard good things about:

    The Hand Plane Book by Garrett Hack

    It is also my understanding that Christopher Schwarz has compiled his writings about planes into a book.

    I have found many of my books by browsing the aisles of book stores. I am not sure if Half Priced Books is a national chain or not, but they were one of my favorite stores to look for books when we lived in the San Francisco area.

    Good luck,

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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