10 Tips For Using a Hand Plane:
Take a tip from the Editor on the uses of a hand plane
The venerable hand plane is an essential piece of kit, but like any hand tool, it needs care and maintenance. There is lore and legend surrounding these tools that goes back centuries, but simple common sense advice is all you need to get a decent working result. Planes are prone to blunting, rusting, general abuse and often get left in the toolbox when they give disappointing results. So, here are some dos and don’ts:
1. DIY shops now only seem to stock very cheap and nasty plane models. Go to a proper toolshop or buy online. A plane should have a cast iron body not pressed steel or aluminium if it’s going to be any good at all; wooden handles are more pleasant to hold than plastic. Some work is needed first. Your new plane may not be ready to go ‘out of the box’.
2. The blade is the critical item, very old or vintage planes normally have carbon steel blades which give a very good sharp edge. More modern planes tend to have steel of an unknown quality unless they’re very expensive models. You can buy superior replacement blades though if you want better steel.
3. Learn how to sharpen your plane blade, once sharp it will cut decent shavings. The simplest, more reliable, method is using a modern diamond plate and lapping fluid. ‘Flat’ the last section of the blade back until it is level right to the edge.
4. Now use a simple honing guide with the correct cutter projection, which marked on the side. Then run the blade back and forth until the edge is completely honed to the edge meeting the back of the blade.
5. Run the edge over a block of MDF strip and grain upwards using some metal polish. This will remove the ‘wire’ edge created by sharpening and polishing the edge. Your blade is now ready to use.
6. Place the cap iron on top so the leading edge is just behind the blade edge and tighten the cheesehead screw. Place this assembly back on to the frog – the cast mount, which it came off before sharpening. Make sure the projecting peg that moves the blade assembly is poking through the small hole in the blade. Fit the lever cap and snap or screw it down.
7. Sight along the base to check cutter projection. It should barely show and have an even edge just visible. If necessary use the big thumbwheel behind the frog assembly to withdraw the blade then turn the other way until it’s just visible. You can tilt the blade by pushing the lever at the rear; this allows you to get an even cutter projection showing.
8. Let’s assume your workpiece only needs the edge flatting rather than squaring an entire piece of wood. Hold it firmly in a vice or portable workstation jaws. Your working stance is important. Don’t hunch over the work and stand legs placed far enough apart ‘inline’, i.e. one behind the other. Start at the beginning of the cut with pressure on the front knob.
9. Swap pressure to the rear handle or ‘tote’ as you push forward. In this way you can avoid excess cut
at either end resulting in a curved edge. The first strokes may not take much wood away, but be patient and do several strokes as the blade cuts more continuously from end to end. Check the result by sighting along
the edge or use a steel rule.
10. The next thing is learning to plane level so the edge is perpendicular to the adjacent ‘good’ face. Use a try square at several points along its length and plane again tilting the plane slightly to correct the cut so it is perpendicular. Planing in both length and width takes practice, don’t be disheartened and don’t do it to
your prize project until you are confident in the result.