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Intro to Hand Planes
(For a top view, click here)
There are four types of planes in most shops, and countless specialty ones on the shelves of advanced craftsmen. Those four are block planes, smoothing planes, jack planes and jointer planes. The most defining charasteristic of each, upon a casual glance, is their length. Block planes are quite short, and the bevel on their iron/blade is up (click here for an illustration). Smoothing planes and jack planes (medium length), and jointer planes (long) are collectively known as bench planes, and the bevel on their iron is down.
Bench planes run from #2 to #7: the higher the number, the longer the tool. The old Hercules smoothing plane shown above, from Sargent & Co., is a #4: it measures 9-3/4" from toe to heel. This is perhaps the most popular bench plane size in use.
Hot on its heels in popularity is the #7 jointer plane (like the Bailey shown below). The sole is long enough to glide over a rough surface and reduce it to a uniform plane, or flatness.
|Block planes (at left) are very short, with their bevel up, and are used for a myriad small tasks around the shop, including planing end grain, chamfering an edge, tweaking a joint or even adding a roundover to an edge. I keep the one on the right in the pocket of my shop apron, just because I reach for it so often. It's a very inexpensive model, so I'm not too worried if it suffers an accident. The other is an antique plane given to me by a good friend, Graham Kimble. It will never be used again.|
Tune Your Hand Planes
Tuning a plane essentially means making the sole (bottom) of it flat - which is called lapping it - and then sharpening and setting the blade. Setting involves adjusting the cap iron, frog and cutting depth.
Let's begin with lapping the sole.
Use a small piece of sandpaper to put a few very light scratches across the sole of your plane (in the short direction). They need to be just deep enough to be visible. You could also use a permanent marker. Then turn the plane over, apply a few drops of water, and slide the plane forward and back along the lapping plate. Don't remove the blade and cap iron: retard the blade so it doesn't protrude, but leave it in the plane to maintain normal tension or the sole won't ever be flat. Work your way from 80 grit to 220 grit. When the scratches are no longer visible, the sole should be perfectly flat.
Sharpen the blade next.
Set a honing guide to replicate the existing bevel angle, which will be in the neighborhood of 25 degrees. If you hold the work up before a light, you can see when the angle has been met. I strongly recommend investing in a guide, if you haven't already. They are relatively inexpensive, and trying to hone a bevel freehand is asking for disaster. Move the blade (and the guide) back and forth across the stones - coarse to fine - until the angle is fully polished, square to the sides of the blade, and you can feel a slight burr of the previously flattened back side of the blade. Release the blade from the guide, turn it over, and remove the burr before moving to the next finest stone you own. After you're finished with the finest stone, you can decide whether to grind a secondary bevel on your blade. You might want to try it as it is, then remove it from the plane and hone a secondary bevel, and try it again. To create the secondary bevel, adjust your guide up two degrees and go through the whole process again. This time, things will happen a lot quicker as you're only removing a very small amount of metal. The secondary bevel should only be about 1/16" deep.
Set the cap iron
The first time you use a plane, the odds are pretty slim that you will have a poetic experience - one where the shavings magically ribbon out of the tool in perfect form. The more you work at it, keeping the basics in mind and your tool in great shape, the more it will begin to sing for you. After a while, your electric sanders will begin to gather dust as you reach more and more for a hand plane to tame wild boards. This is the very essence of woodworking.