Planes of Truth

This is by no means a tutorial in tuning hand planes.  Especially since I am a novice in this area, but I do want to share my experience in hopes that you may learn from it.  I had done what I thought was an adequate amount of homework on hand planes.  I picked up a book from the library on hand planes and read through Patrick’s Blood and Gore website.  That website is a must visit, but they are right about reserving a few hours to get through all of the information.

After checking out a few local flea markets and antique stores, I couldn’t find the three hand planes that I thought would be a good start.  I was looking for a block plane, smoothing plane, and bench plane.  I resorted to looking on eBay.  I felt good about buying used planes on eBay without seeing them because I would be tuning them for my use.  

The first plane that I bid and won was a Stanley 60 1/2.  It had pictures of every side and looked to be in good shape.  I didn’t see any rust which I was paying close attention to.  A week later, the plane arrived.  Upon close inspection, I noticed that the back of the mouth had been severely chipped away.  This is a big problem for a hand plane.  I went back to the auction ad and looked closely at the pictures and there it was right in the picture.  The problem is that I had not seen a hand plane in person and didn’t know what I was looking for other than rust.  That plane donated itself as an electrode to remove rust from a hand saw using electrolysis.  That’s another fun experiment that I will blog on at a later time.

The second hand plane that I shopped victoriously for was a Stanley #4.  The sole and sides were rusted a little, but the mouth was in good shape after I asked the seller  to send me some close up photos “of the sole.”  The seller was more than happy to do so.  The handles looked to be in good shape and the japanning seemed to be mostly intact.  I was content with the condition of the plane when I received it.  I purchased two 4″X3ft sections of marble from the tile dept. at home depot and one 4″ wide belt sander sand paper in 80 grit.  I cut the sanding paper and attached it to the marble using spray adhesive.  This part is labor tensive to say the least.  The sanding paper did a good job of removing the rust, but I needed a second sheet to get the bottom and sides completely clean.  I followed this up with 120 grit and then 220 grit to get that lovely mirror finish.  The rest of the plane didn’t need much  in the way of cleaning.  I did use a small file on the machined parts on the parts that touch in between the body and frog.  Yes, I did say frog and if you don’t know what I am talking about, then why are you reading this?  I sharpened the blade and reassembled the plane.  It has been a workhorse, but I still need to practice some more on sharpening plane irons.

The third plane that I bid on was a Stanley #7.  After all of the lapping that I did with the #4, I looked for a fairly clean plane since the 7 is long and heavy.  I found one that looked like it had been taken care and I paid the “market” price.  This plane arrived with a pretty sharp blade and the condition overall was good.  I actually used this plane without tuning it in my saw bench build.  I spent a lot of time doing little adjustments to it and it seemed like I was always having to adjust something.  After the saw bench was complete, I disassembled it and realized that it did need some work.  The sole was in much need of a lapping and the frog needed some work on the machined surfaces to true everything up so the iron and chipbreaker would fit right in the body.  There isn’t much that I can say for lapping the sole of a #7 besides packing a lunch, dinner, and sleeping bag.  I read somewhere that the toe, front of the mouth, rear of the mouth, and heel are the only areas on this plane that need to be lapped to the same level.  What they failed to tell me was that you have to get through the parts in between to get those level.  To lap the sole, I used 3 belt sander sanding belts in 80 grit and only went to 120 grit because my arms were almost useless at that point.  The frog needed a lot of attention on the machined surfaces and controls.  A small file and steel wool made this part of the job quick and easy.

I did eventually buy another plane because I am now a shopaholic.  I bought a Stanley #6 fore plane.  Patrick’s Blood and Gore has nothing good to say about this plane, but it is probably my favorite plane so far.  This plane was well photographed and looked similar in condition to the #4 that I had bought.  I cleaned this plane up in one afternoon.  A fore plane is made to remove a lot of material without paying much attention to flattening it.  Let’s say that you bought a piece of 2″(8/4) thick lumber and you need to get to a thickness of 1 1/2″(6/4).  You would first use the fore plane to get done roughly close to the thickness.  Or you could pay $440 for a nice lunchbox thickness planer that would make light work of it.  More on that later.  Then you would use a jointer plane (#7 or #8) to smooth the side that you were working on.  Because I wasn’t worried about smoothing things out with the fore plane, I just had to make sure that the sole was somewhat true.  I did a little lapping and the toe and heel were true.  The fun part of tuning this plane is sharpening the iron.  The iron on this hand plane is shaped with a curve on the cutting end.  I used a 9″ radius and ground the iron to shape and sharpened it with water stones.  It took a lot of work to sharpen this iron because of its shape, but I enjoyed it.  I guess I am really getting into this.  I enjoy using this plane the most and it makes short work of getting stock down to the desired thickness.

I hope that by reading my experiences, you will be aware of what is involved in tuning a hand plane and being aware of what to looking for if you are buying a hand plane online.  Pictures are worth a thousand words.  I would say that each plane except the #6 took about 4 hours to tune.  I hope this helps those fellow novice woodworkers who are researching and shopping for tools online like I am.  Good luck!

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