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A pair of planemaker's floats

I've always loved wood molding planes. Ever since I was a kid, I saw these things and immediately thought "those must be owned by somebody who is a real craftsman". Well, now I'm older and own a few planes myself (so much for the 'real craftsman' part of that fantasy) I've wanted to get a set of woodies together. I've had some luck in finding some hollows and rounds, but often these things are in poor shape. Living in Idaho, one doesn't find these too often at any local flea market, and besides, a complete set in good shape isn't cheap when you do find them - and I am a very cheap guy. What if fill in the missing planes from my set by building them myself? That's cheaper, right? Riiight...


Note - Lie Nielsen now sells both planemakers' and joiners' floats - if you are going to be making a number of planes for yourself the price is quite reasonable...  (woo-hoo!)

Plane Makers' floats

Joiners' floats

 The first floats you should get for planemaking, IMO, is the side float followed by the bed float.  at the time I wrote what's in this article, floats were difficult to find, if you could find them at all... filing teeth in the face of a bed or side float by hand is not an easy task, so for the $40-$50 LN charges for one it is well worth it. An edge float is easier to file, and can be made out of just about any flat steel stock that's 1/8" - 3/16" thick with a file, if you have it laying around... But really, the LN prices are quite reasonable for these things if you are going to be making a number of planes for yourself when you consider both cost of materials and time it takes to make your own floats. Krenov style planes are usually laminated though - so floats aren't as necessary for that style of plane...    However, if you want to make your own simply for the experience, or to save some money, I won't discourage you - read on!


In any case, I've decided to try building my own planes over the next year or two. I have to collect the wood I want to use (beech). First though, my investigations of plane making shows the need for a couple of specialized tools used for truing the bed in the plane, called floats. Planes can be made with pretty standard woodworking tools, save a pair of these floats. Even then, you could get by just using standard files, or even sandpaper on a stick - but all points to lead to these floats making life much easier if you are making more than one plane.

Thing is, they're harder to come by than a set of planes in good shape. Clark and Williams, wooden planemakers extraordinaire, have been known to make them, but the cost for them would be more than I want to spend on this hobby.  They sure are pretty though:

Floats made by plane-makers Clark and Williams - see for more info.
With the help of a few fellow wood workers, Todd Herrli's excellent video on making planes, and John Whelan's book "Making Traditional Wood Planes", I figured I could make these myself too.

I really need to have somebody stop and knock some sense into  me occasionally.  Alrighty then, before you go on to the next pages - I am not, nor ever will be, a machinist - some have called me a woodworker, I prefer the term Tree Killer or simply A Wood Butcher.  If you are a machinist, some of the following pages may horrify you.  This may be intended. 


First, I ordered an 1-1/2" x 18" x 3/16" thick piece of oil hardening tools steel (O1) from MSC (item #06112155) for about $12.41 plus shipping. I chose 3/16" because it will fit into the 1/4" mortise used in planes, 1-1/2" to make sure it was wide enough, and 18" because, well, it's the shortest they sell.  With 18" I figured I could get 4 different floats with little waste, but if I was doing it again, I'd just get 1" and not worry about the waste. I also bought some 1/8" O1 steel for the blades I'll eventually make at the same time (MSC item #06108153) to make shipping a bit more affordable.  I'm sure there's a local supplier I could find, too - but along with being cheap I'm lazy too.


Here's the layout for the four I chose on two 9" pieces of 1-1/2" steel:

There's a space between the two float blanks in each layout above to allow for the inevitable wandering of the blade while cutting.  Don't kid yourself, you'll need it if you're cutting these out by hand.

The top of the four shown is the side float - hence the different angle on the tang.  The next is the end float, and the bottom two will be skewed such as made by this gentleman on his web site, for making (what other than) skewed blade planes.  With these, I like the handle to be parallel to the cutting edge, so the angle used for the tang reflects it.  I used the factory edge for the teeth, so I wouldn't have to fret about getting the steel perfectly straight as much.  You'll see more on that later, too.

The angle of the blades as shown is 12 degrees.  I would have used less, now, as my Sandusky planes have a shallower angle than this (more like 8 degrees), but more on that later.  Also, I am using a 1-1/2" tang design, where you might prefer a bolt thru style such as Clark and Williams use. I used the tang design because I wouldn't have enough steel for the 4 floats if I used the other design.  More of my cheap self showing through.