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There it is...

A final shot of the completed floats, ready for handles:

One showing where in a plane the float is to be used, mounted to a temporary handle:

One thing I would do differently is how to mount the handle, opting for a handle more like the floats pictured at the beginning of this odyssey rather than using a tang version.  I might yet make another set in that fashion.  I might also try 1/8" thickness steel, and  only use either 3/4" or 1" wide material rather than cut it out of 1-1/2".

Hardening the Steel

I have read from planemakers' texts in several instances that hardening of the steel isn't really necessary, and after making these, I would agree, at least at this stage.  I am going to see how these perform without hardening before I pursue that avenue.  If and when I do go down that road, here is what I would do, based on discussions with some fellow woodworkers who have metalworking experience.

Using a charcoal grill, a hair dryer, and a MAPP gas torch for an additional heat source, heat the steel up in a bed of hot charcoal to cherry red (or the point at which the steel is no longer magnetic if you are unsure of the color you are working to).  The charcoal helps to evenly heat the steel, and the hair dryer is needed for use as a "bellows" on the charcoal to raise the heat of the fire to a suitable temperature for hardening.  When the steel is hot enough, its dipped into a quenching oil to cool it quickly (this is what hardens the steel).  A can of peanut oil, or used motor oil will suffice for use as a quenching oil.  Lightly swish the tool in the oil until cooled.

The steel should be hard to the point of being too brittle now.  To soften (anneal) it somewhat, after it has fully cooled, place the tool in an oven at 350 - 400 degrees for about an hour.  This should soften the steel to where its useable again, about RC 50 - 55 or so, if all the above has been done properly.  My concerns with heat treating the steel at this point would be warping (I'm not too concerned with it, but it's a thought) and more importantly if the teeth I just spent so long filing would survive intact.  At the least I would expect a touch up would be required, and that would be a bit more difficult once the steel has been hardened.

Please keep in mind that I actually haven't done any of this hardening process to these tools, so the above advice is not tested, at least not by me.  I may give it a shot later this spring to see what happens.  I did happen across this site that goes through much the same processes, only he is making a plane iron out of a leaf spring, but he does makes use of the same basic process, and presents an intriguing source for plane irons.

Final Thoughts

I still have two blanks for skewed floats - I'll be getting back to those at a later date, when I have a better idea of what angles I'll need.  I'm going to try my hand at using these two first.  So far, they seem to work quite well.  I'll need more experience with them before I can give a more qualified answer than that.  I can see where these tools would be of use in other woodworking applications, especially in truing up through mortises.  I may also want some thinner versions of these for smaller planes, but I think the need for them will drive that decision.

Some have suggested to me using certain kinds of files as plane floats.  The only kind of files I might consider are aluminum files or Simonds "Vixen" files, which are used in the auto body trade for filing aluminum or fiberglass and are available in several different profiles.  I'm not sure how successful using these files would be, but it may be a thought to consider, especially if you need to deviate from the standard flat style.  They seem a bit fine for my tastes, though.

Another option was brought up by english plane maker Bill Carter, in an interview he comments:
Do you use floats or anything else for the beds?


Bill Carter.
I've got floats but I never use them. I mainly use a modified chisel.


On truing beds:

Although I don't use floats, I have a wonderful tip that i've never,ever seen mentioned in any book or magazine. Get a normal woodworking chisel - any width - and heat it up to cherry red, then quench it. The chisel then becomes exceptionally hard and it will even cut steel. If you then grind the end of it to make it ninety degrees it will scrape timber like nothing else. It won't dig in, but it will remove high spots like they weren't even there - it's fantastic.It's much easier to use than both a chisel or a float, and even though I have several floats I don't use them because I find these modified scraping chisels so useful.

It's an interesting thought, to say the least - and definitely worth giving it a try.

All in all, this has been a satisfying little project.  I spent about 5-6 hours time on it at a leisurely pace (and I do mean LEISURELY!).  I probably could cut that time easily in half if I pushed it, but where's the fun in that?  In any case, it raises my respect yet a bit more for the original craftsmen who made these over a century ago in their own workshops.

UPDATE:  some final Final thoughts:

I had a chance to use these in a plane I made recently:

It's not the molding plane I was going to do first, but a smoother, as you can see - used some hard maple and walnut scraps, and an iron and chipbreaker from an old Stanley Handyman plane.  I built this plane just for experimentation and experience, and I had great fun doing it, and learned tons.  Everyone interested in old planes should build one, along with the floats.  It has given me a greater appreciation for planemakers of old.

And I can tell you that the floats work great!  But, there are a few things that I should address here.  First off, I can see I'll be making a bed float that is 3/4" - 1" wide for it's entire length - and with no tangs and from 1/8" steel, and maybe a second from 3/16" steel.  The pointed float worked well in the side of the wedge pocket, but got me into trouble on the bed for the iron, where it ended up having just a bit of a hump in it that gave me headaches before I figured out what I had done wrong.  The plane now work excellently, I might say, after some extensive troubleshooting. 

 The comment made by Bill Carter above still intrigues me, and I might yet do one of those.  

Hardening won't be necessary for these floats, as I had thought it wouldn't be.  I haven't given up on the idea, though. It's easy to see that these will need sharpening after a 8-10 planes or so.  If I harden them, they probably never would need sharpening past the first time its done..

Thanks for reading!




I have read your thesis on float making with great interest, I am thinking very seriously about making couple.  I have a couple of questions if you  have the time.

1.  Did you ever do the heat treating process, if so was it worth it in retaining the sharpness of the teeth?

2.  Do you think it would be possible to Dremel a Heller "Vixen" style file in to two halves and make floats out them?  I have no metal working experience so I am just guessing here!!!  The only "job" in that regard would be cutting a tang on one of the halves I would think,

I would appreciate your thoughts if you have the time.


Larry Feasel


I never did harden the steel fo rthe floats.  I've been using them for several years now (and they still work great!), and I've only needed to touch them up occasionally with a file...  Granted, I haven't made large numbers of planes, either.. 

I think vixen files would work well, so long as they are the flat variety (any curve to the surface would render them useless for planemaking).  I think you might be cutting for a while with a dremel, though - they are hardened if I remember, so would be difficult to cut.  There might be other ways you could attach a handle to them, perhaps you could investigate before cutting one...

When I made these floats, there were none that were immediately commercially available - which is why I made these.  Clark and Williams did sell a few, but they were expensive and required a healthy wait before (and if) you could get them.  Since then, Clark and Williams have teamed up with Lie-Nielsen - and I believe that the wide faced floats they sell are a real deal and are what I recommend for most people now.  With some caveats...

The cost of buying steel in small quantities is getting more prohibitive.  The last piece of o1 tool steel I got was 3/16" x 2" x 18" and was around $22 plus shipping which would give you 4 floats (or 2 floats and one plane blade).  Add in the cost of the ferrules/rivets, files and hacksaw blades for shaping, and your cost per float is probably roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of one of theirs.

But I think more importantly is the difficulty in filing the large faces flatly across the full width of the wide floats.  It's not an easy task, and one I think best left up to a machine, though I'm not one to discourage anyone's initiative on making your own.  Especially for the narrow faced edge floats - I think I'd still make my own - and leave them unhardened. 



Thank you for the quick reply.

I was afraid that is what you were going to say about cutting a file with a Dremel!!!  I think I will try a small cut when I get home.  I like a challange,  something about "where angels fear to tread".  Anywa, I will let you know for your own information if I do it.