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Tuning the Plane


Tuning the plane

Now, I had the plane complete - but it wouldn't work worth squat. The iron wouldn't stay in place like it should, and as a result I couldn't get it to work decently at all.  My rushing at the last minute, combined with the euphoria created from winning the battle of Ragnarok with the riding lawn mower had done it's damage.  It was time to do some diagnostics and some tuning.

First thing I noticed was the iron was sharpened just a bit off of perpendicular. Not enough for me to notice by eye, but put a square to it, and it was obvious. I had sharpened this iron by hand a long time ago, and the plane it came out of had enough adjustment to make up for its off-kiltered sharpening, but not this one. I had noticed I needed to keep knocking the side to get it to line up, and it would go, but I think this was loosening the grip just enough on one side of the wedge to be an issue. Then, I re-trued the shoulder the wedge fits against - turned out that one side was just a tad higher than the other - not much, but enough so the pressure the wedge would exert on the iron was just a little less on one side that the other - this is more of a problem when combined with the previous one.

Then, I added a bit more "spring" to the chipbreaker. Now I could get the plane to hold its set better, but it was still a bit difficult to get it to plane evenly. I also noticed I had made the wedge too long. It was going over the hump of the chip breaker too far and serving as a catch point for shavings - they would build up in a corner of the mouth and force the iron up after a while.

Next, I stuck the iron in the plane with its nice new sharpening, held the plane up to the light and pulled the iron back, looking to see light coming from between the iron and the bed. I noticed I had just the *slightest* crown in the center of the bed for the iron, about 1/4" - 1/2" up from the mouth. It would have been better had it been the opposite, with a slight dip in the center rather than a hump - as now it actually has to bend the iron slightly across it's width (just barely - but enough when in combination with the other factors that it wouldn't hold it's set). It would have been handy to have a bed float that was about 3/4" to 1" wide for its full length - it was the pointed bed float that got me into trouble here. That one is really better for doing the sides of the iron pocket rather than the bed itself. When I made those, I was thinking of a side escapement or molding plane, not a smoother, and then decided to do a smoother first. Typical process for me, there.  But - the bed for the iron needs to be dead flat:

Now I had the plane so it would pull shavings off easily and not go out of adjustment - but the mouth would plug up almost immediately with shavings, especially at the sides.  I puzzled over this for the longest time, and tried re-shaping the bottom of the wedge, smoothing the opening of the mouth  at the sides just a bit - nothing worked.  I almost gave up, when I decided to try a different iron assembly in the plane.  So I grabbed a #4 Bailey I have (one of my favorites),  robbed the iron and chipbreaker out of it and stuck it in this plane.  WHOOSH!  Shaving after shaving of wood flying out of the mouth, all paper thin, and no clogging!

All that time messing with trying to get this thing working right and it was mostly the iron assembly out of that cheap old Stanley Handyman that was giving me the headaches.  SHEESH, what a dummy.  Should have known better.

Anyhow -  two or three coats of boiled linseed oil and it's finished.

Final Thoughts

One thing that is wrong with this plane is the size of the mouth.  I won't start with a 3/8" opening next time - that's just too big.  When I draw in the front of the iron, that will be the front of the mouth, which would be closer to 1/4" rather than 3/8".

I'll tell you what - this has been a real learning experience, and absolutely tons of fun. What a great challenge!  I would recommend making a wooden smoother like this one to anyone interested in wooden planes. Making this quickie as a trial first has shown me a lot of what to look out for, and what to do better on the next - and tons of respect for planemakers of old.

Added 7/12/04 - Because I have been asked quite a bit about the iron assembly I used for this plane - I will add here that I would not again attempt to build a wooden plane and use an iron assembly from a Bailey style plane.  I would search out the iron from an old wooden plane first instead of that style ( with the possible exception of a Lie-Nielsen aftermarket style assembly).  I might also consider using a single iron made from 1/4" tool steel, with no chipbreaker - similar to Clark & William's approach.  
While the plane in this article does work, it would have saved me a lot of hassle had I went this route rather than try the bailey iron.  The plane built in this article was done as a prototype - to see what was involved, so in that regards, it was successful - but as a user...  it could be better, as the curved portion of the chipbreaker does not lend itself to easy adjustment in this style of plane.
I've finished another smoothing plane that, if you've read this all the way to the end, might interest you...  You can find documentation on it here.

I hope you've found this interesting, and of some worth.  Thanks for reading!