Adventures in Hand Plane Tuning: Part 2

At the end of my last post about tuning my seven hand planes, I was ready for step 3: Lapping the Soles, which became an adventure in itself.

Granite Plate Gap

You can see light between the straight edge above and the lapping plate below.

Granite Lapping Plate

There are several methods out there for accomplishing this task, and I decided on using sand paper affixed to a flat lapping plate.  My first lapping plate was a piece of granite counter top 6″ wide and 24″ long.  Before I started however, I placed a straight edge along the length of the stone and realized it was slightly concave.  The widest part of the gap measured .003mm, so I’m not talking about something huge.  How much of a difference could a gap that small really make?  I attached an 80 grit sanding belt to the granite with spray adhesive, and I was ready.

I focused first on the Stanley #4 because it had the most amount of concave and the deepest machine marks along the sole.  I took a strong stance: feet shoulder width apart, hands placed on the tote and knob with even downward pressure, and kept my body out of it as much as possible, moving the plane back and forth across the sandpaper using my arms. After hours holding my hands and arms in a certain way while moving them back and forth (in rhythm with the songs on the radio) I felt like these guys:

Stanley #4 Plane Sole 2

The #4 plane sole after quite a bit of work. You can still see some machine marks (the dull grey).

Anyway, I noticed I wasn’t making much progress after a few hours of work.  The amount of material I needed to remove to flatten out the concave made me realize I should move down to a 50 grit sanding belt.  Once I changed that I was making real progress, checking it from time to time with a straight edge and a machinist’s square.  Then I noticed something else: the heel and toe were starting to curve upward.  The sole of the plane was conforming to the .003mm concave surface of my granite lapping plate.  Oh, bother.  I got on the phone and ordered a piece of 1/4″ glass 6″ x 24″.

Lapping Rig

Lapping Rig: Glass Plate, Sanding Belt, Non-Slip Shelf liner, Straight Edge, and Machinists Square.

My new glass lapping rig worked well.  The slight upward curves on the heel and toe corrected themselves.  Also, the glass plate helped me become more aware of the pressure I placed on the plane.  I watched how the shavings were left on the belt and could tell if I was leaning too much to one side or the other.  Vacuuming the belt kept it from clogging and changing the belt occasionally kept progress moving forward.

Plane Sole 3

Finally, a flat #4 plane sole.

I finally worked the Stanley #4 sole flat and it’s ready for polishing.  By the time I worked six of them to acceptable levels, I probably spent somewhere over 10 hours. One of the biggest lessons I learned from this process is that lapping can take quite a bit of time, so be patient.

Interestingly, the planes that needed the most lapping on the soles were the new ones: Stanley #4, #12-920, #12-960.  That says something about current manufacturing standards, but at the same time, I wasn’t willing to spent money to get higher quality tools.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sorry about the work I’ve put into these planes.  I know that when I’m finished they will work just fine for my current ability level.  In addition, it’s a rite of passage for a woodworker to go through.  I’m paying my dues.

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Coffee Cabinet

This gallery contains 4 photos.

The TV tray just wasn’t cutting it as a place to display the new Keurig coffee maker in her hair salon.  My stylist needed a free-standing cabinet built specifically for the trendy beverage dispenser.  She asked me if I could manage the job, and … Continue reading

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Adventures in Handplane Tuning – Part 1

Plane Frogs

Frog Bottoms from Four of My Hand Planes. From Left to Right: Stanley #7, Stanley #5, Craftsman 107-37034, Stanley #4.

I have 7 planes that need tuning:

Stanley #5 jack plane, Craftsman 107-37034 smoother (looks a lot like a Stanley #4),  Stanley #110 block plane – these three came from my Grandpa.  They stayed in his garage after he passed away and I claimed them after a small fire had burned out part of the building.  They are in solid shape, but need rust removed (caused by the fire hoses).

Stanley #4, Stanley #12-920, Stanley #12-960 – I bought these new about four years ago.  They definitely need the bottoms lapped.

Stanley #7 – I bought this one at an antique mall.  It’s old and used, but the body and iron are in good shape and the price was right.  Mostly it needs cleaned up from oily shavings (no idea why the shavings are oily) and some rust.

These 7 planes represent a good collection of useful tools that cover just about all of the thicknessing, jointing, and end grain trimming I could ever want to do.

Why have I been putting off tuning them?

In short, I was afraid of screwing them up.  To make it worse, I read so many articles and books demonstrating different methods. For example, processes for lapping the bottoms ranged from working them down with a machinist’s scraper to removing high spots with a file to running them back and forth across sanding belts mounted to a flat surface.  All of these choices bogged me down to inaction.

How did I get over it?

I realized that any “damage” I did could most likely be undone with another tuning.  Also, I was sick of working on projects where I wanted to use a hand plane and couldn’t.   

I decided on a method: 

  1. Complete any rust cleanup leftover from my earlier efforts.
  2. Seat the frogs on their contact points using valve grinding compound.
  3. Lap the soles on sandpaper starting with 80 grit working toward 320 grit.
  4. Complete any filing needed to smooth out the soles.
  5. Lap the lever caps if needed and cap irons if needed.
  6. Lap and sharpen the irons.

The cleanup couldn’t have gone any better.  I used Evapo-Rust, which takes all of the effort out of rust removal.  You may have to leave parts overnight in the solution, but it’s gone the next day.

Next, I worked on seating the frogs to their contact points in the plane bodies. 

I started with the new Stanley #4.  Here’s something I never read in the articles:  There might be deep machine marks on the underside of the frog.  The #4 had deep machine marks.  There was no way, short of spending 100 years or so, that valve grinding compound was going to smooth all of that out. (See Picture Above)

My first executive decision about the tuning process: Focus on smoothing out the two frog contact points next to the planes’ mouths. Once I completed the grinding, I could tell all four contact points had changed by the different shade of gray showing on the bare metal. 

Of course, the machine marks in the #4’s frog weren’t flat, but I could see where the grinding compound had worked across the lines.  After I complete the rest of the tune up, I’ll use the Stanley #4 several times to determine if the machine marks are causing any chatter or other problems.  If so, I’ll find a way to smooth them out later.  However, I suspect is isn’t going to make much difference.  I’ll only know for sure after I put the tool to some wood.

Next step – Lapping the soles. 

To Be Continued.

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Harebrained Woodworking

Taking lumber samples from old building

Welcome to Harebrained Woodworking. 

Why did I decide to start a blog called Harebrained Woodworking?

I am a woodworking enthusiast who is doing his best to learn skills and build with quality.  I also fancy myself a bit of a writer even though my list of published pieces amounts to three items.  In March 2001, I had the privilege of attending a woodworking class taught by Christopher Schwarz, editor of Popular Woodworking magazine.  During one of our breaks, I asked him what would be the best way for a person to start writing for the woodworking magazine market.  His reply, which surprised me, was to start a blog.

So, here I am working to combine two things I spend a lot of time thinking about: Writing and Woodworking.  To that end, this blog is dedicated to my journey through the craft of woodworking.  I’ll share what projects I’m working on, what I’m learning, what mistakes I’ve made and other related woodworking topics that interest me.  I’m also hoping that any potential readers of this material will help drive the content, so please comment about your reactions to my posts.

Why Harebrained Woodworking? 

Three reasons:

1) Because I’m often accused of being harebrained in general. 

2) The woodworking ideas I come up with are sometimes just out of my range of skill and I wonder why I got the harebrained idea to try it.

3) Other ideas are harebrained whimsy I put together that don’t make sense to anyone else until they’re complete. 

Now, a little about my history as a woodworker.

I started woodworking when I was in fourth or fifth grade.  I would come to my Grandpa with an idea and he would help me find a way to make it.  For the most part I learned with hand tools.  I can’t say I really developed any skill, but I plugged away with hand saws, hand drills, hammers and screwdrivers making toys (mostly guns, swords, cars, and airplanes)out of scrap wood.

I took woodworking classes in high school and built the first rocking horse ever at my school.  I spent time designing boxes with secret locking mechanisms while pestering my instructor about what would work and what wouldn’t.  My imagination was definitely fueled by the possibilities of what could be made out of wood; however, I didn’t have the patience then to actually build any of the boxes I designed, and the drawings have since been lost.

Over time, I unintentionally put my woodworking on hold.  I didn’t really have any access to tools or machines.  I was busy going to school and working, and it was easy to make excuses for not spending time building anything. I always intended to come back to woodworking and over the years I did manage to build a shelf here and a box there.

After about 15 years of not building much I took a job (that I intended only to work for one summer) in a cabinet shop making raised panel cabinet doors.  On my first day the smell of sawdust hit me, awoke my latent interest, and an urgency to re-aquire my skills took over.  My employers were amazed at how fast I caught on, and I quickly was able to work without much supervision.  I spent almost two years there before moving on, snagging as much scrap wood as I could and building lots of small objects after hours and in my spare time.

I feel I’ve come full circle now.  Woodworking is a permanent part of my life and like I said above, I do my best to learn skills and build with quality.

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