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So…what is it that makes a good handplane? I thought I would touch on it a bit – keep in mind though as you are reading this that I am definitely no expert. I’ve done quite a bit of reading and have some experience getting some very nice cuts on highly figured maple and going across the grain, but that’s about it. Anyways, though, this will be helpful to you if you haven’t heard this stuff before.
A poorly made plane is hardly ever the problem – you don’t need a $250 Veritas plan to get nice, smooth cuts. It’s usually the set up. And to prove it, the one below cuts shavings almost as nicely as a Primus Reform smooth plane. I recommend building your own planes as the best way to learn about what makes a good plane function – google the krenov sandwich method in order to learn how to make a plane like this one.
I have a better one in progress, but this is here for now as my latest project – a plane made from scraps. Scrap apple and cherry body, an old spokeshave blade from a broken Stanley spokeshave, and…could it be? Yep, a nail as the cross pin. Now that’s pretty boondocks. However, with a 57 degree blade angle, it cuts like a dream (except the nail bends and the blade loosens often; I’ll replace it with a steel rod soon though). Next project: A cherry wood plane with cocobolo sole, and a proper pin (not a nail!). Let the shavings below give you an idea of what a smooth plane made of scrap wood and nails is capable of when properly set up and sharpened.
#1: Sharpening Properly
Your blade needs to be sharp – and I mean sharp. If you can’t shave with your blades, you won’t get nice cuts. If you can easily pare hairs off of your arm you’re in good shape. You should literally be able to shave with you blades. There are many good resources to teach you to sharpen online – if you can, check out the guide on the Hock website (google ‘Hock Blades’ for their website). Very comprehensive. If you can’t get waterstones, by the way, you can also get 3M papers from Stewart MacDonald used for polishing metals, etc. which you can use with the sandpaper method to get your blades up to snuff.
#2: Flat Sole
The sole of your plane needs to be dead flat. Period. On metal plains, flattening is a huge pain. On wooden planes not so much. Either way though – warped soles mean poor cuts.
#3: Tight Throat
The throat does not necessarily have to be tight – but it helps. 0.5-0.8 mm is a good width for a smooth plane. A tight throat increases the risk of shavings getting jammed in the plane, but reduces tearout.
These are the big three. If you have a big problem getting nice cuts, there is a very good chance that one of these three things is not set up properly.