Sunday, August 24, 2014

That is sooooo Two Centuries Ago...

The past couple years I’ve been picking up wooden planes and other period appropriate tools for my 1790s historic interpretation. As I continue to steal away a few minutes here and there to work on my traditional tool chest, I am also making good headway on the tool acquisitions. My most recent procurement was a wooden bodied coffin smoothing plane. I had always used my metal bodied #4 before for this final surface work but that was not quite authentic enough for the reenacting events. (No… I’m not a stitch counter.)

Until recently I hadn’t picked up a wooden smoothing plane because I wasn’t finding any that were suitable for good use. I recently got over that hurdle and just bought one that needed work. Besides the usual grime and dust, there were three main issues I needed to deal with: 1. The cutting iron was basically used up 2. The iron cap was warped 3. The mouth was too wide. The only reason I confidently picked this one up was because there was a James Cam iron in the miscellaneous plane iron box. It was about a ¼” too wide but nothing a grinder couldn’t address.

Note the gap on the cap iron

Back at the studio, I ground the replacement iron slightly narrower to fit and sharpened the cutting edge. For the cap iron: I toyed with the idea of heating and bending the warpage out of it but I eventually just decided to apply some JB Weld at the top to offset the gapping. After it was cured, I screwed the iron and cap together and it worked beautifully. Now the front edge is leveraged nice and flush to the “back” of the iron. Stupid easy fix.

JB Weld

Goober it on and let it cure

The last issue I dealt with was the mouth. I decided to patch it in the manner of the 18th and 19th century repairs. When their plane soles wore down considerably, the mouth concurrently widened. For most planes this is basically inconsequential but for a smoothing plane it’s pretty important to keep it tight.

Establishing the line

A patch was cut of quartersawn white oak because I didn’t have beech on hand. The hardness and shrinkage properties are very close to that of European Beech so I think we’ll be okay. After the patch was cut, the grave was scribed onto the plane sole. The line was then deepened by chopping and slicing the waste away to establish a nice notch for the walls of the patch’s grave.

Trimming the walls

Ready for glue

Then I pulled out a power tool. Yes, you read that right. You thought I didn’t ever use such a thing but I do on occasion find certain electrically powered tools very useful. (Like my bandsaw or drill press!) My small laminate router is great for excavating the majority of material for flat bottom graves for patches. After the waste was removed the walls were shaved and chopped with a chisel. The patch was then adjusted for fit and was glued into place. After leveling it the next day, I adjusted the mouth ever so slightly to even it out across the cutting edge.

Glued up

Ready for trimming

All flush now

Gossamer shavings

This is what you're after

I love this little guy. It works so beautifully. Nice translucent shavings. (Everybody likes to call them “gossamer”.) I am really starting to get the hang of using and adjusting wooden planes and even enjoy using them much more than metal bodied planes... I’m a convert. I find myself reaching for them more and more. If you haven’t tried them out, you really should. Lighter, smoother, and sooooo two centuries ago. Exactly what I was looking for.


  1. Nice job, and a nice plane.

    Just a quick tip:

    The cap is made of simple low carbon steel, so there is no need to heat it. Just clamp one side in a vise and use a crescent wrench or something similar on the other side to give it a twist. That's quicker and looks better then JB Weld.