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Plane Tuning

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Plane Tuning

Postby Jim McConkey » Fri Apr 21, 2017 1:18 am

I mentioned in the Shooting Board discussion that my long plane wasn't quite ready for prime time, so it is time to fix it. My budget won't quite allow for one of those magnificent Lie-Nielsen shooting planes, so I have to settle for a cheap long plane from my local big box store. I don't claim to be an expert on plane truing, so I studied the various videos and blogs out there on how to do it, and dove in myself. I started off with what others recommended, and ended up discovering for myself what worked and what didn't FOR ME. Your mileage may vary.
Plane 01 - light box.jpg

Here is my long plane on my light box against a straightedge. You can easily see that it is bowed end-to-end. Feeler gauges determined the beginning gap was about 15 thousandths. It is going to get MUCH better before I am done. By the way, I use the same lightbox for candling edges being joined.
Plane 02 - supplies.jpg

Before I get started, time to collect a few supplies:
1. Sandpaper - I got Pro grade wet/dry sandpaper in 100, 220, and 400 grits, about $3 per pack of 4. I ended up using 2 sheets of the 100, and 1 sheet each of the 220 and 400, and have plenty left over for other projects.
2. Sharpie - used to mark the sole of the plane to visualize the progress. You will see what I mean below.
3. Tape to secure the sandpaper. Read on. I gave up on the tape and switched to clamps. Some seem to prefer spray glue instead, but I did not try it.
4. Simple Green cleaner - many how-to videos suggest using this as an eco-friendly way of lubricating the sandpaper. I found it more trouble than it was worth.
Plane 03 - marble.jpg

It should go without saying that I also needed a very flat surface. The previous owners of my house were kind enough to leave me an offcut of the polished marble backsplash from the kitchen. This is the flatest thing I could come up with easily. Ask at your local counter shop if they have any leftovers.
Plane 04 - grid 1.jpg

To start with, take the Sharpie and draw a grid on the bottom of the plane. Don't worry, the grid is going to go away before we are done, but this will let us easily see how the sanding is progressing.
The blade should be locked in position as normal, but retracted just shy of the sole, because the locking mechanism warps the body every so slightly and you want to level in the same configuration as the plane will eventually be used.
Plane 05 - wet sanding.jpg

Wet sanding with the Simple Green. Although others seem to like it as a lubricant, the tape doesn't like it and comes loose. I also did not care for the smell and finally gave up on it and sanded dry.
Plane 06 - ends high.jpg

After just a couple minutes of sanding, the ends of the grid start disappearing, showing how high the ends were in comparison to the middle.
Plane 07 - grid disappears.jpg

After a few more minutes, the entire grid is finally disappearing. But I later figured out that the Simple Green was also dissolving the grid.
Plane 08 - clamps new grid.jpg

The sandpaper needs to be cleaned as soon as metal dust starts accumulating, which is like every 30 seconds of sanding. I got tired of constantly washing and reattaching the sandpaper, so I started using clamps, using the paper dry, and this works much better. When the metal dust starts accumulating, I just brush it off and keep going. I should also mention that I reversed the direction of the plane after every cleaning, to help distribute any flatness errors. Most of the grid had disappeared, so it was time for a new grid.
Plane 09 - low spot.jpg

Only one low area still remaining, and it keeps shrinking...
Plane 10 - spot disappears.jpg

After about a week of a couple minutes every evening, the low spot is almost gone.
Plane 11 - last marking.jpg

I am finally getting close, so one last (hopefully) grid marking.
Plane 12 - flat at last.jpg

Flat at last! No more divots or high spots.
Plane 13 - almost reflective.jpg

It took about a week of a couple minutes per evening with two sheets of the 100 grit, but only a few minutes with each of the 220 and 400 grits, and the plane is getting almost-mirror-like.
A quick tune-up on the blade, and the plane is finally ready for use. There is plenty of information on the scary-sharp method on the internet so I will not elaborate here.
Plane 14 - straightedge.jpg

Are you as guilty of me as using the nearest ruler (which is rarely very straight) as a straightedge? If so, do it right! Hold the ruler perpendicular to the stone and sand it the same way you did the planes, and you will end up with a true straightedge.

So a little work has turned a cheap plane into a well-tuned very flat plane and am ready to shoot my next top set. I should point out that some people also sand the sliding side of their plane flat as well, but this is really unnecessary. Even if the side is not exactly perpendicular to the sole, it is a simple matter to move the tilt lever so that the blade is. I hope this inspires some of your to tune up your planes. It is not nearly as difficult as it sounds!
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Alan Carruth » Fri Apr 21, 2017 10:40 am

You don't really need to get the whole sole perfectly flat, although that's certainly nice. What really counts are the extreme nose and tail of the plane, and the area around the throat, particularly in front of the cutter.

It's often possible to get fairly large broken pieces of float glass 1/2" thick or even more from big glass places just by asking, or for a nominal sum. Not too many things are flatter than float glass.

So what pitch did you tune it to? ;)
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Bryan Bear » Fri Apr 21, 2017 12:07 pm

My first plane was an inexpensive Stanley knock off. I did some tuning on it and it ended up being a decent plane other than the fact that the iron is way too soft and needs constant sharpening. A few things I found worthwhile that you didn't mention was fitting the chip-breaker and working on the frog and bed it seats in. Mine was pretty rough ground and the mating surfaces were not very well matched. The result was that there was little actual contact between the frog and the bed and it wasn't very square either. After some work cleaning it up (still not perfect since it was a hatchet job to begin with) I get less chatter and could move the frog further forward to close the mouth. mating the chipbreaker does wonders for keeping it from getting clogge with chips every few strokes.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Beate Ritzert » Fri Apr 21, 2017 12:13 pm

Alan Carruth wrote:So what pitch did you tune it to? ;)


Let's guess: d-minor (Freude schöner Götterfunken, Beethoven, 9.th...)?
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Joshua Levin-Epstein » Fri Apr 21, 2017 12:39 pm

Alan Carruth wrote:
So what pitch did you tune it to? ;)

Let's guess: d-minor (Freude schöner Götterfunken, Beethoven, 9.th...)?

But when you're all done, doesn't it play sharp?
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Jim McConkey » Fri Apr 21, 2017 2:34 pm

What really counts are the extreme nose and tail of the plane, and the area around the throat, particularly in front of the cutter.


The nose and tail were by far the worst, as can be seen in the first picture. It was many sessions in before the throat was also flat, but at that point, it was only a few more minutes to get the whole thing flat, so there was no reason not to. The whole point is that a warped sole makes for difficult plate joining, and tuning is not nearly as difficult as it sounds. You've probably done it many times. Many here have never even tried.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Brian Evans » Fri Apr 21, 2017 2:51 pm

Excellent tutorial. I remember learning about flatness when I was starting to be a machinist. You produce a truly flat plane (used in machining for certain tasks) by starting with three plates, all as flat as you can get them. You then polish them against each other in a certain order. Each flattens the other, and by using three plates you end up with as true a surface as you have patience for...

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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Apr 21, 2017 2:53 pm

This is a good first step, but there is a lot more that can be done. Here is a good review of other issues:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzDygUaWGj0
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Beate Ritzert » Fri Apr 21, 2017 3:10 pm

Joshua Levin-Epstein wrote:Alan Carruth wrote:
So what pitch did you tune it to? ;)

Let's guess: d-minor (Freude schöner Götterfunken, Beethoven, 9.th...)?

But when you're all done, doesn't it play sharp?


It'll play Prestissimo...

BTW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHonih6r1QQ
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Jim McConkey » Fri Apr 21, 2017 5:37 pm

That's a great video, Barry, and one I hadn't seen yet. Thanks! Paul Sellers also has a great video on tuning up planes.

I just checked, and the bevel on my chip breaker is not quite right. There were some chips stuck between the blade and chip breaker. Time to do a little more grinding and get that to fit correctly.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Apr 21, 2017 6:55 pm

I once saw another written article by Tauton Press that described tuning up Stanley bench planes that concentrated on the seating of the frog on the plane body. You should make sure the contact points are flat and smooth, and that all four surfaces make good contact (i.e.; no rocking).
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Bob Francis » Fri Apr 21, 2017 10:12 pm

Great discussion.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Alan Carruth » Tue Apr 25, 2017 1:36 pm

"It'll play Prestissimo... "

Adagio con brio.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Todd Stock » Wed Apr 26, 2017 7:04 am

Fine Woodworking and Popular Woodworking magazines have lots of articles on restoring and tuning planes. Also try Woodcentral's hand Tool Forum...a fractious bunch, but good info available. Finally, consider starting with a vintage prewar Stanley, rather than a new, lower-end tool. The cost will likely be less for common Stanley like a #4 and #5, and they are far better quality than the Anants or similar. While cracked handles or missing components might get you out the door for a few dollars less, #4, #5, and #6 planes were so common that near-perfect examples can be found for less than the lowest quality Asian-sourced imports.

On the topic of Lie Nielsen planes, the differences between a tuned Stanley #5 and a LN #5 will only be apparent on very difficult timbers, while the differences between a Stanley 60-1/2 block and a LN 60-1/2 low angle adjustable mouth block plane are readily evident on any wood...if on a budget, go for the LN block and a Stanley #5 over the LN #5 and a Stanley 60-1/2.

Finally - in my experience, the vast majority of woodworkers never get their tools beyond 'moderately dull' - put the time into getting the edge sharp...don't skimp on either time or sharpening equipment. A scrap of 1/2" plate glass, some 3M '77' spray adhesive, a range of 3M Imperial wet/dry paper, and a side-clamping honing jig will allow the interested craftsman to get the same edges that expensive power hones or exotic ceramic water stones will produce.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Steve Sawyer » Fri Apr 28, 2017 5:57 pm

Jim - excellent tutorial.

However, you can do much better in selecting a plane as a starting point, and save some money in the process. Most modern planes from mass merchandisers (even Woodcraft's Wood River brand, and Stanley's new Sweetheart planes) are not manufactured using the materials and techniques once used on good planes, and you can pick up some oldies-but-goodies at flea markets, antique shops, estate sales and garage sales for $20-$30. This makes the work you go through to properly tune the plane much more worthwhile. I have some Veritas planes and one Lie-Nielsen, but I also have a good assortment of old Stanleys that are just as good, and work just as well as long as you select the right plane for the job.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Jim McConkey » Mon May 01, 2017 4:19 pm

Thanks!

I am all for buying the best tools that you can afford, but the point here is that there are many people who have less-than-ideal tools that can still benefit greatly from a tune-up. I live in the middle of nowhere, and I have never seen a decent woodworking tool at any flea market. It is all baby/kids clothes, knick-knacks, and furniture that went out of style 30 years ago. The only tools might be old barn building augers, etc. and the occasional old, rusty saw. Planes do not make an appearance. I have several good old planes I inherited from my great-grandfather, but none suitable for plate joining.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Bryan Bear » Mon May 01, 2017 5:25 pm

I'm surprised you don't come across them in your area. They must be going somewhere. It may be a blessing though. Old planes can be a bit of a trap. I needed a brass tote nut for one of my planes so I bought the worst, most unusable rust bucket I could find for $5 at the used tool store. I didn't want to rob the market of a potential user just for one part so I chose this rusted together #5 figuring I was doing the community a favor. I took the nut off to complete my usable plane then, on a whim, soaked the rusty one in evapo-rust to see if I could get any of the other parts to come off. Long story short, now I have another (albeit very ugly) usable #5 and I still need a brass tote nut <g>

I'm afraid to go back looking for another donor. . .
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Bob Gramann » Mon May 01, 2017 5:57 pm

I have obtained a number of planes from antique stores. I bypass the overpriced or those that have missing or broken parts. I used to stop at large antique stores when I passed one traveling. I had to stop. I don't need any more planes. I have a good collection of Stanleys from antique stores that I tuned up and use. The Stanley block plane with an adjustable mouth is available from Lowes new for little money and is very good when tuned. I have two Woodrivers that I bought new from Woodcraft. In spite of the hype, they required tuning, but when tuned, they are excellent performers--I am very pleased with them. They are a bit heavier than the corresponding Stanleys and have a nicer blade. To me, they feel like they glide through the wood. In demonstrating one for a friend, I went zoop across a piece of Sycamore and handed him a transparent shaving. He took it and it stuck--he could barely move it. I took it back and went zoop--another transparent shaving. I guess there's more too it than just the plane.
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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Eric Knapp » Mon May 01, 2017 5:59 pm

Bryan Bear wrote:... at the used tool store. ...

Sigh, there aren't any of those near me. And there's almost nothing in my area on craigslist. I'm just going to get some good irons and make my own. That's more fun.

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Re: Plane Tuning

Postby Barry Daniels » Mon May 01, 2017 6:32 pm

I got mine from eBay. A 4-1/2, 5 and a 6. Each for less than $50. It took me a while to find good ones though. And this was 5 to 10 years ago so prices may have gone up.
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