Setting Up and Sharpening a Plane

Setting up

If your plane has plastic handles, you might be able to feel a seam down the middle where the two halves of the handle are joined. If left, these seams will become uncomfortable and might cause blistering. Use a file or a card scraper to remove these, the texture will feel different and will appear less glossy, however you can apply a few coats of shellac if you want the glossiness to return. You can use sandpaper all over the handle if you do not like the feel of the glossy plastic.

Check that the sole is flat by holding it up to the light with a straight edge against it, if you can see the light coming through then it means it is not flat. With the sole face down, rub it back and forth on the coarse diamond sharpening plate. Turn the plane over and see which part has been abraded away. Check the sole surface again using the light and the straightedge.

If the edge corners of the sole are sharp, use a file to ease the corners along the length. Change the angle slightly on the second and third strokes either side of the bevel to develop a more rounded corner. Repeat this step to round any sharp corners until you are satisfied with the smoothness. Having a softer edge will minimise the damage if the corners of the plane comes into contact with your project.

Remove the lever cap. If the lever feels stiff, use light machine oil to lubricate the mechanism. Continuously move the lever back and forth to ensure that the oil is worked into the moving parts.

Sometimes the fore-edge of the cap iron needs additional flattening after manufacture. Separate the cap iron from the blade and spray your diamond plates with glass cleaner to float off the waste from the abrading. Place the cap iron on the sharpening plate with the hump as near to the edge as possible, this allows you to develop the under edge at an acceptable angle. If the full length of the cap iron was on the sharpening plate, it would be sharpening at the wrong angle. Rub back and forth to flatten the under edge as shown, you want to make sure cap iron mates to the blade without any gap at all.

Put this back on the blade by crossing them over and swivelling them together. This is for safety as it means the actual cutting edge is never facing towards your opposing hand.

Cap Iron Assembly Gallery:

  • P1022524
  • P1022528
  • P1022530
  • P1022536
  • P1022538

Once you have removed the cap iron and the cutting blade assembly, you will be able to see the inside face of the frog. You can adjust the position of the frog in relation to the sole using the adjustment screw at the back of the frog, this will move the frog back or forward which adjusts the mouth opening.

In order to adjust the frog, the two setscrews in the frog will need to be loosened to finger tight. You can then use a screwdriver to adjust the adjustment screw which will move the frog forwards or backwards, be sure to tighten up the two setscrews when you are happy with the position. You only need to adjust the frog very occasionally, for instance when you have difficult grain. You can get a cleaner cut when the frog is further forward, however this closes up the throat which disallows heavy cuts and thick shavings. For general use you want the ability to change the plane set to include thicker shavings without the throat clogging. The blade lies on the bed (angled rake) of the frog. Adjust the frog until the underside of the blade, the bevelled side, sits in line with the back edge of the mouth opening. You can check this alignment using a straightedge like a steel rule or the edge of a square. When you are happy the angle is lined up, tighten the setscrews fully.

Once you have lined up the cap iron assembly onto the frog, place the lever cap on top and make sure the thumb lever has some resistance. If it is easy to press back, you will need to adjust the cutting iron assembly screw until the lever requires slight force to push back (it should “clunk” into place), turn the screw clockwise to tighten and anticlockwise to loosen.

Once you have set up your plane, it is ready to sharpen.

To see the parts of the plane see the parts section on the plane tool guide.

Sharpening

You can tell when the blade needs sharpening by looking out for one of these indicators:

  • It will start skudding
  • The grain will start to tear
  • The planed wood will feel rough
  • The shavings are no longer smooth

To sharpen the cutting iron, you will need:

  • Diamond sharpening plate with 3 grades (coarse, medium, super fine)
  • Glass cleaner
  • Buffing compound (aluminum oxide)
  • Strop (block of plywood with leather glued on to cover one surface)

Spray auto glass cleaner onto each of your diamond sharpening plates, one pump on each plate is plenty. This is used instead of water as water often starts the rusting process on the sharpening plates. Using the glass cleaner helps ensure they keep in good condition. Place the beveled edge down on the coarse plate. Apply pressure on the end of the cutting iron, push and pull it along the plate several times lengthways. Start with the blade at 30 degrees and end it at 20/25 degrees, this will ensure it has a slight camber to the bevel. This plate generally requires the most work as it will be abrading away the previous dulled edge to form the new cutting edge.

Repeat the previous steps on the fine diamond plate followed by the super fine level. These two levels will continue to refine the abrasions left by the subsequent levels of abrading. A burr will have formed at the cutting edge, carefully pinch the burr with your fingertips and the waste steel will come away in a narrow strip.

Place the strop in your vise with the leather side facing up. The leather holds the waxed abrasive called buffing compound to the surface so that you can use it to refine the edge using this final level of abrading. Rub the buffing compound on generously to cover the surface of your block. Apply the beveled edge to the strop and pull the bevelled face across the strop 30 times. When stropping, ensure you don’t push the actual cutting edge into the strop because it will cut into the surface of the strop and damage it.

Turn the block over to the plain wood side and add the buffing compound to this wooden surface. This time abrade the flat surface face down onto the buffing compound keeping the blade dead flat. This final step serves to polish out any abrasive marks left in the surface to give the refined finish we need on the back of the blade. Finish off by removing any waxy residue with a soft cloth or tissue.

Put the parts back together and turn the adjustment wheel until the blade touches the wood when you test it on the edge of a scrap piece of wood. Move the plane across the surface to see if shavings appear, if not keep adjusting the wheel until this happens. When shavings are being produced, check to see if they are coming from both sides of the blade, if not, move the lateral adjustment lever until you get the same thickness of shaving from both sides of the mouth of the plane.

10 Comments

  1. jeffdustin on 7 October 2018 at 3:19 am

    How do I remove deep scratches from my new plane sole?

    • Izzy Berger on 9 October 2018 at 1:09 pm

      Hi Jeff,

      Paul says that wood is extremely abrasive as it grows with silica in the wood. That being the case, there is no need to abrade the sole of a plane beyond 250 grit as it will not result in any improvement in the planes performance.

      Kind Regards,
      Izzy

  2. Rick Hickman on 18 December 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you for all that you are doing Izzy and Paul. I am struggling with setting up my handplanes right now. I have purchased a few old Stanleys from eBay, and have tried to replace the blade on the #5 Jack Plane as the blade was quite damaged when I received it. Now that I have a new blade, I believe it is too thick when set on the frog, combined with the original cap iron, to take proper shavings. As I advance the blade I can feel it slow down as it moves forward into the mouth and my shavings are very restricted along with many small chips seem to be clogging the mouth. Would it be wise to file the mouth open some in the jack plane, at the part of mouth just rear of the knob?

    • Izzy Berger on 20 December 2018 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Rick,

      I asked your question to Paul and his answer is below:

      I can only assume you have bought a thick iron because an iron even 1/16th thicker than the standard iron that came with the plane should not cause a problem at all. If you have installed a thick iron, then yes you will have to make adjustments in the plane to accommodate the thickness.

      Kind Regards,
      Izzy

  3. Nial Ball on 18 July 2019 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Guys

    Thanks you all of your blogs and video, they are a great help.

    I am new to woodworking although I’m not new to using tools as I’ve been a fabricator/welder for many years.

    Sharpening blades is my downfall! Plane blade or chisels, they always seem to sharpen out of square! I use a Veritas guide for my chisels but I don’t have the plane blade attachment. I use a cheap single wheel type guide for that set for 25 degrees. How ever careful I am, I always seem to manage to get the blade out of Square and spend hours with 400 grit trying to get it back to square! I’ve even resorted to grinding the blade back to square first before sharpening!

    Is it because my guide is not holding the blade square or is it because I have more strength in one arm than the other?

    Help!

    Regards

    Nial

    • Izzy Berger on 19 July 2019 at 12:18 pm

      Hi Nial,

      Paul says:
      This is a self discipline issue and self correction is second by second rather than after several minutes. It is most likely that you are biased in one direction or another which can be a result of having more confidence of whichever hand arm is your dominant one. Try simply pressing on the side that’s weakest and establishing good management technique. It should only take 2 minutes maximum to sharpen a plane iron and spending hours correcting intransigence is unrealistic.

      Kind Regards,
      Izzy

  4. Nial Ball on 20 August 2019 at 8:13 pm

    Hi Izzy/Paul

    Thanks for your reply. I have bought a comprehensive selection of used planes. They are all in pretty good condition other than the blades are mostly sharpened at strange angles. I am honing them back to 25 degrees following Paul’s instructional videos, hence the more sharpening than usual.

    Another problem I am finding is that although I am now getting the cutting edge perpendicular to the iron I seem to have to adjust the blade adjustment lever quite a lot to the left or right to straighten the blade to the blade opening.

    I have flattened the sole plate using 240 grit fixed to glass on the bench. I turn the plane around periodically while flattening to negate the possibilty of grinding more on one side. I use a sharpie to mark the sole plate so I can monitor the flattening.

    What is the most likely cause of the adjustment level issue and should I be worried if the plane is cutting correctly?

    Sorry, a long one but probably a simple problem.

    Thanks in anticipation.

    Nial

    • Izzy Berger on 29 August 2019 at 1:01 pm

      Hi Nial,

      Paul says:
      No, you shouldn’t be worried at all, it shouldn’t matter if the lever is way off centre. Many people think the lever will be in the middle if the iron is correctly sharpened. That’s not the case at all. Don’t worry about it, just plane.

      Kind Regards,
      Izzy

  5. Raymond Johnston on 5 September 2019 at 3:35 am

    Hi Izzy and Paul,
    I just acquired a closed handle coffin smoother made by Auburn Tool Co. of NY. My question is about the cap iron/chip breaker. It’s very thick and doesn’t have a curve/bump like a Stanley chip breaker. What angle should I sharpen it to and do I put a camber on it?

    • Izzy Berger on 6 September 2019 at 11:19 am

      Hi Raymond,

      Thank you for your message.

      Paul says:
      I would make an educated guess and try it. No need to reinvent the mouse trap, don’t fix what ain’t broke.

      Kind Regards,
      Izzy

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