Monday, February 19, 2018

Seasonal Maintenance and Tuning of Wooden Planes, Step 1

Note: This post is more than 10 paragraphs. It will take minutes to read and likely more to digest. The video, which twice demonstrates the entirety of what is being explained, is 49 seconds. Understand, but don't be overwhelmed.

I deliver the planes I sell sharpened, stropped and ready to work hard, figured wood. Keeping the planes in that condition is up to you, the end-user.

When I teach classes on the subject of producing profiles with moulding planes I bring more than 50 planes for the students to use: a pair of #6s, a pair of #10s and a rabbet for each. Each plane I bring for the class works at the same level of each plane I sell.

These classes are not a two-day sales pitch for the planes I make, however. (In fact, at the end of a few classes I've been asked by students where I purchased my planes, which is awful salesmanship.) I do not actively push my planes at classes, shows, or even this blog because new planes certainly will not be everybody's conclusion and we are only here to learn.

Despite not actively trying to sell the planes to the students, I know that I will be judged upon the performance of my planes. As such, I tune every single plane I anticipate being used prior to going. At the class I want each student to learn how to use the tool, not how to fight the tool; I want each student to get an idea of how long an edge should feel and last, not start by sharpening a plane; I want each student to leave, at least, with a goal for tuning their own planes.

All of this tuning adds up quickly in the days leading up to teaching because, in addition to the 50+ planes for the students, I also bring all of my demo planes. I tune up my side beads, snipes bills, ogees, etc.

The rest of this post and the next one is the process I follow for each tool. This is the same process you may use with any tool you purchase from me. It will be added to my FAQ page upon completion.

Step #1:

The soles of all planes go out of flat in time. As such, the soles need to be addressed on occasion with all planes, wooden and metal.

A Stanley plane may take 75 years to go out of flat while a wooden plane may go slightly out of flat seasonally. A metal plane's sole may take significant effort to bring back to a single plane while a wooden plane that has been recently tuned is very quick.

This post is intended to show this fast process of addressing this aspect of the seasonal maintenance that goes along with the tools that I sell. Staying on top of this process (i.e. do not let them sit in a wooden box on a concrete floor for five unused years) limits the maintenance to only what will be demonstrated.

A high spot often develops behind the mouth. With a wooden plane that's been tuned recently, the inevitable high spot will likely be slight.

Know that a plane can only take a shaving as fine as the sole is flat. On occasions in our class or your shop users will want to take a fine shaving. As a result, I start the tuning process for class by flattening the sole on all occasions.

The flattening process is so quick and the likelihood of the high spot so high that I just re-flatten everything. 

With the iron set and retracted into the body, I start with a piece of 150 grit wrapped around the middle of a plane's mate. I use the round as a sanding block for a hollow and vice versa. These few passes will make the likely high spot a low spot (or a rare low spot a lower spot, which doesn't really matter). I then wrap a piece of 220 around the length of the sanding plane to bring both ends coplanar with the center. Flip the planes and follow the same process.

You can test if the resultant sole is slightly concave along the length with a straight edge. If you don't then the issue will present itself during the test cuts.

There are a couple other advantages to flattening the sole. This process also removes the finish from the sole which will make sharpening easier. You can now see the silhouette of the iron's edge above the horizon of the mouth much easier.

Additionally, if the sole is out of flat it is common to see the back of the mouth, think that what you're seeing it the iron, and make unnecessary and poor adjustments to the iron's profile.

Antique planes will follow a similar series of steps. Though the process is similar, the steps and effort will likely be exaggerated with a tool that hasn't been successfully tuned in the past 100 years. Think 60 grit instead of 150.

Next will be adding a brand new edge to the tool.

Note 2: Do not buy a plane the you haven't the ability to address the sole. I use my hollows to flatten my rounds, my rounds to flatten my hollows and my hollows and rounds to flatten my dedicated planes. All antique planes will be out of flat to varying degrees.


  1. It's interesting that you summarize the length of the post in the first paragraph.

    Actually taking this step on the typical hollow or round takes less time than it takes to read the instructions. Sweet!

    THANKS for the reminder; makes a difference.

    P.S. You might want to "flatten the sole" of the first sentence in "Note 2."

  2. Hey Matt, Does it matter if both planes are out of true before you start this process? I'm assuming by your explanation that all planes need attention that both of a set are "out".

    1. This post is mainly concerned with people keeping newly tuned planes performing to the same degree going forward. As such, we started with 150 grit paper to create the low spot in the center of the sole.

      Those that use antique planes may use a similar process when tuning their planes. As you pointed out, however, both planes may be out of line. In these common cases there may be some back and forth when creating the low spots in the center of the sole.

      Again, same process, just exaggerated.

  3. Hi Matt, thanks for the education. When using the sandpaper over a plane technique it seems like it would be tricky to prevent rounding of the transitions in a dedicated plane like your ovolo with fillets. For that example would you use a round plane with sandpaper to touch up the hollow section, then use a rabbet plane on the fillets?

    1. Pete,
      I'd do exactly what you've suggested: Sandpaper with hollows/rounds, rabbet plane with flat sections.

      You're now in charge of the writing the next post!

      Thanks for commenting,