How I Do Hand Plane Rehabs #10: Flattening the Sole and the Sides

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Blog entry by HokieKen posted 12-08-2016 01:01 PM 934 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 9: Putting it All Together Part 10 of How I Do Hand Plane Rehabs series Part 11: Final Fettling and Wrap-Up »

We’re in the home stretch now! This part is usually one of the most time consuming depending on the plane.

We need our plane to have a flat sole. How flat? Well, it’s really up to you. LumberJock unbob mills his first then hand-scrapes them flat. Mine won’t be that flat! I’m just gonna be doing what he calls “roll over the edges sanding that is called lapping in the woodworking world”. BTW, I’m not picking on unbob, he’s exactly right. But IMHO, “woodworking lapping” woodworking tools is sufficient for woodworking ;-)

What I require from my planes depends on their purpose. In general, I want the toe, the heel and the area around the mouth flat and coplanar.

That’s my rule of thumb for bench planes in general. On longer planes like this one, I’m going to want some of the area between the mouth and the heel coplanar as well. I work to the picture above at a bare minimum. On planes that are relatively flat to begin with, or on short planes like smoothers and block planes, I’ll work the entire sole. I just don’t break my back to do unnecessary work. I’m lazy like that.

We start by painting a coat of our layout dye on the sole of the plane to show us our progress as we lap it flat.

You want to use the flattest surface you can here. For a jack plane or shorter, I use my granite surface plate. However since this plane is so long, I’m going to use the outfeed table of my jointer. A lot of people use their table saw. My jointer table is flatter though so I use it.

I’m going to start with a 180 grit aluminum oxide sanding belt that I cut. I have attached the paper using a spray adhesive. I use 3M 77 Spray Adhesive but I have also used others and they’ve all worked fine for this purpose. Some people recommend using contact adhesive. The spray adhesive cleans up easily, I wouldn’t think the same would be true of contact adhesives.

You can see that my table is still a tad shorter than my plane. Not ideal, but works just fine in my experience. Just make sure that you keep pressure even and over the table at all times.

There are different schools-of-thought on how to prepare before lapping and how to go about the process. The main difference is that some folks like to flatten the sole when the plane is disassembled and others, like yours truly, prefer to assemble the plane first.

The reason I assemble first is so that any stresses that will be present in use are present when I flatten it. Tightening the frog down may cause some deformation in the body. Tightening the lever cap down may do the same.

Some also advocate changing the location where you put pressure on the plane while you flatten the sole or putting pressure directly over the mouth. Again, I want the plane flattened for how it will be used. I apply pressure to the tote and knob, shifting from tote to both to knob depending on the position on the plate (or jointer table in this case). Not saying I’m right or anyone else does it wrong, just saying how I do it and what my reasoning is.

I will flip the plane periodically so knob and tote switch hands. Not really for any reason other than it uses different muscles and helps with fatigue. And with some planes, fatigue can really set in! I have spent days working in 30 minute spurts here and there flattening a plane. If your plane is that bad, just don’t kill yourself, spread the work out. If the abrasive you’re using isn’t getting the job done in a reasonable amount of time, switch to something coarser.

Also, when your paper is spent, it’s spent. Keep it clean as you go with compressed air or a brush. Use some WD-40 or oil with wet/dry paper for lubricant. Change your paper if you need to or you’ll be doing a lot of work to gain minimal results. Along the same lines, use good quality paper. That holds especially true at when you get to higher grits of wet/dry paper. You’re going to want consistent scratch patterns and you’re not going to want to change your paper every few minutes.

This plane was actually a pleasure to flatten. Remember all that work we had to do on the frog? Well, we made that time up lapping the sole. It was actually flat enough that I could have skipped this step altogether and had a decent user.

After only a dozen strokes or so, we’re already here:

The plane is probably useable here. However, I want to make sure I clean up that little hollow at the near side of the mouth. Another 15-20 strokes doesn’t completely remove the dye but does start to scratch it. That’s good enough for now.

As close as this is to flat, I’m not going to stop here, I’ll take the whole sole to flat. But that’s enough work with the 180 paper. I’m going to work up through a few more grades to polish it up and make it smooth. If I continue to work it now, I’ll just make more large scratches to clean up later and working through the additional papers should take care of cleaning up the remaining areas that still have dye.

There’s also that bit at the very tip of the toe that isn’t cleaned up. It probably won’t clean up with the additional papers. I’ll polish it out to match the rest of the sole but I’m not concerned about getting it in-plane with the rest of the surface. It’s not likely to affect function in any way and flattening it would require too much work and too much unnecessary material removal. Don’t forget, I’m lazy ;-)

But, before we get to the finer grits, I’m going to work the sides. Why? Because it saves me time changing the paper. I’ll work the sides and the bottom up through the same grits for this plane. Rather than changing the paper 3 or 4 times for the bottom then going back and changing it 3 or 4 more times with the same papers, I’m gonna streamline the process and work all 3 sides before moving to the next grit. It makes no difference though so do it whichever way suits you.

NOTE: I’m going to be going to FAR more trouble than is necessary on the sides of this plane. Why? Two reasons: First, so I can show the process for those who need to do it. Second, because I’m not sure what future awaits this plane. One possibility is that I’ll make a fence to attach to it so I can use it for jointing edges square. If that’s the case, then I’m going to want the sides square to reference. Same thing if you’re going to use the plane for shooting. Beyond that though, I’ve just never worried about squaring the sides and want to see just how square I can make them and how much effort it requires. :-P

If you don’t need the sides flattened or squared to the bottom, then don’t bother with this part of the refurb. Just polish them by hand with progressive grits to whatever finish you desire. Or, for that matter leave them alone and enjoy the Patina. Heck, if you want to, paint them purple. It’s YOUR plane!

So essentially, we’re going to “three-square” our plane. We haven’t finished polishing the sole, but we do have it flat so we can use it for a reference. I checked the plane with a square. The sides aren’t out badly but, they’re pretty far out-of-flat. Can anyone guess what I’m gonna do first? Anyone?

…you guessed it! We’re gonna paint the first side with a coat of layout dye :-)

Now, this side is pretty far out of flat, so I’m going to take it to the disk sander and get the bulk of the work out of the way. You can skip this part and go straight to the next step if you wish, it’s just a little extra elbow grease.

I’m going to gently ease the toe end into contact with the disk and push the entire plane through until the heel is just past the center of the disk keeping even pressure along the whole stroke. I then pull off and repeat. I only work in one direction – it’s too hard (for me at least) to keep good constant pressure and get even removal if I work back and forth.

After a little while, I’ve removed most of my dye. You can see the side was “bellied” to begin with.

Now I’m going to move back to the jointer for the finer work. I painted another coat of layout dye on the side of the plane to track my progress here.

I keep the sole of the plane held tight to the fence and work the side back and forth on the sandpaper. Before I began, I changed my paper. The sanding belt is 180 grit and my straightedge tells me I have a fair amount of material to remove so I replaced it with some 120 grit. You can go coarser, and I will if I need to, but like I said before: coarser abrasive removes material faster up front but it takes longer to polish the deeper scratches out later. Pick your poison.

After 50 strokes back and forth on 120 grit paper, here is my progress:

Now why isn’t it flat down the length? Well, my disk sander is 8” and I have 22” of iron that I ground. And, for ½ of the 8” disk the abrasive is moving up and it’s moving down the other 1/2. I can’t get a good continuous surface that way. I did manage to get most of the belly out across the width though so that’ll save me a little elbow grease.

I still have a fair ways to go. I’m most likely going to end up with a little bit at the bottom of this side that doesn’t come flat with the rest and I may stop short of getting it flat all the way from heel-to-toe. That should be fine as long as a fence will still have plenty of surface to register on or there’s plenty to register on a shooting board.

So I’ll just go back to the jointer table and continue to work this guy back and forth, checking my progress periodically with a square, until I’m satisfied that it’s flat across the majority of the width and length and square enough to the sole to produce square edges. I’ll reiterate that this is quite a bit of work that’s not at all necessary on most planes. Skip this part if you don’t need the sides square for some specific purpose.

To give you a good idea of how much work it will take, I stopped after each 50 back-and-forth strokes on the 120 grit paper and photographed my progress. It seems like a lot of strokes but in reality, it takes less than 60 seconds to do 50 strokes. In fact, I went back and checked the time stamps on my photos. It took me about 12 minutes to do 250 strokes and that included taking pictures and cleaning the swarf off of my paper after every 50.

After 100 strokes:

After 150 strokes:

After 200 strokes:

After 250 strokes:

This is probably good enough to stop with the 120 grit paper. I’ve almost got the little patch of dye next to the tote cleaned up, it’ll certainly be completely removed as I progress through finer grits. It’s pretty flat along the length except for the few inches at the toe and heel (where dye still remains) when checked with a straight edge.

When checked with an engineer’s square, I can see it isn’t dead square with the sole, but it’s good enough. My jointer fence may be a hair out of adjustment but more likely it’s variation in how I applied pressure throughout my strokes and uneven wear on the abrasive paper. It’s square enough to suit me for now. If, down the road, it needs to be dead square for some reason, I’ll tune it then. Fact is, the wall of this plane (and most iron planes) is so thin that it will flex with even moderate pressure applied anyway.

Just for good measure, I’m going to go ahead and give it 50 more strokes before I flip it over and flatten the other side. Here’s what I end up with:

I won’t go into the same detail on the other side of the plane ‘cause I did it the exact same way. Here’s a pic of it though after I finished up with the 120 grit paper.

I skipped the disk sander and went straight to the jointer table with the second side. It worked out to about the same amount of work on both sides. I think the disk sander got me flat across the width but caused a hump down the length. It works okay on shorter planes but I think with longer ones like this, I’ll just skip the power tools altogether from now on.

Great! The sole and both sides are flat and square. Well… flat and square ENOUGH. But we still have some dye remaining at the heel and toe on the sides. I’m gonna take a flat sanding block with 120 paper and sand just enough to clean up the dye. I’ll have to continue to do the same with each grade of abrasive I use or I’ll end up with a coarser scratch pattern in these areas than in the flat part.

Now I’m going to use the sanding block at about 45 degrees to break the edges at the corners. Usually the corners are sufficiently rounded off to begin with but with the metal removed from all 3 sides, I’ve created some sharp spots. Those sharp corners can dig in and increase friction and possible even mark my wood when planing so I’m going to knock them down. I only need to do this once, not with each abrasive I use. I’m only removing a small amount of material so the scratches won’t be visible.

I been busier than a one-armed paper hanger this week so I haven’t gotten around to finishing this guy up. So I’ll wrap up this entry where we’re at. We have flat surfaces on the sides and sole. We still need to go back and polish them up to whatever grit we deem fine enough. Then we’ll be ready for our final tuning! I’ll try to wrap up next week.

Thanks for reading and as always, questions and comments are welcomed!

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

4 comments so far

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

52 posts in 129 days

#1 posted 12-11-2016 11:36 AM

Thanks for a great series. Super-informative. I’ll be saving it as a reference for when I buy an old plane.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View HokieKen's profile


2242 posts in 685 days

#2 posted 12-12-2016 10:34 AM

Thanks for a great series. Super-informative. I ll be saving it as a reference for when I buy an old plane.

- Dave Polaschek

You’re very welcome Dave! Thanks for reading.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View JimYoung's profile


243 posts in 1134 days

#3 posted 12-12-2016 03:27 PM

Hanging on for the wrap up.

-- -Jim, "Society is well governed when its people obey the magistrates, and the magistrates obey the law." -- Solon

View Roger's profile


20308 posts in 2351 days

#4 posted 12-18-2016 09:49 PM

That’s a lotta counting on them strokes…..............almost like me on the golf course way back when…..hahaha

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

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