My first experience with handplanes were two 70’s era Stanleys (the block with a red lever cap, and a Handyman smoother) I “rescued” from a drawer in my dad’s garage three years ago. He had a brief flirtation with woodworking around the time I was 5, and the planes had obviously been unused since. The climate here is pretty dry, so there was only minor surface rust to deal with. I cleaned them up, worked on the soles a bit, and without really knowing what I was doing, turned the smoother into something usable. The block never felt right, though. It probably could be made to work just fine, as I’ve since learned a few things, but at the time, I decided to pursue the down path of making my own.
I should add here that I’m a problem solver and perfectionist, attracted to picky, detail-oriented work, so I suppose it was only natural that I’d gravitate toward making my own planes.
Going solely from Krenov’s discourse on making a plane in The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, I decided to make my own. I fully expected my first effort to be superior to what Stanley could achieve with 100 years of experience. Seriously!
A block, built according to Krenov’s description, but taking my own liberties with the pin and wedge.
Walnut body with a beech sole. Hickory pin sleeve. Finish is Watco Danish oil, salvaged from my dad’s garage. The Watco is probably about the same vintage as the steel planes I mentioned.
The iron is a cut-down generic replacement for a knock-off block. Happened to be the cheapest I could find. Why not, steel is steel, right?
As a learning experience, it was an excellent venture. Let me tell you what I learned, or, in less euphemistic terms, let me tell you what is wrong with it:
1) It is ugly. It is even less attractive than what the pictures makes it out to be. So, form is important!
2) Sanding end grain by hand sucks. You can clearly see the bandsaw marks because I simply ran out of elbow grease. Some kind of power sanding was called for.
3) Protruding pins pose problems. You can’t use it on its side, and your fingers get roughed up.
4) You can also see that the wedge is crooked in this pic. I cut the wedge on a poorly set up bandsaw with a dull blade (bandsaw setup is another set of lessons, for another thread, perhaps), and then had some major sanding to do to get the wedge to fit properly. The crookedness contributes to the plane’s ugliness … I mean … charm.
5) Krenov says that the mouth opening should be fairly small. Well, 1/16” is fairly small, right?
Yeah, maybe for a scrub plane.
6) Cutting the iron down so it fits below the top of the plane may seem like a good idea to enhance the fit of said plane in one’s hand. It also makes it bloody difficult to effect small adjustments to said iron with a traditional plane hammer. Or with any kind of device, really.
7) Using a separate pin and pin sleeve, rather than a single piece wooden pin that gets glued in place is a really good thing, as long as one can drill a hole parallel to the flat on the sleeve. Drill press setup lessons, coming soon to another thread near you.
8) Applying finish to the plane bed, pin sleeve and wedge are all no-nos. Wedges need to say put, not ride on some friction-reducing surface coating.
9) Sharp counts. That generic knockoff iron really isn’t ready to use straight out of the package. Not even close. You can probably argue that this iron shouldn’t be used for any purpose. Since then, I have learned how to sharpen well.
10) Mass counts. A single, thin iron in a plane made out of a fairly light wood (walnut) tends to chatter.
Well, how does it work? Honestly, do you need to ask? With a really sharp iron, it will make shavings. If I’m lucky in how the iron drops in, I even get thin-ish shavings. I can’t adjust the iron in any practical way, so I don’t know if it could be a user. I suppose I could get another iron ($11 or so) if I wanted to find out. I quickly moved on to the second plane, which did (and still does) work very well, so I never bothered.
-- Mark Kornell, Kornell Wood Design