This past week was one of the longest and hardest I’ve had for a while. It seemed like every day was Monday and every day I was up until late into the evening, working on anything but woodworking.
Then Thursday night rolled around. I left work at 4:00 on the dot and headed back home with a smile. The reason? I was going to a Hand Plane Tune-Up class at Woodcraft in two hours!
I got home and went out to the garage to get the #5 I’d picked up probably more than a year ago. Dana and I talk walks almost every night during the warmer seasons and one night we happened to walk past a sign saying there was going to be an estate sale at that house the next day. So the next day we headed over to see what we could find. We don’t usually find much of anything, but it never hurts to look, does it? That day I found a Bailey #5 that looked to be in solid shape. The sole looked flat, all the parts were there and moveable, and the blade had some minor superficial rust on it, but nothing too bad and the tote and knob were still covered in a heavy layer of lacquer, but I could see some great old rosewood graining under the dust and finish.
So I picked it up for something like $20. And this past Thursday night was finally my night to bring it to life! I grabbed a box that would hold it (a Lee Valley shipping box, so I quickly ripped off the Lee Valley label – don’t want the guys at Woodcraft getting mad!) and my eyes rested on my more-recently acquired #220 Block plane. I decided to grab it, as well, in case the class number were small and I had time to clean it up, as well.
When I arrived, there were two other guys in the classroom and the teacher was out on the store floor grabbing some items for demonstration purposes. So it was a class of three students and one teacher – great ratio for teaching! And the three of us brought in planes that had some good differences, so we could see examples of other situations… That’s a little unclear, so let me explain further.
One guy brought in a brand new Grotz #4 Smoother, straight out of the box that night. The other guy brought in a no-name #5C that didn’t quite have all the features of a good pre-WWII era Bailey, which is what I had.
The first part of the class covered the basics of planes (the differences between the basic bench planes and what they are used for, that sort of thing. Then the teacher, Don, went into sharpening and did a brief overview of all the different sharpening methods and then said we’d be using the sandpaper/Scary Sharp method (somewhat modified).
(Ok, Ok, that’s all very nice already – but let’s tune up some hand planes!)
And then Don had everyone dismantle our planes.
We covered the different parts of the plane and how they all tied in together and things to look for when buying a used (or new, for that matter) plane. He showed us why some of the Grotz #5 Jack Planes on the store floor were going back to the manufacturer (it was a problem with the thickness of the brass on the depth adjustment knob). He showed us where to check for cracks and what kind of a not-flat sole was acceptable and fixable and why they were not flat in the first place.
After that we reassembled our planes and talked about flattening the sole. Some people take this to extremes – he told us about where it NEEDS to be flat (the toe, the heel, and just before the mouth). We then went into more detail on the flattening process – that night, we were going to use sandpaper and a flat, hard surface. He pulled out the $30 granite plate and said we could use that. He took us over to one of the shop tablesaws and said we could use a wing of our table saw (if it was solid) or we might even be able to find a lone wing from an old table saw and that would make a great flat surface, as well (and not have to be clamped down, to boot!). He then pulled out a 4’ x 2’ melamine board from Home Depot with a hook screwed close to one end on the bottom. He said he’d tried every way there was to sharpen, and then some, and found that the most economical way was adhesive-backed sandpaper on a melamine board.
We laid out some 100 grit sandpaper and started working on our planes. It ended up taking me just a little over five minutes to get mine 98% flattened (way more than it really needed – I didn’t want to look too anal, so I casually said that was probably good enough and left it at that. Some time later this next week I’m going to flatten the rest of it… because I really am that particular.). We then worked on tuning up the fitting of the frog and tightening the knob and tote and the like.
At this point, I realized I really wanted my camera so I could document the cleaning process a little better and show you guys what I had and what I was going to end up with. But alas I had no camera with me. Maybe I’ll try that for the next plane I pick up?
Once all of the soles were flat we started working on the lever cap, the chip breaker, and the iron. It’s important to remember one main thing with plane blades – only the first 1/4” or so is really the part of the iron that needs to be flat. The rest of it can be dressed as you sharpen the blade down. This is very different than sharpening a chisel, and it was good to know the difference.
It was also good to get a visual example of what sharp really is.
Once we had our blades reasonably sharp, we put them in the planes and took our turn at planing.
At first I couldn’t seem to get mine to work at all – then I realized I hadn’t fully tightened my chip breaker and so it had slid down 1/16” an inch and prevented the blade from cutting – an error easily fixed.
Finally… curls. What a feeling! I’d been waiting for that sound and that result for a long time, let me tell you!
I wasn’t totally happy with the performance of the blade, so he showed us what a plane could do with a better blade in it.
Guess what I bought this morning at the Woodcraft 15% off sale… that’s right, a Hock blade for my newly-tuned #5.
This morning, when Dana was asleep, I also went out into the garage and stripped the thick coating of lacquer off of the knob and tote – that went slowly until I remembered I needed to be using steel wool instead of paper towels (duh) – then it sped up significantly.
What a difference that made! The graining and color of the almost 100-year-old rosewood is a sight to see and definitely shouldn’t be covered up in dirty, dingy lacquer! It is now drying with its first coat of BLO/poly/thinner mix; I’ll probably do one or two more before I give it a good waxing with my Renaissance wax.
I still need to square up the sides to the bottom; I’ll do that this week, as well. And I need to hone my new Hock blade.
I’m already starting to look for a #4. I think I’ve been bitten…
-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com