I have read a great deal of tutorials on plane tuning and restoration processes over the last few weeks. Before getting started on my plane accumulation, I wanted to be as educated as possible. Most tutorials contain excellent information on the basics of sole flattening, blade honing, frog flattening, etc. But, I find the information comes up a little short on why the advice is given to avoid newer planes (except LN), what pitfalls can be expected with a newer plane (i.e. record planes post 70s), and how to overcome them.
These first tutorials will focus on two items that are often overlooked in tutorials, the frog and the cap iron. Lets assume you are a new plane owner. You picked up a used record plane, you flattened the sole, you cleaned, flattened and honed the iron, the frog is nice and flat but you either notice chatter or that the blade is not evenly cutting the surface. You are puzzled, frustrated, and you feel a sense of remorse for purchasing the plane and you are seriously considering chucking it and getting either an old Bailey or biting the bullet and buying a Lie Neilson. Take a breath, put the plane down, there are a few more things you can try that might preserve your sanity and make that plane very usable without the need for an immediate upgrade. Lets start with the frog.
I have read somewhere that the frog is the soul of the plane. After working with a few planes and taking them apart, I would not disagree. We often hear the advice that newer planes should be avoided, that stanley bedrock planes are the best in the world, and we see the extravagant prices of LN planes and we wonder why. Why is this plane so much better than the rest and why are they so expensive. A good portion of the reason lies with the frog. The frog is what sets the angle of the iron and is also the piece that holds the blade firm and prevents chatter. It is imperative that the frog be flat, aligned parallel to the throat, and that the iron be seated as flat to the frog as possible. And this is where many chatter problems can develop with newer planes because frog adjustment does not happen automatically.
Here is an example of an older model frog. This one is from the Stanley Bailey Type 11 series produced about 90 years ago.
Note the amount of metal on the frog. There is much surface area for the plane iron to rest solid against.
Now look at the frog from a Record no. 4 from the late 80’s
Note the ribbed design. Much less surface area to keep the iron in place. Does it make the plane useless? Not at all, but it does illustrate the importance of making sure that all the surface area available is utilized.
In the picture you will notice a red line and a yellow circle. The circle highlights an area of concern when fully seating an iron. The little tenon helps hold the frog secure on the plane. The legs of the frog straddle it. If that tenon protrudes too far, then the plane iron is not sitting fully on the frog but the blade end is pressed on the tenon. If, when you have finished adjusting the frog location, you notice the tenon protrudes past the legs of the frog, you have a little filing to do. Not much, just enough to make the protrusion go away.
The red line illustrates the need for the frog to be parallel to the throat. If the frog is not parallel, you will get chatter and an uneven cut. The blade depth will vary from one end to the other. On older planes (and the more expensive newer ones) the frog is secured tightly to the plane and does not have the wiggle room to move out of parallel. Note the screws securing the frog in the picture below -
Compare that with the new Record plane’s frog adjustment screw -
The newer one has only one screw that is outfitted with a rim that the frog sits on for adjustment. This helps keep the frog movement consistent but still allows play to the right and left. When frog adjustments are made, it is a good idea to eyeball and feel the legs to verify that the frog is parallel to the throat. Some of the economy models have no frog adjusting screw at all and verifications and adjustments may take a few more minutes. This is one thing to check if you notice any chatter or inconsistent blade cuts.
After assembly and before use, I will slowly advance the blade until the edge is just out of the throat by about 1/16th of an inch. I can lightly feel for a consistent edge. One can also use a business card on the sole as a reference point to see if there are any inconsistencies in blade depth from one end to the other.
Thank you for the reading and I hope some of these steps help those new to the world of hand planes to get more use out of their purchases or at least reduce some frustrations that might occur with improper frog alignment. My next tutorial will focus on the cap iron, another potential source of issues with plane chatter.
-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.