Tool Tutorials #1: Plane frog and cap iron adjustment

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Blog entry by David Craig posted 10-21-2010 08:53 PM 25870 reads 3 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Tool Tutorials series Part 2: Frog and Cap Iron Adjustment Part 2 - The cap iron »

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.

15 comments so far

View swirt's profile


2766 posts in 2993 days

#1 posted 10-21-2010 09:23 PM

Really nice comparison David. Thanks for posting it.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3694 days

#2 posted 10-21-2010 09:32 PM

Nice job, David.

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4268 days

#3 posted 10-21-2010 09:43 PM

Man you sure complicate things. I just grab it and start planing, if it don’t work i’ll go buy one that does. Nah, just kidding, I ain’t got that kind of shwag anymore, but there was a time I wouldn’t have bothered to learn that much about them. You really have learned your stuff. Must be that box of books you took home have been most helpful. LOL. I suppose you’re gonna want me to call you Mr.Galoot from now on? Nice job, is that my plane you’re using as the “bad example?” I don’t care, just messin with ya peter don’t get hard.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3130 days

#4 posted 10-21-2010 10:07 PM

Thanks swirt and Charles for the comments.

Actually Mike, I did learn a bit from some issues from popular woodworking and FWW that you have in the bin over here. They covered many areas but the frog alignment issues I kind of figured out on my own when I noticed one of my Records was cutting funny. I was always curious why some planes cost so much and others much less. I figured that the difference just might be a little tuning but there is a little more hardware in the bench planes to look at. I am not just this way about planes though. I know I asked you a hundred questions on the lathe, the lathe chisels, direction, angle of holding the chisels, particular chisels for a job, finishing, etc. And you will get bombarded with about a hundred more.

I am pretty oafish when I start handling any tool and I really hate working with something I am completely ignorant about. So I do spend alot of time tinkering when I first get something and reading as much as I can before grabbing some scrap and experimenting. But once I think it through and it sinks in, I pretty much have it for life.

And no, my panties are not in a bunch ;)

If any of you galoot demi-gods out there notice errors in my presentations, please feel free to enlighten me. Some parts are research, some parts my own observations, and I wouldn’t want to unintentionally lead any one astray.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View ShannonRogers's profile


540 posts in 3809 days

#5 posted 10-21-2010 10:15 PM

Right on David, good presentation of a much overlooked topic. I think one of the key elements that makes something like a Lie Nielsen plane expensive as you mention in the comments is the added metal. The bedrock style of planes have a solid reference surface that is firmly part of the sole and a seamless bed for the iron to rest on. So sure it is just more iron so it costs more. What I discovered when I visited Lie Nielsen a few years ago is just how hard it is to forge and cast large chunks of iron without warping and air pockets that wreak havoc on the pieces when they cool and over time. The amount of effort and time that goes into making a flawless casting is enormous. Let’s not forget about all the time it take just to machine all that metal now.

Great tutorial and I’ll be looking forward to your “treatise” on the cap iron next.

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3217 days

#6 posted 10-21-2010 11:03 PM

Nice post David. I have a 1880s Stanley no 7 that has a solid frog, and one from the 1970s or 80s that just touches the iron in a few places like the one you show. Both work well though and I don’t notice much difference in regards to chatter. But then again I’ve only ever handled the 4 planes I currently own. I think the frog being flat though is more important. I wonder if having a thin iron on a solid metal frog would be similar to having a thick iron and chipbreaker(like HOCK) one a hollowed out one.

I may be wrong but I thought they removed metal from the frogs due to its scarcity during WWI or II and then it probably just stayed that way since they found it was easier and cheaper to make like Shannon says.

Great post.

Oh and for some reason the No 7 depth adjuster rotates counter-clockwise to make a deeper cut . I don’t know why that is so if you do any more research and find out please let me know lol.

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3356 days

#7 posted 10-21-2010 11:07 PM

Great tutorial David and good of you to take the time creating and posting it.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Cato's profile


701 posts in 3334 days

#8 posted 10-21-2010 11:59 PM

Thanks for this post. I am just learning about how to use and adjust a plane.

Love my power tools, but I have found myself recently wanting to have my couple of planes tuned for that last little bit of a touch here and there. So I too am learning and every little bit helps.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3137 days

#9 posted 10-22-2010 03:24 PM

a great blog about those isues and I thank you for taking the time to describe it so well David
but I think you still have to cover the fail that can be and how to solve it
where the frog sit on the plane body
I think its the first place to look and correct after you have lapped the planes bottom and
sharpened the blade before you come to what you very good described in this blog
in my opinion first the bottom then between the bottom and frog before you come to
between frog and blade and so on goes systamatic forward so you don´t miss a thing that
will give a lot of stress later becourse you think you have done everything possiple to do
and it still don´t performe as it shuold
I look forward to see the next toturial :-)

best toughts

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3130 days

#10 posted 10-22-2010 05:05 PM

Thanks Shannon, Mike (stefang), and Cato for the kind words.

Eric_S – Not sure about the threading on your no. 7. Reverse threads are typically used so that one has to tighten the adjusting knob by rotating to the left. I am curious if your plane might have had a fix in the past where someone replaced the bolt with standard threads. My Record turns clockwise to extend the blade.

Dennis – Thanks again for your comments my friend. You are right, the tutorials are not complete. These were two items that came to me while I was tinkering. I did some research, found a little information. But, for the most part, I think these issues are not mentioned because most magazine authors are working with expensive planes that don’t require as much frog lateral alignment and sometimes the setup of the cap iron is taken for granted. I will try to add more info as I learn. I am still tinkering and understanding my own planes :)

All comments and advice is greatly appreciated folks. If anyone has more tidbits to share, please do so.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3217 days

#11 posted 10-22-2010 05:35 PM

Yeah I was surprised by the counter clockwise as well. The knob though is the original with the 1880 something patent on it. I dont know about the threading though, that may have been replaced(if thats even possible to just switch that part out). Ill try to take some pics of it this weekend if I get a chance. Thanks for the ideas.

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4179 posts in 3186 days

#12 posted 10-22-2010 06:31 PM

Quickly removed the blade from my Stanley Bailey #4 (about 1970 vintage). Frog is ribbed, and it needs some work and adjustment. It has the two screw fixation of the older plane, however. I actually have done a lot of crude planing with this plane over the years, but now I will tune it up, just to see how it works, and then maybe get a Hock blade or some such to see what that does. It fits my hands well, and there is 40 years of ownership in that plane, so I will keep it.

Maybe as a treat to myself I will take some time to start tuning it just for the learning process, after I am burned out working on my shop projects today.

Thanks for the info, I look forward to the rest of your series. I am a heavy reader when I come to something truly new, and it sounds like you are the same.


-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3130 days

#13 posted 10-24-2010 03:08 PM

Thanks for the comments Jim. I do like to read up, as much as possible, on things before I start. Of course, reading only takes you so far. I have found that the times I try to “wing it” without a road map, the results are usually disastrous. The no. 4 is a nice plane to have for finish work. When you get back to working with boards, you will really enjoy that plane once it is tuned up.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Mary Anne's profile (online now)

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3230 days

#14 posted 10-24-2010 03:19 PM

Well done! Thanks for the informative post. I look forward to reading more.
I purchased a few used planes, but haven’t yet had time to learn much about them or work with them. I am sure this information will be helpful when I do.

View Paul Bucalo's profile

Paul Bucalo

642 posts in 1381 days

#15 posted 04-22-2015 12:18 PM

Excellent presentation. Adding this to my ‘I wanna be a galoot demi-god some day’ list for plane tuning. ;)

As it turns out, I am in the process of tuning and refurbing some cheap new Kobalts and a not-so-well-liked Stanley from the 80s, respectively, so this will help a lot. Thanks, David.

-- -- Paul @ PMB Creative Works

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