Japanese hand plane setup
Fitting, tuning and sharpening.
If you are looking for ‘ready out of the box’ just leave this blog now!
This blog is for those who want to understand their tools, to trim, adjust and become the master of your tool.
It is not a show off, not a tool gloat, but two basic Japanese hand planes going from useless to being used.
Reading Toshio Odate’s inspire ring words in his book ‘Japanese woodworking tools their tradition spirit and use’ where he tells a story of how his learning master took a expensive Kanna (hand plane) away from Toshio that he had just bought but never used and never gave it back to him again, this because Toshio was not yet skilled enough to own a plane of that quality his master said. This made me all fired up to learn, to earn my right to use a Japanese hand plane.
So I decided to start modest and ordered two planes from a guy in Japan, he wrote the Kanna’s were almost new but not working… This seemed for me like the perfect place to start, to understand why, and hopefully to find out why, and then make them work (or to give up and use my Stanley’s – laugh).
And so this is how this blog begins.
Here they are the two Kanna’s that would not work for the owner in their homeland Japan.
In Japan a hand plane is called Kanna, Hira-Kanna means normal plane.
Ara-shiko – roughing plane (with or without chip breaker).
Chu-shiko – intermediate smoothing plane (medium to high quality blades, normally with chip breaker).
Jo-shiko – smoothing plane (high quality blades with or without chip breaker).
My new planes will go under the category of Chu-shiko and I will set them up as such.
The small is the size of a block plane, 55×150mm body with a 43mm wide 3mm thick blade that give a cutting width of 33mm.
The large is like a 4-4,5 Stanley, 65×245mm body with a 52mm wide 8mm thick laminated blade that give a cutting width of 42mm.
The one I already have and that are setup is:
60×210mm body with a 50mm wide 6mm thick laminated blade that give a cutting width of 44mm.
First step is to remove the sales marks and with an acetone remove the rust protection lacquer from the blade and chip breaker.
This is done in no time with a cloth and will allow you to flatten and sharpen later.
Flattening the Uragane (chip breaker) on a grinding stone.
The chip breaker on a Japanese plane is less wide than the blade since it is fitted into the opening and the blade is then narrowed in the cutting end to fit the chip breaker, basically a piece of metal that have a full contact just before the blade tip, it can be either a completely flat piece of metal against a flat iron, or with the corners bed in each side to hold distance in the other end, simple but effective.
The chip breaker is held in place by the metal cross pin you see on the plane, so the flat chip breaker is wedge shaped.
(The chip breaker is relatively new on Japanese planes).
First flatten the top by holding it down while moving it away in a motion that follows the curve until the point where it touch down on the blade, this will help to prevent wood shavings in getting stocked under the blade and make the shaves bend of in a controlled move.
Now color the side that will touch the blade.
Turn it, and flatten it to secure a tight fit with no slip.
Of course if it is a flat wedge shaped chip breaker you will need to flatten the whole side.
Finish by removing the burr gently.
You can place a thin ruler on the stone to prevent the back end from being flattened.
Making the chip breaker fit.
The first thing I noticed when I got my planes was that the one chip breaker fell out, and the other was really loose.
This can be adjusted by bending the back ends.
I did this by securing them in my wise and then gently beat with a medium size hammer.
(Never use a too small hammer since you will have no force behind your action).
Do this and try to set it in the plane, when you are happy for the fit stop (I guess this is logic…).
Now time to give some oil or wax to prevent rust.
The Japanese like to use Camellia oil I use a good bees wax.
The Kanna-ba (plane iron).
A Japanese blade are as you can see on this photo laminated by a hard steel on the cutting side and a soft on the top, this is giving a stabile blade that are extremely sharp and yet can absorb moves they say.
(Personally I believe it is more tradition and a remedy from a time where the steel were more expensive than the manpower).
I believe a Japanese hand plane iron must be sharpened by hand, and the fact that they are so thick makes this really easy to control.
Start by flattening the back until this is dead flat. The back of a Japanese plane iron are hollowed out like on the chisels so it is an easy and fast process to flatten the back.
Then turn it and press down the blade until it lays flat on you stone (here I use glass plates with grades of sandpaper) and sharpen as you would normally do. I pull the blade away from the cutting direction and finish on grade 1200 sand paper, this can make a razor edge.
I like to finish of with a strapping on leather with a honing paste, again I only pull the blade, and this makes the mirror shine and a scary sharp edge.
A test run shows the blades are really wonderfully sharp, even the smaller blade are not a laminated blade, but it is also ‘only’ 3mm thick.
Next challenge is the blade since both the blades are loose in the fitting and the big one so loose that it can only be used if I hold the blade while using the plane.
As you can see the Japanese planes have no wedge, the blade are wedge shaped and so it is self wedging in the plane body. This can be a problem if the wood gets moisture since it will not be able to be pushed in, or if it dry out and the fit become too loose. If the blade fit is too tight you need to file the hole slightly bigger.
Here you see how bad my situation is on the big plane, when the blade are firmly wedged in, it is way out the sole of the plane, and this makes it useless.
The small one has the same problem but only an mm or so.
The solution is wonderfully simple.
Just strips of paper that you glue on the bed, you can try a dry fit first to find out how thick paper you need.
I found some wonderful papers I use for origami that comes from an old song book, so my planes will be full of music after I hope.
White carpenter glue thinned slightly in water is applied on the bed.
And the paper set on top.
The big plane needed two layers of this thin paper before it was a perfect fit.
Now it is time to check the sole of the plane.
The one on my small plane was fine and flat, but the one on the big was a disaster!
The one side was too high, so I could only make shaves one side, and the mouth was more open in one side, no wonder the Japanese guy said the plane did not work it probably never did from the start.
So I started by taking some shaves with another hand plane from the side that was higher until the sides were even and the mouth straight (sorry I forgot to picture this).
With a pencil I draw waves on the sole so I can see where I take of material.
And then flatten it on a glass plate with a grid 120 sand paper.
Now I am happy.
Actually I was happy before, now I am just even happier…
Anatomy of the Japanese plane sole.
First of all you pull a Japanese Kanna so the part in front of the blade we will call the front of the plane is the back and the part behind the blade we call the back is the front on a Japanese plane.
The Japanese plane body is longer in front end so you have maximum support there when you pull, where our western planes have a longer part behind the blade for the support of the push.
When you pull it, you hold right hand on the part in front of the blade facing towards you with your right hand and the left hand are placed behind the blade so you can use this as a handle. Look here.)
For a Japanese truing and smoothing plane the sole will have two ‘waves’, the first in front will have two contact points that touch the wood one in the front and one just before the mouth. At the back the wave will start just behind the blade a hair higher than the two front points and then the end will be at 0,5-1 mm over the wood (1/32 inch).
The western magazine wood geeks tells us flat, flat and flat, but on wooden planes flat is not the answer, actually I doubt if it is on metal planes also, but the perfection of a metal sole would be quite a job…
For truing – Roku-dai you will have touchdown at the end also to secure a perfect flat surface.
So you will need to remove material in the two ‘hollow’ zones after flattening the sole, here the back (in front of the blade).
To do this you can use a Dai-Naoshi-kanna (scraping plane), and this was why I made me one that you can see on the pictures, and there are a link for this at the end of this blog.
And here the front end (behind the blade).
Or you can use a wide chisel, a plane iron or a piece of glass.
Do not say I pretend there is only one truth please.
The little Kanna with fresh shaves after my setup.
And the big Kanna.
Here thin and thick shaves from the big Kanna.
But really sweet is it to not just look at these Japanese planes, but to now understand them, to feel them, to know why they now work perfectly and to know what to do if they stop to do so one day.
Yes it was a really interesting experience, an experience for the hands and the mind, and hopefully I now deserve to use these beautiful Japanese planes, and who knows one day perhaps a better one, I have no master, but sure hope no one will take them away from me.
And who knows perhaps one day I will save money to buy me a Jo-shiko.
This is the end of the hand plane setup blog in the Japanese tools series, I will soon post a second about setting up the chisels.
Hope this blog can bring some inspiration to others that play with the thought of using Japanese hand planes or even better have a plane that just will not perform.
I want to send a special warm thought to Toshio Odate, thank you for inspire ring me with your book, but most of all my sister who offered me my Japanese chisels and a Kanna that was the reason why this interest started.
My Japanese style scraper plane: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/51555
Tools from Japan: http://www.toolsfromjapan.com/store/index.php?main_page=page&id=9&chapter=5
Popular science 1967: http://books.google.com/books?id=CSEDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA138&lpg=PA138&dq=holding+a+japanese+kanna&source=bl&ots=RmhOU8AEM3&sig=lwDdDHI-nKp3JZVTI438ToM8cFI&hl=da&ei=q-0xTsnZIoKh-QblkJiXDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CGwQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=holding%20a%20japanese%20kanna&f=false
UPDATE 23 JULI 2012
A Russian woodworker George contacted me and asked for permission to translate this part one of the blog to Russian and post it on the site where he is a member to help other woodworkers become able to setup a Kanna. Since I believe in sharing knowledge I said ok and I am happy and proud to be able to inspire people now also in Russia.
Here are my blog in Russian:
I noticed my name in Russian is Мадса, that’s kind of cool I think! Smiles.
New Dec 2013
-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.