I thought it would help to take a step back on my hand plane tuning blog posts and provide a little background on my hand plane journey of the past few days.Context
Ask anyone for recommendations on a first hand plane, and you’re bound to get a large number folks recommending looking for a pre-WWII hand plane. Personally I’ve never really thought of that to be a good answer (for me) because I think that there is an implied “cost” (time, effort, and money) involved with it.
- It assumes you have the ability (or will spend the time to gain the insight) to discern a good plane from a junk plane. As a beginner, I had none of this and didn’t like the idea of having to research like crazy to “hopefully” get it right.
- You have access to or sources (family hand-downs), or are able to scour garage sales and flea markets in hopes of finding one. Coming from a family of non-hands on people, I have no chance of a hand me down, and my “instant gratification” tendencies meant that I wasn’t about to go garage sale and flea market (I would rarely choose to go to one) hopping and HOPE that I find something worth while (everything goes at an inflated price in Northern VA)
- You have the risk tolerance to look at non-local sources (i.e. Ebay)
- You are willing to put in the “extra” work to restore a plane. This is where my laziness and utter disdain for tuning/setting up tools played the part of the little devil on my shoulder
- (My favorite “excuse”) You are willing to roll up your sleeves and get dirty setting up your plane. I may need to get expert opinions to verify this, but I think I have a phobia of getting my hands dirty with anything wet. (I can’t even eat wings without plowing through the wet wipes per bite. Fortunately wood is dry so it doesn’t kick off my OMG freakouts. But definitely gloves for finishing.)
After weighting my options, I came to the conclusion that…
- I have absolutely NO idea what to do
- I would be hard pressed to find a good vintage plane
- There is a high probably that I could really mess up any plane I work with
- I might not be forgiven for “breaking” a good vintage plane
In the end, I decided to apply my tool purchasing strategy at the time (which was very much like my gambling strategy); set a ceiling budget and be prepared to realize I wasted my money (up to that ceiling budget) because I trashed it or never needed it. The ceiling budget I set was $25 a plane, and I was hoping to get both a block plane and a #4 bench plane. At that price point, any vintage plane I could find on Ebay looked like they were extremely rusted, and the thought of trying to deal with the rust gave me an unpleasant twitch (thanks phobia). So when I came across a pair of Groz planes (block and #4 bench) for $40 on clearance, I figured it met all of my criteria, and nobody would cry over their demise at my hands.
Procrastination and 20/20 hindsight
I bought the planes back in 2012…so it took me almost 2 years to get to tuning the planes. I had the opportunity to use a few restored pre-WWII planes, WoodRiver V3 planes, and Lie Nielsen planes (at one of their hand tool events) and came to understand what a properly setup plane would do. I also found that my proficiency with power tools grew enough that my spare woodworking research time started veering towards hand tools. Influences include Chris Schwarz (of course) and Shannon Rogers (Renaissance Woodworker), whose plane setup videos built up my confidence (attitude) to think “hey, I’m a smart guy, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do this”.
Eventually (8 months ago), I acquired a few granite tiles and a decently flat (no light under a straight edge) piece of granite back splash that I could use for sandpaper lapping of the sole. Then I had another freak-out” moment and decided that I didn’t want to “risk” $20/plane on newbie mistakes and picked up a HF #33 for under $8 (which I am glad I didn’t start with).
When I finally overcame my fear (i.e. forgot about my fear because I started drooling over Lie Nielsen planes, and scheming ways to save up for one), I decided the block plane would be a good candidate to start with because it was the smallest and incorrectly assumed that it would be done the fastest. The sole was quite concave, and after 2 hours of lapping on 100/120 grit, I almost gave up on eliminating a tiny sliver on the adjustable mouth that wasn’t flatted. I barely managed to push through with flattening the plane by watching a marathon of hand tool videos on YouTube (thanks Shannon Rogers). After re-assembling the plane, I took it for a whirl, and certainly noticed a difference from before. Flattening the sole meant that I didn’t need to extend the blade quite as much to get a cut, allowing me to get nice thin (close but not translucent) shavings. I was excited by my results and jumped straight to lapping my #4. Surprisingly the #4 was flatter (less concave) than the block plane, and it only took me about 1 hour to lap the plane. The results were consistent, I didn’t need to extend the blade as much to get a cut, but with my honed blade, I could get a very thin (closer to translucent) shaving on pine, cypress, ash, and walnut. For me, the plane works well but certainly did not sail through as smoothly as the Lie Nielsen, WoodRiver V3, or restored vintage planes I’ve used.Looking Ahead
I’ve learned a few good lessons from this experience that influence my future with hand planes.
- I’m currently holding out thinking that there is still a bit of performance that I can tweak out of my current planes by (a) (re)flatten and sharpen the plane iron and (b) doing more tune-up on the mechanism, such as the frog, chip breaker, and lever cap.
- The additional tune-up items I noted are all culprits for why my planes are clearly inferior to other planes that I have used. For example, I am unable to set the chip breaker close to the edge of the plane iron (~1/16 – 1/8 inch back). I don’t know what the technical explanation is but I suspect that the chip breaker doesn’t mate properly with the plane iron.
- I now have a better idea on better plane design/construction, and I suspect that I can never bring my planes up to a level of refinement without spending money replacing parts (e.g. the plane iron). If I were to go down that route, I’d rather do it with a vintage plane.
- As I venture down the journey of hand planes, there probably is a “good enough” level that I will be happy with, and what I have now will NOT be there.
- Ultimately, I need to question what my actual hand plane needs are. As woodworker, I am probably still be more inclined to look for a power tool solution before I reach for my hand tools. So what will I use hand planes for? Likely targeted work with a bench plane or flattening wide boards with a jack plane. So will I need a large #7 or #8 (maybe when I finally build a workbench), reach for a #3 or #4 to finish surfaces (I’ll still sand), or will the heavy hitter be a #5 to flatten wide boards (rough or when I have an imperfect glue-ups)?
As it stands, I believe the the Groz #4 will eventually take it’s place as a “jack plane” in my tool arsenal. It remains to be seen, if I will be buying a replacement block plane or #4 first. both see a fair amount of use, but I suspect it will be a #4, as the Groz #4 has more problems to address than the Groz block plane. There is a guy in my local woodworking guild who sells vintage woodworking tools, and the closest woodworking show is coming up soon. So unless I get come across a big sum of surprise money (big bonus at work, win the lottery or at a casino) and splurge for a Lie Nielsen or pull the trigger to get a WoodRiver V3 plane on sale, the hunt for a pre-WWII plane may be underway.