Zebrawood Hand-Plane for box/drawer making

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Project by Brian Havens posted 04-18-2011 08:04 AM 4312 views 8 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

While I was in Montana, building the Shaker Style Bench with Todd Clippinger, I used a small wooden plane that someone made for Todd to clean up the dovetails on the drawers/boxes. This plane felt just like my general purpose plane, the first plane I ever made, only its smaller size made it more comfortable for boxes. More recently, after finishing up the Asian Cabinet, I decided to spend some time practicing making dovetail boxes/drawers. My restored Stanley knuckle joint cap block planes did a great job performing the same task, but I find after cleaning up a few joints, even the knuckle joint cap style of block planes can get uncomfortable on the driving hand. During the box making practice, I also noticed several other opportunities for planes aimed specifically at box/drawer making. This got me to thinking that, perhaps, there is an oppertunity here to make a few planes aimed specifically at box making.

This is the first in that new series of hand planes aimed at making box/drawer making easier. This plane is aimed primarily at squaring/cleaning up edges on drawer stock, and cleaning up joints, like the pins and tails of a dovetail joint. The shape may look a little odd, but there is a purpose for its shape. Here is the features and problems I was out to solve with this plane:

- The back/butt of this plane is quite wide for a plane of this size. I find this extra girth better for control and more comfortable, especially after cleaning up a dozen or so joints.
- The sole is extra wide in the back 2/3’s of the plane, making it easy to use with what I have been calling a “reference block”. I use this reference block when planing the edge of drawer stock to keep the edge square. (You can see me using a reference block in the video.)
- I often use figured stock, like curly maple, for drawer stock, which is prone to tear-out. I increased the pitch of the iron to 50 degrees (York Pitch) as opposed to 45 degrees (Standard Pitch). I am finding that this extra 5 degrees can make a big difference when planing figured wood.
- The front of the plane is quite narrow, almost the same width as the iron. I find this very comfortable for the way I use this plane. If I am using a reference block, this narrowness makes it easy to control the plane and hold the reference block with my lead hand at the same time.
- The very nose of the plane turns up, giving the thumb of my lead hand a place to push or pin the plane. This has a lot to do with the technique I use for trimming the end-grain of, for example, dovetails while cleaning up a joint. Instead of trying to shove a plane through a cut of tough end-grain, I pin the front of the plane and swing the tail of the plane around, causing more of a slicing action on the end grain. This technique is much easier with a place to offer some leverage to my thumb.

There are two other things I did differently, that do not have to with box making.

Having restored several metal, Stanley hand planes, and from copious reading about hand planes, I was under the impression that a chip breaker was an absolute must for a plane to perform. Well I noticed a few Lumberjocks, one in particular, Philip Edwards was not using chip breakers. I asked Phil about it (it was a long time ago) and he indicated that his planes were working fine without one. I gave it a try, and, low and behold, I don’t need no stinking chip breaker!

The iron in this plane is neither A2 nor O1 tools steel, but rather HSS steel. The funny thing that I have been finding with HSS steel is that I can never get it to be as sharp as O1 or A2 blades, but they seem to perform well nonetheless. With O1 (high carbon steel) I can easily get an edge that will effortlessly shave the hairs on my forearm, but with HSS steel, it is difficult to get past the point where it is just beginning to shave hair. However, when I use the HSS blade at that rate, the resulting surface is every bit as smooth. I am no expert on tool steel, and I would sure like to hear from someone who knows more about metallurgy than me, who could shed some light on this phenomenon.

-- Brian Havens, Woodworker

15 comments so far

View Dez's profile


1166 posts in 4074 days

#1 posted 04-18-2011 08:56 AM

I have the materials for a couple I like to make but I want the blades on hand when I start, that will take a little saving.

-- Folly ever comes cloaked in opportunity!

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3112 days

#2 posted 04-18-2011 10:21 AM

beautyfull plane and a great blog
thank´s for sharing your thought´s behind this plane

take care

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18269 posts in 3673 days

#3 posted 04-18-2011 10:22 AM

Nice plane and story Brain.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3819 days

#4 posted 04-18-2011 12:50 PM

Brian, this is plane that combines both appearance and functionality. This one looks like it was fun to build as well.

Thanks for the info on plane usage as well. As an almost exclusive power tool woodworker I have come to understand that being undisciplined in hand tool usage is a liability that I need to correct.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View saddletramp's profile


1180 posts in 2635 days

#5 posted 04-18-2011 01:39 PM

Thanks for the video and the account of your thought process in the building of this fine plane. Good job!

-- ♫♪♪♫♫ Saddletramp, saddletramp, I'm as free as the breeze and I ride where I please, saddletramp ♪♪♪♫♪ ...... Bob W....NW Michigan (Traverse City area)

View Maveric777's profile


2693 posts in 3074 days

#6 posted 04-18-2011 02:09 PM

Good stuff Brian! really enjoyed following along with the build of this sweet plane over on Twitter. I know I for one am inspired. Also thanks for the info. I plan on building myself a small army of hand planes myself and your insight is definitely handy.

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2651 days

#7 posted 04-18-2011 03:11 PM

Wonderful job. I so enjoy a fine wooden plane. That is the beauty of those tools, once you have a need, it’s rather easy to fill it.

The shaping job on this one is rather ingenious.

Keep it up.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3283 days

#8 posted 04-18-2011 06:44 PM

Awesome plane Brian. I have really been wanting to make one for a long time, but can’t seem to find the time.

Thanks for the inspiration
My list continues to grow


View gbear's profile


512 posts in 4096 days

#9 posted 04-18-2011 06:46 PM

Sweet plane. I use a lot of figured wood also…this would be a nice addition to my arsenal.
Thanks for the post.

-- gbear, Carmichael, CA

View Brian Havens's profile

Brian Havens

196 posts in 3103 days

#10 posted 04-18-2011 10:19 PM

Thanks for all the kind words, guys.

One thing that I neglected to mention about not using a chip breaker is that the cost of the iron is much less. Irons with a chip breaker will run around $40 dollars or more. I paid $8.70 for the one in this plane. They are actually replacement irons for the Asian planes that Lee Valley sells.,41182,46334,41182,46334

-- Brian Havens, Woodworker

View bigike's profile


4052 posts in 3285 days

#11 posted 04-18-2011 10:43 PM

nice plane.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2937 days

#12 posted 04-18-2011 10:51 PM

Pretty, pretty,pretty! I love wooden planes! I’ve built a number of planes using HSS steel (old joiner/planer blades). Yes, one can never get them that sharp, the steel is just too hard. Still, it works well enough. One advantage of HSS, no matter if it turns blue when grinding, it doesn’t soften. I’ve also used old spade bits to make rebate planes and it works a treat. This one has a ground 3/4” spade bit as a blade:

As for shape, check this. Great minds think alike!

Don’t you find the zebrano too soft for a plane body?

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4021 days

#13 posted 04-19-2011 03:54 AM

Really nice, Brian. A perfect example of use driving design, rather than the other way around. I’ll have to remember some of your concepts.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View Brian Havens's profile

Brian Havens

196 posts in 3103 days

#14 posted 04-19-2011 10:52 PM

Des: A definite similarity in the shape of the plane, but what I really like is the shape of that rebate plane. The third plane I plan to make for drawer/box making is a grooving plane that is similar in function to a rebate plane. I was noticing the same problems you solved: the lack of leverage with that type of plane. I was thinking about some ideas on how to solve it, but perhaps now I will just steal your solution. LOL

Good point on the Zebrawood. I did find the Zebrawood a little on the soft side, but OK for a smaller plane like this one. According to the data, the main weakness in Zebrawood is not in its crushing strength and stiffness, but in its shearing strength, which does not come into play here. It is not as stiff as, say, Purpleheart, but for what I am going to be using it for, it should be fine. However, perhaps zebrawood would not be a good choice for a larger plane that needs to be stiff.

-- Brian Havens, Woodworker

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2837 days

#15 posted 04-21-2011 04:25 AM

Brain nice design and great results. Thanks for sharing.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

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