I was at the lumberyard yesterday and picked up a chunk of basswood. It is for a homeschooler who is wanting to “whittle”. I’ve got limited expereince with the wood, so on a whim, I decided to take a few passes with a hand plane to see how it acted. It is no secret that this is the softest hardwood of the bunch, so it took very little effort to push a plane across the surface.
This got me thinking. Why doesn’t anyone use this wood to teach basic hand plane techinique? Its very forgiving, works easily and is usually free of defects. Not to mention it comes in large chunks and is not very expensive.
All hand tool work is based on muscle memory. The only way to build muscle memory is through repetition. Trying to plane hard wood and difficult grain is often disheartening for beginning hand toolers. Why set yourself up to fail? Machine shops don’t teach people on chunks on metal, they use wax.
I suggest that anyone starting out hand planning, especially the plane swappers getting their feet wet in wooden planes, buy a chunk of the stuff just for practicing technique and plane set-up. You will be able to work on getting consistently thick shavings, full stroke shavings, squaring a face to a face and flattening a board, all with minimal resistance. Its like training wheels for a hand plane. You probably don’t even need to be that good at sharpening to pull a shaving.
-- It's only wood.