Tuning Hand Plane - How Good Is Good Enough?

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Forum topic by Beeguy posted 11-27-2010 02:26 AM 1659 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Beeguy's profile


179 posts in 3658 days

11-27-2010 02:26 AM

Topic tags/keywords: plane

I just finished cleaning up a Bailey #4 I bought on Ebay. Before I started I read a lot (here and elsewhere) on the process. I have been wanting to do this for a while but, quite frankly, I was put off by all the work some of these authors described.

The plane was not in bad shape. As I was working on the sole for over an hour I found this was a good time for thinking. Some writers spoke of finishes on the sole that reflect like a mirror. I have to admit, I am not a purest with regards to hand tools but I do like to use them. As I went through the process I started to think how good is good enough. At the end I want a plane that works for me. When I was finished, I tested it. I was quite happy with the results. I am sure others would say I could have gone further in the lapping of the sole, although I am very satisifed with the performance of the tool. I have never used a high end plane so I have no reference to compare. I guess a lot depends on what you will be using the tool on and the end results you need.

When it comes to a new or used gun, it has to be sighted in. Some guys will sit at the range and keep working their rifle until they can cover 3 shots with a quarter at 100 yds., and they really enjoy doing that. I prefer to sight it in and then shoot “real world” at objects (cookies, crackers, plastic bottles before they get recycled) that move when you hit them. The bottom line is if the cookie breaks I am having fun and happy (so are the birds) and that is good enough for me. I have the most fun shooting reproduction flintlock blackpowder rifles. The variables are huge which is what makes it enjoyable.

So same goes for the hand planes. If I am happy with the results and the work looks good, I am ok with that. Others may go further and that is good too. The point of this is not to shy away because it seems like too much effort. I have to admit I enjoyed doing this but had to push myself a little to keep from quitting too soon.

I would be interested in your thoughts as what you think is “good enough”, or a step better, or if you prefer what do you consider perfection.

-- Ron, Kutztown, PA "The reward is in the journey."

9 replies so far

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 2839 days

#1 posted 11-27-2010 02:40 AM

Good enough is when it is ready to do the job. I have a number of hand planes both bought and shop made. some I value for their looks and satisfaction from creating them – but all have to pull their wieght when doing the job. It seems to me that you are there.

-- DonH Orleans Ontario

View Lochlainn1066's profile


138 posts in 2799 days

#2 posted 11-27-2010 03:04 AM

For a restoration of a Stanley, if I can get it to cut .001 for a smoother or .005 for a jack or jointer, it’s good enough.

So long as it’s doing its job it’s good enough.

-- Nate,

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3096 days

#3 posted 11-27-2010 03:49 AM

This is clearly an area where some people get carried away.

I usually mark the bottom of the plane with a marker, let it dry, and lap it until 95% of the marks are gone. Works for me.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Beeguy's profile


179 posts in 3658 days

#4 posted 11-27-2010 04:11 PM

Thanks and maybe next time I am at a woodworking show I will try out one of the high end planes. Maybe I don’t know what I am missing, or maybe just hitting the cookie is good enough for me.

Some other questions. I went through a fair amount of sand paper cleaning up the plane. Is there one particular type of paper (or something else) that is suited for this task?

Another reason I stayed away from hand tools used for cutting is the price of good waterstones and other sharpening devices. Like most (I am sure) in our group, I have carried a pocket knife since I was quite young. My dad taught me how to sharpen it and other cutting tools. But we never had the wide range of stones that are said to be required for woodworking tool upkeep. Maybe that is one reason we leaned more to power tools. Although my dad resharped steel saw blades and taught me how to do this and also set the teeth. Sharp tools were important.

Not to get too off topic but I have sharpening wheel that is at least a foot in diameter and is belt driven with a water tray underneath. It is quite old and now is powered by an washing machine motor. There are pullies to gear down the rotation. The stone is off white in color and it does a good job of sharpening knives, axes and the like. Not sure what the stone is made of. It belonged to my uncle and has more sentimental value to me, but it is still useful.

-- Ron, Kutztown, PA "The reward is in the journey."

View Lochlainn1066's profile


138 posts in 2799 days

#5 posted 11-27-2010 10:43 PM

I use 3M Wet and Dry paper with kerosene. And I go through a lot of it too. I think sanding a large area of cast iron just wears it out fast.

I started out with a set of cheap diamond stone plates but found a couple of cheap waterstones and got hooked. The diamond stones last forever but the waterstones just hands down cut better. I use an 800 or 1000 and finish with honing compound on a strop. I’m looking for a reasonable 4000 or 8000 finishing stone but they sure aren’t cheap!

Everybody who asks me what the critical skill is to hand tools I tell them sharpening. Once you can sharpen a plane blade right you almost never have to use sandpaper again.

-- Nate,

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3809 days

#6 posted 11-28-2010 02:21 AM

I wouldn’t get hung up over a mirror finish on the sole. Let’s face it, if you use it much, it will get scarred. All it takes is one grit of sand, etc and it will be marked for a while. Also, if a plane sole can be corrugated, than it goes to reason it does not have to be all mirror finish. As long as the final abrasive marks run front-to-back, it should not affect its use.Slap some wax on it and go make shavings!

The biggest problem I have with flattening soles is the graphite in the ductile iron loads up the paper and becomes a lubricant (just like the dry-lube used in door locks). If using coarse dry paper of cloth-backed abrasive to start with, brush it off frequently to get the black dust (graphite) off.


-- Go

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 2839 days

#7 posted 11-28-2010 02:40 AM

I use a granite reference block with wet dry adhesive sandpaper to flatten a sole – I must say that I rarely find the need to do it as most good (new) planes are properly flattened. You can use mineral oil or water with this paper – mineral oil is nicer and seems to provide a smoother finish (may be a subjective observation).

With wooden planes I plane them true periodically with my 5 1/2 smoother set very fine. That works well for me.

-- DonH Orleans Ontario

View gko's profile


83 posts in 3266 days

#8 posted 11-28-2010 08:14 PM

Porter Cable has these rolls of sand paper that has a sticky side. So many uses for them but I take a roll out about 2 ft. long and stick it to either my table saw or jointer. I might start with 100 grit and work up to 220. Then you can make loooong strokes to sand the soles of planes quicker and more evenly. I also saw Rob Cossman do that at a plane refurb clinic. I can flatten a beat up old Stanley in about 5-10 minutes tops. Just make sure the mouth in front of the blade edge and the back end is totally flat. When Rob worked on a plane at the clinic he left the area behind the blade untouched by the sanding and it got fantastic shavings. On Japanese planes you prepare the sole so the wood doesn’t touch behind the edge, important that the area in front of the edge gets full contact.

-- Wood Menehune, Honolulu

View Steven57's profile


9 posts in 2781 days

#9 posted 12-15-2010 03:50 AM

I guess I’m anal. I polish everything to 8000grit and then wax. cuts wood pretty good too!

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