Help with Moving Fillister Plane

  • Advertise with us

« back to Hand Tools forum

Forum topic by Scott R. Turner posted 12-22-2011 03:23 AM 5560 views 3 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Scott R. Turner's profile

Scott R. Turner

267 posts in 3154 days

12-22-2011 03:23 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question plane fillister sharpening refurbishing

I recently purchased this wooden moving fillister plane made by John Bell of Philadelphia around 1840-50:

It’s a beautiful piece of work and tempts me to become a collector, but I’m intending to use it in the shop. I spent quite a bit of time over the weekend flattening the iron and honing the edge. It’s fairly sharp now, although I’m not terribly proficient at honing by hand. (It has a skew blade, so I wasn’t able use my honing jig.)

This is my first wooden hand plane, and the setup seems terribly fussy—although I’m sure most of that is just my inexperience. Eventually I was fairly successful by removing the fence, putting the plane down on a board and setting the plane so that the cutting edge was just resting on the board and the outside of the iron was even with the edge of the plane. I put the wedge in and then tapped out the iron just a hair. That gave me a fairly even setting across the blade and after I put the fence back on I was able to cut a fair rabbet. It’s a little bit of a challenge to keep the rabbet totally square and consistent, but again this might be operator error.

I’m wondering what I should do to tune/restore the plane to improve its working condition. The fence seems to be in fairly rough condition to me:

Is it advisable/worthwhile to clean up the edge of the fence? And if so, would flattening it with a #5 be a good approach? Or use a jointer?

Eyeballing with a straightedge, the sole looked flat. Would it be a good idea to flatten that?

The rest of the plane is in fairly good shape, but I’m open to any suggestions. And if anyone can point me to a good online source on tuning a fillister plane I’d be delighted—my various Google searches didn’t turn up much.

9 replies so far

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2917 days

#1 posted 12-22-2011 03:47 AM

Hi Scott, I just bought one very similar to yours. I went through the same stuff you did to get mine up and running. Sounds like you did everything you need. I would make sure that the fence and the sole are at 90 degrees to each other to make keeping square rabbets a little easier. Yours has an interesting knicker on it. Don’t forget to put an edge on that as well.

I did plane the sole on mine, it needed it. Not a bad idea with some old wood body planes.

Good Luck

-- Mike

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3247 days

#2 posted 12-22-2011 04:49 AM

Start by making sure the sole is at 90º to the body and true. You want it straight and flat. You then want to bed the iron. Use a dry erase marker to mark the back of the iron and install it in the plane with the wedge set. It shouldn’t take more than a light tap to set the wedge then drive the iron down about 1/2” and remove it. The marker that rubs off on the bed well show you high spots. You want to end up to where the bottom 1/2” or so of the bed makes good contact with the iron. Don’t set the wedge too hard, it’s probably the most common mistake made by people learning to use wooden planes. To get the proper angle on the iron simply scribe off the sole. True the edge of the fence so that it’s clean and at 90º to the sole. You should be able to sharpen the nicker with a file. Plane makers most often tempered nickers so that they could be maintained with a file. If the nicker is too hard for a file, use slips.

Use an adjustable square to set the fence. I suggest you set the plane shy of your gauge lines for the rabbet then use a rabbet plane to work to your gauge lines. I believe this was how moving fillister planes were used when accuracy was important.

View Scott R. Turner's profile

Scott R. Turner

267 posts in 3154 days

#3 posted 12-22-2011 08:55 PM

Thanks very much for the helpful comments. My nicker (knickers? :-) is fine, but the rest of the advice is welcomed and I will take it to heart! I’m especially grateful for the explanation of bedding the iron, which would never have occurred to me.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2620 days

#4 posted 12-22-2011 09:17 PM

First things first. Congrats on a Beautiful tool and thank you for putting it to work rather than entombing it in a glass case.

I would use a smoother to flatten the edge of the fence and take VERY light shavings when I do it. This will get you more than flat enough. A light allow is ok but a hump in the center will make things go wonky.I would set up the depth of cut with the fence removed. Take a shaving from both sides of the iron and see if they are the same thickness. I would add the fence after that. Using a combination square to set the fore and aft sections of the back is pretty reliable.

If you decide to flatten the sole (I would use a smoother but a jointer would work as well) keep it 90 to the side as stated before and make sure that you have the iron in the plane (retracted to avoid damage of course) and wedged to full tension.

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

View Scott R. Turner's profile

Scott R. Turner

267 posts in 3154 days

#5 posted 12-24-2011 02:43 AM

I wanted to thank everyone again for the advice and help!

I took the plane apart last night, flattened & trued the fence, flattened the sole of the plane and lightly flattened the plane bed (which was convex). I used my #5 Stanley set for very light shavings, but the sole needed a fair amount of work. I flattened the bed with a file stuck into the throat (I couldn’t think of any other way to do that) and worked it pretty lightly for fear of opening the throat excessively, change the bed angle, etc. I also sharpened the nicker a bit with a file, cleaned the depth stop with steel wool, and gave the whole plane a coat of linseed oil & furniture wax.

I’m not sure which of the tweaks was most needed, but whatever the combination, the plane now works 100% better. It glides along the wood and spits out thin spiral shavings and cuts a nice square rabbet:

Considering it was basically non-functional when I got it, I couldn’t be happier. Thanks again to everyone for the help!

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3146 posts in 3075 days

#6 posted 12-24-2011 04:56 AM

Those shavings are downright beautiful! Nice job on the plane!

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2620 days

#7 posted 12-24-2011 05:14 AM


I had a thought the other day about the side of the tool…a bit late for you but I figured I could post it anyway. The side wall could be less than 90 degrees as long as the tilt was away from the shoulder of the joint. The fence is what registers the joint as square, so such a change would improve accuracy as well as decrease friction.

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

View Don W's profile

Don W

18685 posts in 2533 days

#8 posted 12-24-2011 04:56 PM

Scott, thanks for posting this. I have one of these (different maker, same plane) in pieces on my bench. I need to get it back together. Mine has an internal bolt for raising and lowering the depth stop, which was rusted so bad it broke getting it apart. I need to fix that some how.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Arch_E's profile


48 posts in 2488 days

#9 posted 12-25-2011 04:49 AM

Congrats! I just rehabbed one new to me, as well. Boy, it’s fun to work rebate magic with these woodies!!!

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics