Getting a stanley #4 to work?

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Forum topic by derosa posted 01-19-2012 09:26 AM 2388 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1568 posts in 2256 days

01-19-2012 09:26 AM

Is there some sort of secret to getting a #4 to actually do anything useful? I have two of these things and I can’t get either one of them to actually plane with any kind of consistency or quality, both have been tuned by lapping the soles flat. Blades have been sharpened, one with a very tiny camber at the corners. The frog on both has been adjusted to flush with the mouth so the blade will smoothly transition to the mouth opening.

Just this evening I used my #7 to joint up boards tight enough that light doesn’t show through the seams and have gotten good enough with it that recently I’ve started to be able to use the non-clamp method of gluing joints. I used my #6 to make nice even cambers on all the edges without any tear out. And I used my #5 to level out a very slightly warped board before resetting the blade to smooth it. Because no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get either #4 to do any smoothing at all. It didn’t want to remove any sort of shaving and only when I started pressing down did it do anything and that was to dig into the wood despite going with the grain. A slight turn of the adjusting knob and it wouldn’t even dig in with heavy pressure let alone produce a shaving.

I was watching the woodwright’s shop today and they had a #4 producing the cleanest shavings, something I’ve been able to do with my #5 and my #7 if I have two boards that don’t need a lot of jointing but never even close with the 4. So what am I missing?

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

13 replies so far

View paratrooper34's profile


865 posts in 2373 days

#1 posted 01-19-2012 01:01 PM

Rev Russ, it is hard to nail down what the issue is as everything you explain sounds right and the plane should do something other than what you are getting. What I suggest is going to a website where you can watch videos of planes being set up to work and see what you are missing. Since you are able to set up the other planes for use, it seems you are missing something from the equation; the #4 smoothers are wonderful planes that leave a glass smooth surface. Even crappy quality planes will do decent work when set up properly. Watch some videos and see what the problem may be.

Good Luck!

-- Mike

View Don W's profile (online now)

Don W

17878 posts in 1988 days

#2 posted 01-19-2012 03:00 PM

How wide do you have the mouth set? If you can slide a business card threw it, it not tight enough. I agree, what you describe sounds right. I’ve yet to find a #4 stanley I couldn’t make work, although some take some work.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View Brandon's profile


4151 posts in 2372 days

#3 posted 01-19-2012 04:07 PM

Sorry to hear about your #4 difficulties. Are you doing anything differently than with your #5, for instance? How much space is there between the tip of the iron and the bottom edge of the chipbreaker?

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View bondogaposis's profile


3969 posts in 1772 days

#4 posted 01-19-2012 04:22 PM

I have the same problem w/ a Stanley 4 1/2, just can’t get it perform like my other planes.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 2301 days

#5 posted 01-19-2012 04:24 PM

My only thought would be its just not sharp enough. To get the really fine thin shavings the cutting edge of the iron needs to be perfect. Thats the only thing I can really think of.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View graywolf's profile


63 posts in 2114 days

#6 posted 01-19-2012 04:30 PM

Rev Russ, It’s hard to nail down where your problem is without putting ones hands on the plane. paratrooper is right check out some of the vidios on the net. I have several smoothers (my wife says I have problem) and the all work well. I personally would start with checking the bottom and double check it’s condition. Then I would check and make sure the blade is bedding well to the frog. Aswell I would check the frog adjustment and even change it until something works. I know this is not a lot of help but I do wish you a lot of luck.

-- Richard, North Carolina,

View Brandon's profile


4151 posts in 2372 days

#7 posted 01-19-2012 04:33 PM

One other option—- perhaps take the blade from your working #5 and put it in your #4, chipbreaker and all. Maybe that will prove something (or not).

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View StumpyNubs's profile


6830 posts in 2221 days

#8 posted 01-19-2012 05:00 PM

Stanley sure sold a LOT of those #4’s… I prefer the #3 myself for smoothing, and the #5 for heavier work.

Let us know what you figure out!

-Jim; aka “Stumpy Nubs”
(The greatest woodworking show since the invention of wood- check it out!)

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Sylvain's profile


638 posts in 1920 days

#9 posted 01-19-2012 05:30 PM

As suggested by Graywolf,
check bedding blade to frog and frog to body

have a look at
(always start reading at the bottom of the page from episode 1 to 12)

and read

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4407 posts in 3381 days

#10 posted 01-19-2012 05:32 PM

Having to “press down” to get a cut? Is the sole reasonably flat? I can’t get my mind around this problem.


View derosa's profile


1568 posts in 2256 days

#11 posted 01-19-2012 08:17 PM

Don- I’ll try the business card trick, I don’t think the opening is quite that tight.

Brandon- I don’t have a measurement for the space between the blade and the chipbreaker but I do all of them by eyeball and move them really close together; I can be a little obsessed and tend to try and use all the planes so if one needs sharpening then they all get sharpened and set the same. I’ve also made sure there is no gap between the chip breaker and the blade. My 6 had a small gap in the middle and it would jam up with chips so I look for this as well. I’ll also try swapping out the one from my 5 tonight and see what happens.

Stumpy- I find the 4 to be so light and small that I think a 3 would just be too small. What I really need to do is get working on my cabinet scraper for some of the real fine smoothing.

I’ll also give the bedding of the frog to the bed another close look over tonight. One of them is actually the last plane from my great grandfather’s set that wasn’t sold so i really want to get this one working.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

View crank49's profile


3979 posts in 2392 days

#12 posted 01-19-2012 09:02 PM

You positive the frame is not cracked?
You said it can be doing nothing till you press down and then it diggs in.
A hairline crack opening up would explain that.

But I would have thought you would be able to see it.

A twisted blade might rock under load as well.

Something has to be shifting under load to explain what’s going on.

-- Michael: Hillary has a long list of accomplishments, though most DAs would refer to them as felonies.

View BubbaIBA's profile


383 posts in 1797 days

#13 posted 01-19-2012 11:07 PM

Plane bodies flex. See your statement that if you press down it will cut. While you may have flattened the sole, there is a good chance it is not “flat’ once the iron and chip breaker are installed for cutting and you may need to re-flatten it. See Paul Sellers blog for good info on tuning smoothing planes.

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