Totally Confused Hand Plane Newbie

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Forum topic by 47phord posted 11-09-2012 01:23 PM 2214 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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182 posts in 2435 days

11-09-2012 01:23 PM

Topic tags/keywords: plane sharpening camber sharpening

I bought an old #4 Stanley off of ebay a while ago and I’m finally getting around to using it, but I need to sharpen the iron first. Actually, the iron is crooked (one corner is 3/32” higher than the other) so I need to grind it first, then sharpen it. Here’s the problem: I’ve read articles here, on the internet, and in various magazines about doing this and folks seem to be split right down the middle as to whether you should grind a camber on a smoothing plane iron or not. Some say leave it straight, some say straight but round the corners, others say use a slight camber. WTF? IS there a right way or is this one of those ‘whatever works best for you’ deals? I really don’t want to spend the time say, grinding a camber only to discover I should have left it straight (or vice-versa).

14 replies so far

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2484 days

#1 posted 11-09-2012 01:28 PM

It is possible to straighten out that iron. I would use a belt sander and maybe just a little grind stone, but be sure to not heat it up to red or discoloration. Keep a bowl of water handy. I just use my belt sander to get it straight, then my TS has a flat surface to use other sheets of sandpaper to hone it. I cut a piece of walnut to use as a guide to maintain the angle which is usually around 22 degrees. The rounded edges are called Jack planes I believe and the straight blades are smoothing. But there are others here who can answer all your questions.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View carguy460's profile


807 posts in 2533 days

#2 posted 11-09-2012 01:39 PM

I don’t know that there is a “right” way per se, but in my quest for knowledge I have found that on a smoothing plane a straight edge works best, with the corners rounded off to prevent them from digging into your work. Paul Sellers has a great video about sharpening:.

There are many more on this site that are much more experienced than I, and I’m sure they will chime in soon!

-- Jason K

View hhhopks's profile


654 posts in 2575 days

#3 posted 11-09-2012 01:56 PM

Here are the lessons that I have learned.

#1. With a straight grind, it cuts great but have a tendency to dig in if I am not careful. Also it leaves tracks that is obvisous and requires clean up.

#2. When the blade is not grind 90 deg to the side, the lateral adjust will be limited. The lateral is alway at one side. I found that blade grind to 90 deg from the side works best for me. How the fog sits on the bed will impact the lateral adjustment (will somewhat componsate the the blade angle relative to the side. I generally prefer to have the lateral to be sit in the middle (just a goal to shoot for), but once it is set, why would that need to be adjusted?

#3. I have added a camber to the blade on both side (free hand). That seems to help for fine shaving cuts. The tracks are not as obvious, but the width of the cut is slightly narrower. From the geometry, this type of profiles does seem to make more sense to me.

I think you should just try it for yourself and see what you like better. New blades are easy to get for a #4.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View bondogaposis's profile


5086 posts in 2549 days

#4 posted 11-09-2012 02:01 PM

I prefer a slight camber on smoothing planes. In your situation however I would grind it flat and use it for a while and if you decide you want to try a camber later, either buy another iron or put a camber on the existing iron. It’s no big deal to put a camber on and for smoothing planes you want a very slight one. If it doesn’t suit you no big deal to sharpen back to straight.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3356 days

#5 posted 11-09-2012 02:03 PM

Jack planes are specifically “jack of all trades” planes, hence their name. Specifically, it is the Stanley No. 5 type of plane. Because it is a general purpose plane, the plane irons can be varied to meet a certain custom need, by keeping straight sides to smooth and joint lumber, or by cambering to hog out tons of material (scrub plane).

Rounding the corners (the word camber confuses there) of a straight iron just keeps the corners from digging in while smoothing. A huge camber allows you to hog out a lot of material by reducing resistance at the edges and going deeper with the middle (I think the typical radius for that camber is around 3”). Many No. 4 planes are set up as scrub planes, but their general purpose is as a smoother, so you’ll want to keep a straight iron (perhaps rounding the corners). I like to leave mine unrounded on plain boards because I like to see where I’ve been…I smooth the entire board. If used on sections of a board, I like the corners rounded so people can’t see where I’ve been…but I’d typically use a No. 2 or 3 for that, and those irons have rounded corners for me.

-- jay,

View knotscott's profile


8146 posts in 3573 days

#6 posted 11-09-2012 02:05 PM

It really depends on how you’ll be using it and your preferences. As mentioned, if it’s not cambered it’s more likely to leave tooling marks on your work. I prefer a slight camber…..too much camber, and it leaves subtle dished marks.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View JohnChung's profile


416 posts in 2272 days

#7 posted 11-09-2012 02:58 PM

It really depends on what you want to use the plane for smoothing or Kind of Jack plane…...... In short there are 3 ways to shape your iron. Chamber, straight and rounded edges. Each has their advantages. You need to decide which way you want to go with your plane. But let’s say this is your first plane and you want to test water with hand tools. I would round the edge of the blade. It may not be the best shape for ALL situation but good enough for most situation.

If you do get serious you are going to HAVE PLENTY of hand planes and WAY too many blades…....

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15690 posts in 2816 days

#8 posted 11-09-2012 03:26 PM

Yes, there’s a right way. And that’s your way.

My way is to ease the corners of each of my bench planes. Lay the iron on the bench, and swipe a file two or three times against each corner, a quarter of a circle for the motion. That’s enough, no need to over do it. For camber, all of my bench planes have that, too. But to varying degrees. And yes, there’s disagreement as to whether a jointer and smoothe should have camber.

My smoothers (#4, for example) have very slight camber. I like the shaving to feather out from the middle of the iron in use. It’s hardly noticable to look at the iron alone, but with a square you can see it. My jointer (#8) is set up pretty much the same way. My jack, on the other hand, has a bunch. Not nearly as much as a scrub, but it’s evident, and that’s so it can hog off material when traversing and readying a board for jointing, and do it with as little effort as possible. The jointer’s gonna clean it up, after all.

Good luck in your journey with hand planes; they’re incredible tools and truly fun to use when things come together.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Don W's profile

Don W

19007 posts in 2765 days

#9 posted 11-09-2012 09:09 PM

I think part of the confusion is what is considered a camber. You do need to taper the edges to avoid leaving marks. I like to taper off, so you could call it a camber, but it doesn’t start anywhere near center of the iron.

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

View 47phord's profile


182 posts in 2435 days

#10 posted 11-09-2012 11:27 PM

Thanks for all the replies. I checked the iron again with my combo square, and it looks like it would be alot less work to go with an ever-so-slight camber on the edge vs. straight across, so that is the path I will start with.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2685 days

#11 posted 11-10-2012 12:00 AM

I like the responses…. not like so many of the threads that end up in large urinary contests.

Just my personal preference, and I happened upon it by accident of experiment, is that I use a straight blade and then finish with a card scraper.

My reasoning is that I have a number of planes from the 19th and early 20th century and none of them seem to ever had any camber put on them at any time.

I use the card scrapers as a finish because it clean up any tooling marks and leaves a really clean surface.

But, then again, that’s just me.

Good luck on what ever you decide.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Don W's profile

Don W

19007 posts in 2765 days

#12 posted 11-10-2012 01:16 AM

I agree Dallas. I really think it has more to do with how you sharpen and not planing styles.

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

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 3149 days

#13 posted 11-10-2012 01:17 AM

I have used smoothers with both cambered blades and blades that have the corners knocked off. I much prefer the blade straight and knocking off the corners with a file. The reason for this is two fold.

1. Knocking the corners down with a file is very quick and when done, no more tracks left from the sharp corners of the blade. It is easier to accomplish this as opposed to cambering the blade and takes less time.

2. Cambering a smoothing blade reduces (sometimes significantly , if the camber is exaggerated) the effective contact area of the blade. So if you have a 4 1/2 say, and your camber is is pretty robust, you end up with a blade that contacts an area equivalent to a 4 or even a 3. Kind of a waste of what a 4 1/2 is built for; more contact area for less time or strokes for smoothing operations.

I tried cambering my smooth plane blades at first, but do not do it any more because of the two reasons above.

Good Luck!

-- Mike

View 47phord's profile


182 posts in 2435 days

#14 posted 11-13-2012 01:00 AM

As I stated earlier, I tried the slight camber route (because there was one more-or-less there already) and didn’t like it. It seemed dumb to have that wide blade and only take a 3/4” wide shaving. So, I broke down and ground it straight and sharpened it and am much happier with the result. I can see the tracks everyone was talking about and may try rounding the corners. Thanks again for the help.

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