Wooden Jack Plane Questions

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Forum topic by BobKat posted 12-31-2014 01:26 AM 1460 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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9 posts in 3595 days

12-31-2014 01:26 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question plane refurbishing

On a weekend trip to a flea market I found a wooden jack plane that seemed like a good deal ($20). It is a Varvill and Sons 16-1/2” plane with a Sorby 2-1/8” iron and chip breaker. The body of the plan is cracked but can be repaired (I suspect). I’ve included some pics with the post. From some on-line research it seems Varvill was a somewhat large maker of planes in York England in the late 19th and early 20th century.
I don’t know much about wooden planes. I watched a YouTube video Paul Sellers made about setting up a wooden plane that was very helpful, but I still have some questions that I hope you can help with.

1) It doesn’t seem like the iron is original to the plane. The iron is way shorter than the wedge, which does not seem to be normal with info I found on line. Can someone in the know provide some guidance? Also the iron fits snuggly onto the bed and in the mouth, with no left or right movement at all. This does not appear to be normal as it provides no adjustment to straighten the iron in relation to the mouth.
2) I bought this with the intentions of fixing it and using it. Is this a dumb idea? Is it more valuable as a vintage tool than a tool I’d use in my hobbyist shop? I’d hate to “fix” it only to have someone tell me I’m a moron for ruining a beautiful turn of the century tool. Does this plane have more value than $20?

I may be wrong but I really think this plane is over 100 years old. When I think of the people that owned it before me, and the projects they might have made with it, I kinda don’t want to mess with it now. Am I over thinking this?

5 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3883 days

#1 posted 12-31-2014 01:44 AM

Grind and hone the iron straight across, cambering a little
if you like. There were more than one Sorby brand too.
It’s a common old mark for old plane irons but I don’t
think it is the Robert Sorby of today.

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2197 days

#2 posted 12-31-2014 01:57 AM

It’s very unlikely that it’s a valuable collectors item. There’s a lot of these out there, and they don’t usually go for much. You’d have to find someone that has a copy of one or both of the British plane maker’s books to see if they have more information on the maker. You’re most likely right that it’s over 100yrs old, most wooden planes are as that style fell out of favor as the iron planes became more popular somewhere before/around the turn of the 20th century.

The blades are too tight in almost every old wooden plane I have or find and many of the cheeks (sides of the mouth) are cracked where yours is. I assume it’s because the wood continues drying and shrinking over the many decades. That crack unfortunately does negatively affect the usability apparently. And finally the iron is probably short because it was well used and got shorter from many sharpenings.

All that was just to say if you want to try to fix it up, you’re almost certainly not harming anything. When I last asked about fixing the issue of the blade being too tight, most people seemed to recommend grinding the blade narrower, though I didn’t really understand why compared to widening the mouth of the plane. Maybe because you need a plane makers float to do that properly.

View bandit571's profile (online now)


21983 posts in 2919 days

#3 posted 12-31-2014 02:34 AM

Don’t really want to open the wood area up any more, walls start to get a bit too thin..

Another culprit is the wooden wedge, sand it down a bit to get a better fit. DO NOT add any finish to the wedge, as it needs to grip the rest of the parts. Make sure the wedge doesn’t go out the bottom of the plane, trim it back if needed.

I used a small bit of “super glue” CA glue, and clamp the “eyes” in place.

Added a knob to the front of mine. Seems this model did have one when sold. Ohio Tool Co. #81

Wood just gets a few coats of BLO, sole gets a coat of wax.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Don W's profile

Don W

19041 posts in 2803 days

#4 posted 12-31-2014 10:33 PM

fix it up and use and enjoy it.

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

View Jeff Heath's profile

Jeff Heath

67 posts in 3305 days

#5 posted 01-09-2015 09:57 PM

I hate to say it, but if you’ve got a cracked cheek on your plane, then you might be wasting your time. It will be difficult to to properly seat the wedge to hold the iron if the plane is cracked. It’s only going to get worse.

Problem #2, if you’re iron is shorter than your wedge, how are you going to adjust depth by tapping on the end of the iron with a plane hammer? You’re going to have a tough time.

There’s nothing special about a wooden plane from the late 19th century. That’s pretty much well past the prime of wooden planes, as already stated. You can do anything you want to do with it, including shortening the wedge to be 1/2” lower than the top of the iron. As far as value goes, and I don’t mean to be harsh, but a cracked wooden plane has the same value as a piece of firewood in the firewood pile.

Use this as a learning experience to fettle the plane and see how well you can get it to work. If the iron won’t fit in the body with a little play, that’s a problem, too. You have to either widen the cheeks (remove wood from inside with a float or hand made wedge with sandpaper), or remove metal from the width of the iron. You have to decide which is easier for you to do. If the cheeks are already thin, and already cracked, you’re limited to option B. Or, measure the width of your iron, and purchase a thinner one.

As you can see by my avatar, I make wooden planes for a living.

Cheers, and good luck.

-- Jeff Heath

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