More controversy and myth busting – vibration causes chatter?

Yes, it’s rhetorical really. I wanted to look at something you may not have considered and in searching for something to resolve chatter in your plane or on your wood you may not have though possible too. Let’s at least reason together for a moment.

Squeaks and squeals from planes

I sometimes, quite often, hear the squeak, squeal or trumpeting sound when I or someone else is planing, only to look down and see chatter marks in the surface of something I or they are planing. Most times I shift and twist the plane to skewing position. The slighter, more skewed orientation gathers the surface fibres and leaves it perfectly smooth. Then, on other occasions, the noise continues and I feel invaded. It’s quite loud and predictably repetitive. I reach for a 4-oz tomato can with a neatly rolled and then wadded up rag, previously soaked in light machine oil such as 3-1 and left to soak down and then wick up very small amounts to the ‘dry’ surface. I have used this for 49 years…every day. I pull my plane across the ragged surface so that the sole gathers the most slight surface treatment. I place the plane on the surface I am planing and I plane the surface effortlessly and in silence. The number one question that arises after I do this is, “Doesn’t this affect the finish on my wood when I apply the finish?” My answer is always, “No.” Finish when tainted with contaminants like silicone or grease or oil will cause the surface of some finishes to fish-eye. Because almost all trace of contaminant is planed or sanded away, I have never had that happen on any of my work using the accessory I described. Many woodworkers will tell you this is a problem. You don’t need to concern yourself. It’s not generally true and in 49 years of working and finishing wood, it has never once proved a problem for me.

Articles can be misleading or, more likely, they may not consider everything

Articles defining plane chatter and indeed spokeshave chatter rarely mention simple, pure plane vibration caused by sole friction between the sole and the wood itself. Inevitably most automatically say it is always thin irons and lightweight Bailey-pattern planes. Of course that’s not at all true. Thin irons were used by hundreds of thousands of woodworkers through a whole century with no questions ever arising about chatter at all. Bailey pattern #4’s never chattered before the article was written and because some people needed something to make, but couldn’t better the #4 plane, they proposed a thicker iron to counter the problem of plane chatter that never existed in the first place.

The single phenomenon of plane chatter through sole friction, friction vibration not online chatter, causes more chatter than any thin iron ever did. Now then, did you know that putting dampening material between two components, the cutting-iron assembly and the plane body – the frog mounted in the sole – creates plane dampening and this dampening minimizes any adverse vibration we might perhaps more describe as an oscillation. This oscillation results in two simultaneous reactions; clear sound and surface chatter. This chatter counters the plane’s performance potential and the plane cuts extremely close symmetrical and parallel lines. If I take the plane iron assembly from the body of the plane, and continue with the same planing action, the plane still vibrates. This then proves that the cutting iron and the cutting edge did not cause surface chatter so much as respond to the vibration in the plane body carrying the cutting iron assembly. Some might at this point say that that doesn’t happen to thick ironed thick soled plane types. That’s not true. It does. But of course the 4-oz tomato oilcan treatment works on light and heavyweight planes alike, so it’s not an issue. Of course if you have bought a heavyweight or Bed Rock type plane it’s hard to admit that it chatters. Most of my students that have bought heavyweights say that they bought them because their lightweight planes chattered. They are often surprised that they then found that their heavyweight plane chattered too. We apply a 4-oz tomato can stuffed with a rag to the sole and they immediately respond by stopping their chatter.

Bevel-up bevel-down planes

Then we looked at bevel-up planes. We found that they squealed and chattered occasionally too. Actually they did it quite frequently. These planes are all fairly heavy. On end grain the chatter seemed a more common occurrence. Well, we applied a 4-oz tomato can stuffed with a rag to the sole and it stopped chattering; no answering back at all. When we use a #4 smoothing plane to the same endgrain task our results where no-noise no-chatter planing with excelling results that paralleled any other plane. They stand amazed.

Cupboard shelf and drawer liner hits the spot

Adding silicone shelf liner (that rubbery stuff in rolls that has perforations all the way through it) between the plane body and the cutting iron on any plane (heavy or not) changes the sound of the plane as you work the surface of wood. Try it. I use shelf liner to prove my case. The type they often call silicon shelf liner for non-slip situating of cups and plates in cupboards. This plastic material cushions dishes as you place your fragile breakables in the cupboards, especially on slippery melamine surfaces. This stuff mushes up and compresses between hard surfaces and works like the dampening material used under the bonnet (hood USA) of your car. Unfortunately, because of its sticking ability, it also makes the lateral adjustment lever hard to move and this slows down the shifting of the lever needed to micro-adjust the cutting edge alignment.

Look at any surface where the usual squeak takes place during planing end grain and you will find chatter marks. Add a minute waxing to the sole of the plane and it will disappear. Had you added plastic shelf liner between the metal blade and the plane body, it would likely not have happened.

On really fine work, using say a #151 spokeshave, I place a bed of silicone shelf liner under the cutting iron and on the plane body. What joy this is to use when I do this. No oscillation, no noise and a pristine surface left behind.


  1. Paul
    I have always used candle wax rubbed on the sole.
    Most times it feels that you have sharpened the cutter it moves so effortlessly again.

  2. No disrespect intended, Paul, but I don’t follow you. On the one hand, you say the plane iron is not the source of chatter, but then in the last couple paragraphs, you give a solution that has nothing to do with the sole of the plane? Are you suggesting that the sole still chatters (or causes chatter) but the plane iron is not affected because it is riding on a “shock absorber” of sorts?

    1. I am saying that the plane iron chatter is a rare phenomenon and misdiagnosed condition by most woodworkers. Their poor planing technique produces multiple possibilities resulting in a surface pattern that many call chatter and attribute to the iron itself. I am saying that the plane body can cause chatter and more likely does, so, do one or the other or both things, ie, the dampener and/or the oil on the sole, and the body chatter usually disappears, proving that it is not the iron itself but sole friction on the wood. A plane iron can of course chatter too. It is more the rarity than the norm and is almost always caused by poor plane management, dullness, incorrect setting, over aggression, diffidence and two dozen other possibilities.

  3. Mr. Sellers,

    I have something of a novel situation that I would love to hear your thoughts on. As a woodworker, for whatever reason, I have developed something of an addiction to building wooden handplanes. At present, I have two smoothing planes I just finished with full-size Hock irons bedded at 50 and 55 degrees respectively. I am presently soaking a rag to try the oil method you suggest (I used boiled linseed instead of machine as it is a wooden plane) however, I like your solution of inserting vibration dampening material. On a wood plane, the blade needs a very slight ability to slip to change the depth without removing the wedge entirely. What would you suggest to accomplish this? I think the silicone will probably prove to be a grip that is a tad too effective. Felt? Leather? Thanks for your help and I appreciate you posting this article.

    I’m bookmarking your blog right now so I can read over it!

    1. Hello Ryan,
      3-1 light machine oil is not spontaneously combustable and Boiled and Raw linseed oil is. Wadded rags soaked in linseed oil are the source of fires as they ignite spontaneously according to certain conditions existing such as warmth, atmospheric content and so on. Even cloths laid out with no folds have been known to set on fire. This is the same with Danish oils and many more.
      I think that tapping on the silicone shelf liner would most likely work and is worth the test.
      Re dampening planes
      I think perhaps felt and leather may be too thick and cushioning for what we want here, unless you have some super thin material for this. The silicone shelf liner compresses markedly and is barely detectable when the lever cam (bench planes) or cap iron (spokeshaves) is installed.

      1. I had been somewhat concerned about the spontaneous combustion issue as well. I’m drying the rag as we speak. What I ended up doing was lapping the bottom of the planes and then finishing them out with BLO. I hadn’t applied any sort of finish to the bottom, which I’m sure wasn’t doing much to help the cutting issue. I will switch to the machine oil for the lubrication.

        Just in trying the plane while the oil was wet, without putting anything under the blade, there was a huge difference both in the quality and ease of the cut. Before I had the tell tale scalloped appearance of chatter. Just in this brief test, the cut was appreciably smoother, such that I couldn’t see it by eye, though I could feel it by touch. I will give the silicone a try and see how it goes. Thanks again!

        I think you should submit this to Fine Woodworking. Those prizes that they give away for the “Methods of Work” always seem to be pretty awesome.

  4. A further, slight, variant on the question of lubricating the plane’s sole:

    I have never used the ‘rolled up rag in the tin’ method, and will try it, as it evidently works. It may well be quicker than my own practice (over many years) which is to keep one of those small, plastic bottles which come with eye-drops in them, and use it to spot 4 or so drops if thin oil onto the sole of the plane. A couple of flicks with the fingers spreads this evenly.

    The oil I use is ‘polishing oil’ (as in French polish.) I have always guessed this to be some sort of thin linseed oil, but don’t really know. (Any information on this?)

    Certainly, the effect on the performance of the plane is dramatic. The cut is cleaner and seems to come from a sharper blade, and the plane is much easier to push over the surface. This is especially so when using a shooting-board, with the oil applied to the side of the plane which rests on the board.

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