Home » Paul Sellers’ Blog » Making a Fully Adjusting Wooden-Bodied Plane

Making a Fully Adjusting Wooden-Bodied Plane

This will be the first in the series over the next few blogs.

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Two planes sit side by side, one, a wooden-bodied, handmade individual, the other, cast from iron in lots of hundreds throughout any single day. On the one hand the old wooden plane required well seasoned and dried wood that lay dormant under cover for ten years before working and cycling through began. The handmade wooden one required the much skilled work of a crafting artisan. Actually,no, many hours of highly skilled handwork. Castings in the form of iron-bodied planes on the other hand were developed and designed to remove the necessity and reliance on such skill. P1040360Once cast, the iron castings were left to ‘season’ for a year in crates to relieve some of the stresses in the metal before the refining and milling processes prepared them to receive the cast iron block we call the frog. It took only a few minutes to make the cast metal planes, that is once the moulds were set up and the right men doing the pour poured the molten metal that would soon become the all metal counterparts we’ve commonly used over the past 150 years. The metal flows like lava to the lowest levels, fills the moulds and after total cooling they are removed from the sand and piled in crates to wait. At some point, a year or more later, the plane soles are lifted to milling machines and the work begins to develop meeting points on the inside of the sole where the frog, the central hub governing all of the plane’s future settings, registers on three fixed points inside the mid section of the sole.P1040361

The No 7 Woden plane four pictures down is my longest bench plane in my collection of Woden planes. Woden is not my inept misspelling of ‘wooden’, it’s the name of a Germanic neopagan god, but that’s by the by. The Woden plane is a decent plane that follows the Leonard Bailey patterns of construction, so, whereas Woden is the brand name, Leonard Bailey is the designer and the originator and I have always enjoyed using the Woden planes alongside my Stanleys and Records.P1040143

I recently made this wooden plane using the gubbins from a bad eBayed Stanley to make it with. Some decades ago a man I worked with as an apprentice, worked under really, the last man I knew who really did use wooden smoothers, jacks and tri planes, a man then in his late seventies, told me that there was no real evidence to show that a wooden plane didn’t last equally as long as an all metal one. He’s the one that told me you need to “bend” metal planes to get them to create a straight edge. I found these facts hard to believe at the time, but now I think it more a truth than a falsehood, primarily  because the plane soles on longer planes definitely move, no matter the maker, and the patina I see on a beech-bodied plane made in the early 1800’s didn’t happen in a year or two but more like at least ten, twenty, thirty, forty and more. P1040371I have seen bench planes worn down half an inch at the toe end and filled in front of the throat with throat closures because of wear and probably this reflected another 20 years of use beyond its life expectancy of three score and ten.P1040372

P1040173Transitioning from a cast metal plane to any of the wooden planes takes a little adjusting to too if indeed like me you have used them for hours every day for 50 years. Using them and gaining experience and skill is very much worth the effort though and it’s in the using of them you discover a worth and value you might never have considered before. Not only do you connect with how craftsmen felt about them when they used them in the centuries past, but you discover responses of wood on wood that it is absolutely impossible to get with any metal plane. It’s an indescribable sweetness that helps you to at last comprehend why old craftsmen in the late 1800s refused the Stanleys and clung to what they had owned and used and understood, fully.P1040149

In mainland Europe wooden planes have always proven ever popular and even today many woodworkers, especially in Germanic regions, continue hand work using wooden planes. I suppose herein is the strange anomaly in that the Woden plane was made under the name of a Germanic pagan god for a British market and yet was never sold in mainland Europe to challenge the wooden planemakers. I know this though, that no matter the era of wooden plane making, if you set the wooden plane up correctly, and they are as readily adjustable as the cast metal ones, they are more pleasing to work with and just as effective as any metal one I ever used.

Black and white

I recently completed the making of some wooden planes following two that Marples made in the earlier half of the last century. It’s a funny thing how when you want to emphasise something we might say something like, “Well let me make things black and white for you.”, or, “Put it in black and white.” When colour first came in print form in newspapers I remember the impact it had even though the print job was and I suppose still is deplorable.

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I took the colour out here to emphasize something really. I am used to wooden bodied planes. On and off I have used them through the past 50 years and yet I generally go back to my all metal Stanley #4 for the major part of my working in daily life, followed swiftly by my #5, 4 1/2 and 5 1/2. P1030658Until recently I preferred the adjustment mechanisms these wonderful planes offered me and yet I do have to say that I always like using wooden bodied planes because of the ease on the wood and lightness in use. I have always liked the standard Stanleys with an emphasis that I do not particularly like thick irons. I prefer the Stanley’s because they are light and strong, hardwearing and indeed equal to the task. I also like to make certain I use what my students and watchers can get their hands on readily and yet I want something that is by no means second rate or a stopgap or in any way inferior in producing top quality work, or, on the other hand, to leave anyone with the impression that it will work until you can get something better. Stanley planes from before the pre 1970s do that for me and so I feel that I am giving woodworkers what they really need to work wood with. If anyone then simply wants to spend money on a better engineered plane, and that’s their personal preference, then that is their choice. But at least I have done my part in saying there is no need to spend more unless you just want to, prefer to or personally feel you need to. I have also done my best in defending the good name of one of the best engineering entrepreneurs in the history of plane making. A man who designed a plane from scratch and was able to patent his design because it was brand new.

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Over the past few weeks we filmed making wooden planes and incorporating the body with a retrofitted adjustment facility in the form of the Stanley (or Record) frog, replete with matching cutting iron assembly unit. Marples did this in the early half of the last century. These planes were preferred by woodworking class workshops in many schools because boys could handle the lighter weight better and they of course offered the same adjustability that the all metal versions were then offering as the current way forward.DSC_0179

I made my first one from non hardwearing pine as a prototype, using a scrap of stud for my material. It took me half an hour (minus the handle) and when I offered it to the wood, even for the first time, shavings shot through the throat and skyward like a popped cork from a champagne bottle, even though the setting was way too deep. I was absolutely stunned. I have to say it, it even felt better then the Marples beech original. It felt spunky, spritely, versatile, light and easy – Oh, so easy! It made me wish I had had it to build my tool chest with for the current video series n woodworkingmasterclasses.com.

Last week we finished up the video work on building this plane in the Jack plane size. You can in fact make a smoother, a jack and a tri plane and simply reinstall the same frog and iron into one or the other as you please if you want or you can buy in secondhand frogs the price of which just shot through the roof on eBay I am sure by the time you read this post. At the time of writing I just bought five frogs for £15 — $23.

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The thing about building this plane and retrofitting the frog to fit is that the sole of the plane with its 45-degree slope acts as the extension for support directly behind the cutting-iron assembly unit and thereby necessitates cutting the frog slope down. Otherwise it will be further necessary to thin the sole directly behind where the frog might normally extend to on the sole, which in turn leaves a thinner aspect to the sole than you might want. I feel that in wood this might be a tad too thin, but then again perhaps not, whereas in the cast metal soles this works well. I am just saying that you can take the extra effort to shape the sole to receive the whole frog if you wish so as to retain the frog for interchangeability using both the original metal-cast plane and your new wooden ones.

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So the next series on my blog will be about building the wooden plane above and how to build one from scratch. We will tie this in with the videos on woodworking masterclasses.com. Remember that all tool making and technique videos are always free to subscribers who have registered with us and that this too is a free subscription. You will receive an email from time to time, maybe three time a year or so, but nothing more than an odd update that might interest you.

We are also putting up another free two-part video series on making winding sticks starting next week so you may want to catch that one too.

Oh, and by the way, we are working videoing the tool cupboard like the one in my shop but a scaled down size. You will be able to scale yours either way and we hope to be able to show how you can size one to suit you and your tools too.

45 comments

  1. Marc Sitkin says:

    This looks like a great project. I recently refurbed two #5’s, a Craftsman and a Handyman, and wasn’t happy with either because the geometry of the frogs to the bed just weren’t well designed. The blade to frog bedding, as well as the chip breaker and lever caps are good, so this may be a way to recycle these parts.

    Can the #5 parts be used to make a wooden #4? How about a scrub plane?

  2. Robert Jones says:

    Once again, you show an example of your drawing expertise. Often some hint or simple instruction, put into practice, will be all that is needed for someone to move from one level to the next. Do you have any suggestions (books, exercises, etc), beyond the obvious one of practice, to improve one’s drawing/sketching skills? Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  3. George Vincent says:

    Do you have any plans to offer a version that uses a wooden bed instead of a frog and wedge to hold the blade in place?

  4. Spencer says:

    George, Mihai,

    You can make one with a wooden wedge using the directions in the link below for the curved sole plane. Just don’t curve the sole.

  5. Derek Long says:

    This reminds me of the “transitional” planes Stanley used to make. I’ve never seen one up close, Is there any difference in the frogs that Stanley used on the transitionals? Perhaps it would be a better fit without having to thin out the body of the plane so much.

    I know any videos for building your cabinet will be very popular, Paul! Can’t wait to watch what you and the team put together.

    • Harald Hansen says:

      I have a transitional Stanley which I’m restoring these days. Let me pop down to the shop and see how similar they are.

      • Harald Hansen says:

        The frog on the transitional plane is similar to the ones on the iron planes, but they don’t go down into the plane as far. The blade is bedded against the wooden body of the plane the last 5 cm or so. The frog stops just below the screw that is used to anchor the blade (I don’t know the correct term in English for this, sorry…)

        • Derek Long says:

          Aha! See, we may be onto something. I think the only problem would be that you couldn’t really adjust the mouth of the plane because the iron wouldn’t be supported if you moved the frog forward.

          Now I’m very excited to see Paul’s video and see how he makes the plane.

  6. John says:

    Paul, I would gladly pay for your videos as I do now and have that as my only woodworking source even if I could receive all other blogs that are online free of charge. Thanks for what you do

  7. John says:

    Paul,

    I really enjoy reading about your apprenticeship. You mentioned in this post about a man in his seventies saying that you have to bend the soles of metal planes to get them to create a straight edge.
    In a post titled The 151 Spokeshave – Where I Mastered This Unique Plane dated July 13, 2014, you wrote:

    When the floors curved, cupped and twisted after a bomb blast resettlement or a stone wall jumped and settled back on it’s newly situated foundation, trim and doors, window frames and so on either needed replacing or refitting and that’s where I learned to master the spokeshave the most.

    I think this information is is gold. It gives me context to the videos and blogs you post. These hand tools you write about gain a life of their own, making complicated jobs using machines look easy when using simple hand tools.

    Your videos and tutorials coupled with this context mentioned above propel my woodworking knowledge exponentially. Nowhere else have I gained so much woodworking knowledge I so little time.

  8. James Davis says:

    Paul,

    As an interesting aside – Woden might be currently venerated in German neopaganism but it’s the Anglo-Saxon spelling of the Norse god Odin and much, much older than that and features in some of the earliest English and German texts. It’s the origin of the name Wednesday – originally Wōdnesdæg.

    • Yes, thanks for the update. I think I did read that at some time. Actually, I think the Woden planes are my favourites, mostly because of the handles I think, but also because it was the very first plane I saw a workman using. The man was my mentor for several years and guided me through my apprenticeship from the other side of a massive joiner’s bench. Thanks for the extra there, James

      • Harald Hansen says:

        And Thursday is named after the Norse god of thunder, Thor. Tuesday is named after the Norse god Tyr. And Friday is perhaps named after the Norse goddess Freia, but accounts differ. So we norsemen got your week pretty much in the bag, you English! 🙂

  9. Harald Hansen says:

    This is a very timely post for me. I’ve just pulled apart a Stanley transitional plane I found at a flea market to clean up the metal parts. I’m going to try and flatten the sole as well as I can, and see how it works, but I’m also tempted to try and make a new body for it. Even slightly warped and rusty it felt good in use.

    I’m not sure how long wooden planes were in use here in Norway, but my flea market and classifieds search has turned up over 90% wooden planes. I was hoping to pick up a few metal bodied ones after reading your advice on getting good ones at decent prices, but had to resort to UK eBay and the associated high postage.

    • The US transitional planes work extremely well too and they have so far been readily available in the US via secondhand market. I couldn’t really discern any noticeable difference on the wood and neither is there much difference between traditional solid block, beechwood planes and the one I made. If I were to choose I would say that the lower plane handle on the transitional planes do advantage us more because of the closer alignment with the cutting edge of the plane.

  10. Aaron Tobul says:

    Serendipitous timing for me, also. I had been considering making a plane for some time and only last week started reading David Finck’s “Making and Mastering Wood Planes”. It is very clearly written and well illustrated, but all of the talk of jointing, bandsaws, drill presses, and other “required” equipment would have scared me off completely only a few short months ago. Now as I read it I think “I’ll bet Paul Sellers would just do it this way” and suddenly what would have been a roadblock becomes an opportunity to learn a new route. Of course there was always a way around that block, but there is something about your quiet confidence and the clear, patient style of instruction that comes through your book and videos that has really awakened…something within me.

    By the way, if anyone here in the States wants to find some maple for plane bodies, I managed to find 3x3x12 and 2x2x12 pieces labelled as spindle blanks for turning. I did see some 36″ lengths available as well if people are looking online.

  11. thehandtoolwoodworker says:

    Paul, I recently learned that the name of the God “Woden” was the source for the name of the weekday now known as Wednesday and is also responsible for the strange spelling of the word “Wednesday”. Perhaps they should have called it Woden’s-Day and left it at that. 🙂

  12. raze599 says:

    Hi Paul

    Is there any timeframe on when the video on making this plane will be released? Thanks for all the great videos 🙂

  13. Mika says:

    Can’t wait too see those videos!

    I have a Stanley 29 plane (length between #6 and #7), and its frog is indeed different from the metal planes. I don’t know why but it just really works well. My favorite plane, and it couldn’t have been easier to flatten. And cheap too.

  14. David A. Warren says:

    Interesting. The Bailey Adjustment necessitates a certain amount of back lash in the adjustment system in order for the screw to able to turn. The older the nut and screw, the more slop in the adjustment. Wedged planes of course are always fixed. E.C.Emmerich’s 700 series planes have a Primus adjustment and do not have any back lash because of the heavy tensioning spring in the plane body. Finest shavings on a smooth plane can be accomplished quickly without the frustration of dealing with slop in the screw/nut mechanism. It seems to me that an adjustment on a scrub plane is gilding the lily. The rank of cut is such that it need not be very precise. A few quick taps and it’s set.

    • I sense a dislike for Bailey adjustments here, but there is no frustration in any way with backlash for me. None whatsoever. Actually I haven’t noticed any degrade in the threads either come to think of it. These planes work as well as any I ever used and I have used every maker there is. You just spin up the thread slack and get on with life. Dead simple. Same plane used every day for fifty years, cost was one weeks wage for me. Good value at 9 pence for a year and still has another 50 years of life in it.

  15. Drew says:

    Very interesting. I have an old #4 that went through a bushfire, and was thinking of exactly this use for it. Obviously new iron will be needed, but frog should be OK. Only problem I can foresee is the robustness over time of the connection of the frog to the sole. I agree with your approach of cutting the frog and simply mounting it on the sole, as to shape the sole same as the iron bed would leave the rear edge of the mouth way too thin. I was considering bolting the frog down with countersunk screws in the sole. I note you’ve simply used wood screws. Is this holding up OK? Also, how did you cut the frog to get the bottom absolutely flat to mate onto the sole? I’m thinking of making mine into a long jointer plane, say 600mm. See any problems with that?

    • None of what we did is a problem in any way. No problems with longevity in any of it but you can pick hardware with roundheads and such. I just hacksawed the the parts off carefully and filed flat. Takes only a few minutes. Length is of no consequence either.

  16. Kenny says:

    Still plan on putting up a video on making the Hybrid Plane shown in your post above, Paul? I hope so, it really looks like it would be a fun, interesting, and rewarding project.
    Thanks, as always, for all you do.

    Take Care,

    Kenny

  17. VALERIO says:

    HI PAUL,
    WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE WOODEN PLANES WITH THE PIN FOR BLOCKING THE WEDGE?
    ARE THEY EFFECTIVE? OTHERWISE, WHY OLD PLANEMAKER HAD DEVELOPED THE CLASSIC THROATH GEOMETRY FOR THE WOODEN PLANES?
    THANKS,
    VALERIO.

  18. Troy says:

    Paul,

    Is 1/4″ too thin for the side pieces of the plane? I want to make sure the sole is rigid enough?

    Thanks in advance
    Troy

  19. SGoodwin says:

    After reading this and other blog posts from Paul regarding transitional (hybrid) style planes, I have gradually accumulated four (2x #35, #36, and a Sargent 3415 jack) through eBay for $20-$35 US each (+shipping).
    The US transitional planes are great fun and great workers. The prices are quite reasonable. The wood-on-wood feel of the transitional planes is so smooth compared to the cast iron planes – even when the iron sole is well waxed/oiled.
    I have my slightly more worn (more open mouth) #35 set up as a scrub and it is truly phenomenal! I would say 95%+ efficient: almost all my effort and thrust goes into removing wood and very little into friction. I can really feel the edge of the blade in the wood when hogging off with this plane – its like driving a true sports car where you can really feel the tires gripping the road through the steering wheel. The #35 is quick, nimble, responsive, and slick whereas the #5 1/4 that I have set up as a scrub has a much different, heavier, bulldozer feel even though it is by no means a really heavy or awkward plane.
    FWIW (neophyte hobbyist that I am), I highly recommend US based readers picking up a worn $20 #36 or Sargent equivalent and trying it as a scrub. Save these planes from winding up as a decoration in a restaurant, or worse!

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