Plane Fettling Evens the Score

P1110857To stave off some of the questions about setting up a new or secondhand plane (high-end, low-end and any in between), and future ongoing maintenance and adjustments, you might want to watch woodworkingmasterclasses.com here. You will need to subscribe for the free membership but that’s straightforward enough. You can also watch on youtube too. Here is the linkP1160286This may seem as though it’s for those who have bought the ‘lesser models’ but a lot of the suggestions in the video can be readily applied very favourably to improve high-end planes to relieve them of issues too.

26 comments on “Plane Fettling Evens the Score

  1. Paul,
    Some 35 years ago I bought a cheap No 4 plane from Dodge City, the forerunner to B&Q. It was made by Smoothline and had plastic handles and a hammered finish paint film. It was not very good. Having watched your videos, I picked up a couple of No 4s from ebay and a local second hand shop and fettled them as you advised. The ebay one had a small crack at the mouth, the other was OK. After great success using your method. I thought back to the smoothline and dug it out from the depths of the toolbox. I applied your method and it turned out to be a great wee performer. I gave it to a friend who always borrows my tools and it means he has the sharpening to do in the future. So there is another name of a cheap plane that can be made to perform well.
    I have used a marble table top protector as a flat surface but picked up a marble slab from a kitchen fitter who had just cut out a sink recess in a worktop.. The extra size gives more room to work. I gave the fitter £5 to get a beer and we were both very happy.
    Thanks for your advice and inspiration.
    Keith

  2. Paul, on YouTube I have only seen your video on sharpening rip saws. Do you ever use crosscut saws and resharpen them?

    Thanks Bill

  3. Dear Paul, thank you very much for taking the time to do this video. It is immensely helpful to understand not only what to do, but how to do it. Yesterday I restored a No 4 following a checklist I wrote while watching the video. It turned out very well. Also using stained shellac gives great results. Thanks again.

  4. Paul, thank you for all you do. You have inspired me to learn how to use a bench plane properly, and I am loving it. I recently bought one of the new Stanley “Sweetheart” #4 planes. It was about half the price of a LN version, and the quality is comparable. I like it a lot. It had a small gap on the front end of the cap iron, but I flattened that out and it works great. It has an interesting depth adjuster/lateral adjustment lever combination that I rather like. If you ever get the time, I would be very interested in your thoughts on the Stanley “Sweetheart” series.

    Thanks again,

    • Steve M. ,
      The adjuster mechanism is called a ‘Norris Type’ after the famous plane maker Thomas Norris who patented the mechanism in 1913 – I think — any older planes typically were ‘hammer set’
      I’m no expert on him, but there are a few websites try norrisplanes.

      Steve

  5. @Paul Sellers, What to do with a plane that has a good 1/8 inch vertical gap between nose of the frog and the seat right behind the mouth? I had completely tuned an old Sears #4 (made in England) to a point where it planes a face pretty well but chatters like an old chain cog any time it gets near end-grain thanks to this gap.

  6. A very interesting series of blogs Paul. What would also be interesting, if you haven’t already thought of it, is a comparison between these cheap planes and the ‘serious’ planes like Lie Nielsen, Veritas and Clifton that cost hundreds of pounds.

    • David,
      This whole series of blog entries started(in part) because of discussions seen in many places centred around the difference between ‘expensive’ and ‘cheap’ — “This Plane is Great but that plane isn’t – because it’s not This one”
      There were the voices of the Expensive New versus Ebay Secondhand. By doing this for the inexpensive planes, many people who were excluded due to financial constraint or access to ebay planes,, can now feel confident and have some pride in the tools They own – however those tools came into their hands.

  7. A couple of years ago I was given one of the Silverline planes to sharpen. The owner had been given it by someone else “It’s useless really, but perhaps you can sharpen it better than me” he said. Going on to tell me it would not stay sharp (i.e. keep taking shavings off the wood). It was actually sharp, but the angle was wrong and the iron could not be fully tightened.

    What I found: the frog was miss-aligned and one of the retaining screws was not fully tightened. The cutting iron was a mess, the bevel was way higher than 30 degrees, the edge was not square. But worst of all the head of the cap iron retaining screw had a diameter that was only slightly larger than the width of the slot in the cutting iron. This had resulted in the edges of the slot being chewed by the head of the screw, effectively widening the slot to the point where it was almost impossible to secure the iron and cap iron together. The threads on the cap iron and the retaining screw were showing signs of damage too, the steel appears very soft.

    I set about the plane, flattening the sole, it did not need much flattening, rounded the edges, re-set the frog, re-ground the iron honing it and sharpening it to 30 degrees. I found a thin washer to stop the cap iron screw doing further damage and to try and secure the cap iron to the cutting iron. I managed to get the plane to work well for a short time. But the washer was not really up to the job and the irons kept sliding around when you hit a knot.

    It really needs about 20mm ground off the end of the iron and a new edge formed at this point; thereby moving the cap iron set screw away from the damaged section. It would probably be easier to get a new iron and possibly a cap iron and retaining screw. I reckon all these issues were the result of poor workmanship and design in the factory which were then made worse by an inexperienced owner/s trying to sort them out.

  8. Hi Paul,

    Again, thank so much for this and everything you have shared! I originally thought the Kobalt plane was like your imports, but I see some differences. It has different markings but on the blade, not the cap iron. The frog casting on the Kobalt looks like the stanley you use in your “sharpening and setting the bench plane” video. The casting has “vertical rectangles” beside the angle adjustment lever. The kobalt also has a one piece height adjustment lever rather than the split version. I also followed your instructions with the cap lever, it needed filing. I used a dial indicator while doing this to ensure there was no “over shoot” as it closed. So much for that..

    My diamond plates arrived and while making the holder, I encountered end grain for the first time. What a mess I made 🙂 After reading and watching the many things you say about this, I decided my iron was not sharp enough. So I set about sharpening, and it cut worse 🙁 And I messed about more and more and got thoroughly disgusted and discouraged.

    I have discovered an unfortunate fact about internet apprenticeships. No matter how much I watch and read, you cannot observe and offer personalized technique advice. I imagine when you started, your mentor would have maybe even come and put his arms around you and while holding your hands in his, he would have slowly moved your hands while demonstrating. OK, so maybe your training wasn’t so much like a scene out of the movies, but… So, basically after my many attempts, my iron was so dull it would no longer even cut paper.

    I am sad to say, I resorted to purchasing a spinning wheel machine with a jig to help me re-establish my cutting edge. I reestablished the 25 degree bevel with 127 micron (p120), then 35 micron, and finally 20 micron abrasive. Then I established a secondary 30 degree angle with the 20 micron and polished that with 8 then 4 micron. After reassembling, I was able to get .002″ shavings. But more importantly, I could get back to practicing working wood.

    I believe the macro camber is stronger, and I will continue to work on my hand sharpening. But regardless, I no longer feel defeated, and can keep moving forward. In hind sight, it was really dumb luck that my first sharpening of the this iron was somewhat decent, or I may would have thought it was “that cheap plane” never realizing til later it was my lack of sharpening skill.

  9. Today I came into possession of a Stanley No 4 Type 15 that you would be hard-pressed to know isn’t brand new, if it weren’t 84 years old. It appears never to have been used, and is in the original box. This post is serendipitously timely. Thank you for all I’ve learned from you so far, Paul!

    • By the way, is it unusual for a brand new (in 1932) iron to have a bevel that isn’t square to the sides of the iron? Did Stanley ship them that way?

        • Sorry, no, I mean the cutting edge is not square with the sides. I’m too new to this to know if the iron has ever been ground or honed, but it is a couple degrees out of square.

          • The chances are it has been ground out of square since manufacture. It is not likely that Stanley sent it out out of square, but they might have had a slip. The lateral adjustment lever is designed to take care of moderate out of squareness, but by pressing harder on the longer corner side as you sharpen subsequent sharpenings will gradually correct the edge.

  10. I’ve been restoring older Stanley and Record planes for a couple years now and have always sought them exclusively. Paul and others have been incredibly helpful in learning how to restore these old tools. More to the point, a few weeks ago I bought an old Handyman plane at an antiques shop. These were sold at Sears&Roebuck in the States as a basic, cheap plane. Normally I wouldn’t look twice at that plane but it was a great price and underneath a little rust it was in great shape. A friend of mine is getting into some woodworking and I thought it’d be nice to clean and tune the plane and give it to him. Well, after all was said and done I wanted to keep it (I’d already told him it was gonna be his so keeping it was out). It turned out to be a great worker that takes a beautiful shaving. I was a bit surprised at how nicely it worked. Don’t judge books by their covers. By the way, that does not mean all the cheaper planes out there hide greatness. There’s enough junk that you need to know what to look for, but with some learning you can find some real gems.

  11. considering those planes quality, how do they compare to stanley handyman line of products
    In Poland where i live, stanley handyman and macalister brand are probably the only planes in my price range , that are not totaly scrap out of the box. other alternatives are stanley sb3 or sb4 and metal bending clones. Because we have practically no market of used planes thanks to the ww2 and communism.
    But there is no traditional woodworking around either, so anyone who in not going for the powertool, is seen as an idiot, rather than a master craftsman.
    I reviewed some of “our” local brands on my website with my pig english :]
    you could include that green one, as a warning what not to buy, it was also about 10gbp, and was useless.

    • Stanley handyman planes are definitely the lesser quality of Stanley’s range of bench planes and I don’t feel I can recommend them ever. That said, if that’s all you can get then you can make them work just fine. There again, new Stanleys are lesser quality than the pre 1970 made planes in that plastic handles and poor manufacturing standards seem the norm for the old models currently being made. I just took a new Silverline from its box, sharpened it with no further remedial action and it cuts perfectly and the sole is as flat as any high end maker.

      • usual prices on our ebay quivalent
        handyman no4 cost 128,00 PLN = 22,27 GBP (but i got one new from outlet for 60,00 PLN = 10,44 GBP shipping cost included)
        macalister/drapper cost 98,00 PLN = 17,05 GBP, but i would have to travel 20 km to get one
        used stanley cost usually 220,00 PLN = 38,28 GBP to 250,00 PLN = 43,50 GBP
        but you never know what year it come from. it might be 1950 it might be 2010, so you better of buing new one in the same price range.
        Narex plane from czech republic is about 165,00 PLN = 28,71 GBP and that looks rather interesting
        and the black sheep , Stalco garbage cost me about 64,00 PLN = 11,14 GBP , but only frog casting and blade is usable in this one, the rest is only adding weight to the box it come in. Whole adjustmend mechanism had to be reworked to be somewhat acceptable, but my green wooden grasshopper was born thanks to this shopping disaster.
        https://kokodinlaboratory.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/100d0638.jpg

  12. There is one interesting bench plane however. if they still producing them, it would be nice to see your review
    Company name is narex and they operate in Czech Republic. At some point they were producing self design no3 and no4 equivalents
    http://www.truhlarske-nastroje.cz/tmp/detailmax/2937_2_Kovovy_hoblik_Narex.png
    http://shop.woodholz.eu/cache/img/97d0b9a1d7ef87b1bcdc6c5ecb9de406.jpg
    But that is in price range of about 30 gbp, at least in Poland (because they still sells them here).

    • Can’t say I like the look of them. Most of the Narex tools look too utilitarian and that’s a design flaw of the company who should invest more in design and quality than they do. If they were to do that they would triple their sales and appeal to a much wider audience but they just look at the money end of thongs and have no concept of design.

      • i don’t know, i kind of like that design actually. It looks like a cute little spaceship.
        But i am not a woodworker as a day job, and my taste might be twisted.
        The point is how that thing would perform. If it beats new stanley at work, then its price is rather good, if not then.. it is just a spaceship then.
        If i ever find one on a sale or auction, i probably will get one.
        Is there evan a point in buing multiple no4 planes ?
        i know about use fro two (scrub and smoother) but more? Am i crazy already?
        what size should i hunt for?
        I know i am totally annoing, sorry for that.

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