. . . the Plane With Teeth

Here’s another rambling from my mid-night, overtime excursions where I explore issues once common to woodworkers and write best twixt 3 am and 4.30 am thinking about the world of woodworking I live in. I make no excuses: it’s who I am and have become and will be into the future for as long as it rests with me!

Flat face and three-dimensionals alongside. John’s work shows he did not forget what he learned. Just like the bike ride and the swim!

Today I will make again. I’m working through the booklets I wrote 15 and 20-plus years ago as is John. He is just about finishing up making five-pointed stars as I did a few weeks ago.

I think he will make the Joiner’s Traveling Toolbox next and he’ll enjoy that as much as I did the recent video series that just aired on woodworkomgmasterclasses.com. I am also looking forward to my next bigger build for the living room as I have some new joinery to include in the project. One of my favourite designs in recent months was the floor lamp that also had some quite unique joinery in and some of which I plan to include in the upcoming pieces for the sellershome.com collections.

Inserted into my making of things, I often discover things that might otherwise go unnoticed that I fear will then become, well, unknown. This is the amazing thing about hand-making and the hand tools we use and rely on. In my book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools, I have written about why the blades of tools are wider than the width of the plane as in shoulder planes, bullnose planes and fillister planes.

Often, mistakenly, woodworkers think that they improved on poor engineering and make the blade to match the dead width of the sole perfectly. Not the right thing to do at all! I have also explained why a router plane blade cannot be honed parallel to the underside face of the sole. . .

. . . and why square awls are specifically designed for working wood with and why they too are perhaps more essential to our work than the ubiquitous round versions not at all meant for wood.

These gems of information captivate the imagination when you are indeed in pursuit of knowledge about the hand tool world of working wood. Most of it is not needed by those dedicated to machine-only woodworking for obvious reasons. In our particular sphere of benchwork, such knowledge becomes ever-more essential as we learn to use, adopt and adapt tools specified for one task to do other tasks they were not intended for. A saw to cut thin or narrow grooves for instance. the router plane is another good example.

One of the single most essential tools used in making the White House cabinets for the Cabinet Room is yet another one that might just go unnoticed yet it is one that was used on most of the surfaces.

I was aware of it over the past couple of days as I made my rocking chair and experimented a little with glued-up components where I split the glue lines to check the efficacy of glues. I knew that too smooth a surface offers less quality to a glue line but was unsure to what degree. It stands to reason if you think about it but often, things at the bench make clearer sense. It’s often not the scientific approach so much as, well, what really happens. Whereas science has its place in supporting much of what we previously just felt about this or that, I have found that many things made in the zone somehow release a working knowledge that has to come by experiencing something right there as you work. The tool I am talking about? Oh! It’s the toothing plane. There it stands with its perpendicular blade looking awkward, badly designed and misaligned if not then maligned too. How can such a plane work?

I noticed that the wood sections can somehow separate when I sharpen my planes to the general extreme of over 10,000-grit. Place a chisel between the parts and hey presto the glue line seems not to hold. Though it is obvious to me it is not not likely to be obvious to all woodworkers and especially perhaps to woodworkers who never use hand tools. A surface can indeed be too smooth for good adhesion in the same way a surface can be too smooth for finish to absorb and adhere to a finished surface after hand planing. Most often, we hand toolists must roughen the surface by, guess what? Sanding! In most cases we use the term, “Let’s now sand the wood smooth!” In our case we actually sand the wood ‘rough’. This can be quite a revelation to those new to hand working of wood with hand planes. In most cases, I have noticed just how mind-blowing this can be to new woodworkers but then equally so to those who discover hand work over their more-common-to-them machining work where subsequent sanding is needed to remove things like planer and saw marks. In our case we rarely use sanding with abrasives to smooth what is infinitely smoother but to more to roughen the surface.

Back to the toothing plane. I do not expect a few hundred people to go out and buy a toothing plane easily or readily on eBay and especially following this article where the prices just went up exponentially and the happy eBay sellers just wondered why the prices went so high for what they described as a “Vintage block plane, rare!” The poor man’s version works to give you exactly the same surface you need. I made mine in minutes from a well-used gent’s saw blade. These need no special sharpening, just an occasional touch-up as you might any small saw from time to time.


  1. KeithW on 16 February 2021 at 2:05 pm

    I use my square bird cage awl in preference to round bradawls. Made myself a larger version from a piece of silver steel by grinding a square point on it.
    Just looked at the price of secondhand wooden toothing planes seem high for the amount of use they will get. I seem to remember reading about using a broken hacksaw for the purpose. Makes me wonder if a piece of an old saw blade could be cut to fit in a metal spoke shave.

    • Paul Sellers on 16 February 2021 at 2:24 pm

      Not sure I would cannibalise another tool when sawing a kerf in a wood scrap works so very perfectly.

  2. Sylvain on 16 February 2021 at 2:46 pm

    the how-to is in the blog post
    dated 23 May 2014.

    the video link is in the 5th comment.

    • Paul Sellers on 16 February 2021 at 4:03 pm

      Sylvain, you’re amazing! Thank you for helping and always being such a help for everyone! I truly appreciate it!

  3. Jon on 16 February 2021 at 3:05 pm

    I fell down the youtube rabbit hole yesterday and ended up watching a “hand tool” video by somebody who said hand tools are what you have to get passed because they are so much harder to use than power tools. Skill, feel, quiet and sensitivity. I just shook my head. I’m so thankful I found Mr. Sellers before I ever bought a table saw!

    • Paul Sellers on 16 February 2021 at 3:57 pm

      You can see why I hammer at things so much. Imagine this a hundred thousand times more. When I first arrived to live and work in the USA woodworkers laughed at me working with hand tools at woodworking shows. The big brag on power routers was like the big four-wheel-drive power truck brags. Workshops were often the same. But then I would demonstrate at Woodcraft stores in the evenings for free around Texas and travel the circuit for the Woodworking shows in various states. Gradually the efforts paid off. Back then they looked at me like I’d grown two heads. . .until I did my 2 1/2 minute dovetail and that was the point when everything changed. I felt like all they needed to see was someone do it for real. Once they did they seemed to have their eyes open and believe in themselves. I have no doubt that one day, even in my lifetime perhaps, my craft will indeed be gone, but at least there will be a legacy for many to dip into.

      • Seth on 17 February 2021 at 5:44 pm

        You saved me from this fate. I bought the table saw, I was getting into “woodworking”. Knicks and minor close calls started to pile up. Then boom, one day I get a youtube video from a guy in Ohio called “Rex figures it out”. In one of his hand plane videos he mentions Paul Sellers, 100 video watches later I haven’t used a table saw in months, never have to wear ear protection/etc.

      • Thomas glover on 22 February 2021 at 8:35 pm

        Won’t be gone just won’t be used on a commercial practice, just guys and dolls in sheds making stuff, as they either into woodworking, or after a adventure or challenge. Or break
        The week up from the dreaded office space environment.

  4. Steve P on 16 February 2021 at 7:00 pm

    It kind of looks like a “dog shedding brush” i bought for my dog. Its basically a hacksaw blade in a kerf in a wooden handle. You run it through a dogs fur holding it 90 degrees and it pulls all the loose fur out. I found it on amazon, mybe i’ll try running it across a board

  5. Bill H on 17 February 2021 at 1:17 pm

    How do I get to past blog post, such as the one referenced on the Poor Man’s Toothing Plane?

    • Paul Sellers on 17 February 2021 at 1:50 pm

      Here’s the link but just for your reference, the search box is prepqred to pull things like this up in an instant. I couldn’t recall when/where it was so I just put in your question as: “Poor Man’s Toothing Plane?” in my blog search and bingo!

  6. Kevin Nairn on 17 February 2021 at 2:14 pm

    A 24 or 32 tooth hacksaw blade about 50mm -75mm long held in a pair of Molegrips or locking jaw pliers (the wide one with sheet metal jaws are best) will scratch serrations on the surface of wood. Interestingly, when gluing plastic laminate to a core material, such as chipboard or MDF, the glue applicator that you pour the contact adhesive into, has serrations to leave the glue with a serrated finish. You then do the same to the laminate, but at 90 degrees which will give you a stronger bond. Another way but not so time consuming, is to cut the 2 surfaces with a sharp craft knife in a criss cross pattern. Make sure you remove any tiny flakes of wood and dust.

  7. Kevin Nairn on 17 February 2021 at 2:26 pm

    Also, as a design and technology technician in a secondary school (High School) of some 30 years, I would stop any student (or teacher) who started working wearing a hoodie: long sleeves and dangling string ties are a no no in a workshop, whether you are using a machine or not. Looking at YouTube videos of American craftspeople, I am absolutely horrified by the complete absence of any safety measures: no guards, no riving knives on table saws, no eye, ear or dust protection, no dust extraction, no 2 push sticks (one to push the material through the blade, and one to push the material against the fence) and dressed completely inappropriately for a workshop. Ho hum.

    • Paul Sellers on 17 February 2021 at 4:15 pm

      There’s a rebel in all of us. It’s how we handle that little demon before something serious happens. I have tried time and time again to counter those magazines, the USA’s Fine Woodworking magazine and others, where you regularly see standard practices made very dangerous through the lack of PPE etc. This is absolutely intentional on the part of the magazines and the machine makers,/distributors who try to minimise the appearance and the reality that ALL woodworking machines are inherently dangerous by stubbornly refusing to show people wearing the gladiator gear that machine woodworkers should always wear. Such a sad reflection of their irresponsibility! I wish it was different. Thankfully, there are schools that responsibly give solid foundational instruction on the dangers of machine woodworking.

  8. Ed McGugan on 17 February 2021 at 2:45 pm

    Thank you Mr. Sellers.
    Quite a number of the hand tools in my shop were given to me by our youngest son who worked part time at the local landfill (dump).
    So many people just throw those “old, useless” tools away! A shame really.
    My old Stanley scraper plane has a toothed iron and it does a nice job. And all it took was some cleanup and a bit of polishing on the brass. Not bad for a dump find.
    Used it to clean up and refinish an old cedar canoe paddle that he also found at the dump. Made me proud that he has it on display in his house during the winter and uses it when he canoes in the summer.
    I love that these hand tools can last multiple lifetimes.
    Thank you for bringing this back to us.
    tx, Ed

  9. Jay Gill on 17 February 2021 at 4:21 pm

    It’s not just woodworking that benefits from hand tools or “manual” approaches. Take pasta, made from scratch it’s orders of magnitude better than the typical boxed stuff, and as with wood, because your working by hand you have so much more control. Experiment with replacing evil white flour with good wheat flour.

    Why am I going on about pasta? Well the toothed plane makes a surface that you could use to put ridges on your paste, think penne or rigatoni. And also because like wood working, it’s good for the soul.

    To make tubular pasta (not tubular bells) like rigatoni, roll out your dough and cut it into 2″ or so squares. Put a pasta square on a well floured serrated board (aka a board planed with a toothing plane) with the square rotated 90′ so there is a corner on the long end of the board. Then put a rod(the diameter of the rod will be the diameter of the tube) on the bottom corner of the square and flip the corner over the rod and roll the sheet of pasta around the rod over the toothed board. At the end you should have a tube with ridges aka rigatoni.

    Here’s a great link which shows how to make a billion shapes of Pasta.

  10. Mike Towndrow on 17 February 2021 at 6:39 pm

    The floor lamp is a super project Paul. I completed mine over Xmas and New Year and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of making it. Built from recycled oak skirting board, it looks lovely in our lounge – my wife Liz is chuffed to bits with it, as am I. I submitted a photo and some notes to Woodworking Masterclasses, so hopefully it might find its way into the gallery.
    Looking forward to seeing future projects from the Sellers House collection.
    Thank you Paul.

  11. Shannon on 17 February 2021 at 7:38 pm

    The only tool that I have ever actually hurt myself with was an old Stanley with a toothing blade in it. It was in a booth at a roadside flea market in Georgia. I stretched over some boxes to take it from a high shelf, slipped, and raked the toothed blade down my supporting left arm. It burned like fire and left me needing 12 stitches.

    • Chris B on 22 February 2021 at 7:24 pm

      But did you buy it? We all want to know now 😀

  12. Samuel on 18 February 2021 at 4:42 am

    After about 3+ years of reading blogs, watching tutorials, dreaming, doing few little projects etc I may have finally assembled most of a beginners tool collection, minus saw-set.
    Final purchase was the skew back S&J 9500R panel saw, I also have a S&J 60’s era backsaw (the one I sharpened abit too vigorously and have been putting off revisiting), PS recommended: combination gauge, awl, knife, combination square, no.4, etc

    New panel saw does cut quite well, crosscut kerf is a little stepped out especially tho in thick stock like 2×4. Should I sharpen it as a rip cut straight away?

    I also got the 4 MHG chisels recommended via Germany, which may have been a dumb move cos postage was immense. They polished up quickly on “poor mans” diamond lapping plates which are going well.

    Since my pergola fell down… what can be salvaged may finally be a basis for a bench if I get motivated

  13. Colin on 18 February 2021 at 10:37 am

    I’ve seen toothed plane irons for sale but never paid much attention as I didn’t know what their purpose was. I take it that a ‘toothing plane’ is just a plane with a toothed blade?
    That also got me thinking about a toothed iron / blade on a bevel up plane. I get your argument that a low angle bevel up is almost the same as a No.4 bevel down plane in terms of the angle of presentation to the wood – but doesn’t it make any difference whether the serrated surface is up or down?

    • Paul Sellers on 18 February 2021 at 10:48 am

      It doesn’t, no!

      • Colin on 18 February 2021 at 12:13 pm

        Thanks for clarifying Paul – good to know.

  14. Alan on 20 February 2021 at 7:48 am

    Next question – how do you sharpen a toothing plane iron?

    • Richard Thompson on 21 February 2021 at 1:53 pm

      Paul toothing planes are great for keying a surface for glueing but I think the best I know of is Mongolian and Turkish horn bow makers. they use animal glue to glue horn to a wood core.These components have mateing W grooves to glue a bow limb together their tools were forerunners of toothing planes They did however work to a far closer tollarance than just random grooving .Possabably closer to gunsmiths checkering tools than a plane as such. I quite often cross hatch wood with old hacksaw blades.It also can pay to pigion peck some wood with the corner of a chisel to provide a good key for glueing.Just a side note my grand son pert near (Australian slang ) pretty near turned one of my planes into a toothing plane.He decided to help clean up some wood for me.It was concrete form work wood. Don’t want to remember how many nicks were in that #4 blade but it sure left a rough surface.Got to love them grand kids hey.😁
      Keep on chipping

      • Paul Sellers on 21 February 2021 at 2:13 pm

        Hmm! I strive to keep all things simple!

  15. Ricardo Siade on 22 February 2021 at 2:35 am

    Mr. Paul, I really appreciate those “poor-man’s” tools that you teach us to make. I always try to reproduce some of them. In my own way, of course.

    • Steven on 22 February 2021 at 7:48 pm

      Paul, can an old hack saw blade be used also to make a roughing plane?

      • Paul Sellers on 22 February 2021 at 8:09 pm


  16. sla on 8 March 2021 at 8:52 am

    I don’t see any photos

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