It’s worth stating

Some things are worth looking at more closely and some phraseology made by those making and selling can be a little more surreptitiously misleading than we think. Unfortunately, it’s the selling that often tilts the truth in favor of the sale rather than our benefit, it makes all the difference, but I understand the reasoning. By selling I mean getting some additional benefit from something you say and do that ultimately results in a sale somewhere along the chain, but things can be added or omitted that lead buyers to believe something that is not so. We see it now with our planes all the more. How many features are espoused to give better results to hand plane work that prevent certain effects to our working them when much of the problem is that we don’t understand exactly what sharpness is, or that we lacked confidence in taking that critical stroke or misread grain that would cause issues and should never have taken the stroke with a plane in the first place?

I have mentioned in the past that many sellers and makers of tools will say something that leads people to believe something is the cause of something when it’s really not, or that something benefits you when it really doesn’t, or that it’s nothing to do with your lack of skill when that’s exactly what it is, or that you don’t need certain skills when you do. I remember when it said on disposable knife blades for utility knives that they should not be sharpened — you know, “DO NOT SHARPEN!” and, “DANGEROUS TO SHARPEN!” There was nothing dangerous about the practice at all and everyone I ever knew and learned from at work resharpened their utility knife blades until they were almost down to the nub because it was quicker and simpler to do that than to dismantle the knife, find the blades and install a new one. Most people can go a year on a blade or more by just mastering a sharpening technique. Then there is the one about thin blades in pull stroke saws developing a thinner kerf than a traditional western saw. When in most cases the saw kerf, when someone takes time to actually measure it is actually even bigger. Most of the time it is more about underdeveloped skills than anything. I own and use many saws and still reach for push strokes because in my view they allow me a different kind of power and one that I enjoy very much. This is why, in most of my sawing tasks using say a coping saw, I use it with the teeth going away from me and never on the pull stroke. I use western saws and not pull strokes because 98% of pull stroke saws are disposable and you must keep going back to buy new blades, I just don’t buy into throwaways of any kind because I like the art of sharpening saws to be part of my life long term and my first saws have been with me for over 56 years to date. Other disingenuous statements found on many premium plane maker blurbs surrounds the thick versus thin irons discussion and then too the hard steel alloys versus less hard steels for their cutting irons. I have covered this several times but in demystifying things it continues to rise up time and time again. Thin irons don’t chatter in general working but for some the rare phenomenon may occur once every 15 years in the life of a full-time maker. Saying thick irons reduce the risk of chatter in the opening sentence of a plane promotion suggests that this happens all the time with thin irons when it’s simply a lie. The surface washboard effect from planing wood is not chatter but skidding, where the plane balked at the plane stroke, your confidence was weakened and the plane faltered because of diffidence, nothing more. There are other reasons that a plane skips and jumps. Too many to list, but it’s not usually because the cutting iron is thinner at all. If it were for that reason, surely the hundreds of thousands of users of Stanley and Record planes as professional woodworkers of different kinds would have said this is a problem. No, it came from the installation of a thicker iron in a modern maker’s plane. The make had to diss one to sell what he made. By simply saying, ‘Our thicker cutting irons stop the chatter associated with thin irons.’ they created an answer to a problem that didn’t exist and that had nothing to do with the issue at all.

By sawing off the side of my Stanely plane I could see what was happening at the business end of my plane iron assembly in relation to the frog, the sole of the plane and the seating of all the components. As far as I know, I was the first to ever do this and make it so public in my book, Essential Woodworking Hand Tools. `I did so because of the need to know what was truly happening right there at the cutting edge. Ultimately, it made me realise why crafting artisans between 1867 and 1980 did not buy into the Bed Rock planedesign produced at that time and why Stanley could not sell their Bed Rocks no matter how hard they tried. These men would not change because they could not justify the price difference but more likely than that, they could not see why they should change at all because the two plane type achieved the same outcome identically but the Bed Rock was heavier and less nimble. The thickening of the cutting irons came in gradually at the start of the 1980s and some might compare this with the thicker irons of old but the thicker irons of old were not the same and did not have parallel irons but tapered versions that went from thick to thin to counter the forces of planing and cutting iron assemblies being wedged in place rather than held by a mechanism. The taper caused the iron to tighten under the excesses of pressure and so prevent the back-slip that would occur with parallel irons.

Someone recently questioned my theory of the cutting iron being capably flexed by the lever cap where both cap iron and cutting iron bend to conform under the direct and indirect pressures of the lever of the lever cap in the Bailey- and Bed Rock-pattern series of bench planes. The commenter stated that this would not be possible with the thicker irons of modern planes, whereas there is truth to that, that’s not what was intended in my saying the iron flexed thus but simply to say there is no real reason for flattening irons made and intended for this series of planes. I think that there was nothing wrong with his assumption and it was good that he expressed his thinking because we should all question the authority of those who speak. It made me question my own authoritative voice and so I took it the step further and experimented all the more to make certain that what I said was so, even with the overly thick irons. To help defend my position, I installed two cutting irons (because no other iron would fit without me changing some of the dynamics unnecesarily) and showed how the lever cap was more than capable of conforming the most twisted of cutting irons to lay flat to the frog without any excessive force being needed. The reason I wanted to show this? Because too many are saying that the whole of the large flat face of the cutting iron ‘MUST” always be flattened within a thousandth of an inch when in reality it can be twisted and left twisted without any issues. Of course, two irons of 3.6mm total thickness is not the same as a single thickness of 3.6mm, but it helps to show that added resistance still allows the flex I speak of.

Two irons in place with the lever locked down forces the plate to the frog at ther business end where it matters.

Re the thicker irons. I do know of one of the most serious modern plane makers who told me that they had their first cutting irons made for them and never specified the thickness that established their cutting iron thicknessess at well over 4mm thick. He told me that they had left ther order with the subcontractor many years ago and the plate was simply what the maker “had in stock at the time” and they had stuck with it because it worked. Not too scientific but most likely what we all might do in the same circumstances. “Why fix what ain’t broke?”

Whereas this thickness of cutting iron would be hard to force down were it twisted, that’s not what I am proving at all.

I am not saying that there is no place for thicker irons. I think that there is, just not in every plane and especially not for the main body of working planes, those that are the bevel-down versions we use for truing, squaring, leveling and smoothing hour on hour. Harder steels too do not offer enough extended work time to bother with and certainly thicker irons are a waste of space in bevel downs because the one thing that matters is good, quick sharpenability and efficiency. Also, it is worth noting that without the added tension created by using a cap iron, thicker blades are more than likely to be necessary to improve the cut because all planes in the UK for 250 years, even the thick, tapered irons I spoke of, had a cap iron to specifically increase tension in the steel cutting iron right down there at the cutting edge. It wasn’t some whimsical addition, it was indeed a tensioner that no one anywhere ever discusses. Especially would this be so for the newer and larger bevel-up planes where a tensioning cap iron cannot be used. They had to go with the thick irons we have offered to us today. Are thick irons necessary for the Bailey pattern and Bed Rock planes then? I don’t think so at all, and if there was some benefit I would say it is soon negated by the extra energy it takes to sharpen the wide band of steel that forms the cutting edge of the bevel on thicker irons. Mostly, it’s a matter for personal choice. The problem is of course that m,ost new woodworkers do not know which way to go so they go off what the sales pitch gives them which always top buy a thick iron replacement. I have yet to meet a salesman that was a woodworker first and a salesman second. It doesn’t happen, though most will claim some connection to a great uncle being a woodworker and it being in their genes. I most certainly would not ditch a thin iron to replace it with one costing more than the plane `I bought thinking it’s some kind of silver bullet that takes care of something that doesn’t exist — like “chatter!” Aargh! Here is an example of a supplier selling a thicker iron to replace a standard one; “A thicker blade will tighten the mouth opening and reduce chattering.” The tool in question actually never chattered in its life — not because of the size of the mouth opening and neither because of the thickness of the plate. But now, globally, this source of misinformation is out there and new woodworkers would find it extremely difficult and highly confusing to disseminate the untruth of it.

Most of the time I might shout out what George shouted out to me as a 15-year-old apprentice in 1965! “Sharpen up laddie! Sharpen up!” 99% of faulty planing is caused by a dull irons and friction on the sole of the plane in connecting to the wood. Nervous anxiety, lack of confidence, lack of experience all play their part, but there is a good reason that until it was introduced no crafting artisan replaced what they had with a thicker iron or even the idea of it. No, they knew what the issues were and it was not the thickness of the iron. Have patience, sharpen more than you think is necessary, persevere and you will find your plane works perfectly well after few hours in the saddle. There is no need for thick irons and no need to open the throat of your plane by filing it to take a thicker iron.

36 thoughts on “It’s worth stating”

  1. Paul, you say “I just don’t buy into throwaways of any kind because I like the art of sharpening saws to be part of my life long term”…
    Are there any bandsaw blades you know of that are resharpenable?

    Matt

    1. I would that there were, Matt, I think. The issue with all blades intended for machine power is that they do a million cuts per minute and so wear out faster than we could actually keep up with if they were resharpenable by hand. Most machines are indeed highly inefficient when it comes to cuts per minute per foot run. When you take a stroke with your saw by hand it is 100% efficient because the cut matches the power. What it doesn’t do is keep pace with the demand for cheap goods and mass manufacturing hence the Industrial Revolution has eventually cut out hand work in most spheres of life.

    2. Matt, I think most bandsaw blades are resharpenable. A Dremel and cut-off wheel (and a little time) are all you need.

    3. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

      There are (I would think most regular blades can be sharpened), and you can buy machines made for this task (there is a LOT of teeth on a band saw blade) if you need to sharpen often. However, for the occasional sharpening there are other options. A grinding bit for a Dremel and time would do it too. Consistency could be an issue, although I do not know if that is even an issue on a band saw.

      Those who own and operate band saw sawmills (quite a lot of those around here in Norway!) often have a sharpening machine for their band saw blades. I went through 5 or 6 blades last year while “slabbing” a big oak (I rented the saw mill). After some time they got worn / dulled, and one chewed into steel by my mistake. 🙂 I would not want to sharpen those by hand!

      There might also be companies that provides sharpening services. I plan to keep a handful of band saw blades “in stock” and send them off for sharpening once in a while. It might not be much cheaper than just buying new blades, but resharpening is a lot more sustainable.
      I have one blade where I accidentally damaged the set of the teeth. It cuts amazingly if you need to cut curves clockwise… I have two different saw sets, and plan to spend some shop time listening to a podcast and putting the set back into the blade. 🙂

      1. It is really important to consider the time constraints most people live under. Sharpening a bandsaw blade, buying a Dremel and the cutters etc, does not translate into a good economy both financially and in a time-strapped society. Funny though, that we often insist on sharpening something costing £13 yet costs the price of a new bit to sharpen each time something needs sharpening and to save what? The mental gymnastics are the same as those who say that they cut up worn out non-sharpenable panel saws to make scrapers that don’t take a good edge but they have 20 scrapers out of it anyway.

        1. It might depend on where one lives, but there are companies which can resharpen band saw blades with good precision and a quick turnaround.
          It might cost nearly as much as a new quality blade, but this has advantages such as no need to wait for inventory, no shipping either way (if you live nearby) and -at worse- only domestic shipping, let alone the reduced consumption of natural ressources.

    4. There are carbon steel (not hardened) bandsaw blades that can be sharpened with a file. you can do it by hand or a special machine if you need to sharpen a lot. I do mine by hand and it takes 20 minutes to sharpen one blade, of course it depends on the length and tpi of the saw. for me it’s more economic to do it myself rather than sending it for resharpening.

    5. They are resharpenable. I use a Dremel with a small grinding wheeel, and mount the blade in an engineering vice. Time consuming but effective. The bandsaw is about the only machine I use regularly

  2. Hi Paul, sorry if the question is a bit out of place, but I’m unsure where to ask… Are there any news regarding the publication of plans that you and your team were working on? I’m particularly thinking of your beautiful rocking chair, Brazos I think it was called? Im hoping to attempt it this winter…

  3. Hi Paul,

    Seeing as you mentioned your book here, I thought I’d tell your readership how good it is!

    Not the instructions, or the writing, but the book itself. It’s just really well made. I do a lot of software design, that sort of thing and I’m quite particular about layout and looks. I have to say that both the contents and introduction sections alone are just great. Whoever chose the font and layout (margin size etc) knew exactly what they were doing. It’s such a small detail to point out, but I’m pointing it out!

    Thanks.

  4. Gratitude for your hands-on, experience-based insights into the history and evolution of woodworking hand tools! Ease of communication in the digital age has turbocharged access to information but also the “zombie ideas” often embedded within. Fortunately we have the universal woodworking gene shared by all salespeople to help us navigate (not)! That’s why any aspiring craftsperson present or future, can be so grateful for the documentation of your insights. Thanks.

  5. Paul – you should never have posted that picture with “two irons in place”. You will just be giving them ideas. I can see the marketing now. The first iron shaves incredibly close … the second even closer.

  6. Hi Paul
    If I have read your post correctly, you are not adverse to thicker irons, which seem to go hand-in-hand with most of the premium plane makers, but more so around dispelling the myth that you have to have a thicker iron. That I totally understand.

    As a new woodworker I have some new planes with the thicker irons (V and LN and Clifton) and I have some older planes with the original irons (Stanley’s). I don’t recall whether the decision to buy was influenced by the iron size, but more so around build quality and my inexperience and lack of knowledge on restoring older ebay planes (I hadn’t come across your teachings at that point and so had no guide, so to speak). My Dad gave me an old Stanley 4 1/2 which I will restore following your tutorial. I know the newer planes are going to take more effort to sharpen (which I don’t mind (at this stage as I haven’t sharpened them yet!)) and I do know they are considerably heavier than my Stanley planes, but as a new woodworker, at the time, the new planes seemed logical to me as I did not have the experience or knowledge or confidence around the original old planes.

    I guess what I am asking you is whether you think it is a mistake to buy the newer planes with their thicker irons? It’s not the impression I get from you, by the way. The impression I get is that you can do everything with the older planes as you can with the newer planes and don’t be caught out by over-zealous claims about the new planes? And then ultimately, it’s down to personal choice?

    Many thanks for all you do and your teachings and passing on your half a century of experience.

    Steve

    1. I have generally worried that reading promotions from every quarter suggesting that the heavier and more modern planes are the only way forward for new woodworkers to go. This is absolutely not the case at all and in any way. The only benefit is that they come ready to go from the box and have no user error problems from previous users or owners. But the reality only lasts an hour of use. Eventually, you must sharpen that plane and here is where the rubber hits the road. You really don’t learn veru7 much from the new experience whereas restoring an older plane is an amazing way to master the art of setup. Now here comes the rub. Owning three high-end planes of the kind described is more for those who can afford them. My audience includes those who could never afford such prices and may even not have access to them anyway. It’s this that can make my craft of woodworking exclusive to the more well off. I want to reach all woodworkers everywhere and what I use is what people often copy. Hence the price of router planes went from £10 to over a hundred over a time span of about five years.

      1. Thanks, Paul. I am very much looking forward to de-constructing, restoring and re-constructing my old 4 1/2 as I want to understand and learn and that is the best way to do so (certainly for me). I suspect had I come across your ways before I made my purchases, I would have waited, but what’s done is done and I am fortunate enough to have been able to afford it (albeit I did save and make other sacrifices to do so). And I do appreciate and understand the market you are reaching out to and that it does not require significant investment with wise purchases, but as you say, your teachings, through no fault of yours, has driven up prices for what were once very cheap acquisitions. It is a shame that ebay sellers have opted to capitalise on this, especially when the no longer wanted plane, saw, chisels, etc., would receive a good home and would be restored to good working order.

        I will let you know how I get on in due course with the 4 1/2’s restoration!

    2. Steve,
      I don’t think it’s a mistake to buy new planes. Personally, I was looking to get started on a budget and bought old bench planes, and then used Paul’s tutorial to rehab them. Last weekend I rehabbed a good user stanley 5-1/2 that I got for $50.00, and it turned out fabulous. But, I decided early on to buy a lie-nielson router plane. My thought is that for a very few dollars more a new one made sense, as older ones are so expensive (and the additional time to rehab it). Also, I bought new handsaws because I had no idea what a sharp handsaw was like. In the future I plan on getting old saws and fixing them up. I say, dive in and rehab your 4-1/2. You have experience with the new tools, so you know what to look for in the vintage tool.
      Cheers

      1. Hi Rob
        Thanks for your reply. I opted for the Veritas router plane as the cost on ebay was similar to new, as you say. I am going to dive in and refurb my 4 1/2 and like you, will look for some old saws (although these are going up in price as well). I thought about getting some old ones, and picked up what I think is an old tenon saw from a neighbour who was throwing it out, just to practice saw sharpening as Paul has set out in his tutorials.
        Cheers, Steve

        1. Steve,
          It may be good to look for a shop that deals with old tools. I am lucky, I live in Ohio Amish country. There is a very reputable Amish tool shop an hour away from me. He is honest and fair. I have gotten many of my tools from him, and he gives good advice. In the beginning I was saving and buying, at one point he told me that I needed to get to work using the tools because I was getting close to being a collector and not a user. He could have sold me more, but decided to motivate me instead. Point is, someone like that will work with you to find good restorable users. Then once you gain experience you can go to estate sales, auctions, eBay etc and have confidence on what to pick up.
          Cheers again!

  7. Thanks Paul. Speaking of sharpening up, I have followed your advice and sharpen quite frequently ever since I started woodworking. Sharp solves and avoids many problems. In the last few weeks, I am making another of your “Paul Sellers clocks.” My sixth or seventh. This one I am using mesquite that I had picked up when visiting my brother in Texas. I think mesquite must dull the blades much much more quickly than cherry (like 10 times more quickly). The plane would work and then it didn’t seem to be working. At first I was confused and then followed your advice and sharpened up and all would work again. Mesquite is such lovely wood and has a pleasant smell. But my oh my, it is hard wood. I will persevere. It will be a lovely clock when done.

    1. You are learning what it takes to be a Texan, Joe, true grit. An old boy in Texas said to me, “that stuff’s harder’n Chinese ‘rithmetic.”. It is high in meral deposits and that is why it dulls the plane iron so, Joe. Keep on keepin’ on!

  8. I bought an up market bevel up plane and spent half an hour flattening the soul. Still can’t get a shaving thin enough to brag about. Not what I expected!

  9. Breaking the utility knife blade to get a new tip always seemed wasteful to me so I started sharpening it instead of breaking the tip off. Half a blade lasted me almost 3 years and then the plastic body was becoming unusable so I changed it to a metal one. the only problem I have is that over time the tip becomes rounded when I sharpen it. maybe there is a technique to it that I don’t know..

  10. Thank you, Paul!

    Perhaps you can ask your next hair-splitting, precision-obsessed, commenter about deflection of the sole caused by bending an extra-thick cutting iron to lay flat against the frog. Nothing is infinitely stiff, not even–gasp–the cast iron sole and frog of the heaviest plane. Twisting or bending an unnecessarily thick cutting iron to lay flat causes more deflection of all of the surrounding material. Is measuring this deflection an exercise in stupidity? Of course! But it might be a fun undertaking for someone who values sharpness and straightness above their own skill and enjoyment of working wood. Just sayin’. Keep educating us, we need it!

  11. hi paul, i think a lot of the problem these days is down to where people get their information. i have seen many videos on youtube that espouse certain methods or tools, that are rife in misinformation. very few youtube authorities have ever trained, or been professional woodworkers. yet they spout forth all sorts of rubbish that they have picked up from other youtuber’s who also have no training or professional background. i am now retired and still work from a hybrid workshop in single garage. as i only do one off pieces i have no need for production machinery such as dominoes etc and find most of my work is done by hand tools as it is quicker than setting up a machine for one or two cuts. my tools in comparison to most would be considered cheap and nasty, yet they perform the role that they were purchased for. i always considered money spent on a high value ego tools, as money that didn’t go onto the table. call me tight lol.

  12. Hi Paul

    This is not a comment specific to this post, it is merely a thank you. I’d abandoned woodworking in my late teens, my (lovely and kind) father would often pressure me to make things I did not want to make in ways I did not want to use, so rather than argue I did what I was told and let my interest slip. When retiring my interest was reignited. Your blogs and videos, to me, represented the perfect teacher, who explains practice and the reason for that practice, without being dogmatic, and encouraging some experimentation and innovative thinking, while cutting through some of the nonsense that others advocate. There is rarely a day that I do not watch one of your videos, so I bought your book, since my computer chair can be a little numbing. I’m enjoying myself enormously almost every day despite still making silly mistakes. So again, thank you.

    Kind regards

    Lee

    1. Hi Paul,
      I just wanted to stay how much I enjoy and printing out your blogs at various intervals. I appreciate your awareness of your audience and the various skill levels when you write your blogs as well as your videos etc.
      I just started woodworking this past year as a hobby during COVID and I am a retired professional musician. I have thoroughly enjoyed your videos, your free guides and your blogs which I find are down to earth, easy to read and understand and feel encouraged just to go out and do it. I am 74 years old and learned a bit of DIY when I was a music teacher in Croydon in the late 70;s . Best wishes, stay safe and well
      Paul Mouradian

  13. This is not meant as a “smart Alec” question, but I’ve heard you (and others) on YouTube videos say things like, “We’ll go back and remove three-thousandths from this”. Does this mean that you’ve actually measured things down to the thousandth at some point or somehow know that a certain adjustment on a tool will is in increments of a thousand, or does it just mean that you’re taking a VERY tiny bit off? Thank you for all you do! Sincerely, emily in Seattle

    1. It sounds good, and especially when sensationalist presenters do it, to say something like, “three-thousandths” which I have never said, Emily. Taking off a thou’, which I have and do say routinely, is about as thin an amount as is realistically measurable as possible in any kind of meaningful way, and removing the thinnest shaving is measurable in our at-the-bench world to some degree. That said, using even the best calipers available to us, the compression of wood with the jaws would give us a false reading. Mostly, I think we are generally saying a super-thin shaving and even when I have measured a shaving and given out the numbers to show differences, I am cognizant that I can influence the outcome by my pressing the moveable jaw to the fixed one to get any kind of measurement.

      1. Thank you for your explanation!! I think because of my autism I tend to take things TOO literally. Just to prove I’m not COMPLETELY crazy (which at my age is becoming more and more necessary) in your excellent video, “How to make a Mortise and Tenon Joint – The Three Joints -” just after 26:35, you said something like, “…and that is about a thousandth I think, close to a thousandth on an inch-really hard to measure…”. The “three thousandths” part I probably got confused from somebody else that said it-and I DO know a lot of engineer-types who like to throw that kind of thing around. But you’re not one of those blowhard types, so I was worried that maybe I was being lazy and cheap and I needed to get a micrometer! Very best, and thanks again-emily

  14. Robert Sexsmith

    John Ruskin (1819-1900) More than a century ago:
    “ It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money—that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do—The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot— it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is wise to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better”

    At 84 pension’s are limited but I had some training from about 20 years ago. When using tools for wood working use the time needed and on Sat. morning go to the shop and clean and sharpen all tools that need it’ and clean and put things where the go.

  15. Paul, our plumber came today and I think he can beat your record. His is still working full time in his 64th year of plumbing.
    He’s sad at the way his trade is going but says he will keep working until his customers all die off. He’s nearly 80 but it’s a joy to see his work ethic and soak up the knowledge he has.

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