Plane Talk -- Part 1


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I suppose you could say I have a (maybe unhealthy) passion for seeing old hand tools refurbished and returned to working life. I once purchased the groove plane of a tongue-n-groove set for $1. It was in sad shape with rust, missing handle and cracked body. I truly felt pity for this inanimate object and accepted the challenge to bring it back to life. My motives were completely altruistic as I had no need for such a plane, especially without the counterpart.

Anyway, disassemble, clean the rust, fix the crack, add a handle, rub on two coats of Danish oil, sharpen the iron, then reassemble and adjust everything. The result? A happy old gentleman able to produce the same shavings and groove as in his youth. I sold it some time afterward at a tool meet for around $15-20. No way I was reimbursed monetarily for my time spent. My satisfaction came in knowing a fine old tool was back in service.


Hollows and Rounds

Fast forward several years and I'm now in the process of refurbishing the hollow and round planes I have. My goal is a complete half-set of evens (2, 4, 6, ... 18) that I can use. As of today I have sets 2 through 10 ready to go. I should clarify a bit on the sizing. There was never really a standard on what the number means in terms of the actual size. Each maker had their own definition and numbering. There is even some debate over which of the pair is the hollow and which is the round. Does the name refer to the shape of the plane's body or that of the moulding it makes? I'm going with hollow planes having the concave sole and rounds the convex sole. So, hollows make rounds in moulding and rounds make coves in moulding. Confused, yet?

If you plan to acquire a set by purchasing individual planes -- from different makers across different centuries and geographies -- it's best to shop with a ruler to measure the width of the iron. The key measurement that is consistent across makers is the equality that exists between the width of the iron and the radius of the circle from which the arc of the plane's sole is derived. The numbering scheme that I follow here is that the number represents 1/16's of an inch. Thus a #4 has an iron that is 4/16" = 1/4" wide and transcribes 1/6 of a full circle with 1/4" radius (or 1/2" diameter). My set of evens will shape round or cove moulding with radii of 1/8", 1/4", 3/8", ... up to 1-1/8". Hollows cut the outside arc of the circle and rounds cut the inside arc of the circle.

I’m sharing the restoration and refurbishing process I'm following on these planes in case others are interested in this post. The process applies to refurbishing any moulding plane, and represents the steps I’ve gleaned from others. There are any number of good resources for acquiring and restoring wooden planes. Two that I've found valuable are Bill Anderson's video, Choosing, Refurbishing and Using Moulding Planes, and Matthew Bickford's book, Mouldings in Practice.

Fair warning. This is a lengthy post. No hard feelings if you turn around now. I’ll be sharing this in multiple posts since there is a 10,000 character limit per post.


Perhaps the first question to answer is "Why refurbish?" Wouldn't it be better to buy a new set? The answer is "Yes, but ...". Hand made moulding planes are expensive. Expect to pay as much as $4000 for a new set of hollows and rounds like the one I mention above. By contrast you can find quality used moulding planes for a fraction of this cost. They will require some effort to restore, but well worth the investment in personal time and satisfaction. Let’s begin...

Moulding planes are deceptively simple, having only three parts: the body, wedge and iron. If you're wanting a plane to use it's wise to disassemble the plane and inspect each part. Of the three the wedge is the simplest to replace and of least concern. The body should be free of cracks, deep gouges and generally flat (although it may be possible to remove some slight bowing). The iron should be full length (extending beyond the wedge), free of deep rust and have enough steel left to sharpen. Refurbishing the plane consists of adjusting each of these individually, and then as a whole.

Focus on the width of the irons when acquiring a set of hollows and rounds to use. It is possible to grind an iron down to a narrower size. For example, if you need a #6 hollow and find one with an iron that is 7/16" wide you can fairly quickly grind down the side to 3/8" (width of #6). This will require reshaping the iron’s profile and also making adjustments to the thickness of the plane body. Both are doable.

See Part 2 for the Refurbishing process.


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