How to (Really) Set up a Premium Handplane


In the last month I’ve received a lot of e-mails about an article and video from Fine Woodworking magazine about how to set up a new handplane.

The e-mails all had the same question: Is this true? Should I really be doing all the steps listed in the article and video?

It’s not my style to simply dismantle other people’s work, point by point. So instead, I asked Lie-Nielsen Toolworks to loan me a new No. 4 plane in iron, and I set it up last week with the camera rolling.

Whenever I set up a new plane, this are the exact steps I take to get it out of the box and planing wood. It’s a different approach than the one in the article and video. I think my method is valid, and I hope you will consider it.

— Christopher Schwarz

Disclaimer: This video was my idea. I was not asked by any toolmaker to produce it. I was not paid for it. And, of course, I did not keep the plane I borrowed.

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Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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55 Responses to How to (Really) Set up a Premium Handplane

  1. Really Chris, about the disclaimer, they should have paid you and given you the plane!!

    • abtuser says:

      Chris has explained elsewhere his policy on tests drives for tools. He’s pretty much of the belief that only tools that he’s bought and paid for are the tools he’ll endorse. That way, he owes the manufacturer nothing if the tool doesn’t review well.

  2. billlattpa says:

    I’m waiting patiently for your video to arrive. I’ll pay you a compliment, of all the methods I’ve seen, I like your presentation the best and it’s also the easiest to digest.

  3. kv41 says:

    Thanks for the video, Chris. I appreciate all the free advice you give. This is by far the best video I have watched online in terms of quality. There were no hesitations or stoppages or pixilating. Could you please tell me which video camera you used?

  4. adamwelker says:

    Great video, sir! You should have called it “How to Set Up a Premium Plane Blade”. I own several Lie-Nielsen and Veritas planes and have NEVER had to do anything to the plane body or frog or any other part accept for the blade. I think the article in FW was silly. All that work on a $350 plane? Crazy!

    • billlattpa says:

      I agree completely that the FW article was ridiculous and I am strictly an amateur when it comes to plane set up. I honestly think that the article should have had a huge disclaimer printed above it. But as I said, I’m just an amateur.

    • abtuser says:

      I thought the FWW article was simply misplaced in terms of the type of tool the techniques described in it, otherwise, for older planes, or non-premium planes, the article had some good tips. And, Tommy Mac was using a Wood River plane, not a premium Lie-Nielsen or Veritas plane. The WR’s may need some more tuning than the plane from premium vendors.

  5. Tango02 says:

    Awesome! This video will (hopefully!) be playing Christmas morning along with three new additions to my tool chest…not sure if I should thank you or FWW for making this happen!

  6. Thomas Hoyt says:

    since that plane is now “used” (aka, reconditioned) – - can I buy it for a discounted price?

  7. Aw, sweet. I love haiku contests. Ok, here goes my entry…

    Old planes are awesome.
    The only thing better is
    A new one for free.

  8. Eric Bennett says:

    My two Lie-Neilsen block planes had really tight mouths and worked perfectly after I added a tiny secondary bevel. This video shows exactly what I learned by trial. It’ll make a big difference for people new to hand planes. You should warn those people – they’re highly addictive.

  9. JJ says:

    I recently had to do a bit of tuneup to a brand new low angle smoothing plane from Lie-nielsen. There was a tiny tiny burr on the side of the mouth, but big enough that would leave a scratch on the wood. I decided to fix it myself using a needle file, it took maybe 15 seconds to do.

    Perhaps I could’ve asked for a replacement, but it seeemed like such a small defect, that I knew I could fix that seemed unnecessary.

    Regarding the FWW video, that’s definitely going overboard for a premium plane, but that was not a Lie-Nielsen or Lee Valley, because they use anti-rust paper, perhaps that was a Woodriver?

    • John says:

      The plane in the FWW video is in fact a Woodriver plane. I’d only seen them in print advertisements until the video. Funny how WR goes to the effort of making their packaging very similar to LN.

  10. William Hermesmeyer says:

    This video reassures me that what I did with the LN planes that I’ve bought was a good way to go about putting them to use. I’d like to add that I started out using spray bottles for my water and oil because that is how David Charlesworth did it in the video I have. However, my spray bottles broke after not a lot of use and I grabbed a clear plastic squeeze bottle from the kitchen. That was a few years ago. It turns out that the squeeze bottles are cheep and reliable. And work good for cheep and reliable mineral oil for oiling my tools too. Also, I sharpen about the same way that Chris does here, probably because of the David Charlesworth video. However, after the 6000 water stone, I free hand the blade on a strope and keep going back to just the strope, instead of resharpening, until the blade just won’t hold an edge very long. I’ve only been trying the strope thing for a few months, but it is working pretty good so far (keeping in mind that I only get to to a few hours of woodwork every weekend). Just thought I’d try to add something to the conversation. Thanks for the video.
    Will

  11. Robert W. Foedisch says:

    Thank you for that video. I just bought a # 7 clifton plane (it hasn’t arrived from England yet) and this video will be of great help

    Robert W. Foedisch

    3814 Corliss Avenue N

    Seattle, Washington 98103

  12. Auguste Gusteau says:

    It is definitely a cliché.
    In the last month I’ve received a lot of e-mails about the recipe for leek soup (or anything else that comes to mind).
    Lie-Nielsen Toolworks (or one of the other friends companies) produces a plane to slice the leeks (or solve any other problem) that I strongly recommend.
    But I was not paid in money for this advertising.
    Regards,
    Auguste

    • David T says:

      Oh Alfredo
      That is not up to your usual witty retorts. The only reason I read comments is for the occassional witty insights from readers like yourself. Where is the wit like when shown how to level a four legged saw horse you responded with ” I cut my four legs the same length.” such wit I laughed about that for days.

      Cheers

    • Niels says:

      Is everything OK Auguste? I am worried about you. Your recent comments have become increasingly incoherent (which I previously thought was impossible).

    • tsstahl says:

      Egads. You can distill everything down to a negative point of view if you try hard enough.

      Chris is a shill for WordPress because that’s what he uses to post his blog.
      Chris is also a schill for Lost Art Press because of his ownership interest.

      I’m a shill for Google blogging because the link in my name goes to my own self serving evil blog.

      Mother Theresa was a schill for the Catholic church.

      You yourself are a schill for WordPress by participating, and a shill for yellow journalism by practicing it. I suppose I could try to become more absurd.

      Do you seriously believe there are ethical issues at play here?

  13. I love the “less is more” approach to fettling a plane. Much thought and attention to detail has gone into making a premium plane by very experienced and qualified folks, and the layman woodworker would be well advised to not mess with that too much.
    It would also be great to show folks the nuances and techniques of setting an iron on a non-adjustable plane to illustrate how very simple that is, and dispell the myth that adjusters are necessary gadgets. -wayne anderson

  14. Scott says:

    Nice video Chris, I think this will save people some time in setting up new tools and not creating an issue that wasn’t there in the first place. I can attest this is the same method you taught me and I’ve been working away just fine. I have to ask, what happened to your little antique oil can? I see you were using a spray bottle for your oil.

    • tsstahl says:

      That was a container of dihydrogen monoxide being used as lubricant for a manufactured stone. Very nasty stuff and should be treated with care. :)

  15. Mark Wells says:

    Many vintage planes don’t require extensive work, either. When I was a newer galoot, I fretted over buying an old jointer plane. What if the sole is not flat? A wise soul on the Old Tools List said his favorite jointer is an antique in which he did nothing to improve the performance other than sharpen the blade. I have had four 100 year-old jointer planes pass through my shop. I have done a lot of stock preparation without flattening the sole, or a whole range of other improvements some say are “necessary.” The only jointer plane I have seen with issues is the one the previous owner tried to “tune.”

    Try the plane before you start doing all the “tune ups.” If you have an old tool that somebody used to use, then it may not need anything other than a sharp blade.

  16. Art says:

    So does the plane you sent back become a collectors item? “Custom tuned by Schwarz!” or some such thing? :-) Cool video just the same. Thanks Chris!

  17. Paul in Plymouth says:

    Chris,
    Thanks for your video. It sent me chasing the one from FWW. I might have found that one charmingly naïve if it didn’t create the potential for someone unnecesarily damaging their new plane.

    The idea that, using sandpaper fixed to a wooden bench that is flat to a few mils at best (or 10s of mils or more, depending on age and history), a woodworker can flatten a plane better than skilled metal workers using professional equipment at the Lie-Nielsen or Veritas factory strikes me as naïve fantasy.

    My own experience is this: I bought a couple LN bench planes a few years ago and tried them right out of the box with only a little adjustment. In a few minutes I was getting full-width nearly transparent shavings that registered “0” on my digital caliper, i.e., less than half a mil thick. That established a standard to strive for when I sharpen or make other changes to the planes. I often achieve that standard, but not always, at least not right away and not without effort.

    I own several planes from both Lie-Nielsen and Veritas. All of them came from the box as sharp, flat and square as they need to be for my purposes. There were no burrs or sharp edges. I can fuss over the blades and fiddle with the setup all I like, but nothing else needed to be done on any of the planes themselves. Both companies do a great job so woodworkers can work wood instead of modifying their new tools with files and sandpaper.

  18. Robert Justiana says:

    I received my Feb. ’13 issue of FWW in today’s mail, and the first letter to the editor was about that article. The editor’s reply was in agreement with the content of Christopher’s video and most of what’s been said here. New, premium planes don’t need a “tune-up”. They made a boo-boo and admitted it. I just hope no newbies screwed up their $300 planes.

  19. LW says:

    I watched the FWW video and I do not understand the hysterical outrage. He clearly said not all plane soles need to be flattened and to be very light on using a file in the mouth. Yes each topic could have used a little more explanation and caution, but most of the hubbub I hear about this sounds more like the reactions of Jerry Falwell to The Last Temptation of Chirst. Such drama!

  20. W Mickley says:

    And a (really) set up plane leaves such a poor surface that it can be improved by scraping and sanding? Really.

  21. LW says:

    I really should just go in the shop, but it does bother me that you had to put the “(Really)” in your video title. It is a rather juvenile contradiction to your seemingly high minded statement about not picking apart someones work. Please either take the high road or don’t – pretending to and then pulling a little gotcha is immature and petty. I’m sorry, but I guess I’m not the usual breed of sycophant here and I honestly expected you to handle something like this with more maturity and class.

    What’s really unfortunate about all this is now two woodworker personalities I like and respect have both screwed up (TM has some excellent work and is no slouch). One made a bigger mistake, but it was well meaning. The other was petty, but completely avoidable.

    So, perhaps it means nothing in the end, but beyond my two cents here I think I will refrain from any additional Popular Woodworking or Lost Art Press purchases for a while (I have spent hundreds). If you can demonstrate that you can (Really) take the high road, then I will come back as a customer.

    • billlattpa says:

      I admire your conviction, but that article, as well meaning as it may have been, was completely misguided. If your subscribing to a woodworking magazine, you should be at least getting semi-sound advice from it. The title of that article should have been “How to F*ck Up Your Brand New $350 Plane” At least in my opinion. And believe me I’m no suck up, but Generalissimo Schwarz is 100% correct on this one and the video he posted is pretty damn good too. Sure, he probably could have left off the “really”. I’ll give him a little slack. We all have an ego don’t we?

      • Rob Evans says:

        The link is broken? Did all the hubbub cause it to be removed? What’s the method? As a so-called newbie who knows little or nothing, I am probably in grave peril of messing up an otherwise serviceable plane… What was the gist? Did he just take it out of the box and use it?

      • Lw says:

        All good points. The generalissimo is my favorite of all time and I just didn’t like the idea of him being a little like, well, like most of us on these forums. It’s tough when you realize a demigod is mortal after all. I’ll go buy a book or video now that I got it off my chest okay? :-)

    • LW is a cry baby! says:

      LW:

      You are one of those ultra sensitive people that is ruining our society. My guess is you were picked last for teams in gym class! Suck it up saddlebags, your threats to not patron people’s business are childish and non-concerning.

      • Lw says:

        The instructions are to say something half-witty, not, “say something half wit.” but I can see how you could make the mistake. By the way I wasn’t picked last because I was one of the hot chicks in high school who didn’t even recognize that losers like you even existed. Now I am certain I make three times you do with your GED education and my shop has tools you can only dream of owning, just like your pathetic high school dreams of being with girls like me.

    • Niels says:

      Ooof… Well think Chris should go straight to his room and think about what he’s done. They’ll be no beer or playing with sharp things until he fully understands the wrongness of “really”.
      Relax buddy.
      Everyone needs to take a couple of deep breaths and realize that there are much better things to focus energy on than internet woodworking videos. I can’t speak for the motivations for people to comment on things on the internet or make response videos or start long forum threads ripping on things or people they disagree with. All I can say is that it is great that people like Chris and Tommy are putting out content for everyone to watch read and argue about. The more voices the better.

      Of course, that’s just one poorly bred sycophant’s worthless opinion. What was that about maturity and class?

      • scribe6 says:

        Perhaps Mr. Schwarz was a tad miffed in the first place that FWW would release a “How to Set Up a New Handplane” article and video the very same month that he releases his “Super-Tune a Handplane: How to Turn a Flea-market Find into a Fast, Accurate and Smooth-cutting Tool” DVD. Coincidence? Who knows?
        I agree that his use of “(Really)” in the title of his video is most likely in reference to the FWW video. However, if Mr. Schwarz really wanted to be petty, he could’ve spoken with an east-coast accent and started every sentence with “OK, guys…”
        By the way, I liked the Schwarz video better.

  22. Farqlue says:

    This entire flap began with Pat Megowan’s response on the FWW forum “Knots” and then with his own video response on YouTube. I believe it was an overreaction to a poorly worded title that apparently clouded any chance of viewing the accompanying video charitably.

    That’s unfortunate because had he and many others watched the video more carefully, they would have noticed that at every step Tommy MacDonald instructs the viewer to first check for things like burrs on the frog or gaps between the sole and straight edge or to be cautious before proceeding with fine tuning. Never does he recommend going headlong into flattening the sole or deburring the frog without first checking to see if it’s needed. Moreover, the plane used in the video was NOT a premium Lie Neilsen or Veritas. It was a Woodriver plane.

    Should there have been bold disclaimers all throughout the video indicating that such work is not necessarily needed on the Lie Neilsen and Veritas’s of the world? Apparently so given the reactions.

    I hope we haven’t come to a point where making discriminating judgments while watching woodworking videos needs such constant tempering. I don’t need to have woodworking nannies falling all over themselves pointing out the obvious. And the canard that perpetually uses “newbies” as a platform on which to express serious concerns that newcomers may be getting wrong information is getting very old.

  23. Michael says:

    I went to one of Roy Underhill’s woodwork classes this year and one of the students asked Roy (who was sharpening a mortise chisel) “what angle are you sharpening it at?” – Roy responded with “I have no idea” – The same student then asked “what grit are you using?” to which Roy said “Ah, that I can tell you, it’s the same one I have been using for 40 years.” Let’s not get obsessed over the tools or the techniques. Horses for courses…. As with anything, woodworkers should look at different sources – If I only read FWW I’d miss Chris’ (really) good sharpening technique.
    Keep ups teh (really) good work!

  24. abtuser says:

    I’ve had great luck using Chris’s techniques for working with handplanes. I own several of his instructional video’s, and can’t say enough about the success they’ve helped bring to my woodworking projects. If you’re a beginner or even intermediate woodworker, there’s something for everyone on them.

  25. Michael says:

    BTW – I think I found where that plane ended up:
    Lie Nielsen 4 1/2 Smooth Plane w 50 degree High Angle Frog
    http://r.ebay.com/zWU1kd

  26. Bryan Robinson says:

    Great video! Thanks for the good information.

  27. El says:

    Chris, thanks for the great video once again; just one question, and it’s not about your disclaimer!

    If you had found light between the chip breaker and the iron, what steps would you have taken to remedy this?

    Cheers from England

    • lostartpress says:

      On a premium plane, I’d ask the company to send me a new chipbreaker. It should be dead flat and fit airtight.

      On old breakers, I fix them by stoning the front edge. Not freehand stoning — I prop up the back of the iron on a block of wood to hold the breaker at a consistent angle. You have to practice this for a while before you start to make them better. Most people just make them worse at first.

  28. Michael says:

    Chris, I have seen several sharpening techniques and some employ a strop – Do you ever use a stop in your sharpening regime?

  29. Dustin says:

    May I ask what brand of waterstones you are using in the video? I would also like to move to stones that don’t require soaking. Thanks.

  30. LW says:

    Okay, I’m a little slow here. I just watched a horrific episode of The Woodsmith Shop featuring “campaign style” furniture with this plywood, veneered, cheapo hardware thing masquerading as a campaign chest. Is that a problem? No, there is no shame in catering to the pocket screw Lumberjocks.com crowd. What is the problem is not in a million years would they have come up with this on their own. At the very least they could have in some way acknowledged C.S’s work in bringing attention to it. They did the same thing with a tool chest a while back. Now I can understand the FWW is on the game too – hand plane set up just happens to come out when…? I would like to think Tommy Mac was unknowingly conned into this since all his projects seem unique and original. Still, what the heck is up with all these copy cats? There is a whole woodworking universe of things to write about. Is it really that hard for a publisher to find something on their own? The term “hack” comes to mind, but it is really about journalistic integrity. Once again, sorry for critiquing the (really) thing. It is understandable.

  31. farqlue says:

    I’m starting to get dizzy with all the experts critiquing the other experts who are being critiqued by earlier experts via later experts who don’t like the younger experts who fail to focus on the real experts and no one is giving credit to everyone who knew all this expert knowledge before all the experts did.

    Who’s on first again?

  32. Pat Megowan says:

    Farqlue credits me with beginning this “flap” about the FWW article/video, which is debatable, but I certainly made a flap. I may have over-reacted for knowledgable and careful readers, but I was aiming at those who don’t know better, which is the bulk of FWW’s readership.

    The gist of this “how-to” article is that this is standard procedure for every plane, illustrated on a nice new (Wood River) plane by a celebrity teacher. Based on that authority, folks will be tempted even if they think they know better (and in fact do). Who doesn’t want the best possible performance from their tools? The cautions in the article and video don’t stand up to the “you can do it” sensibility and imagery, and at critical points the information given is insufficient to do the job right, but more than enough to cause damage.

    I have watched well-meaning people quickly screw up good tools with advice like this, and it’s a bummer. This is not a criticism of anyone–there are lots of moving parts in bringing an article to life, and slip-ups happen.

    Sometimes I benefit from a bit of nannying–I’m glad to be a nanny (or have others do so) if it saves someone such a depressing screw-up.

  33. billlattpa says:

    I received the video (finally) and I have to say that it’s the best information I’ve seen on the topic in any media form. It’s easy to follow, concise, and uses simple equipment to get the job done. So, the Generalissimo gets two thumbs up (three if I was born near Chernobyl). This video is HIGHLY recommended.

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