Another Way to Tame Tear-out


Deneb Puchalski of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks uses a toothing iron to deal with materials that are difficult to plane. He first tooths the surface and then removes the toothing with a fine-set plane, usually a low-angle jack plane.

A few years ago he asked me if there was anything in the literature that supported this method. And this entry is a long-overdue reply.

From “The Panorama of Science and Art” (Caxton Press) by James Smith, 1825.

Though the double iron is an excellent invention, and the use of it is, in fact, the best general remedy known against the curling or cross-grained stuff of ordinary quality; yet, without some other assistance, the planing of many of the finest specimens of mahogany, and many other woods, among which fustic may be particularly mentioned, would be to the last degree a difficult and perplexing operation to the workman.

Hence a plane, the stock of which is usually made of the shape and size of the smoothing-plane, is fitted up so as to act by scratching or scraping. The blade, or iron, on the steel side of it, is covered with rakes or small grooves close to each other, and all of them in the direction of its length: when therefore it is ground, and the basil formed, its edge presents a series of teeth like those of a fine saw; the bed of the stock intended to receive it is inclined only about six degrees, and consequently when the iron is fixed it is almost perpendicular. On account of these teeth in the iron, the plane obtains the name of the tooth-plane.

With this kind of a plane, however hard the stuff may be, or however cross and twisted its grain, the surface may be made every-where alike, and will not be rougher than if it had been rubbed with a piece of new fish-skin. This roughness may be effectually removed with the scraper, which is a thin plate of steel, like part of a common case-knife, the back of it being let into a piece of wood, as a handle.

So there you go. Thanks to Jeff Burks for turning me onto the Panorama book several years ago. Lots of good stuff in there on joinery that isn’t in Peter Nicholson’s book.

— Christopher Schwarz

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11 Responses to Another Way to Tame Tear-out

  1. My lutherie tutor always had us using a toothed blade on difficult and tear out-prone hardwoods like rosewood, followed by a cabinet scraper to remove the tooth marks. Good to see that there was historical precedence for this practice!

  2. jonathanszczepanski says:

    “…and the basil formed…”
    … uuuuhhh, what? I’ve never heard this term used in woodworking, aside from “On your way in from the shop, grab me some basil for the pesto I’m making.” What does it mean?

  3. billrusnak says:

    I’m currently working on a workbench top made with laminated IKEA countertops like your recent Two-bo bench. I’ve actually had this laying around for a few years and it has warped a bit. I’ve tried planing with a LV low angle jack with a standard iron and have been getting a lot of tear out due to the conflicting grain directions found in the different laminations. Would a toothed iron in the low angle jack give similar results as the 84 degree toothing plane descibed above?

    Thanks, Bill

  4. There’s also a tidbit in the encyclopedia from Johann Huebner, 1714, in German. He describes the “harthobel”, which is a small plane, with vertical iron or an iron at 65 degrees, toothed or smooth blade. used for hard, difficult wood to avoid tearout. (very quick translation).
    The “zahnhobel”, toothing plane for veneering is also in this chapter.

  5. Adam Palmer says:

    What is the angle on a toothing plane? I need to find some specs on it so I can make one.

  6. I’m a viola da gamba maker (just google it), and whenever I get the occasion to handle a 17th century instrument, I can see that the inside surface of the curly maple back and ribs are covered with toothing plane marks. This plane was clearly used to bring the curly maple to proper thickness without risking some tearout on the 3 mm thick back and the 1,5 mm thick ribs. The outside surface was then finished either with a fine plane, or most probably with a scraper. The inside surfaces were left straight from the toothing plane. I guess speed and efficiency were more important that the finish of surfaces that were not meant to be seen!

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