The ‘Hard Reset’ for Handplanes

That gunk is bad news.

No matter how expensive or well-made your handplane is, there are times when you have to perform a “hard reset” on the tool when it starts to behave unpredictably.

I use my handplanes every day, so I have to do a hard reset almost every year. My smoothing plane and block plane are more sensitive tools and require more frequent maintenance – maybe every nine months or so.

When should you do a hard reset? I do it when problems occur that a simple sharpening won’t fix. Perhaps I get plane tracks in my work I can’t explain. Maybe the plane won’t hold a fine setting the way it should. Perhaps the tool just feels a little rough when I use it.

When I do a hard reset, I perform all the steps below. When I do all the steps, my planes always perform as better-than factory new. Skipping steps means success is not guaranteed (at least in my shop).

Grind, Reshape & Resharpen the Iron

Take the iron to the grinder and reshape the entire bevel. Remove all evidence of the previous edge. Create a burr with the grinder. If there’s a back bevel, remove it. Then reshape the edge appropriate for the type of plane (jack, jointer or smoother). When I do a hard reset I always dub the corners of the iron on a diamond stone to ensure the corners will not dig into the work.

Hone a fresh edge on the iron. If you use micro-bevels (I do), try to make the smallest micro-bevel possible.

Clean, Repair & Shape the Chipbreaker

Chipbreakers cause as many problems as they solve. They are made of soft steel so they are easily damaged when you plane a knot or hit something harder than a knot (such as your planing stop). Minor damage to a chipbreaker can ruin a plane’s performance. Here’s what I do to get it back to factory condition.

Clean the sap and gunk off the breaker with a rubberized abrasive (such as the Klingspor Hand Block). Hone (or grind) a new edge on the chipbreaker. The leading edge of the breaker takes a huge amount of abuse. A burr or teeny nick on it can destroy the plane’s ability to pass a shaving. Grinding or honing away the old edge will restore its function.

This grinding or honing will raise a burr on the underside of the breaker. Remove this burr with great care on a fine stone. Then attach the breaker to your iron and look for any light between the breaker and the back of the iron. If light can get in, so can a shaving. And that sneaky shaving will foul the plane.

To fix the problem you might have to file the underside of the breaker. You might have to bend the breaker a little in a vise so it clamps down harder on the iron. Hell, you might have to replace the breaker. They are cheap so don’t hesitate to get a new one.

Dress the Sole

Many times “plane tracks” are actually “sole tracks.” A knot or something else hard has scored the sole or the edges of the sole. And this damage has raised a burr that scratches your work.

The sole of plane should be as clean and smooth as possible. This is more important than it being dead flat (in my experience). To clean the sole, buy a piece of $5 granite tile at the home center and stick a piece of #220-grit sandpaper to it (I use a spray adhesive).

Disassemble the plane and rub the sole on the sandpaper until the sole is as smooth as a nun’s stomach. (Side note: You’ll read elsewhere that the sole has to be under working tension with the iron and cap iron in place to do this. I have not found this to be the case. I have found no sole deflection in a standard bench plane. Rabbeting planes and shoulder planes are another story.)

Note the rounded edges of the sole.

When the sole is clean and smooth, take some #220-grit sandpaper and strongly ease all the edges of the sole. This removes any damage on the sidewalls, toe and heel. And it helps prevent future damage. A sharp corner is more fragile than a rounded one.

Wipe the sole down with oil.

Clean the Interior

Remove the frog. If you do a lot of planing, the interior will be filled with crud. Clean all this out. At this point I always clean all the screw threads that hold and adjust the frog. You might think this is overkill, but crud builds up and there’s a tipping point where everything goes to pot.

So I remove all the screws and clean them to bright metal with a soft-bristled bronze brush. I clean the interior of the adjustment nut with a stiff-bristled nylon brush. Then I put some light machine oil on all the screws and reassemble everything.

Re-assemble

While everything is apart, tighten the screws on the tote and front knob. Sand off any burrs on the tote (these crop up when the wood gets knocked about). Clean up the lever cap if you like. The lever cap works fine if it’s filthy but it looks better if you clean it off with the rubberized abrasive.

And that’s it. The whole process takes less than an hour and the results are always worth it.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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24 Responses to The ‘Hard Reset’ for Handplanes

  1. Michael W. O’Brien says:

    Excellent review of these plane maintenance fundamentals. Thanks Chris.

  2. Thank you for being my conscience. I really should do this more to my no8 and address my Woodies.

  3. Steve Baisden says:

    Why is it that I get more out of these blogs than I do out of my (expensive?) magazine subscriptions?
    (Rhetorical Question #1)

  4. Greg says:

    Thank you, I needed this reminder.

  5. Rachael Boyd says:

    I do a quick check and adjustment to the frog and sole about every 6 months or so when I pull the iron to sharpen it. I sometimes think it’s over kill but my planes are in tip top shape for being over 100 years old.

  6. Thanks for the tip, I was just about to reset a rabbeting plane that I bought from a deceased estate and didn’t know about having to have it under tension.

  7. Paul Londo says:

    And how many nun’s stomachs have you been checking for smoothness?

  8. johncashman73 says:

    Is that a gold-plated plane? Where did you get it? Pretty high-falutin.

  9. Mark Thomas says:

    Thank you as always for sharing your knowledge! Have you written about this statement before “I always dub the corners of the iron on a diamond stone to ensure the corners will not dig into the work”? I would love to see what “dubbing the corners” looks like. For a smoothing plane like that, I have only cambered the corners slightly. I would like to learn more about this.

  10. Matthew Holbrook says:

    I keep a small round bristle brush on my bench and use this to sweep dust and shavings off the inside of my hand planes. This I do when I clean up the shop at close of each work session.

  11. Daniel Williamson says:

    But you have to dress the sole when the blade is under tension! Because…because…everyone else says so! To not would be, well, anarchy!

  12. James Watriss says:

    Re: working tension.

    With Bedrock style planes, like L-N, yeah, they’re solid and don’t move.

    With older bailey style, where the frog touches only in front and in back, and you’re tightening in between those two points, they can move.

  13. Steve C says:

    So how many can I send in at one time to get this maintenance performed? 🙂

  14. KEVIN HEDIN says:

    It’s good to get some info on maintenance rather than just initial setup (or simply re-sharpening).

  15. Bob Jones says:

    I polish the sole of the plane up to 600 grit. I can feel the difference if I stop any less fine.

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