The handplane I use the most is the one that receives the least love.
My old Stanley jack plane, a $12 purchase at a Kentucky fair, has its original chipbreaker and iron, which is just about sharpened down to a nub. When I disassembled the plane yesterday I noticed that its iron was so dull that its edge looked almost rounded over. The chipbreaker was covered in sap. Even the lever cap had to be scraped clean of sticky debris.
I usually sharpen it only two or three times a year – more if someone asks me for a lesson in sharpening curved irons.
While some of you might be on the verge of calling the Abuse Line for Handplanes (800-241-TOOL), I can assure you that this is the sort of working relationship that jack planes love and thrive on. Even when slightly neglected, they work like crazy.
And my jack plane sees a ton of use, even on commercial jobs.
This campaign chest I’m finishing up has three separate units for drawers, seven drawers and what seems like an acre of secondary/interior surfaces. When it came to cleaning up all these surfaces, the jack was my first and only choice.
I’d go broke if I smooth planed all the drawer bottoms – inside and out. These were glued-up panels, so they had to get cleaned up. And they had to fit perfectly in their grooves.
The jack does this work in one or (at most) two passes on a board. No other tool – electric or otherwise – can leave such a pleasant surface with that speed. That is, unless you prefer an #80 belt-sanded surface, which is honestly an option if you prefer power sanding – I don’t. (I’m sure some of you are saying, “But what about widebelt sanding machines?” Come talk to me in person, and we’ll chat.)
When my customer reaches into these drawers, he might feel the soft undulations left by the curved iron on the drawer bottoms. He might think nothing of it. Or he might think “huh, handwork.”
Here’s what I think when I feel those undulations: “Thanks, Jack.”
— Christopher Schwarz