I’d be Lost Without Jack

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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.

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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

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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28 Responses to I’d be Lost Without Jack

  1. When First read this,. Starting in FB,…I thought it might be about you needing a ‘new to you’ plane.
    But when I got here and saw the plane. The engraved sides and such, I new it was not the story.
    I enjoy all the excursions into your world and thoughts.
    Yes… hmm, handwork.

  2. Richard Mahler says:

    Do you know the model and age of this Stanley plane? I never see an old decorated body like this offered for sale and I am sure I would never get one for $12!

  3. Bob Glenn says:

    I love the undulations left by a hand plane. I leave the bottoms of my chairs as is right off the scrub plane.

  4. Dude, you’re late. National Jack Plane Day was last month. LOL.

  5. Pascal Teste says:

    Very nice work Chris! Nice Jack plane, beautiful engravings! I tend to go for the Jack often as well, just feels perfect for many tasks.

  6. Steve Baisden says:

    This is off topic but could you direct me to where I can get quality campaign hardware? Love the plane. I use my Stanley jack all the time with an iron radiused the way you suggested somewhere.

  7. laterthanuthink says:

    Chris, when you jack plane drawer bottoms are you going cross grain with an aggressively curved blade, like you would when you true up lumber?

  8. gregla2 says:

    I never imagined that a jack could be sharpened infrequently. How does planing with the grain get impacted when the blade is dull?

    • It’s fine. I sharpen it when it either becomes too hard to push or the surface degrades beyond what is acceptable *for interior surfaces* (emphasis added).

  9. Ed Baedke says:

    Thanks be to Jack… the true ‘Jack of all trades’.

  10. Joe says:

    Thanks for this post. It reminded me that for the stage of the project I’m working on, the jack is the perfect tool and creates perfectly acceptable results. What I thought might take days was done in an hour!

  11. How dare you use the original blade that came with the plane. Don’t you know that every old Stanley plane has to have a new $60 blade in order for it to perform properly? (sarcasm)

  12. mike says:

    I happily and without shame use my 25”
    woodmaster drum sander for non-show surfaces.

  13. jcgallagher56 says:

    What radius is on jacks blade?
    Seems a fine line between making magic and unacceptable undulations

  14. haurykjo says:

    What’s the story with those “stiffeners” on the drawer bottoms? Are they sitting in the drawer bottom grooves in the fronts and backs? Or are they simply dividers so that the drawer bottoms are split in two for stiffness?

    • They are tenoned on one end and fit into the groove in the drawer front. The other end is rabbeted and nailed to the underside of the drawer’s back. These rails make a stronger bottom and allow you make up your bottoms from shorter bits (usually scraps).

      • haurykjo says:

        Interesting. I am about to attempt a campaign secretary based on the plans in your book, and will likely make my drawer bottoms this way now that I’ve seen it done.

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