Sure, we all know to keep our handplanes sharp, clean and lubed. But when was the last time you did maintenance on the tool’s mouth and the edges of its sole?
These areas are fragile and take a heap of abuse. Yet little is written about how to regularly maintain them.
Let’s start with the mouth of the tool. The area of the sole right in front of the mouth gets worn away from use. Not decades of use. Usually just a few months of heavy use will cause noticeable wear.
Why do we care? If the sole in front of the mouth isn’t pressing down the wood fibers, then the cut will happen ahead of the tool’s cutting edge. And that’s tear-out.
If the wear is shallow, you can remove it by rubbing the sole on some #220-grit sandpaper affixed to a flat floor tile. (If the wear is deep, you will need to file the front of the mouth, which I will cover in a future entry).
To flatten the sole, paint some red marker on the sole surrounding the mouth. Then rub the sole on the sandpaper until all the color is gone. I usually dress my plane sole every six months, and the dressing can require 5-10 minutes of work.
Once the sole is done, you should bevel the edges of the sole – with sandpaper or a file. Why? The edges of the sole are fragile when they are a sharp corner. They are stronger when they are rounded over. So if your tool has a sole with rounded edges it is much less likely to develop a burr when the plane collides with a fellow tool or a knot. These burrs look like plane tracks on the work and frustrate beginners.
To round over the edges, I tilt the plane 45° and round over the plane’s long edges on the sandpaper (see the photo at the beginning of this entry). Then I file the front and rear of the sole with a fine needle file – these areas of the sole take the most damage – to create a bevel. Then I round over that bevel with some fine sandpaper.
These small efforts make a huge difference. Your plane will produce less tear-out. And it is much more likely to leave a flawless surface behind.
— Christopher Schwarz
12 thoughts on “Handplane Maintenance (That’s Not in the Books)”
Why would the sole wear that far in front of the mouth? Every antique i have worked on has that wear pattern. Is it exacerbated on that block plane because it has an adjustable throat?
Someone could start making aftermarket throat plates from unobtanium.
It’s because of the way people use the tool. They ride the tool on the mouth, especially on the edges of work. Block planes see the most abuse, though jacks and smoothers see some as well.
My plane sees even more of this kind of abuse because of the way I make my sticks. I skew the tool, ride the mouthplate and rarely use the rest of the sole (for sticks).
Seems like you need a stick maker’s chamfering plane.
How many times can you do this before the tool is unusable? It seems at some point the metal will be too thin for it to work correctly? I have only dome this once to refurb old tool purchases, but always worried about taking off “too much” metal.
You’re taking off a tiny amount of metal. I don’t think you’ll ever wear enough off to cause an issue. I’ve seen folks take planes to a machinist and have the sole surface ground to flatten it. That takes off a lot more metal.
An engineer with an accurate scale would weigh the plane before and after lapping, determine the amount of metal removed, and calculate the number of times it can be flattened. Anyone?
Speaking of plane maintenance, I connected with Mark Webster this summer, and his work refurbishing Stanley planes was fascinating. Mark and his process could make for a great profile piece.
He’s like a Wiktor Kuc or Matt Cianci, but to hand planes. Very talented and kind, and his work is affordable.
I’ve seen his work. It’s phenomenal.
Thanks for the input on caring for plane soles. I would add that the use of a plane generates friction, creating heat at the point of contact and affecting the shape of the plane. Granted, the heat generated is minor, but this will affect the casting differently depending on the thickness of the part. Because the throat plate is seperate from the plane body, I think it will have a micro distortion that causes the ware pattern.
Also, cleaning out the dust between the plane casting and the throat casting before dressing ghe sole is a must.
Great write up! Do you perform this on your #3 as well? The bronze seems probe to faster wear than iron. Thanks!
Yup. And my jack.
I have an LN 60-1/2, which I believe you are demonstrating here. I’m having an unusual problem with the adjustable throat. It seems to “jump out” of the dovetailed slot when I attempt to adjust it. Sometimes a little jiggle corrects the issue, but often a determined thumb pressing it down towards the body, results in proper seating. Albeit, with a cringe worthy pop. Then again, sometimes just the slightest movement of the brass adjuster results in things moving smoothly. I’ve cleaned the area, but dare not touch it with any form of abrasive. Tool issue? Or am I being gorilla fisted? Appreciate any and all input. Thank you
I’ve seen this problem a couple times with block planes. I think I recall that it was burr or something on the dovetailed ways. You can call Lie-Nielsen for better advice. Their customer service department is very helpful. But I wouldn’t hesitate to investigate the problem with my fingers, a bit of #220 grit and a triangular needle file.
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