It is my hope that if you are reading this woodworking blog you will already know that I do not advocate any one particular form of woodworking over another. I don’t really care one way or another who builds what and how; it’s quite frankly none of my business. But the real truth is that I, myself, don’t have any one particular form of woodworking which I follow. That being said, if you were to ask me how to make a hand plane, I would firstly tell you to seek out somebody much better than I; somebody such as Scott Meek, who offers online plane making courses. Secondly, I would tell you that if you are making a hand plane, then you should do as much as possible using only hand tools. Why? Because using hand tools will go a long way in teaching you how a hand plane really works, and you will know exactly what I am referring to as soon as you try it.
Yesterday morning I finished making the wedge for the smooth plane I’ve been building. Making a plane wedge seems like it should be fairly straightforward; it’s not; it’s hard work. Now I’m not going to say that it is overly difficult, but it takes time and patience, and time and patience aren’t always easy to find. To prove my point, it took me a shade under 3 hours to shape the entire plane, which was a task done solely with hand tools, which included flattening the sole and sanding the plane for finish. Conversely, it took me 2 hours just to make and fit the wedge, and it did not turn out as nicely as the plane shaping. Making the wedge was not simple, because shaping a 2 inch by 4 inch block of wood into a semi-precision piece is not a simple task, and there really isn’t a magical tool that makes it easier.
I started off by drawing the shape of the wedge on a block of ash that I had left over from the plane build. I chose to make the wedge on the flat sawn side only because it seemed to me that the flat sawn side would hold up better under the pressure that it would be subjected to. I then sawed two kerfs, one at the end of the wedge, and the other where the wedge began its taper. With that done, I stood up the block and split off the waste using my widest chisel and my biggest mallet. This was actually easy to do because the grain was straight. I then started tapering the wedge, which I did using several chisels, and which was the most exacting process of the day. Once the wedge was tapered, at least roughly tapered, I shaped as much of the rest of the wedge as I could without removing it from the block, and that was accomplished once again with chisels, a rasp, and a block plane. I then hand sanded the top of the wedge, going up to 600 grit. Once I had done as much as I could, I removed the wedge from the block by ripping it down with the table saw, nearly to the edge, and finishing the cut with a hand saw.
After that, it was all a trial and error process. I cleaned up the edges of the wedge with my Stanley smooth plane, and then flattened the bottom with sheets of sandpaper, going from 60 grit up to 600 grit, the same as the plane sole, which left a glass smooth surface. When I attempted to put the wedge in place I immediately discovered that it was too long, and the shavings just bunched up at the mouth. I shortened it several times, and finally I found myself getting full length edge shavings on pine, which was fairly impressive considering the iron probably needs to be sharpened. I then added a coat of linseed oil to the plane and called it a day. One more coat will be added, as well as a coat of wax. I may yet have to shorten the wedge, but that will remain to be seen. To put all of this in perspective, every tool I used to make the plane itself was used to make the wedge.
I had a lot of fun making this plane, and more importantly I learned a great deal. Already, I’ve discovered several steps that could be revised during the building process that will make the next plane easier and more efficient to construct, as well as increasing the accuracy greatly. In as much as I consider myself a non-traditionalist, I love wooden planes, and I love making them even more. I can certainly see myself building at least a few more of these, and more hopefully, I can see myself improving with each one I build.