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I have a handful of moulding planes: a pair of hollow/round, a few beading planes, as well as a few joinery planes such as a dado, rabbet, and shoulder plane. The joinery planes are no problem to sharpen, and the beading planes and hollow plane gave me little problems, but the round plane was more difficult than I thought it would or should be. I was able to flatten the back easily enough (which any woodworker on Earth should be able to do), but I could not get a consistent edge on the bevel.
Just the other day I watched a video posted by Paul Sellers on sharpening moulding plane irons that opened my eyes and shed a lot more light on working with these sometimes tricky planes. I’ll post a link to the video, as watching the video is far more clear and concise than my explanation would be. But I do want to add that during the course of the video Sellers mentions that moulding plane irons were far less polished and refined than a bench plane or chisel would have been. Sellers states that the higher angle of the plane coupled with the profiled nature allowed the irons to have less than perfectly flattened backs and relatively unpolished bevels. My previous conclusion was less scientific, because I always felt that moulding plane irons weren’t as highly sharpened and polished because they are more difficult maintain, and the woodworkers who used them just didn’t have enough time to spend on sharpening to such a high level. A chisel or bench plane iron can be maintained and honed in a matter of just 30 seconds, a mouldiing plane iron takes longer no matter what anybody says.
I’ve only personally worked with/handled a few dozen or so traditional moulding planes, and I can say that every one of them had an iron that at best needed a good deal of work, at worst needed a medic. I can also say that at the very least a few of those planes were only owned by one person, so it’s not as if they were all just passed down to half a dozen people who were progressively worse at sharpening. So while my conclusion may be off base, the proof is in the iron, and some of these irons were not well-sharpened. If you don’t believe me, believe Paul Sellers, who probably handles more vintage moulding planes in a week than I will in my lifetime.
Nonetheless, I tried Sellers suggestions, and I did get the round plane to work. I did not sharpen past 600 grit sandpaper or 1000 grit water stone, so I don’t have a truly refined edge yet. I will go to 8000 grit and then the leather strop, but I am going to do that when I sharpen my carving chisels so I can sharpen/hone everything all at once. So if you are having issues with sharpening moulding plane irons, I highly recommend watching this video.
Another long, cruel winter is mercifully and slowly crawling to an end. My region had the coldest February on record from what I’ve been told, with an average high temperature of only 24 degrees F. And though spring is just around the corner, it still hasn’t sprung yet. I’ve vowed to never again start any woodworking projects in the dead of Winter, and this year I stuck to it. The problem with that vow is that it left a minimum 3 month time frame where I didn’t make any furniture. So what have I been up to, then? Well, besides insulting people who read this blog, I’ve been taking care of my tools.
Last week I picked up my first set of hollow and round planes. The planes are matching, meaning that they are from the same maker, and they arrived in pretty good condition. The irons were a little rough, in particular the round iron. But before I got to work on the irons I started on the plane bodies. Because the plane soles are obviously profiled, I needed a way to flatten them other than the bed of my table saw. So yesterday afternoon I stopped at Lowe’s, which apparently is the IKEA of home centers, and picked out the straightest 5/8 inch oak dowel I could find. I sawed off a foot long piece from the dowel, wrapped a piece of 220 grit sandpaper around it, and used it to clean up the hollow plane. Once that was done, I used the hollow plane and sand paper to clean up the round sole, which was luckily in pretty good shape to begin with. Once that was finished I turned to the irons.
As I said before, the irons on both planes were in pretty rough shape, especially the round. My sharpening method was the same as nearly every other ancient plane iron I’ve ever sharpened: coarse diasharp, fine diasharp, 1000 grit water stone, 8000 grit water stone. Flattening the bottom on the round took 15 minutes, and my arms were actually sore afterwards. The hollow was thankfully much easier to flatten. I then used the dowel/sandpaper once again to sharpen the hollow plane, using 220/400/600 grits, then the 4000 grit slipstone. I also plan on stropping it, I just didn’t have the time today to do it. As far as the round, I plan on dedicating next Saturday to taking care of the bevel. now that the back is flat I will be able to concentrate fully on it. On a side note, I’m not sure who the previous owner of this set of planes happened to be, but whoever that person was he didn’t know how to sharpen. I’m not an expert sharpener, I’m not even all that great, I’m good enough to get a sharp edge. I don’t know any magic tricks, but I do believe that the woodworkers of yesteryear sharpened a lot less than we believe they did, and I don’t think there was much science to it. I think they brought their irons to a grinding wheel and sharpened willy nilly just so they could get back to work. I can understand why they did it, but I’m not so happy about it.
As far as the bodies of the planes were concerned, I lightly sanded down any rough spots, then saturated them in linseed oil. As with my other moulding planes, I poured the oil down into the throat of the plane, let it soak for a few minutes, and then cleaned up the excess. Whether or not this is considered proper plane maintenance I cannot say, but it so far hasn’t caused any issues, and the planes all look much better after the fact.
There were two other maintenance tasks I wanted to complete before the end of the weekend. The first was to oil the tote and knob on my jointer plane. That actually started earlier in the week. Each night after work I coated the knob and tote with Tru-Oil, lightly buffing between coats with steel wool. Last night I added the 5th and last coat. I also took the plane apart, gave it a cleaning, and sharpened the iron. With the plane looking new I used it to clean up the top of my workbench, which was starting to look pretty ratty. It worked brilliantly, and as always the #7 is a pleasure to use.
Lastly, a while back I made a shoulder plane from a kit purchased from Hock Tools. Admittedly I don’t used the plane often, but I was never satisfied with the shape, so I decided to do something about it. I drew an outline on the plane side and roughed it out with a coping saw. I then used a spokeshave to clean it up, followed by sandpaper to smooth it out. I flattened the sole (making sure to keep the iron and wedge set), and then gave the plane a few coats of linseed oil. As it was drying I honed the iron, afterwards taking it for a test drive. The plane performed well, and while it is hardly spectacular looking it no longer looks awful. After I cleaned up, and before I called it a day, I gave all three planes another light coat of linseed oil and set them on the side to dry. I’m happy that I got the hollow plane in working order, now I just have to get the round up and running. Most importantly, I have to start making furniture again.