Woodworking vacation tidbits #1: Setting up a hand plane

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 05-26-2008 01:04 AM 28468 reads 9 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Woodworking vacation tidbits series Part 2: Making your own dowels »

So here’s my first installment of some of the various tidbits I learned at Kelly Mehler’s hand tool class this past week. Hopefully I will do justice to what I was taught.

As disclaimers are becoming popular—- here’s mine—- this works for me!

Setting up a hand plane is not so hard once you do it a time or two, or twenty or forty. But it is doable. I’m skipping the sharpening information right now and going straight to set up. So I am going to assume a sharp blade.

First off, I’m going to set up a 5 1/4 junior jack plane which has a movable frog, cap iron, lever cap and lateral adjustment.

One of the first things that was one of those duh moments was setting the cap iron on that newly sharpened blade. Once you have a good edge, you want to keep it, so put the cap iron onto the blade sideways first.


Then slide the cap iron down to the bottom and twist it .


Next run the cap iron up to the edge of your blade setting it about 1/32nd from the edge. If you get it to close you won’t get a shaving no matter what you do. If you set it back to far – you’ll get chatter which is one of the things the cap iron was designed to eliminate. Turn the blade/cap iron combo over and tighten down the screw. Tight, but not to tight.


Next set the combo onto your frog. By the way—- locate the frog as close to the mouth opening as you can.


When you set the blade onto the frog, make sure the lateral adjustment is in the center of its swing.

Set the lever cap onto the combo and engage it. (Sorry guys, I missed taking a picture of this.) Now about that screw that the lever cap sits on/around—- it’s there to hold the lever cap—- not to provide the pressure needed to hold the blade in place. Once your lever cap is in place, tighten the screw down until it is snug. Then engage the lever at the top of the cap. The pressure needed to engage this lever should be more than snug—- it should be tight. In fact, Deneb tightened mine down to the point where I would have needed to use a dowel to pop it up. I don’t think I’ll be doing it that tight all the time, but that’s the idea. If your lever cap does not snug down give the screw a half turn and try again until you’re set.

Next turn the plane upside down and sight down the sole (it helps to do this against a light colored background) and move the blade forward until it just peeks out from the mouth.



Once you see the blade, then turn it back until it almost disappears. Now you need to set the blade parallel to the sole of the plane. If you don’t have a parallel blade you won’t get a flat cut and you can get shavings all day long and not end up with a flat/smooth board. Parallel is a must.

One way to be sure your blade is parallel is to use a small scrape for test cuts.


Set your plane so that one corner is sitting on the scrape.


Take a pass and take note of the shaving – it’s consistency, thickness, etc.


Set the plane’s other corner onto the scrap and run another pass and check the shaving.


if the shavings are not the same your blade is not parallel. This is where the lateral adjustment comes into play.


Decide which shaving is heavier than the other and move the lever cap, slightly to the heavy scrap side.

Take another two passes, one on each corner and continue adjusting the lateral adjustment until you get two identical shavings.


Once you get to this stage—- you can get shavings, shavings and more shavings. And not just shavings but consistent shavings. Consistent is important to get a flat and smooth finished piece.


Well, I hope this is helpful to you.

Please feel free to ask questions or give comments on your thoughts on this process. I’m always open to more ideas. One class does not make me an expert!

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

7 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4470 days

#1 posted 05-26-2008 01:12 AM

Pretty cool Betsy. Makes me want to get out my plane and play with it.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4581 days

#2 posted 05-26-2008 01:12 AM

My envy meter has pegged out since you got to attend the school. So I will have to settle for living vicariously through your blog.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 4421 days

#3 posted 05-26-2008 01:47 AM

Very good Betsy. I just purchased a couple planes to learn how to do this stuff. Your writings couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

-- Working at Woodworking

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4194 days

#4 posted 05-27-2008 04:32 AM

Very clear descriptions. Thank you for the pictures and great info.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View Betsy's profile


3392 posts in 4378 days

#5 posted 05-27-2008 05:11 AM

Thanks guys. I’m glad that you like what I’m doing.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Taigert's profile


593 posts in 4322 days

#6 posted 05-29-2008 06:06 PM

Your descriptive writting is excelent!
I never knew about gauging with the shavings from peice of scrap.
I love learning new things
Good job, Betsy

-- Taigert - Milan, IN

View Betsy's profile


3392 posts in 4378 days

#7 posted 06-21-2008 02:12 AM

Thanks Ed.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

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