Adventure of the Low Angle Shoulder Plane #1: First Attempt

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Blog entry by Carl6108 posted 11-01-2018 04:34 AM 1044 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Adventure of the Low Angle Shoulder Plane series Part 2: Second Run »

So I decided I just had to have a shoulder plane and yes, Lee Valley has a very nice Veritas model for sale that is not terribly pricey, but hey, where’s the fun in that, right? Instead I proceeded to research the topic of shoulder planes and see what others had done. Wasn’t too long before I had found one I liked and thought I could implement without too much trouble.

The sides were going to be purpleheart, as I had a piece someone had given me some years ago; it was quite hard and I thought would be adequate for both sides and sole. The core was a piece of apple, I believe. I was going to make a low angle, bevel-up model, blade bedded at 12 degrees and beveled at a standard 25 degrees.

I did like the Veritas model with the screw-in knobs that could be moved from top to either side—That would be very handy, and I thought I could add that feature without too much difficulty.

Here’s the initial layout. Pretty straightforward.

So at this point I should probably point out that while there are some people who seem to be able to get things right first time around, I am not such a person. In fact, I generally have to find every possible wrong way of doing something before finally arriving at the right way. Or at least, a workable way, if not entirely right.

The mostly completed body

The blank piece of steel for the blade – It’s a used mower blade which I heated with a torch and beat flat.

After doing some further research I determined this was perhaps not the best choice for a planer blade because the carbon content is too low to make a really good cutting blade. OK, so I have this handy, I decided to try it and if it didn’t work well I’d get a piece of actual tool steel at a later date.

Cut out the blade from the steel blank, shaped it, beveled it to 25 degrees on the grinder.

Hardened it by heating to nicely red and quenching in oil, then tempered it by heating with the torch again, more gently this time, until it achieved a sort-of straw, dull yellow color. Not very scientific, but hey, it’s a chunk of lawn mower blade, right?

So I could tell it did harden somewhat, and it did take a good edge when I sharpened it. Now, whether or not it will keep that edge remains to be seen.

Turned a piece of black walnut for the knobs…

Body competed, brass pins and bars mounted and glued in place with epoxy, blank of purpeheart made up for the wedge, pieces of 1/4-20 threaded rod mounted in the knobs.

These screw into corresponding holes drilled and tapped through the brass bars.

Partially shaped the wedge

All in all, I was pretty pleased with the way it was looking so far.

In some forum or other I was reading about shoulder planes, someone posed a question as to why there were not any old wood low-angle shoulder planes anywhere. There are wood shoulder planes, but the bed angle is usually 45 degrees or so. There was a suggestion that perhaps there had been, but that maybe they just hadn’t survived for one reason or another.

I know the real answer. Remember how I said I had do try every possible wrong way first? Well …

I slipped the blade in and the wedge, gave the wedge a light tap with a mallet to seat it, and pop!

Well, now that I look at the grain orientation, I really should have seen that coming. And I think there’s not really going to be a practical solution to this, if you’re dead-set on a low-angle shoulder plane.

So, unscrewing my knobs and setting the blade aside, I take the broken body of my wood low-angle shoulder plane out into the back yard to a bare spot, add some other wood shavings, a few small pieces of scrap wood, a bit of mineral spirits and set it on fire. Was I so terribly disgusted that fire was the only solution? Well, no, although I was disappointed that such a nice piece of wood got wasted. I really just wanted to recover my brass pins and bars, which I did the next day by sifting through the little pile of ashes.

Next time: Metal sides

-- C. A. Jones, Millington, TN

3 comments so far

View Redoak49's profile


4813 posts in 2798 days

#1 posted 11-01-2018 10:47 AM

Nice try !

View Mark's profile


1046 posts in 2784 days

#2 posted 11-01-2018 08:23 PM

Carl. I feel your pain, and what’s worse, I can relate. There’s always next time.

-- Mark

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 4144 days

#3 posted 11-20-2018 03:39 PM

A disappointment to be sure, but experimenting is a great way to learn. I have learned far more from ‘doing things the wrong way’ than I ever learned from my more successful endeavors. The wood might have worked if you had used Baltic Birch plywood instead of Purpleheart, but it would probably have to be a bit thicker.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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