Making a Chisel Plane

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Blog entry by Scott R. Turner posted 01-07-2012 04:31 AM 12505 reads 8 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I started work recently on a little rack for the workshop to hold sandpaper, and when I was rabbeting the back with my new fillister plane I found myself wanting a rabbet plane for the final adjustments. I’ll probably eventually buy one, but I remembered the chisel plane project sitting in my favorites and decided to have a go at it. (Too late for the sandpaper rack project, but still…) My approach is largely based on the project from GarageWoodworks.

I had some leftover maple 1×4 and a walnut board from my Inkle Loom project of a few summers ago, so those were chosen for the plane body. For Christmas, the First Lady bought me a saw from BadAxe Toolworks—a 20” Disston D8 “a great all-around panel saw filed for general purpose requirements”—so I figured this would be a good opportunity to try it out.

First up was cross-cutting the maple to length:

The saw was a treat to use and it’s amazing how much better a sawyer I am with a decent saw. I left a 1/64” or so to accommodate my inevitable drift but as you can see I could have just as well split the line. Nice.

Next was ripping the walnut. The D-8 is a x-cut saw, but with the Bad Axe treatment it ripped almost as well as x-cut.

I’m tracking pretty well at this point, but a few inches on I started to wander. Well, life is a work in progress. In the background you can see the in-progress carcase for the sandpaper rack.

I finished ripping the walnut, cleaned up the sawed edge and planed both boards to thickness. (Not really necessary in this case, but the symmetry appeals.)

The walnut is a delight to plane. It falls apart in soft curls and reveals shimmering fresh wood.

I made the walnut strip about 2” wide. None of the dimensions are really critical, but the backer board needs to be narrower than the maple body or you’ll only be able to rabbet on one side. (Not the worst thing in the world I suppose. And the plane might be easier to handle. Something to think about if you’re contemplating this project.)

The next step is to glue up the two boards.

As the cooking shows say, we’ll come back in about an hour. I actually waited overnight.

The next step is to lay out the opening for the chisel. Consulting various sources on the web, everyone seems to copy the Veritas chisel plane for the 45° bedding angle. The other side is at a slightly steeper angle—I ended up using 51°. I don’t think it’s too critical. I used my handy Starrett protractor to lay out that angle. I eyeballed the size of the mouth—it ended up being about 1/4” or so, and seems to work well.

Nice wavy maple!

The keen amongst you will notice the superfluous layout line about an inch down from the top of the plane. After I’d laid out the opening I placed my chisel on it to visualize the placement and saw that the chisel wouldn’t fit—the chisel blade was too short and the handle would overlap the opening! So I had to take about an inch or so off the top side of the plane body. More opportunity to practice ripping with the D8.

Wandering a little bit here, but it is 1 1/2” thick! Nothing a little more planing won’t fix.

The body now at a workable height, the next step is to saw out the opening. I took a chisel and marked out the bed side of the opening. Then I came back with the chisel and relieved to the line. This creates a shoulder to saw to:

I sawed out that side and then repeated the process for the other side:

The trick here is to saw down to the depth of the walnut and stop. Here are the cuts from the other side:

Then I carefully chiseled out the opening.

As you can see in this shot, I’m working at 11 o’clock in the evening. You work all day, come home and help cook dinner, supervise homework… the next thing you know it is the middle of the night. Anyway.

You can see in this shot that the saw cuts came down just into the walnut:

Although it isn’t apparent in this photo, my second saw cut was nice and square, but the first one was not. I went back in with a chisel and pared the cut to square it up, but after having used the plane a little bit since, it’s still a little out of square. So I have some more tuning to do. I need to remember that when I’m doing some new skill multiple times, I need to start with the places where it doesn’t matter and do the most important places last, since I always improve with the practice. But c’est la vie.

Next up was drilling the waste relief hole. I think GarageWoodworks did this before making the chisel opening, which probably makes more sense. But this way worked fine, too. I did this on my little benchtop drill press. Too late I remembered that I actually have a Yankee brace somewhere, and could have avoided all power tools on this project. But I’m really under-practiced on the brace and would probably have ended up with a drunken, wandering wormhole.

At this point the plane is basically functional, so I wedged a chisel in and took a few test cuts.

Pretty nice little shavings!

For aesthetics and ease of handling I decided to round over the front and back of the body. I marked off a arc on the front and back corners using a glue bottle for a template.

Then it was out with the coping saw, which always works much more easily than I expect. Must be the thin blade, because it certainly isn’t sharp. I can’t remember the last time I put a new blade in it.

I cleaned this up with a block plane and rounded it over with sandpaper.

The day before I started this project, I’d read this posting on Peter Follansbee’s blog. (Which you should read, too, if you don’t already!) In it he shows a children’s stool with a carved running braid pattern, and links to a short tutorial on how to carve it. Of course Peter is a beautiful carver, but at the time I thought it looked within my grasp. As I was working on this plane, it occurred to me that a braid would fit nicely on the back of the walnut, so I determined to dig out my (old, dull) carving chisels and have a go at it.

The first step was to strike a line with a marking gauge down the middle of the walnut and likewise about a 1/4” around the edge. Next, I used a nail set to make a series of punches down the middle line. A little experimenting on scrap suggested that these should be about as far apart as the width of the curved chisel I would use to lay out the braid.

In the background here you can see my carving chisel, and the scrap I’m using to wedge the plane demonstrates just how badly I missed ripping the body to height. Oh, well! :-)

After the centers are punched, the next step is to do a series of stabs above and below the punches to create a shallow S shape. According to Peter, you do all the top stabs and then all the bottom ones; I presume to stay consistent. Then you come back and take a chip out from the convex side of each stab. Here I am having just finished this for the top row.

And here’s a detail after having done both rows.

Next, you take a chisel with an (ideally) slightly more aggressive curve and add an S shape in-between each of the existing S shapes. You can take the same chisel and extend the existing S shapes into the chips you just removed:

And suddenly it looks like a braid! I went back and removed the triangular areas between the braid and the edge line, did a little cleanup, and that was it for the carving.

I sanded everything except the carving to 120 and finished it with BLO and paste wax. Photos of the finished project here:

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3 comments so far

View bill merritt's profile

bill merritt

203 posts in 4631 days

#1 posted 01-07-2012 10:32 AM

It looks good. Are you satisfied with the way it planes wood? I need several.

-- Bill Merritt -Augusta Ga. woodworker

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4209 days

#2 posted 01-07-2012 03:10 PM

Nice going, Scott. This plane is looking great.


-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Scott R. Turner's profile

Scott R. Turner

276 posts in 4531 days

#3 posted 01-07-2012 11:06 PM

@Bill: It works fairly well. As with a wooden plane, getting it adjusted to take a thin shaving is a bit finicky. Maybe more so with a chisel plane, because you’ve got the awkward weight of the handle to deal with. But once adjusted I used it to clean up a rabbet fairly successfully.

My biggest complaint is that the chisel isn’t quite square to the side of the plane, but that’s just a matter of me going in and paring down the bedding surface so that it’s square.

If I do this again, I’ll probably size it for a 1/2” or even 1/4” plane. 3/4” is overkill—although I suppose it will be welcome if I use it to clean up tenons.

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