How I Do Hand Plane Rehabs #7: Working up the Iron

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Blog entry by HokieKen posted 11-29-2016 06:12 PM 1433 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Fixin' and Fittin' my Frog Part 7 of How I Do Hand Plane Rehabs series Part 8: Breakin' Chips »

Alright, let’s see if we can wrap this up and have a new user in the plane till by the end of the week. Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving weekend. Mine was nice but no shop time so I’m trying to squeeze this plane in when I can. I found a couple of hours last night to work up the iron and chip breaker. Here’s how I did it…

I start with the iron. Prior to this, all we did was rust conversion on the iron. If we recall, we had some pretty gnarly pitting at the business end of this guy:

We can’t leave that! What is a cutting edge? Simply put, it’s the intersection of 2 planes (surfaces) where the intersection has as small a radius as possible. Pitting will essentially give us localized areas of unacceptable radii if we just hone our edge “around” it. The result would be that no matter how sharp we hone the edge, it won’t cut where there are voids.

So we have to get past the pitting on an iron that’s already pretty darned short. But, we work with what we have! So I start by painting the iron with some layout dye and scribing a line across it square to the edge of the iron.

I mark my cutoff line as close to the edge as possible while ensuring I am past the pitting on both sides of the iron.

Then I use a Dremel tool with a cutoff wheel to cut off the unusable portion. Now, I’m not a “safety preacher”, you’re all big boys and girls, BUT WEAR SAFETY GLASSES when you do this. You only have 2 eyes and these wheels fracture and basically explode often. ‘Nuff said…

I lightly score my scribed line with the wheel and repeat 5-6 times until I’m almost through. Then I clamped the waste section in a vise and just snapped it off. The tool steel the iron is made of is very hard and strong but also pretty brittle. I easily snap it cleanly with just my hand.

The next step is on the bench grinder for me. Let me say that if you don’t have a grinder, it’s not entirely necessary but, it will save you a TON of time when it comes time to hone your bevel. You can hone the bevel from a square edge but you won’t catch me doing it.

I start by setting my grinder rest for a 25 degree bevel. There are all kinds of jigs and gauges you can use to do this. Experienced folks may just eyeball it and free-hand it, sometimes without even using the rest. I have all kinds of chisels and plane irons with 25 degree bevels in my shop. I just grab one of them and use it to set my rest. I clamp the iron in my guide and I’m ready to go. (BTW, I’m using a clone of the Veritas bench grinder jig that I bought from Peachtree woodworking – not perfect but affordable and FAR better than the rests that come on most bench grinders)

I’m going to kinda glance over a lot of stuff in this entry for the simple reason that there is so much information available online and I don’t have anything really unique to add. So, I’m not gonna give a step-by-step on how to hollow grind a bevel. But here’s our iron after I did:

See how there is a reflection on the edge in the pic below?

I don’t grind all the way to a sharp edge. I don’t want to wreck the temper on my iron with the grinder. Especially an iron this short. In practice that means don’t let the steel turn blue. The closer you get to a sharp edge, the less material there is to conduct the heat away from the grinder wheel. So, to be safe, I cool the steel often in water while grinding and as soon as sparks roll onto the back of the iron, I’m done.

Now my iron is ready to be worked up. In many cases with vintage planes, you’ll receive the iron in the condition I’ve just gotten to. You normally won’t have to cut any material off and often you’ll already have a bevel you can work with so you can skip the grinder.

Now that I’ve removed the pitting and hollow ground my bevel, I find I’ll be dealing with another “first time I’ve seen that” on this plane. I wound up with an iron that’s the same length as (or a bit shorter than) the chipbreaker.

I don’t know if that will cause me any headaches or not. We’ll burn that bridge in a little while ;-)
The next thing I’ll do with the iron is to hit both sides with a soft wire brush on the grinder. I’m really just removing the coating left behind by the phosphoric acid. This step isn’t necessary but I’m going to end up sanding a bunch of it off anyway and this is less work.

The top of the iron normally sticks up higher than the chipbreaker and is visible so I usually give it some cosmetic attention. After wire brushing, I’ll give it a quick polish with some wet/dry paper then hit it with a buffing wheel on the grinder.

If I find the maker’s mark is hard to see and I want to enhance it a bit, sometimes I’ll cover it and the surrounding area with my layout dye then polish the dye off with some fine sandpaper on a flat substrate. Make sure the dye is dry before polishing and don’t use lubricant on the paper.

The next thing I’ll do is to take my iron and (sorta) flatten the side that beds on the frog (the bevel side). Remember how in the last entry we took care to make sure the bedding surface on the frog was flat? Well we’ll do the same with the iron. I don’t spend a lot of time flattening the entire surface but I do make sure that most of it is planar and that there will be good solid contact down near the bottom where the lever cap will hold it down. It only takes a few strokes on my coarse diamond plate to see that we’re in good shape. There’s a little bit of a hollow at the top but that won’t be in contact with the frog anyway.

Disclaimer: I noticed while writing this and going through the pictures, it seems disjointed. For instance, in the pic above, the top side of the iron has been worked on the diamond plate but in the following pics, it still has the iron phosphate coating. I’m not trying to fool anyone and I promise this was all done on the same iron ;-P I just do these things and snap a bunch of pics then go back and try to remember what order I did them in and correlate pics accordingly. So, the way I present this stuff may not exactly match the order I did it in. Don’t worry though, in any case where it’s important that one thing be done ahead of another, I’ll make it clear.

Okay, so far everything is fairly simple. Now let’s get down to the real nitty-gritty. Here comes the stuff that really matters. Again, I’ll glance over some of the following information because there is so much available online. We’re about to begin sharpening. I debated on whether to include this at all because there is soooooo many how-to guides out there on sharpening plane irons. I am also not a sharpening zealot. I don’t care how you sharpen your tools. And I don’t care if you think I do it wrong. I don’t understand people’s zeal when it comes to sharpening methods. All I can say is get the basics down, choose whatever medium(s) suits you and your budget and go to it. If you get tools that cut the way you need them to, you’re done.

But, since this series is “how I do plane rehabs” I figured I should show this part too. So, here is my basic sharpening setup.

3 diamond plates and a shop-made leather strop. I fit them all into a plywood base for ease of moving around the shop. I use that cheap glass cleaner as lubricant a la Paul Sellers. I also have granite tiles I use wet/dry paper on and some oil stones for certain uses.

So, the first thing we have to do is flatten the back of the iron. Now, IMHO, there are 3 separate “flatnesses” that we require on this face.

First, the entire face should be “kinda” flat. The chipbreaker will mate with this face so we need the area at the top and the area behind the cutting edge planar, or at least in parallel planes. Otherwise we may have a hard time getting a proper fit with the chipbreaker. MUCH more on that later… :-/

Second, the area back about ½” from the cutting edge needs to be truly flat and “kinda” polished. That’s were our chipbreaker edge will mate and we will want no gaps. Again, more later…

Finally, the 1/8” or so right at the cutting edge needs to be truly flat and well-polished. It forms one side of our cutting edge so we’re gonna work it just like we work the bevel.

First, I pull out our old friend, Mr. layout dye. I paint a coat on the bottom area that I want to work flat and part of which I’ll want to polish to a fine finish.

Now I work the entire face on my coarse diamond stone about 10 strokes.

And I have this:

I continue to work it on the coarse diamond until I have this:

Now I have the entire face planar enough for my purposes so I’m done with the top part. Note that the dark areas are slurry from the stone in some pitting in the iron. The camera makes it look much worse than it actually is ;-p

Now I still have a long way to go at the bottom though. You can see from the dye remaining that there is a significant hollow there. So now I’m going to turn my iron 90 degrees to the plate and work only the bottom of the face.

I work on the coarse plate until I clean up all of the remaining dye.

Then I work it on the medium diamond plate and then the fine diamond plate. You can see that I stop with the fine when the area right behind the cutting edge is polished. I don’t care about polishing the rest of it out any finer than the medium stone.

I’ll polish it a little finer later on a leather strop but I’ll do that in conjunction with my bevel. So now, let’s turn the iron over and work on the other side.

I’m going to use a Veritas (Mk.1) jig to hold my iron while I grind this bevel. Shut up. I don’t care if you think I should do it free-handed.

I made the pictured jig for setting blades in this guide. It takes me less than 15 seconds to have the iron in the guide and read to go on the stones.

A few strokes on the coarse stone show me how much grinding I have to do. Not too bad.

I’m not gonna go into great detail here. You probably know how to sharpen an iron. If you don’t, do some Googling. You’ll find plenty out there. I continue on the coarse stone until all my dye is removed then progress through medium and fine stones. Between each stone, I work the back side on the fine diamond to remove the wire edge. It never sees anything coarser than the fine diamond from this point on. I wind up here after the fine stone:

That’ll do. You should be able to shave hair completely in a single stroke with no effort. If not, move back to your last stone and keep working. I move on to my leather strop. It’s just a piece of leather glued to some MDF. I use oil and green polishing compound and work the back then the bevel 5-10 strokes at a time until I remove the wire edge.

Yeeeehawwww we’re done with the iron. I had intended to do the chipbreaker in this entry as well but, I’m getting a little long-winded so I think I’ll do it in a separate one.

In the mean-time though, here are a couple of links that go into more detail on some of the things I just kinda skimmed over:

Derek Perth on flattening blade backs

Don W's blog entry on sharpening plane blades

And, if you want a thorough education on sharpening in general, I highly recommend Ron Hock’s well-written The Perfect Edge

Thanks for reading. I feel like this entry was too long to be a quick overview and too short to be a full guide on how to work the iron up. Either way, I’ve written it now so it is what it is ;-) Hopefully you weren’t too bored…

Let me hear your questions and comments! I’ll get the chipbreaker written up and posted in a day or two.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

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