Skew rabbet plane for 2020 Surprise Swap

  • Advertise with us
Project by Dave Polaschek posted 03-27-2020 05:08 PM 638 views 1 time favorited 31 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The spring swap this year was a surprise swap, so we could make anything we wanted. Since my shop was being built, and would not be complete until reveal week on the swap, I spend a while thinking about what I was going to build for the swap. I decided I’d make a skew rabbet plane. I have an old one which I use, but it’s hard to find a nice old plane, and I felt I had okay chances of being able to make a nice-looking plane that was functional.

So I started trying things. I had a bunch of pallets from the hardware store, and used some of the lumber from them to experiment on. The first try had some issues. I couldn’t drill the holes for the mortise as precisely as I needed with a bit and brace and without much better workholding than I could achieve on the tailgate of my pickup using a pallet as a workbench, and with only a half-dozen three foot long bar clamps.

The second try didn’t go a lot better. The mortise was maybe a little less raggedy, but I had geometry problems with the multiple angles for the skew and the bedding angle and the different sized escapements needed on the two sides. I’m glad I was practicing on pallet wood while working out the details, since it was pretty clear I still had to so some more thinking.

My third try, I decided I’d make it a composite plane. I could then cut the mortise with a hand-saw and get good angles, and drill the sides separately, and most of the complicated geometric issues could be simplified. So I started by gluing a piece of poplar to a piece of ipe that I was planning to use for the sole. I went with the poplar because I still wasn’t sure this plan was going to work, and I should have used something a little more stable. Anyway, that got the third photo in the gallery above.

It was about this point that I found that I was sending the plane to Brian in Spain, so I decided I’d keep my schedule as tight as possible so that he wouldn’t be waiting on international delivery while everyone else was revealing the goodies they’d received in the swap.

Since clamping (and really any other operation) on this T-shaped piece of wood was difficult, I used a few drywall screws to screw some pallet wood to the sides of the poplar. That turned out to be the real trick, and I started making good progress. I got the mortise and the bed for the blade cut, and was feeling pretty good. Picture 4 shows the cutting, which was made easier by clamping the piece so I was cutting more or less straight down.

Since I don’t have a forge for heat-treating, this was when I roughed out the blade, too. It’s a rabbet plane blade from Lie-Nielsen, and while it was a little expensive, there’s no way I could’ve succeeded without it. Then I sent it off to Dave Kelley in AZ for heat-treating, as he volunteered to help out. Thanks, Dave!

This was also the point that I realized I’d made an error in my geometry, and had cut a left-handed plane body. On a skew-rabbet plane, you want the forward point of the blade on the inside edge of the rabbet, since that will tend to pull the plane tightly into the rabbet you’re cutting. I decided that I was far enough along that I didn’t want to change things to make it a right-handed plane. I’ve used both left and right-handed, and I can usually manage, even with a plane that goes the wrong way — it’s only been a problem when I’m also fighting the grain, and that’s why I have both left and right-handed skew rabbets in my collection.

Once I’d gotten the core of the plane cut, I removed the pallet wood sides, and started working on the nice cherry sides that were going to make the final plane. I laid out and drilled holes for the escapement (picture 5), cut a wedge from alder, then drilled in some indexing holes I could use when gluing all the pieces up (picture 6) so I could keep things from creeping while I was clamping all the pieces together.

Now that I had an idea of how all the pieces would go together, it was time to get the wedge cut and tweaked for thickness. It’s not rocket surgery, but it’s a lot easier to do when you can take the sides off the plane and look at the angles and draw directly onto the wedge with a pencil so you get things right. With that done, it was time for the glue-up.

Once the plane was glued together, I had a few days to wait for the blades (I made two, in case I screwed one up) to get back from AZ. I rough-carved the escapement at this point, but I needed a blade to know exactly how tall the escapement needed to go to make room for the blade.

I then cleaned up the blade (removing scale from the heat treat, mostly), and put the final edge on the blade to match the actual glued-up plane body. Once that was done, I could fettle the plane, flattening the bed for the blade with floats, opening the mouth up enough to handle the blade thickness, carving the end of the wedge to help steer shavings out the escapement (they curl because of the skew, and I’m still not enough of a pro to know just how tightly they’ll curl), and using my belt-sander to bring the plane down to final thickness (you want the plane to be just a hair thinner than the width of the blade so the blade edge protrudes just a bit). With no shop, the belt-sander just got wheeled out into the driveway, and I let the New Mexico winds blow the dust to Texas.

With the thickness right, it was mostly finishing work. Cut the chamfers on the edges of the plane so it feels nice in the hand, carve a little detail in the wedge because I knew Brian would appreciate that, and hit the various pieces with some linseed oil and paste wax.

Hope you enjoy it, Brian! I learned a lot along the way making this plane, and building it without a shop was a good puzzle to solve.

And here’s the note that went in the box:

-- Dave - Santa Fe

31 comments so far

View MrWolfe's profile


828 posts in 860 days

#1 posted 03-27-2020 05:23 PM

Wish i had entered this swap.
Thanks for sharing.

View wildwoodbybrianjohns's profile


1489 posts in 284 days

#2 posted 03-27-2020 05:46 PM

I very much do appreciate all the work you put into these tools, Dave. And though I may or may not participate in future swaps, as it is primarily an american thing, I will never forget these, and will treasure them, as I already told you.

Wouldnt be too difficult to start off the bat trying to use the plane left-handed. I am pretty good with the left, as I was a painter, and a painter must be able to cut in perfectly straight lines with both hands.

Thanks again, my friend.

-- Wildwood by Brian Johns: Because cheese isnt a healthy source of cheese, I will use grated cucumber to top off this raw food vegan pizza.

View Don W's profile

Don W

19609 posts in 3304 days

#3 posted 03-27-2020 05:50 PM

I like it!!

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5173 posts in 1319 days

#4 posted 03-27-2020 06:07 PM

Thanks Jon & Don.

Brian, I’m glad you like it, and I find that I end up using tools with whichever hand works best. I’m glad you can do similarly. With a rabbet plane, the big difference is that you might get a rabbet that slopes out a little if you use it so the skew angles out of the rabbet instead of in, but you can always lay the plane on its side and use it like a shoulder plane if that happens.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View Lazyman's profile


5218 posts in 2124 days

#5 posted 03-27-2020 06:09 PM

Nicely done. It sounds like you had less problems with the geometry than I did last year. I went through the same process of trying to cut an angled mortise in some scrap and switched over to the composite design. I struggle with straight mortises so the compound wedged one was just not going to happen for me.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5173 posts in 1319 days

#6 posted 03-27-2020 06:18 PM

Thanks, Nathan! It’s a tricky problem. I’ll probably do them y drilling the mortise once I have my post drill set up again, but we’ll see. The composite method also lets you pair different woods…

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View EarlS's profile


3674 posts in 3085 days

#7 posted 03-27-2020 06:39 PM

Nice write-up. Whew – that’s a lot of work, especially without a real shop. I only managed to drill a couple holes and use a rasp when I was without a shop.

The plane turned out great!!! Especially like the cherry sides.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Thorbjorn88's profile


139 posts in 879 days

#8 posted 03-27-2020 06:40 PM

Awesome job!

-- Dave

View oldrivers's profile


2147 posts in 2303 days

#9 posted 03-27-2020 06:43 PM

A dandy tool and so well done, congratulations Dave.

-- Soli Deo gloria!

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5173 posts in 1319 days

#10 posted 03-27-2020 06:50 PM

Thanks, Earl. Being a retired guy means I have time to try crazy things, and it keeps me out of my honey’s hair.

Thanks, guys!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View Oldtool's profile


2939 posts in 2927 days

#11 posted 03-27-2020 06:54 PM

Very nice work here, that is a beautiful tool.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5173 posts in 1319 days

#12 posted 03-27-2020 07:28 PM


-- Dave - Santa Fe

View therealSteveN's profile


5583 posts in 1311 days

#13 posted 03-27-2020 07:57 PM

WOW, nice job Dave.

-- Think safe, be safe

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5173 posts in 1319 days

#14 posted 03-27-2020 08:30 PM


-- Dave - Santa Fe

View balidoug's profile


513 posts in 3215 days

#15 posted 03-27-2020 10:01 PM

I’ve a few handmade tools hanging on their cleats, and somehow they are always my favorites. This looks like it will see some great use, and will give joy in the using.

Thanks for sharing

-- From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. Immanuel Kant

showing 1 through 15 of 31 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics