Random Musings #1: The case for learning technique, using basswood

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Blog entry by rhett posted 07-17-2013 09:17 PM 1439 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I was at the lumberyard yesterday and picked up a chunk of basswood. It is for a homeschooler who is wanting to “whittle”. I’ve got limited expereince with the wood, so on a whim, I decided to take a few passes with a hand plane to see how it acted. It is no secret that this is the softest hardwood of the bunch, so it took very little effort to push a plane across the surface.

This got me thinking. Why doesn’t anyone use this wood to teach basic hand plane techinique? Its very forgiving, works easily and is usually free of defects. Not to mention it comes in large chunks and is not very expensive.

All hand tool work is based on muscle memory. The only way to build muscle memory is through repetition. Trying to plane hard wood and difficult grain is often disheartening for beginning hand toolers. Why set yourself up to fail? Machine shops don’t teach people on chunks on metal, they use wax.

I suggest that anyone starting out hand planning, especially the plane swappers getting their feet wet in wooden planes, buy a chunk of the stuff just for practicing technique and plane set-up. You will be able to work on getting consistently thick shavings, full stroke shavings, squaring a face to a face and flattening a board, all with minimal resistance. Its like training wheels for a hand plane. You probably don’t even need to be that good at sharpening to pull a shaving.

Be Good

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

5 comments so far

View Greg In Maryland's profile

Greg In Maryland

553 posts in 3415 days

#1 posted 07-18-2013 12:15 AM

Thank’s Rhett. That’s an interesting thought. I’ll have to give it a try.


View ScottKaye's profile


764 posts in 2370 days

#2 posted 07-18-2013 12:28 AM

same here.. Its a wonderful and cheap idea for me to break in my dads old planes and learn the art. Next time Im down at the hardwood shop, Ill have to remember to pick up a few boards.


-- "Nothing happens until you build it"

View Don W's profile

Don W

19244 posts in 2985 days

#3 posted 07-18-2013 12:49 AM

its not a bad idea Rhett, but I learn a different way. Make sure you’re halfway through a project, have a really expensive piece of wood (and the last one you have) and test out your new technique. You’ll find your senses are at a heighten awareness and your attention to detail is at an acute awareness.

Its along the same theory as a normal man lifting a car off a baby to save its life.

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

View ksSlim's profile


1300 posts in 3307 days

#4 posted 07-18-2013 04:23 AM

I’ve carved a lot of basswood but never had a need to put a plane to it.
May have to try it just for fun.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View CFrye's profile


10690 posts in 2257 days

#5 posted 08-27-2013 07:29 AM

Makes sense to me. Thanks Rhett!

-- God bless, Candy

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