# Building a wooden shoulder plane

127179 Views 137 Replies 28 Participants Last post by  jryaus
2
First you gotta do some thinking...and find iron

During the recent posting by Bertha on the hand planes of our dreams, the issue of wooden shoulder planes came up. I had some requests and PM's to blog on the making of a wooden shoulder plane so I will give it my best shot. Be warned, I work in the metric system so measurements are in millimeters. For those who use King George's thumb to measure, dividing by 25.4 will at least give decimal inches. I'll gladly answer any question but have patience: No computer will survive in my dusty workshop and I spend all my days there. It means that my computer habits are such that I only sit in front of this screen at night. Throw in the time difference and my response times get pretty slow, about once every 24 hours…..but respond I will. Promise.

Just so you know where we are going, this is what we want to end up with:

As you can see, this is not a very big plane, only around 115 mm (4,5") long. I've been into building smaller and smaller planes lately…

Some planning and scavenging for a plane iron.

The first thing to do is to decide on the width of the plane, or maybe the width of the plane iron will decide for us…. Since the width of the plane iron or blade will determine the width of the wooden plane body, we need to find ourselves an iron first. There are various ways to do this. If you live in the States, it can be as simple as buying the one that you want. If you don't have much money or you live in Africa like me, that option does not exist and you need to get creative. There are a few ways to skin the cat.

1. Find an old plane iron and cut out of it what you want. If you choose to go this route, use an angle grinder fitted with a slim cutting disc. Keep the iron as cool as possible whilst cutting; do it in steps and submerge the blade often in cold water to prevent it from heating up. Too much heat will alter the properties of the steel.

2. Use an old spade drill bit. Since the round shaft needs to be flat and the same thickness as the spade part, this method requires a lot of grinding. Again, keep the steel as cool as possible during the grinding process.

3. Use old HSS jointer or planer knifes. I've been going this route lately with much success. A big advantage with HSS is that it can be cut and ground without concern over altering the materials properties due to excessive heat. Even if it becomes red hot, no worries! Some will say that it is too hard for a plane blade and in a way they are right. You won't be able to hone an extremely fine edge like you can with good tool steel. But believe me, for what we want to do it is good enough. More benefits of the HSS are that it will stay sharp for much longer and the stuff is nice and thick, typically 3mm. Thick is good!
A disadvantage of using old jointer knifes is that they are never very wide; we are after all talking about worn out cutters. I've been making lots of small planes of late so it not a problem for me. If you don't have worn out knifes in your shop, ask at a sharpening service or a large commercial woodworking shop.

The plane body - what wood to use.
Although Beech was traditionally much used for planes, any good hardwood will do just fine. I've used Maple, Paduak, Wenge, Purpleheart and some of our indigenous woods like Ironwood, Pink Ivory and Candlewood. It is best, but not critical, to have the growth rings running vertical in your plane body. This makes for a better wearing plane. You can even get fancy and add a sole of different wood, or something exotic and hardwearing like ebony or ivory. Yes, I know there is a moral issue with ivory and it's impossible to find. Or not? Old pianos had real ivory on their keys. Keep your eyes open for a scrapped piano! I have some ivory pieces obtained that way.You can also use bone but that is a story for another time…

I leave you to go hunting for some metal and some timber….next we get down to building this thing!

#### Attachments

• 23.5 KB Views: 8
See less See more
1 - 5 of 138 Posts
2
First you gotta do some thinking...and find iron

During the recent posting by Bertha on the hand planes of our dreams, the issue of wooden shoulder planes came up. I had some requests and PM's to blog on the making of a wooden shoulder plane so I will give it my best shot. Be warned, I work in the metric system so measurements are in millimeters. For those who use King George's thumb to measure, dividing by 25.4 will at least give decimal inches. I'll gladly answer any question but have patience: No computer will survive in my dusty workshop and I spend all my days there. It means that my computer habits are such that I only sit in front of this screen at night. Throw in the time difference and my response times get pretty slow, about once every 24 hours…..but respond I will. Promise.

Just so you know where we are going, this is what we want to end up with:

As you can see, this is not a very big plane, only around 115 mm (4,5") long. I've been into building smaller and smaller planes lately…

Some planning and scavenging for a plane iron.

The first thing to do is to decide on the width of the plane, or maybe the width of the plane iron will decide for us…. Since the width of the plane iron or blade will determine the width of the wooden plane body, we need to find ourselves an iron first. There are various ways to do this. If you live in the States, it can be as simple as buying the one that you want. If you don't have much money or you live in Africa like me, that option does not exist and you need to get creative. There are a few ways to skin the cat.

1. Find an old plane iron and cut out of it what you want. If you choose to go this route, use an angle grinder fitted with a slim cutting disc. Keep the iron as cool as possible whilst cutting; do it in steps and submerge the blade often in cold water to prevent it from heating up. Too much heat will alter the properties of the steel.

2. Use an old spade drill bit. Since the round shaft needs to be flat and the same thickness as the spade part, this method requires a lot of grinding. Again, keep the steel as cool as possible during the grinding process.

3. Use old HSS jointer or planer knifes. I've been going this route lately with much success. A big advantage with HSS is that it can be cut and ground without concern over altering the materials properties due to excessive heat. Even if it becomes red hot, no worries! Some will say that it is too hard for a plane blade and in a way they are right. You won't be able to hone an extremely fine edge like you can with good tool steel. But believe me, for what we want to do it is good enough. More benefits of the HSS are that it will stay sharp for much longer and the stuff is nice and thick, typically 3mm. Thick is good!
A disadvantage of using old jointer knifes is that they are never very wide; we are after all talking about worn out cutters. I've been making lots of small planes of late so it not a problem for me. If you don't have worn out knifes in your shop, ask at a sharpening service or a large commercial woodworking shop.

The plane body - what wood to use.
Although Beech was traditionally much used for planes, any good hardwood will do just fine. I've used Maple, Paduak, Wenge, Purpleheart and some of our indigenous woods like Ironwood, Pink Ivory and Candlewood. It is best, but not critical, to have the growth rings running vertical in your plane body. This makes for a better wearing plane. You can even get fancy and add a sole of different wood, or something exotic and hardwearing like ebony or ivory. Yes, I know there is a moral issue with ivory and it's impossible to find. Or not? Old pianos had real ivory on their keys. Keep your eyes open for a scrapped piano! I have some ivory pieces obtained that way.You can also use bone but that is a story for another time…

I leave you to go hunting for some metal and some timber….next we get down to building this thing!
Another source of decent steel is old auto leaf springs. You can often get them really cheap from a spring shop if you take their broken leaves. They're only scrap metal to them so you can get them for scrap prices and they give you good solid steel that's nice and thick (2 to 6 mm/1/8 to 1/4 inch) and a decent width too. Anything from 35 to 50 mm or 1 1/2 to 2 inches or more.

#### Attachments

• 23.5 KB Views: 9
See less See more
26
About body parts and even a mouth...

24 hours later and I'm back in my favorite chair! It sounds like some has already sourced plane irons in many different ways. Good! Bertha is ordering a brandnew blade, Derosa found some old plane blades at a local junk store and his Dremel with cutting disc is eager to go! Grittyroots has some old molding planes and wants to use an iron from on of those. Bearpie in Jacksonville has some old worn out metal cutting saw blades about 1/8" thick by 2" wide and 18" long. Good idea, Bearpie! Correct me if I'm wrong but I think those are also made from HSS. It will do the trick just fine in my opinion. I spent a few months in Jacksonville once during my sailing days. There was this one girl….Sorry, I'm getting off track here….

To remind us where we are going:

The plane body - making it.
The basic process involves first cutting the shape of your plane from some timber, then cutting the plane body lengthways into 3 pieces on the bandsaw. This allows us to work on the middle part where the tang of the blade will be before gluing the whole lot back together again. Bear with me, it will get clear soon! Doing it this way makes life easier. It can be done with a solid piece of wood but that involves cutting a rather small mortise at an angle through your block of wood. A tricky operation….I know because I did it on this Coach makers Rabbetplane:

Let's go the easy route first. We can get to the solid body type later if you want…

OK, I found a piece of HSS steel that will do the trick for me. My blade will be 15mm wide when done. That is a little under 5/8" if you speak American. Yes, it is narrow, but I want to make a tiny plane!

The finished width of the plane body needs to be a little less than the width of the blade. For now, let's say it needs to be the same, thus 15 mm. Because I will be cutting it into 3 pieces on my band saw, I add twice the bandsaw kerf width which is 1,5mm in my case. Therefore 2×1,5mm = 3mm. Let's make it 4mm to allow for sanding. Thus I thickness my timber to 15 + 4 = 19 mm. Whilst I'm at the machines, I also joint the edges square.

Draw the shape of your plane on that nice, freshly dimensioned piece of timber. Any shape that pleases you, fancy or simple, will work. You might want to think about ergonomics if you want this fellow to sit nicely in your hand. About the only important thing is that the length of the sole in front of the blade should be less than the length behind it. Take a look at any other Western style plane to get a sense of the proportion. Oh, and I guess you do want your blade to come out the top, so check your shape against the length of your planned plane iron!

Referring to the photo above, mark a 45 degree line to show where the bottom of the blade will sit. This is a good time to talk a little about that angle since it will determine the characteristics and use of your plane.

What are the advantages of the different set angles?
• 45º - Great for planing softwoods and North American hardwoods such as maple and walnut and such. It can handle figured maple well, but will have problems with figured cherry and walnut. This angle is the easiest to push/pull.
• 47° - A good compromise between good tear-out performance and effortless use.
• 50º - Great for North American hardwoods with some to lots of figure. It can handle pine, if needed, and can take on straight grained tropicals, too. This plane takes more effort than the 45 but is not hard to pull/push.
• 55º - For highly-figured American hardwoods and figured tropicals. This plane takes more effort to push/pull than the others, but easily gives good results on figured woods.
• 60º - For extremely hard-to-work woods and for use as a scraper plane. It takes the most effort to use this plane.
If you want to use your shoulder plane mostly for cross grain work, such as cleaning up tenons, you might even want to lower that angle some.

Back to the photo above. The leftmost line represents the bottom of your blade. Using the actual blade as a marking/measuring tool, draw the next line showing the top of the blade. The distance between these two lines represents the thickness of the blade. Then, mark out for the wedge. The red line in the photo represents the top edge of the wedge.

THIS IS IMPORTANT. Note that I start this line from the point where the upper blade line meets the sole. I'm not allowing anything for the mouth opening at this stage! That will come later.
The cross hatched area in the photo shows where the wedge will eventually be. Don't ask me what the angle for that wedge is, I just eyeball it! If you really want a number, I guess something like a 1 to 8 rise will do. Using a little tri-square, transfer the lines onto the sole and top of the body.

Next, drill the large diameter 19mm hole as in the picture. It is important to line the edge of the hole with the line representing the bottom of the blade. If you are clever, drill the hole first, then draw your lines! Easier that way! The distance between the bottom edge of the hole and the sole is around 10 mm in this case. If you are building a bigger plane, the hole and the bottom distance can be larger.

I use brass brazing rod to make pins to index and hold all the parts together. In my case the brazing rod's diameter was 2mm, so I drill the 4 small 2mm holes. 1/8" brazing rod will work well for bigger planes, even 3/16" if you want.

Cut a cheek off each side. As you can see my blade was not too sharp. That frigging Purpleheart burns so easily!

My cuts were not too wonderful, so I decided to sand away the band saw marks on a flat sanding block. If you have a sharp and decent bandsaw blade this is probably not necessary. With the crappy blade I used, I got a little wander. I wish I could buy decent bandsaw blades in this joint. You guys are spoiled for choice! Oh, and a bad craftsman always blames his tools……

2 thin cheeks and one thicker middle piece ready to go! By picking up the marks on the sole and top, reestablish the blade and wedge lines on the centre piece.

Dry fitted my 3 pieces back together again just to check that my sanded surfaces fit well…

…Then cut that middle part into pieces! Carefully cut to the inside of the lines on the band saw or with handsaw if you want. If you look closely you will see that I left the lines just visible. I sand/plane the landing straight and square to the side. Save that middle piece! Later on this will give you the shape of the wedge to be made.

Testing the landing with the blade to be to check that it is nice and flat and square. You will notice that I didn't leave any gap between the body and the blade where the mouth opening will be. For now we want it tight, we can always open it up a little more later.

The 2 central body pieces and the 2 cheeks temporarily assembled with my brass pins which reference all the parts nicely. You can see the opening at the top where the tang of the blade will come out. The wedge will go in there to hold the blade tightly in place.

The view from the bottom. You also see the piece of jointing knife that will become my blade. Everything looks OK, so it's time to glue the parts together. Pull the four pins, give all the glue surfaces an even coating of your favorite sticky stuff and pin together again.

Clamped together with my motley collection of 1" and 2" clamps. Rather too many than too little…

Now we have to watch the glue dry! This could be a good time to clean up the shop a little…or …an even better time to enjoy something wet whilst contemplating matters of importance. Mads can light his pipe now and I will do the same. After all, glue drying is not a process to be rushed!

We have to be well rested for tomorrow ;^) Important work awaits. The mouth of our plane needs to be finely tuned then!

If anything is not clear, give a shout and I'll respond in due time. There is nothing I can do if your mind is not clear. That something wet we talked about…?!
Hi Div.

Nice, straight forward instruction method you use my friend. I like it. I also like the topic, as wooden planes hold a fascination for me and are something I want to do at least a couple of. I'm also in the process of making a marking guage too.

I like your choice of purpleheart, and I'm using it along with some maple for my guage project. I think it would improve the appearance if you'd used a light wood in the middle for contrast. Still, purpleheart looks so good on its own…

Next time I'm at the wrecker's, I'm gonna check out a broken spring or two.

#### Attachments

• 14.7 KB Views: 4
• 29.2 KB Views: 3
• 34.6 KB Views: 4
• 26.3 KB Views: 4
• 26.3 KB Views: 3
• 23 KB Views: 4
• 25.9 KB Views: 3
• 25.4 KB Views: 4
• 24.3 KB Views: 3
• 22.7 KB Views: 3
• 22.2 KB Views: 3
• 27.4 KB Views: 2
• 14.4 KB Views: 5
See less See more
14
The mouth. Don't open wide, we are not at the dentist! (sorry Ken)

As I write, my blue Monday is behind me but some of my American friends are still busy dealing with theirs! Let's get rid of the blues and go back to our project. The glue is dry and we can pop the clamps. I've always liked this stage of a project, that moment when you can take off the clamps and clean up the glue lines. Again, a reminder of what we want to achieve:

This is where we are. Cut the pins close to the timber and clean up the glue lines. If there is glue squeeze out inside the mortise, carefully remove with a narrow chisel. Right, time to do something about the mouth of our plane.

The opening in the bottom now needs to be continued through the 2 cheeks. Clamp the plane body tightly in your bench vise and use a fine saw to carefully cut along the lines marked on the cheeks. Only through into the hole!

Rather cut to the inside of the lines! The ramp or landing needs to nice and flat and square to the body and also in the same plane as the rest of the landing inside the body. Carefully flatten with a very sharp chisel, working diagonally along the grain with a slicing action. Keep the grain direction in mind; you don't want to cut against the grain! It means working from the hole to the outside. We want the blade to have full contact with the landing so it won't chatter.

So far we haven't touched the front side of the mouth opening. The back side where the blade will be resting is nice and flat. If you've cut very closely to the marked lines, the blade should just be able to slide into this gap. In other words, the width of the opening is the same as the thickness of your blade. If it doesn't want to go in don't despair! Again use that sharp chisel and carefully remove just enough from the front side so the blade will slide in snugly.

Why all this care with the mouth? We don't want a plane with a wide open mouth like some people I know!!

The mouth opening is IMPORTANT! I jump the gun a little to show what the deal is. This will actually only get done when the blade has been made. With the blade in the plane, the mouth opening should ideally be only the thickness of the shaving!
Note how the front face is slightly angled in relation to the blade. This is to help with clearing the shaving. Let's use our sharpest tool (the mind) a little… Because those two yellow lines are not parallel to each other, the mouth opening will become bigger as material is removed from the sole of the plane! This will happen when you true the sole of your plane, initially and occasionally throughout its life.
If the front face has more angle, this will happen quicker. Best to have that mouth opening as small as possible initially. It is then carefully opened with a sharp chisel or, more easily with a needle file when the plane gets fine tuned.

Here is the view from the bottom.

This is a good time to chamfer the edges of that hole on both sides. I use a sharp chisel, always taking note of grain direction. Aim to have the chamfers meet in the middle, thus creating a V-shape in section. Note how the chamfer tapers to none where it meets the landing. All this is done to help with the clearing of the sweet shavings you will be making when this baby is done. You might want to wrap some sandpaper around a dowel to help smooth things out a little, just in case that chisel does not cooperate!

I trust it all makes sense to you. If something is not clear, please ask and I'll do my best to clarify. Next we look at finally making the plane iron.
Looking good, Div!

#### Attachments

• 22.2 KB Views: 5
• 21.6 KB Views: 3
• 28.9 KB Views: 3
• 31.8 KB Views: 5
• 24.3 KB Views: 3
• 22 KB Views: 3
• 14.5 KB Views: 2
See less See more
16
Let's make us an iron!

If this is happening a little too slow for your liking, it is because I have to make sawdust all day long to keep the wolf from the door. That is 10 hours gone. Making these little planes and blogging about it is mostly a night time affair, after taking care of normal daily chores and duties!

We have made a plane body and it is looking pretty good! Time to do some metalwork.
This is what we want to achieve:

At the top is the finished plane iron, below is the material I made it from; an old HSS jointer knife.
There are four dimensions that concern us:
3. Tang width.
4. Tang length.

The blade width needs to be a little wider than the width of our finished plane body. Measure the body width and add a wee bit, say 1/16". It can always be fine tuned later on. In the end the blade needs to stick out just a teeny bit past the edge of the plane on each side.

Blade length is determined by measuring the distance as shown in the photo. It is the length of the exposed ramp or landing that was so carefully flattened when we built the plane body.

TANG WIDTH.

The width of our tang must be a little less than that of the tenon or opening. Theoretically it can be a sliding fit but then everything must be perfectly square and centre. By making this fit a little loose we get some lateral or sideways adjustment. This will ensure that the blade can be set parallel to the sole with equal amounts protruding past the sides.
The 3mm (1/8") difference as shown in the photo will be too much for a real narrow plane like the one I've made here (5/8"width). I think it would be fine for a larger plane. If in doubt, make it only 1/16th, it is easy to grind more at a later stage if necessary.

TANG LENGTH.

Obviously it needs to be long enough to go through the plane! It also needs to stick out past the wedge for ease of adjustment. As always, rather make it longer. Again, it is easy to shorten at a later stage, once you are used to the plane.

Once all these dimensions are obtained, mark them out on your blade material. Make sure the tang is centered! The HSS I used is hard stuff and nothing I have in the shop will scratch it for marking. I also couldn't find something that would write on it. I covered it with masking tape for easy marking.
I cut with a 4" slim cutting disc in a baby angle grinder. The beauty of HSS is that you don't have to worry about heat; it doesn't affect the material's properties. If you are working on an old plane blade, cut slowly and cool often with water. You don't want the steel to get hot!

Once cut, clean the edges on a disc sander or grinding wheel. Ensure that the edges are straight, square and parallel to each other. Time to check the blade for fit in the plane and adjust by more grinding if necessary. You might need to ease the shoulders of the blade for a good fit. Then grind the primary bevel to 25 degrees. I do this on a bench grinder with shop made adjustable rest to get the angle perfect.

If you are using carbon steel, KEEP COOL! Not you, the steel :^) Have a container with water handy and dip very often.

A few swipes on my whetstone to establish the secondary bevel, some polishing with the strop and we are done! I know some likes to use sandpaper for sharpening. Whatever works for you!

Next we'll make the wedge and fine tune our plane. In the meantime, why don't you shave with your new blade tomorrow morning!
Hi Div.

Looking better and better!

#### Attachments

• 28.2 KB Views: 4
• 30.4 KB Views: 2
• 29.4 KB Views: 3
• 22.7 KB Views: 3
• 33.8 KB Views: 2
• 19.4 KB Views: 5
• 22.1 KB Views: 6
• 21.5 KB Views: 3
See less See more
4
Tune me finely...but how do I adjust the iron?

Body done, wedge done, plane iron done. If you are anything like me, eagerness to see some shavings has replaced all other desires at this stage! With a bit of luck, paper thin shavings will be curling out of the mouth. Isn't it great! If not, don't despair….

LET'S FINE TUNE:

1. True the plane sole. This is done with the blade in place but well away from the mouth and the wedge set up tightly as it would be in use. Why? With the wedge set, our plane is in "tension". The wood actually distorts a little, especially just behind the iron.
Clamp a long strip of sandpaper to the table saw top or, if you really want to be fancy, stick it onto a piece of float glass. With little more pressure than the weight of the plane, take a light pass and have a look at the sole. Any high spots will reveal themselves as abraded areas. Usually there will be one just behind the iron. Continue sanding with a light touch, checking on progress often, until the entire sole has been evenly abraded. Take off only the minimum; the more we take off, the more we open the mouth. We don't want that!

How do I get the wedge out?

So you whacked the wedge in tightly, the sole is beautifully true and now we can't get the frigging wedge out! Like many things, it is easy, if you know how. Give the back end of the plane a firm tap or two with a small hammer (4-6 oz.) A little brass hammer will be perfect for this.

2. With the iron in place, have a look at the mouth. Ideally, we want the opening the same as the thickness of a shaving. If it is too tight, carefully file with a needle file or similar. Angle the file so the opening is not parallel to the blade when looking from the side. At the same time, ensure that the opening remains parallel to the blade when viewed from the bottom.

3. Check the width of the plane body against the width of the blade. Ideally the blade should protrude just a wee bit on either side. Either reduce the blade width by grinding or reduce the width of the body by sanding on a flat surface.

WHY IS A TIGHT MOUTH SO IMPORTANT?

As I said before, ideally we want the mouth thickness the same as the thickness of the shaving. Why? Quite simple really. If we have an area ahead of the shaving that is not supported by the sole of the plane, in other words, an open mouth, the likeliness of tear out is greatly increased.

Place the blade in the plane and let the wedge sit loosely in its position. Now rest the plane on some wood and have the blade just touch the surface of the board. Gently tap the wedge into place with a small hammer. Now give the plane a try and it should make the finest shavings. To bring the plane into a deeper cut, gently tapping on the toe (the front) will bring the blade forward. The cutting depth of the iron can also be controlled by tapping it downward. This approach is more direct and for fine adjustments I prefer tapping the toe.
Some prefer to sight the cutting depth from the back of the plane; I prefer to do it from the front. Tilt the plane up until you are looking directly along the sole's surface. The cutting edge should be just above that surface and parallel to it.

If the cut is too aggressive, tap gently on the back of the plane to vibrate the iron to a less coarse cut. To back the iron out completely, tap a bit harder. Hold the plane with your palm under the iron to keep it in place when the wedge loosens.

With a little practice, you will be adjusting this plane to cut beautiful shavings in less time than possible with a metal plane that has all the bells and whistles! Don't believe me? Give it some time and dedication….
An added benefit of your wooden plane is that it slides over the surface with much less friction than a metal-bodied plane. A little bees wax rubbed on the sole will reduce friction even more, and it smells good!
Off course, wooden planes don't rust either….

FINISHING.

I prefer a simple coat or 2 of boiled linseed oil, followed by some wax the next day. Bright finishes do not belong on working planes. Save that for the show plane!

CRANKINESS.

Crankiness in a wooden plane is most commonly due to a high spot or bump behind the iron. It may show itself in at least two ways: If the iron grabs as you start the cut and then skips when the planes is entirely on the surface, check the area directly behind the iron. Use a straight edge and check across the plane's width and along its length.
When it seems that either one corner of the iron or the other persists to dig in, suspect a bump! (I'm assuming the iron is evenly and properly set…)

THE WEIGHT OF THE PLANE.

Proponents of metal planes site their weight as a big plus for better planing. True, but we can do something about that! Counter bore some holes into the section ahead of the iron and glue in lead weights or even lead shot. If the holes are plugged and pared flush, it will hardly be noticeable.

Once you have the frog out of its throat, your newly created instrument can be singing!

That is the end of my song and I thank the LJ's who were playing with! If you have any problems, please let me know and I'll do my best to help.

I trust my little blog will inspire many more LJ's to take up the very satisfying pastime of building their own plane.

Yours in sawdust
Hi Div.

Thank you very much for the clear, detailed instructions. If my back trouble allows me back in the shop, this is high on my to do list.

#### Attachments

• 31.8 KB Views: 4
• 23.5 KB Views: 4
See less See more
1 - 5 of 138 Posts