# 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!

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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!
Looks great Div.

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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…?!
The construction looks very straight forward Div, however, I will probably be using a spade bit for mine. It seems to me that the mouth would have to be more narrow in the part where the shaft will be to prevent sideways movement. I sure would appreciate hearing your solution to this problem if you have one.

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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!
Lots of different options. I like that. Thanks Div.

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Let's wedge it!

It makes me REAL happy to see that some guys have been inspired to make their own planes! For that reason, I will patiently bear the slowness of my backwater farm style dial up connection…..

The last part to be made is the wedge. Just a simple piece of wood but with a very important function! Not only does it hold the blade firmly in position, it also acts as a chip breaker of sorts.

Remember when we made the plane body (Part II) there was this little off cut piece to be saved? This gives us the exact angle for our wedge. What, you can't find it? Well, all is not lost except a fair amount of fiddling to establish that angle again. The angle of the wedge is important. Look what happens if it is not right:

WEDGE ANGLE TOO HIGH.

If the wedge angle is too high, there is only contact between the wedge and the plane body at the top of the tenon. Because the blade is now not supported near the mouth, chatter lies ahead! You will not be happy with the performance of your plane!

WEDGE ANGLE TOO LOW.

If the wedge angle is too low, there is only contact between the wedge and plane body at the bottom of the tenon. This is better than above, at least the blade is supported near the mouth. Since the blade is not supported/wedged all the way it will never be wedged firmly. With a wedge not making full contact, the plane will continuously need adjustment; the blade will keep slipping and won't stay where you want it, especially if you hit a knot or some difficult grain. Better to get that angle just right!

A FEW POINTERS WHEN MAKING THE WEDGE.

1. If you want, make the wedge from a different contrasting piece of wood. Just be sure you have the grain running length wise.
2. Shape, carve or otherwise embellish the fat end as you feel. The IMPORTANT thing is to have the blade go past the end of the wedge for ease in adjustment.
3. I should have mentioned this earlier. Some roughness on the plane bed/landing is good; it helps to increase friction for holding the blade tightly. Same goes for the wedge. Leave it natural and unfinished for the same reason. Oil only that highly decorative carving that you spent so much time on! (This for Bertha!)

4. See where the wedge ends? It needs to be some distance back from the mouth. Cut off where required and gently round over the end to help the shavings glide over it.

5. Here is a little secret that Mads discovered by himself whilst having his coffee, with pipe and tobacco, no doubt! Hollow the bottom face of the wedge very lightly, along the length. This little trick helps greatly in supplying compression in all the right places. We want the wedge to hold the blade firmly, especially near the mouth. THIS IS IMPORTANT! Not having good compression near the mouth is the most common cause of a chattering or badly performing plane!

OK, my wife wants me to watch a DVD with her. I'm already in trouble with the "boss" about spending too much time on LJ's :^( Next, we will fine-tune our plane. Still to come is an installment on properly adjusting the set of the blade. Finally, we will look at ways to turbo charge a wooden shoulder plane! Stay tuned!
Thanks Div. I like the wedge hollowing idea, sounds right to me.

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