Questions on how to use a plane

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Forum topic by NoSpace posted 06-11-2016 10:01 PM 1459 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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172 posts in 2154 days

06-11-2016 10:01 PM

So my first real plane came in the mail today after 3 years of woodworking. I’ve done everything I can to avoid using one but it’s time. The main driver is to rely less on my random orbit sanders. I do have a dewalt planer, but if the output must be joined/ or the raw product is too wide for planer my only option is sanding. Typically, the surface I need to work on is the output from bandsaw resaw and need to get rid of bandsaw marks, a little flattening, and smoothing.

I wanted to get a Lie Nielson just so there was no question about setup and I’d have a reference point, but went cheap with a stanley sweetheart #4 smoothing plane. Not quite sure what to think about it. Out of the box and I did read the instructions, I whittled down a small side panel and from a foot away, it looks incredible. But look closer and run hand over it and there’s all these little ridges.

Quite honestly, if this is the best I can get out of it it’s still worth it because it still will save me from the bulk of the sanding I do, but from what I gather from experienced woodworkers, a good smooth-plane job should leave a surface superior to sandpaper.

The main problem I ran into this morning trying it out is that it’s going along, and then all of a sudden stops dead, and when that happens, it leaves a cut mark. What’s the cause of that?

The variables I’m aware of: blade sharpness, potential bevel on blade, how open the mouth is, and the positioning of the blade to make it straight. other than sharpening the blade, which I’ll do tonight, I couldn’t find an adjustment to totally fix the problem.

21 replies so far

View Richard H's profile

Richard H

490 posts in 2595 days

#1 posted 06-11-2016 10:06 PM

The ridges are caused by the ends of the iron bitting into the wood (plane tracks). You need to put a slight camber on the iron or round over the ends so they don’t dig in. There are a lot of different ways to do this depending on how you are sharpening but the easiest is probably just putting more hand pressure on the outside of the iron when you are working it on stone/sandpaper/diamond. Once you have a camber on the iron use the adjuster to center the shaving and set the depth of cut so it tapers off at the two edges rather than creates a hard edge and you should see the grooves go away.

Hope this helps,


View onoitsmatt's profile


446 posts in 2090 days

#2 posted 06-11-2016 10:28 PM

Lightly Wax or oil the sole of the plane for smoother/easier use. Also make sure you are planing the right direction; Obviously with the grain but also with the direction of fibers. You don’t want to plane into “splinters”. You can look at the side of the board to see how the grain runs. You don’t want to plane into the grain.

Direction of plane———> side grain like this //////

Not like this \\\\\\\\

Slightly camber the iron is good advice too and flatten the back of the iron too.

-- Matt - Phoenix, AZ

View Aj2's profile


3495 posts in 2712 days

#3 posted 06-11-2016 11:02 PM

I like the way you describe the problems you have. I think you’ll figure it out pretty quick. It’s going to take time to ween your woodworking away from sandpaper.
But it worth the time because it’s a skill that few have and you will never forget.

-- Aj

View bondogaposis's profile


5889 posts in 3265 days

#4 posted 06-12-2016 12:38 AM

If the plane digs in, you are taking too much of a bite and/or you planing in the wrong direction.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Adam Vose's profile

Adam Vose

10 posts in 1727 days

#5 posted 06-12-2016 12:52 AM

I agree with Matt, it sounds like grain direction. I avoid wax before finishing though, it can cause blotching. You might also close up the throat to 5 or 10 thousandths for fine cuts. Open it up to 40 or more for hogging. Also the sharper the better. Good luck.

-- Adam, NewHampshire

View TheFridge's profile


10861 posts in 2400 days

#6 posted 06-12-2016 12:56 AM

slight camber and round the corners of the iron so it doesn’t leave a harsh track in the wood. . Put the chipbreaker a couple hairs away from the edge of the iron. Wax sole every little while.

When getting started after sharpening I advance the iron until I touches the wood but doesn’t cut so I can see if it needs to be adjusted laterally. I do so if necessary and advance the iron a 1/4 turn or until it touches the wood again and if it’s good laterally I adjust depth for the shaving i want. Usually i want a shaving like an onion skin unless I’m doin final smoothing and then I’ll want the thinnest shaving I can get.

When starting to work with planes, learning how to sharpen properly (1000s of ways) is just as important as knowing how to “fettle” with it.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View NoSpace's profile


172 posts in 2154 days

#7 posted 06-12-2016 03:53 PM

Ok guys thanks for all the suggestions, I did some more setup and the results are much better. It’s starting to “feel” right too, which is really encouraging.The center of the piece (maple) is nearly as perfect as I can imagine without someone who knows better to point out the flaws.

So among the big benefits; I did sharpen and tried to do the camber thing, and made sure to align so center leading the cut. Using the paste wax seemed to be a huge benefit. I think where I’m most encouraged is at this point, the operation feels right. My arms were getting really tired yesterday.

Also, paying attention to the grain direction! I didn’t even think of that but I kick myself every time I use my planer and get tear-out for not paying attention, so don’t know what my problem is. I do have a follow-up question on grain direction. So this piece is about 14×14, bookmatched maple, resawn about .15” thick. I’m guessing the grain goes in the direction the figure is pointing along the length, cant tell from the side, but then across the base and top, I can definitely see most of the grain goes in one direction, from the side view. Does that mean I can plane in 2 directions out of the 4 possibilities?

Also, how do you handle edges? I’m getting “backed into a corner”.

finally, how do you deal with a smaller piece? This morning I clamped thin strips along 2 edges and that helped a lot, but on all the youtube vidoes it looks like this guys just set it down and start planing it with nothing holding it. I guess if your plane works that good…

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 2875 days

#8 posted 06-12-2016 04:42 PM

Glad it’s working out better for you.

I’ll repeat what others said, sharp has a wide range and the more you continue to learn to sharpen better, the better your planing will go.

If your maple has consistent grain you can plane almost up to 90 degrees from the true grain direction. Planing against the grain doesn’t work well, but man when you go with the grain you can get some glass smooth surfaces on maple.

There are a variety of methods for smaller pieces from a simple planing stop to a sticking board. You can make a quick planing stop just by clamping a thinner piece of wood to your bench. I like planing stops on two sides to make it even easier. A sticking board can hold very small and narrow pieces, google that if that’s your situation.

View onoitsmatt's profile


446 posts in 2090 days

#9 posted 06-12-2016 06:00 PM

You can often feel the grain direction if you can’t tell from the side. Just rub in one direction, then the opposite direction. One should feel very slick, while the other will grab a bit. You can also look at end grain. If end grain is “smiling” plane with the cathedral peaks.

End grain: \\\\\|///// then plane from wide part of cathedrals toward points. If end grain frowns, plane from points toward wide end of cathedrals.

If boards are straight grained, youll have to go by feel. If you can’t feel with your fingers, you can definitely tell the difference by just planing in both directions. One direction will be much easier than the other.

Also if you are book matched, the two halves get planed in opposite directions, as one board is a “smiley” and the other a “frown”.

-- Matt - Phoenix, AZ

View Logan Windram's profile

Logan Windram

347 posts in 3376 days

#10 posted 06-12-2016 10:31 PM

You’ll still need to sand a surface before you finish it. I don’t care how good you are with a plane, once you apply finish and the light hits it, you will see imperfections. Think of your plane as a surface prepper that lead the way for a cabinet scraper and 150/ 220 random orbit sander process. Excellence in furniture often times is reflected in how careful and conscientious the finishing process was considered. Sanding sucks, that’s is why getting a great surface from a super sharp plane first makes it suck less.

View Robert's profile


4144 posts in 2395 days

#11 posted 06-12-2016 10:33 PM

Instead of cambering the blade, I just ease the edges with a light setting. For me, its easier to sharpen this way.

As for grain orientation, once you remember to read the grain every time, you will occasionally still get tear out. Figured wood, certain species of wood, areas around knots can be challenging. And then there are just some boards that mysteriously have recalcitrant, rebellious, or other wise uncooperative grain. I find this particularly true of 1/4 sawn white oak.

Blade sharpness, mouth opening, and cap iron setback can be crucial to good results. I recommend you play around this these things to see what works best for you.

And little tricks such as skewing the plane (raising the effective bedding angle) will come into play.

Last but not least, if this is a new model plane, clearly it is not a premium plane. If you are constantly having to fiddle to get the plane working right because it doesn’t hold settings, you might consider upgrading. IMO the WoodRiver line is worth checking out.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View NoSpace's profile


172 posts in 2154 days

#12 posted 06-14-2016 02:33 PM

So after several hours of effort, most of the time fixing mistakes, the end result is pretty impressive, at least to me. For future reference, should be about a half hour with the plane dialed in correctly. Out of all the factors, it seemed the single biggest contribution to avoiding chatter and dead stops was getting the blade aligned so the center leads the cut and then tightened enough that it doesn’t veer off to the side after a few minutes, but not so tight that I cant adjust the blade depth; those two settings need to be perfect so that 1 inch shavings peel off dead center. It’s too sensitive. Once it’s set right, a tick in either direction or slight change in depth and it’s all over. But when set right, it holds out, I was going on and on cleaning up mistakes without it falling apart or needing to sharpen, in fact, that last sharpening was only with 1000 grit.

“You’ll still need to sand a surface before you finish it.”

It’s going to be hard to do that after all that work. if this is correct, it certainly lowers the bar for end result—which is good news in a way. But let me run this by everyone. First off, the table I’m making is going to be a router table/work table combo. After all that planning, it shines like poly, and slicker than any table I have. But I know it’s not protected, and I know that by being so shiny it’s not going to absorb finish well. The only finish I’ve ever used is poly, but the idea for this table was to do everything with poly except the table top, not sand it, and rub in Danish oil. So the question: considering this is for a work bench, and I’m going to use Danish oil on top, would it be better to leave it the ultra smooth plane surface or sand first?

View Lazyman's profile


5945 posts in 2301 days

#13 posted 06-14-2016 03:06 PM

If the wood has a sheen to it, some finishes might not adhere to or soak into it well. My understanding is that sand paper, which was once very expensive, was invented to be used after hand planing and cabinet scraping to prep a burnished surface to accept a finish. You might want to test by prepping a scrap piece to the same finish and make sure the Danish oil doesn’t just just pool up on the surface.

Edit: on the other hand, it would not take more than just a light pass with some 220 sandpaper to make sure the surface accepts whatever finish you want.

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

View MrRon's profile


5954 posts in 4157 days

#14 posted 06-14-2016 04:18 PM

So far, all good advise. I would also add; holding the plane at an angle to the direction of plane stroke; in other words, taking a skew cut makes for an easier “slicing” action. Instead of sanding, get a scraper and learn how to use it.

View OSU55's profile


2658 posts in 2904 days

#15 posted 06-14-2016 04:27 PM

Your reasons for moving to hand planes are the same reasons I had several years ago. Hand planes require some skill development and experience for sharpening, tuning, and using – as you are now experiencing. Here is a link for my input on sharpening and tuning.

As for using, get a board, not a project, and practice. As you have discovered, especially when smoothing, it only takes small adjustments or nudges. Practice builds the knowledge of how much of an adjustment is needed depending on the plane and type of cut. Here is a link to an article by Chris Schwarz “Fine, Medium, and Coarse” regarding using hand planes that you might find useful. You may find using a small brass hammer to tap the edge of the blade for skew adjustments easier than using the Norris adjuster on that plane.

As for sanding after smoothing, it depends. For an “in the wood” finish like Danish oil or thinned poly, no, unless you are after perfection (light sanding can show missed tool marks). The oil/varnish will still wick into the wood eventually – the smoother it is the longer it can take, but I commonly polish wood on the lathe and apply thinned poly and it does soak it up. For a film finish some surface roughness is desirable. You don’t want it to bead up like water on glass, and it needs to have some “bite” on the wood. I usually hand sand with 320 with the grain to get a consistent surface finish and to show any tool marks that may need attention. Since this is a work table, why sand it? It will get dinged anyway.

The Sweetheart #4 is a perfectly fine plane. It needs some tuning, but will do a fine job except for unruly, burly, reversing grain, which any bevel down plane can struggle with. Tuned up, it will do about as good a lob as any bevel down plane.

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