Building a wooden shoulder plane #6: Tune me finely...but how do I adjust the iron?

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Blog entry by Div posted 05-30-2011 08:50 PM 9683 reads 15 times favorited 27 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Let's wedge it! Part 6 of Building a wooden shoulder plane series no next part

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….


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.


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….


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 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…)


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

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

27 comments so far

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4450 days

#1 posted 05-30-2011 09:18 PM

thank´s for the song on a nice melodi Div
it has been a pleassure to read and follow this blogserie
thank you for takeing the time to share this and your thoughts with us
I´m sorry I haven´t commented before and only had them favorited fo future use
but I have to re-read them again since so much slipped in the one ear and out of the other
before I cuold close the gate …. was a werd week last week … can´t remember anything from it
so I look forward to read it again in this week …. expecting a lot less stress on the job
and little shoptime …. just got a broken blade and the iron nose from a noseplane back from a welder … a freind seems to me he made a pretty good job on them …. so now they are going back in the old planes again

have a great evening
take care

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5432 days

#2 posted 05-30-2011 09:45 PM

Thanks again for the blog. It is a great series. I hope it inspires a bunch of folks to do some experimenting.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View mafe's profile


13681 posts in 4424 days

#3 posted 05-30-2011 10:15 PM

Hi there my dear brother,
It hs been a wonderful tour with you, and I have finshed the first of three planes as you know. I have two more on the table, one more low angle, but plenty of improvemnets and one like yours just so I feel I have tryed then all. It has been a very learning process, and I’m sure I will make many planes in the future, both shoulder planes and also Krenov types.
And yes I agree it is even easier to set a wooden plane than a metal plane when we know how and have a little training.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 4275 days

#4 posted 05-30-2011 11:08 PM

Hey Dennis! Hope you get enough shop time soon. Maybe you can even find some time to make a plane as well. Take it easy!

Wayne, it’s been a pleasure! I too hope more LJ’s will try their hand at making planes.

Mafe, hello brother in the North! Yes, this shoulder plane tour has been fun. Out of curiosity, I wonder about your fascination with low angle planes? Ah, yes, just for fun! I have limited use for low angle which is mostly just for end grain.
Next up is a high angle(maybe even more than 50 degrees) wooden smoother. I need one for wavy and difficult grain as most tropical hardwoods have. Here is the fun bit: The problem with all wooden planes is enlargment of the mouth over time. As the sole wears down, the mouth opens up.
SO, I have one on the drawing board that has an adjustable mouth. It means I can keep the mouth tight!
Maybe you want to play with…..!!!???
Take care up there…

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4450 days

#5 posted 05-30-2011 11:21 PM

do you meen one with a tearingwedge to knock down from top of the plane
or one with ajusteble mouth like on a metal blockplane :-) sliding the bottom infront of the blade
back and foth

one of my future dreams is to try making a few ww tools incl. planes :-)


View Div's profile


1653 posts in 4275 days

#6 posted 05-30-2011 11:25 PM

Mads, you wondered about Marples? Here is a photo of the label. They were English tool makers and made fine chisels of which I have many including long paring chisels, gouges, even crank handle patternmakers.

Later, they went the same route as Stanley and made plastic handle ones:

The Jap style pull saw I recently got from the States. I see it is actually made in Japan! Who knows how these companies tie togrther these days!

Not the real deal, plastic handle, but it works OK:

I’m sure if you Google Marples there will be info. I haven’t tried it yet…

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 4275 days

#7 posted 05-30-2011 11:28 PM

Dennis, top secret at this stage ;^) Keep your eyes on this space…
I hope you get to realize those ww tool dreams!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View mafe's profile


13681 posts in 4424 days

#8 posted 05-31-2011 12:33 AM

Hi Div.
I know Marples, but was surpriced they made a Japanese saw… But I think Marples are a brand now, not a tool company. That means they buy tools from all over the word and just put their own brand on it.
Acually it all started like that in England a long time ago, that small workshops delivered to large companys so it is kind of a circle, except today the brands have the world as their play ground.
I will find it fun to build another plane with you, I expect 25 vintage plane irons and caps to arrive friday with Caroline, so there are plenty of steel. I have a extra no 4 that I was planning to rebuild into a 50 degree, but I can make both, no problem it will just be doubble fun.
My passion for the low angel planes are as you say: ‘just for fun’, I have a soft spot for these, they are more elegant, more feminine than the 45 degrees.
Today I have been working on giving a new hardwood sole to a old English wood plane, this has been great fun.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View BigTiny's profile


1721 posts in 4223 days

#9 posted 05-31-2011 02:03 AM

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.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View SPalm's profile


5338 posts in 5217 days

#10 posted 05-31-2011 03:26 AM

Hey Div,

Thank you so much for posting this series. I have always wanted one of these, and you have pushed me forward. I really hope that I get around to doing it. It really looks like fun.

Again, just an awesome job,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View lanwater's profile


3113 posts in 4269 days

#11 posted 05-31-2011 07:28 AM

I want to say thank you for posting this series of blog. It is full of information and great pictures.

I will definitely come handy when I start on my shoulder plane.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View Schwieb's profile


1923 posts in 4796 days

#12 posted 05-31-2011 01:58 PM

Just a really great job on this blog, Div. Today I go looking for wood in NW Ohio.

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View mafe's profile


13681 posts in 4424 days

#13 posted 05-31-2011 02:17 PM

And I love the old Marples box wood chisels by the way!

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 4275 days

#14 posted 05-31-2011 08:18 PM

Big Tiny, I sincerely hope your back troubles ease up so you can get shop time. Hang in there!

SPalm. Steve, it was a pleasure, especially if it can help to push you forward, as you say.

Ianwater, no problem. I hope you can start soon!

Schwieb. Thanks Ken. Let there be some beautiful pieces waiting for you!

Mafe, me too! They are my favorites and I work with a Marple chisel every day.

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 4621 days

#15 posted 06-01-2011 11:07 PM

Great blog. There is a lot of useful information you have shared.



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