Minimal Bench Plane Tuning

stanley2

A diamond in the rough (but not too rough)

A few weeks ago I posted a “how to” bench plane restoration article.  I actually wrote that a couple of years ago thinking I would post it online.  Anyway, that writeup is mostly about restoration with a little tuning.  I have a bench plane class coming up and I plan to offer this plane as a door prize (if we have at least 6 in the class).  Anyway, I needed to tune it so I thought I would break out my new camera and take some higher quality pictures of the process.  This is a minimal approach to plane tuning – I’m not even going to remove the knob and tote.

Stanley1

The subject – partially disassembled

Here is the subject plane, as recieved from Walt at Brass City Records, a vintage Stanely #4. Walt said it was a Type 18. It was $30 + shipping. Why this one? It was the cheapest one he had that was pretty clean and old enough to have wooden handles.  The only rust on the plane was on the blade and chip breaker, so they got a bath in Evaporust.  I put everything in a ziplock bag to use less fluid, then put that in a container in case the bag leaks (it did).

Stanley3

Evaporust – rust removal for the cowards among us. 

Once everything is clean and rust-free, I start the tuning process at the blade and work my way out from there.  Thinking of tuning this way helps me remember why each step is important.  And yes, each step is important.  If you have a perfectly sharpened blade, but your frog does not mate well with the plane body your plane will not function properly.  Here are the steps that I use.

1 – The blade needs to have the back flattened.  It’s no miracle, just a bit of work.  Most people use sandpaper glued down to granite or glass; I am one of those people.  Start with something around 100 grit and work up to 600 grit with paper. No pictures here because there are too many descriptions of this online already.

2 – Once the back of the blade is flat, work on the bevel.  I use a full speed 8in grinder.  It is not for the faint of heart.  I stop grinding just short of the cutting edge (smallest amount of unground metal I can see).  I think this makes honing faster.  Don’t hone the blade yet, because you don’t want it “scary sharp” for the rest of this process.  Follow Joel’s process and you will be just fine.  Keep the bevel square to one long side of the blade for this step. Vintage blades are not always parallel on the long sides, so make it square to one side and always measure from that side.

3 – Move your attention out from the blade to the chip breaker.  Put it up to the blade with finger pressure.  If you can see light between the two edges, you need to flatten the chip breaker.  You know this because you already flattened the blade.  Again, sandpaper on glass or granite is your friend.  Work on it until you get no light between it and the blade under minimal finger pressure. I start with 200 grit and take it up to 400 grit or so.  This steel is not hardened and it removes pretty quickly compared to the blade you just flattened.

frog1

The “untreated” top of the frog. Note the obvious machining lines.

4 – Move further out out to the surface of the frog that mates with the blade (shiny side up).  This surface needs to be pretty flat.

frog3

Check it with a straightedge.  This frog had a slight hollow, so I worked the surface with a 6in file.  The picture below shows where metal was removed from the edges.  I’m not going for full surface contact, if you expect that you should order planes from Lie-Nielson.

frog2

Here is a frog after I filed it. 

Notice the shiny spots (machine lines removed) for how much file work was performed – not much. The most important part of this surface is the area closest to the mouth of the plane.  That is the area that supports the blade closest to the cut.  You also do not want any high spots, because that would cause the blade to rock about in use.

bed-1

Check the gap between the frog and the body with a feeler gauge.

5 – Next keep moving out to the bottom of the frog.  This is where the frog sits in the body. It should sit there solidly without any rocking.  I start by putting the frog in place and push down on each corner, one at a time.  If you can feel it rock under finger pressure, you will have some work to do.  If you don’t feel it rock, use feeler gauges on the 4 corners.  After your feeler gauges “feel” contact on all 4 corners, move to a red permanent marker.  Don’t skip this step! If your frog does not mate properly with the body then your plane will not stay in the cut (ask me how I know this…).

frog5

Mark on the frog in the 4 areas that mate with the plane body. I like a red marker.

Put the frog in the plane and move it around with pressure down on the frog.  If all 4 corners are contacting, the marker will rub off the frog and onto the body.  Likely you will not have that contact at first.  Use your 6in file to remove the high spots from the frog bottom until you have “good” contact on all 4 surfaces, as you see here.

bed-4

I call this good contact on an old plane tuned by hand with a file.

Here you can see sections on all 4 corners where the marker rubbed off due to contact with the body.  Again, not going for full surface contact.  Of course, all the frog adjustment screws need to be removed for this step.

bed-2 bed-3

Adjustments can be made to the frog and to the plane body

6 – You may need to scrape and/or file the body a bit to get good contact with the frog.  Use anything, scraper, screwdriver, file, whatever.  I had to remove a little paint from this one.  I think mating the frog to the body is the most difficult part of the whole process.

 bottom1-before

7 – Once the frog seats properly, reassemble the plane and prepare to flatten the bottom. How flat the bottom needs to be is subject to debate, but no one argues that flat is bad so I flatten all to a “reasonable” level.  I use regular sheets of 60 and 100 grit sandpaper that I stick down to a granite slab with 3M spray adhesive.

bottom-flatten

Any flat surface will do but granite is nice. Use a magnet to pick up the filings occasionally.

bottom-flatten2

Notice that I am putting pressure on the bottom directly, not the handles.  Also, the frog and blade are installed.

Use the 60 and 100 grit to get it flat, but don’t stop there. Next, use finer grits with a sanding block (by hand).  This speeds up the process and does not hurt the flatness because you are just removing scratches from the previous grit.  I go up to 600 grit with the sanding block. I have stopped at 150 grit, but I noticed that those planes had considerably more friction than my Lee Valley planes that are finished so nicely.

bottom-after

Just flatten the bottom – never mind the sides.

8 – Once the bottoms are flat, I use a file to slightly round the bottom edges of the plane body and lightly sand (600 grit) the bottom of the throat to prevent plane tracks in the wood.

9 – For the last step, go back to the blade.  Hone the blade by your preferred method, set your iron, and get to work!

I hope you enjoyed this post on how to tune Stanley bench planes with minimal change to the plane. I have used it on several and they all work great.  Need evidence?

done-poplar

Tuned plane on Poplar (easy)

done-redoak

Tuned plane on Red Oak (less easy)

I hope this helps you make your planes useful in your shop.  Hand planes will remove limits placed on your work by stationary equipment since they work the same on any size board.

Bob Jones

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11 thoughts on “Minimal Bench Plane Tuning

  1. Al Heitz

    Dear Bob,

    I don’t have any expertise in tuning planes, so I can’t help you with your directions and tuning process. However, as a former writer and editor, I can help you with typing and grammar errors. The changes are in (…). I tried to put them in bold, but the Reply format would not accept bolding.

    Respectfully,
    AJH
    _____________

    Reply
    1. bobjones2000 Post author

      Al, thank you very much! It is funny that I could not see any of those in my own review! I guess I just see what I want to be there, not what actually is there!
      Bob

      Reply
  2. michaellangford2012

    Nice explanation. It’s easy to grind a slight crown in the blade edge, and a great start on correcting out of square, and the chip breaker edge can be turned slightly with a burnisher to help close that gap.

    Reply
      1. michaellangford2012

        John Gardner, Building Small Boats, describes setting up planes in detail. Have you read How to Build a Tin Canoe by Robb White? It’s about growing up in the deep South and becoming a boatbuilder.

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  4. dawn v

    This is very helpful for me, I am totally new at this! The only part that confuses me is flattening the bottom with the blade in place? How does that work (I must be missing something)

    Reply
    1. Bob Jones Post author

      Dawn,
      Yes. I flatten the bottom with everything in place (including the blade). The key is to have the blade retracted back into the plane and not near contacting the abrasive. I hope you find the tips and pictures helpful.

      Reply
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