How to Set Up a Hand Plane
Plane irons are often sharpened to unequal thicknesses.
One side of the iron is worn down more than the other, or one side is ground with a bevel while the other remains square.
The reason for this is that during its course along with the wood, each blade will wear unevenly, due to different cutting angles and grain conditions.
Additionally, any two blades with different profiles can differ in effective cutting angle even if they are sharpened identically.
The equalizing method works by mechanically bringing both sides of iron to the same effective cutting angle so they produce cuts of equal depth when set at their proper height relative to one another.
This process also sharpens both sides of the blade’s edge equally, increasing the longevity of the blade.
The equalizing method can be performed while setting up a hand plane for use, but it is easier done on blades that are already sharpened.
It’s best to perform this process after honing each side of iron with progressively finer abrasives.
Once you have achieved the desired edge on both sides of the blade, simply follow these steps:
Six Steps To Set Up A Hand Plane
Step#1) With your fingers still gripping the handle (do not let go), tip the sole of your plane until you can see light under it between where you will tap and where your fingers grip.
You should be able to get one or two-finger widths under there. A few more won’t hurt either if you’re paranoid like me though.
For a smoother, place it on a smooth surface or a window sill and slip the toe under until you can see light under the blade.
Step#2) With your tapered rod in hand, tip it to an angle relative to the sole of the plane (15° works well for most irons).
Carefully tap it into that little crack just under where your finger is holding the handle, being careful not to let go of the handle as described before.
If done correctly, this will lower one side of the iron more than another depending on which side is facing up when you hold it normally.
The side facing up here will be set higher than normal while the other will be set lower.
This whole process must be done very carefully and quickly before the iron is allowed to slip out of your hand.
Step#3) Set the blade in your plane with its bevel facing down. If you are using a smoother, place it on its side so that when you open the throat, there will be room for both knife edges.
And when it gets tight, you have plenty of room to push the blade up into that little crack. Until then though, it’s probably best if the smoother is placed on its side with the sole facing upwards.
Step#4) With one hand holding or bracing the sole at the toe end of the plane (or resting on top), firmly grip the handle in two hands with your fingers still under it.
This helps ensure that when you force the blade over (and hopefully not through!) into contact with iron in another plane, no one gets hurt. As before, do this step very carefully and quickly.
Step#5) Now, using your two-handed grip on the handle and bracing with one hand at the toe again, pull the blade toward you while pushing down and forward on the sole.
In cases of really worn irons especially, this may take a few tries before you can get it to go all the way in.
Check that both sides of the iron sit flush with their respective soles or surfaces when clamped together.
If one sits higher than another, then repeat steps 3 through 5 until they are level.
Step#6) Test your newly set up plane by running a piece of paper along its side.
If it passes smoothly without catching anywhere, Your blade is now sharpened to the same cutting angle as the other and should cut wood cleanly.
If there is a catch, you can use this method to readjust one side of the blade relative to the other so they match perfectly.
Remember, when in doubt err on setting both blades deeper than you want them and start with a very fine grit when honing again.
- The harder you grip your tools while doing this, the less likely they will slip out of your hands! Careful though, don’t get too overzealous or you might snap or break something.
- A two-handed grip helps significantly for safety’s sake here.
- If problems persist even after following all these steps carefully/correctly, it may be that one side is simply completely worn out from being misused.
- In this case, there is nothing you can do other than have it reground or replaced.
- If your plane came with any sort of angle gauge attached to the blade, be sure to remove it as explained in our review before proceeding!
- If you are looking for more visual instructions on sharpening or setting up a plane, there are many good tutorials available online.
- When honing the blade, it may be best to start with a sharpening stone that is at least two grades finer than what was used before.
- You will likely need to use one grade coarser than normal though to remove tiny sharpening burrs left over by the stones used in this process.
- It isn’t necessary to do this for your jointer or block planes as they never cut an entirely new surface so their blades can remain flat without messing around with setting them up so high like this.
- Just keep in mind though if you ever replace their irons because once you do this it will be very difficult to go back without having a specialized jig or surface for them to set on.
Hopefully, after reading and understanding these instructions you will be able to set up your own newly sharpened plane iron in just a few minutes.
While it can seem intimidating at first when you don’t know how or where to start, with practice and patience anyone should be able to do this successfully in very little time and for incredibly cheap relative to hiring someone else to do it.
This is especially true when thinking of the cost in frustration and even wasted wood that could have been avoided if we had taken the time ourselves to learn about our tools instead of assuming they were “just broken” without trying other things.
In addition, once you get good at this all it takes from then on out is a minute or two between having an extremely dull blade and a properly set up one, which is well worth the effort in my opinion for the added safety and efficiency it provides at little cost.