I am posting this a little out of order. Admittedly, I am behind on posting about cutting the tenons on the workbench stretchers. I am a little in awe of all the woodworking bloggers who seem able to post about what they did that day. I constantly find myself writing about what I did two, three, or more days ago. But this can’t wait. I’ve simply got to post it now.
After finishing the tenons, I was cleaning up the stretchers today, before I move on to mortising the legs. I was about to get out the sandpaper, when I thought, wait a minute why aren’t I using a smoothing plane? I’ve been collecting and restoring planes for a couple of years now and I am partial to the Type 15 Stanley bench planes (especially the orange frog ones). The best resource that I have found for typing Stanley planes can be found at Rexmill.com.
That said, I haven’t done many projects in which I have used my planes, and the few that I have, had mixed results. I made cart for my planer using solid Douglas Fir and I got terrible tear-out no matter how I planed it.
The main reason that I am building my workbench is so that I can better utilize all of my hand-tools and improve my skills with them.
Several months ago, I saw a video about the relationship between a closely set chip-breaker and the elimination of tear-out. Here’s a link to the video. In an earlier post in which I was flattening the benchtop, I wrote briefly about this, but I think I should elaborate here.
Today, I got out one of my smoothing planes and was very careful and systematic in how I set it up. I lapped the back of the iron at 1000, 4000, and 8000 grits on my water-stones. I then sharpened the bevel at 30° using the method that Chris Schwarz has taught in some of his videos. By using five different pressure points on the edge of your cutting iron, you create a very tiny camber at the cutting edge. This helps to eliminate any plane tracks left by the smoother.
I then “sharpened” the leading edge (outside) of the chip-breaker and the small mating edge (underside) and polished them up to 8000 grit. I put the chip-breaker and the cutting iron back together and checked to make sure that no light was visible at the point where the two meet. Lastly, I advanced the chip-breaker as far forward as I could with the naked eye. I didn’t attempt to take any pictures of this, as even my best macro lens wouldn’t be able to see it very well. I estimate that I left no more than 0.5mm (.019 in.) from the chip-breaker to the cutting edge. Maybe less, but it is hard to tell when things get this small. I re-assembled the plane, centered the blade, and adjusted the depth by testing with a scrap block. I left the mouth of the plane wide open.
I set the plane for a light cut and took a pass on the stretcher.
So this is how a hand plane is supposed to work. It was like a light-bulb turning on. The plane was easy to push and wispy shavings flew from the mouth. The surface left on the stretchers was like glass.
I know, I know, the shavings don’t matter, they go in the trash. But I had to check them. I grabbed my caliper and it showed 1/1000th of an inch.
I planed both sides and the top edge of each of the four stretchers. Then I ran out of stretcher. I didn’t want to stop planing, but the job was done and I didn’t want to take them out of flat or square. This was way too much fun. Can you have a plane-gasm?
Ok, I recognize that I was planing a “soft” wood, and that there was no figure to deal with, but there really is something to polishing and setting the chip-breaker this close.
I still have to plane the sides of the workbench top to remove the chatter marks I created when flushing up the dovetails. It will be interesting to see how this set-up does on the wavy grained sapele. I’m going to finish the base before I do that though.
I’ll post about the tenons soon.
– Jonathan White