A Hand Planing Epiphany

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.

My Stanley No. 4, Type 15 smoothing plane from 1931.

My Stanley No. 4C, Type 15 smoothing plane from 1931.




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.

It easily took wispy shavings that were 1/1000th of an inch or less.

It easily took wispy shavings that were 1/1000th of an inch or less.

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?

I had to force myself to stop.

I had to force myself to stop.

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

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don't build enough - I need help!
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7 Responses to A Hand Planing Epiphany

  1. Brian Eve says:


    It makes me want to buy a Type 15 smoother.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Brian,

      I really like the Type 15 planes. I did a lot of research and reading about the plane types when I started collecting them. Admittedly, I did buy a few Type 16s before I really knew what I was doing. The Type 16 has the kidney bean shaped hole in the lever cap and has the raised/ribbed edge frog.

      The Type 15s are the last of the sweetheart era planes. I think that the Type 15’s have all the good features and improvements that Stanley added before they started adding things than many people consider detractions. The 15s have the taller front knob and have a raised ring cast into the base around the knob. This is supposed to help prevent breaking the knob. The frog is completely flat and provides continuous support for the cutting iron. I also like the keyhole style lever cap hole and find it a little easier to use. The knob and tote were still made of rosewood, some of the latter planes switched to a stained white wood.

      I have all of the planes except for Numbers 1 and 2. I don’t see how much practical use either of those would be and they are so ridiculously expensive that I just don’t think it is worth it. I have a No 4 1/2 that I still need to restore, but it is an English Stanley and not an American Type 15. If I ever come across an American Type 15, especially with an orange frog, I’ll have to round out the collection.

      I was really thinking about buying a Lie-Nielsen smoother when they come to the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in two weeks, but after yesterday’s results, I’m not so sure that I need it. Hmmmmm.

      Wow, did this ever turn into a long winded response. I hope you’re well.

      All the best,


  2. larry jackson says:

    I remember that day in my own life very well. You’re hooked now, so you’d best stock up on lumber to waste, because you’ll find yourself making shavings just for the sheer joy of it!

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Larry,

      You’re right about the joy of it. I really did have to force myself to stop. I’m really interested to see how this set up does on the Sapele, but I’ll have to get some help to stand the bench top on its edge to try that.

      All the best,


  3. Mike Baggett says:

    If you are ready for your next epiphany. Try rub a little beeswax on the sole of the plane. If you don’t have any pure beeswax on hand. A candle will do just fine.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Mike,

      I’ve actually been doing that quite a lot. I picked up a small brown stick of some sort of wax (either paraffin or bee’s wax) at a Lie-Nielsen hand tool event last year. It works great and I found another great use for it too. I was boring some holes today with a brace and 1″ bit. The holes were 4″ deep and the brace needed a fair bit of effort to turn. I rubbed the wax stick on the edge of the bit’s threads and the turning effort was greatly reduced.

      All the best,


      • Mike Baggett says:

        I don’t think I have ever put it on an auger bit, but it works wonders on planes and saws. I haven’t figured out how to use it on a chisel yet.

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