Plane for thicknessing


bglenden
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I have been getting more into hand tools, and have a question about thicknessing/flattening boards. I have been using a Lee Valley low-angle Jack plane with a toothed blade. This works, but makes quite a mess.

There seems to be some controversy about how this should be done. Many people recommend scrub planes of various types. Christopher Schwarz believes that a fore plane is best for this application, reserving the scrub plane for "ripping" board edges.

Any advice/opinions? My thinking about the options:

1. Keep using the L-A Jack + toothed blade you fool. It works and you don't have to buy anything else.

2. Use the scrub plane like almost everyone else does. It's light and fast, and half the price of a fore plane. [but sharpening scares me]

3. Who knows more than the Schwarz? The long blade will keep things flatter, making for less work later. [but it's heavy]

Any advice about which fore or scrub plane to buy would also be welcome.

Sorry for all the newbie questions.

Cheers,

Brian

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I don't have a scrub plane so I can't advise on that but I do have a jack and fore plane so here's my 2 cents. I tend to use my #5 for the initial flattening and then grab my #6 to finish leveling out and thicknessing because the simple mass of it makes quick removal a lot easier and the length of it makes for a longer referencing surface than my #5. There are a lot of different ways of doing this but it works for me. I am sure others will chime in, good luck.

Nate

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My 2c.

An important issue is the hardness and 'gnarliness' of the board. The softer and 'friendlier' the board, the more aggressive the approach you can take to rough dimensioning (removing cup, bow and twist). If you have hard board with lots of switching grain (like Australian Ironbark), use a light scrub plane with a very cambered iron taking a pretty light cut and try to avoid too much tear out. The straighter grained the timber, and the softer it is, the deeper and wider the cut you can take (and hence the heavier the plane you can use).

So the answer (like a lot of these hand tool questions) is that there is no 'right' answer and the number of variables means that you can use any of those planes, so long as you adjust the depth of cut and the camber on the blade to suit the job at hand.

FWIW, I have a set of 3 'scrub' planes. I use a Stanley #40 with a large camber set fine for tough wood, a Carter C1 (an Aussie vintage scrub plane) or a German jack plane - set with medium camber to take a medium chip for medium work and an old jack plane set with a light camber and a heavier cut for timber which is easier to scrub. It really is a case of what works for you, doing the work that you want to do using the timbers you want to use. Experiment and find what works for you.

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I use my Veritas Low Angle Bevel Up Jack Plane. It works great for larger removal and adjusting thickness. I am however thinking about cambering my blades which I have not yet done. I've been meaning to do it for awhile but I just end up removing the small blade tracks with a smooth plane and it has been working fine so far.

Just my 2 cents.

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I too use the low angle jack right from start to finish. I have a cambered 25deg (8" radius) blade to do the heavy stock removal, then switch to a straight blade as I get closer to final dimension. I have a 35deg which works for the more difficult types of wood and a 50deg for the real narlly stuff. I did add an old Stanley #6 for $25 that I have cambered the blade on as well that sometimes find its way into the process.

The lowest cost route (and most effective) from my viewpoint is to add blades to your existing plane, your Option 1. When you are ready, those same blades will work in the Veritas low angle smoother so you end up with two planes with all sorts of flexibility. Add some restored oldies to fill in above and below.

Take the money you save and give it to Shannon at the Hand Tool School, we are working through a very extensive 3 part review of planecraft right now, best $100 you will ever spend on woodworking.

;)

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Brian,

I would advise you to remove your toothing blade to do thicknessing work. It is just slowing you down. A toothing blade was meant to be used before doing the final finishing of a surface for veneer. However, many people use it today for the high figure woods right before using a smooth plane to greatly reduce tearout. It is not really capable or intended to be used for mass stock removal required of the flattening and thicknessing tasks.

For flattening and bringing stock to thickness you want a standard blade with a good camber. My No. 5 can pull solid 1/16" thick shaving no problem with my extremely cambered blade. This makes quick work of removing cup and twist as well as removing stock for thickness. Then I quickly move to a No. 7 to finish the flattening process. Next, onto joinery and then the final smoothing of the piece.

I would advise you to put a different blade in your plane and not go out and grab a scrub plane unless you just want to own one. Also wax (beeswax or paraffin) when pushing the larger planes it makes things go much easier.

Best of luck, Josh

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I bought a Hock blade and chip breaker a while back for my old (type 7) number five, and use it as a small jointer / large smoothing plane depending on the job at hand, but when I need it as a fore plane I install the old blade with a 9" camber and the original chip breaker. I've found that if I have a small throat opening with the Hock set-up I have the perfect open throat for the fore plane set up. I'm able to take nice deep shavings without a clog in site without ever having to adjust the frog.

Cheaper than another plane, or at least it will allow you to spend that money on a shoulder plane or a router plane or a rabbet plane or a ...

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Bob is absolutely right. I no longer own a scrub plane and do virtually all my prep by machine. But, fot over forty years I did the lot by hand! I used a 32" wooden plane with a camber on any board long enough to warrant it. followed by metal 22" x 2 1/2" plane to get to thickness and no twist. I may later use a scraper and very rarely sand paper during the finishing stage but that would be it.

Well done Bob. He's also dead on concerning toothing blades. Hell it must take hours just to plane out the grooves!

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Bob is absolutely right. I no longer own a scrub plane and do virtually all my prep by machine. But, for over forty years I did the lot by hand! I used a 32" wooden plane with a camber on any board long enough to warrant it. followed by metal 22" x 2 1/2" plane to get to thickness and no twist. I may later use a scraper and very rarely sand paper during the finishing stage but that would be it.

Well done Bob. He's also dead on concerning toothing blades. Hell it must take hours just to plane out the grooves!

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WARNING! I'm getting on my soap box for this response. I don't like doing this, but I feel it is necessary with regard to this topic in order to save people from making the same mistakes I did. My apologies in advance. You have been warned :D.

It may work, but it's very slow. Toothing planes are not designed to hog material quickly. They are meant to key a surface for veneer and help smooth tough grain. They are not rough surfacing tools.

I think this is a HUGE overstatement. I think a lot of folks buy scrub planes for this task but only actually do it a few times, and then go back to their power jointer and planer..."because it's a lot of work to do it by hand". Well sure it's a lot of work, but it's a lot more work when you use the wrong tool for the job (i.e. the scrub plane) :D.

Very few people that I know who surface most of their rough sawn lumber by hand use a scrub plane for the task, because it's simply too slow, inefficient, and makes the job harder than it has to be. To take rough sawn stock to finished stock by hand requires 2 planes to do effeciently. Please note the word efficiently here :). I know there are folks who do it all with just a jack plane, as well as others that use the scrub-jack-jointer-smoother progression. However, when I'm surfacing rough stock, speed is the name of the game. I want it done well and done fast. I've tried ALL of the different methods and planes commonly mentioned for this task. In my experience hand planing A LOT of rough sawn lumber, nothing beats the English method for this.

You start with a fore plane (also commonly called a jack plane) with a heavily curved iron, and set it for a thick cut. Please note, that just because you heavily camber a jack/fore plane, it does not equate it to a scrub plane. The two are different animals entirely. The benefit of the fore plane is the long sole (historically 16-20" long), which aids in flattening the board. The scrub plane's short (9") sole works against it for flattening boards, and actually makes the job harder and take a lot more time. Believe me, I've tried it, a lot.

Once you've rough surfaced the board with the fore/jack plane, you move on to a try plane (basically a jointer plane with a moderately cambered iron). The long sole of the try plane (historically 22-26") is what makes the board flat. The slightly cambered iron keeps the corners from leaving tracks and also helps square board edges to the face. The try plane is often the last plane I use on a board. I will only pick up a smoother if I have to deal with localized areas of difficult grain, or if I have to have a show surface really smooth and flawless.

Please note, this is not just Chris Schwarz's opinion. He didn't invent the method. He just helped revive it. There is a lot of historical documentation to back up this process. The process of using these two planes to do the task has been written about since at least the 1600s. No where in any of the historical texts that I've read is there any mention of anything resembling a scrub plane (i.e. a short plane with a heavily cambered iron). The Stanley scrub plane was not introduced to the world until well after most surfacing of rough lumber was being done by machines.

Sorry to sound like a preacher. I would just rather that folks not have to go through what I did to find out what I did. I really think a lot of people get frustrated and sour to the task of hand planing rough lumber because of the scrub plane. I'm not usually a "this way is the best way" proponent. I typically encourage experimenting and trying things for youself as I feel that is the best way to learn. However, this is not one of those cases. I really don't think you learn much from inefficiently doing a job like this, except to go buy a big power jointer and planer :D.

I went through this same thing many years ago. I bought a scrub plane. I used a scrub plane. I used lots of planes. I sweated, cursed, and soured to the task...a lot. I broke down and bought a jointer and planer. I used said jointer and planer for a couple of years. I grew tired of the noise, dust and having to use narrow boards (to fit them on the jointer). I studied the old books on the subject. I learned the English method. I sold my jointer and planer. I have never looked back.

I really do think the English method is the best way for this task if you want to do the job efficiently by hand. There are other hand tool methods. They do work. But they are no where near as quick or efficient. Here's proof:

Episode # 27: Flat & Square by Hand

So by all means, feel free to get a scrub plane, but save it for working down short board edges. That is where this plane really excells. For flattening faces, the fore plane and try plane is really the way to go.

As for price, a LN scrub plane may be half the price of a LN fore plane, but you don't need the precision of a LN in a fore plane. Fore planes are tools for VERY rough, fast work. They are not whispy shaving tools. They should have wide open mouths capable of passing a shaving of at least 1/16" thick. Save your money for a precision jointer plane, where the precisely ground flat sole is needed. For a fore plane, get an old wooden jack or an old #5 sized metal jack plane for $20. You do not need to flatten the sole, you do not need a new fancy iron. All you need to do is grind the stock iron with a camber, sharpen it, put it in the plane, and watch the chips fly (properly set up, these planes don't make shavings, they make chips ;)).

And don't be scared of sharpening. It's no harder to sharpen a cambered iron than it is to sharpen a straight iron. Just focus more on sharpening the outside corners than the middle and you will be fine. The middle will get sharpened by default.

OK, stepping down from my soap box now B).

That's a very well built soap box ya got there Bob!! ;)

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Y'know Jonathan brings up a good point. If you have a lot to remove why not resaw it and make some veneer for later. Any time you are removing a large percentage of thickness you are going to get reaction movement on the newly exposed face however so keep in mind the re-flattening that will need to be done after resawing. I think this depends on the species and character of the board as to whether I would do this. Resawing by hand is a lot of work so if I don't care about "saving" the board then I'll Fore it to death by removing massive chips.

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Jonathan -

You would really hand resaw (say) 3/16 from the face of a board? No matter how bad my planing technique might be, that would seem to me to be much harder (both effort and difficulty).

Cheers,

Brian

I want to be clear, what I'm advocating is mostly for your narrower stock. I'm not suggesting it is easy to rip a sheet off an 18" wide board.

I actually removed 1/8th from a board not too long ago. Granted, it was Curly Koa, a sentimental block of wood my wife bought me on our honeymoon, and I intended to reuse the 1/8th as a veneer in the future, but sure, why not?

Raw labor wise, unless we're talking cheap, soft, wood where it is easy to hog off big chunks, I find removing a large volume of wood is easier with a saw than with a plane. Believe it or not, if I have to do some scrub-plane-like activity, and the work is localized, like a real curled up corner of a piece of wood, sometimes I find it easier to quickly rip it off with a saw, or take a wide sharp chisel and chop it off.

The harder the wood, the easier this is to justify. Grab some hickory and i'll go head to any with anybody about removing 1/4" or so from the face with saw vs. hand plane.

Not only is it less work, but the work can be far less physically demanding, and when you're done? You have more leftover wood!

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Resawing by hand is a lot of work so if I don't care about "saving" the board then I'll Fore it to death by removing massive chips.

That's why I love my bandsaw. ;)

The harder the wood, the easier this is to justify. Grab some hickory and i'll go head to any with anybody about removing 1/4" or so from the face with saw vs. hand plane.

Not only is it less work, but the work can be far less physically demanding, and when you're done? You have more leftover wood!

Because that's exactly what I need more of in my shop -- leftover wood. ;)

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It may work, but it's very slow. Toothing planes are not designed to hog material quickly. They are meant to key a surface for veneer and help smooth tough grain. They are not rough surfacing tools.

Not to be contrary, but I believe Brian was referring to a low-angle jack plane with a toothed blade (this one, I believe), and not a traditional toothing plane that you seem to be describing. Lie-Nielsen sells a similar combination, and specifically says "They are used for heavy stock removal in difficult grain." There's a video demo here, showing just that.

I'm not saying your way isn't more efficient (in fact, I'm sure it is), but as Brian says, he already owns that plane, and it's probably not be as slow as you're thinking it would be.

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