mayhew

Plane skipping and sticking

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Hi there,

I'm totally new to the world of woodworking, particularly hand tool woodworking. I've been trying to get started with it, though, and one step in the process is to get my smoothing plane working, which is a Millers Falls plane probably from the 60s that I inherited from my great-grandfather. I cleaned it up a bit, sharpened the blade, flattened the sole, and followed instructions on how to get it set up properly. However, when I tried to practice using it on a spare piece of 2x4 spruce stud I had lying around, things didn't go so well. The blade would often seem to stick in the wood, or else it would skip along the surface and leave me with a sort of ridged and dented surface, and instead of getting nice long curly shavings like I see in the pictures and videos, I'm getting these weird, tiny, almost cone-shaped ones instead. In one place on the board I even managed to leave some sort of gouge, though I know not how.

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So the question is, what am I doing wrong? After sharpening my blade I tested for sharpness via the "does it cut paper?" stunt, I brought the tip of the cap iron to within about 1/32" of the tip of the blade (see picture below), and I tried to bring the frog forward to keep the plane mouth under 1/16" (see picture below), which is what my research indicated I should do.

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Oh, I should note, however, that the blade iron has somehow been bent, though the curvature is only really noticeable above the part where the blade contacts the frog.

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Other than sharpness, improper setup, and the bent blade, the only other factor I can think of that might affect things is having an unstable work surface. Until I can get a workbench built, I'm working off of a rickety old kitchen table that wobbles when I do just about anything.

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So, does anyone know what I'm doing wrong, and/or have any advice for how to get around to using this plane properly?

Thanks in advance!

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I'm also pretty new with handplanes but I do have some observations from my own trial and errors...When my smoother skips usually one of the following is the cause:

1. I'm trying to take too deep of a cut, from my understanding a smoother is for the lightest of cuts

2. The sole needs a little wax, I use the burned out remains of one of my wife's "tea lights" (small unscented candles) They're really cheap, like 10 for a dollar or so and seem to perform well and last a long time.

3. The blade is sharp but not sharp enough

4. I need to skew the plane so it takes more of a sheer cut.

Looking at the picture of your iron I honestly don't know if that would cause chattering but it seems like a reasonable conclusion to me. Look at Hock tools for a new blade. I think they run in the neighborhood of 38-48 dollars, maybe less. I hope this helps.

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Everything tdale51 said is good to check/

Two other things you should check as well:

1) Does the cap iron make firm contact across the entire width of the blade? If not, you need to work (bend/grind//sand) until it does.

2) Does the blade/cap iron firmly bed in the frog without the lever cap? If you place the iron on the frog, but it wiggles, you need to work out whatever high spots are in the frog. This could also be an issue caused by the bend/curve you've shown in the blade itself - in which case you'd need a new blade. Does that curve get "corrected" when the cap iron is on?

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Mayhew, it looks to me like you are planing against the grain instead of with it. Try planing from the other direction and take a shallower cut. Also do as tdale suggested and skew your plane slightly while making your cut.

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Hi guys, thanks for the responses!

Today I briefly re-sharpened the blade and tried planing from the opposite direction. It was a lot smoother, but there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. Sometime in the next 48 hours I'll find the time to try out all of the other suggestions as well!

Oh, I also noticed that the blade doesn't appear to be square with the mouth of the iron. Here's a (crappy) picture to show what I mean (click for larger image):

th_IMG_0546_ed.jpg

Is this a problem?

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Mayhew,

Is the blade just not square in the mouth or is it projecting through the sole more on one side than the other?

If the blade is projecting though the mouth unevenly it will cause the plane to cut heavier on one side than the other. That's what the lateral adjustment lever (assuming you have one) is for. Is the blade edge square to the length of the plane? I'm assuming the blade sits on the frog solidly without wiggle when the cap iron is not locked down? If it wiggles you'll need to lap the frog flat, That's not too difficult of a process and there's several good videos on the subject on youtube. Look for plane refinishing videos. Wood magazine also did a pretty good article on it some time back. Unfortunately I don't know which issue it was in but I believe the have an online article index on their website www.woodmagazine.com

I notice your blade has a straight edge, a lot of people recommend putting a radius-ed edge or knocking the corners off to avoid track marks. I personally haven't done this with my smoother though.

I hope at least some of this rambling is helpful to you.

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First, welcome to the slippery slope. We're glad your here and I'm thrilled to see how well your doing in terms of analyzing the problem. I took much longer to understand the dynamics--and the wobbly table is most likely a large part of your problem. Build thee a workbench!

Second, if the lever will not correct the alignment issue, then you should re-seat the frog. On some planes (vintage mostly), what's begins as square to the mouth can shift simply while you're tightening one of the screws. Check this.

Third, the gouging around a knot stems from the grain swirl and will more than likely be a problem once you've got all other issues fixed. That's why so many invest in the BU low angle cutters or the High Angle frogs--trying to trick out our planes to make the cut. And, always skew your blade variously to navigate such areas.

Fourth, the inconsistency of your shavings--some long, most broken could be caused by a plane bottom that has out of square issues--twisted somewhat is merely only my guess. But, as you push through a cut, the shavings might vary in width but having the shavings break normally means the cutter's not sharp. You've indicated that it is. So, the next option is that the toe, mouth, and heel of the plane are not co-planer; or, you're using the wrong plane (too short) for a task that longer planes were intended for....

However, getting a bench that holds the work and won't wobble really is the first tactical step.

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However, getting a bench that holds the work and won't wobble really is the first tactical step.

Thanks for the reply! I haven't had the chance yet to try out any other suggestions because I have - coincidentally enough - been busting a gut to try to get my workbench done as quickly as possible. So I guess I will continue to make that a priority and check back in with you guys once I've had further time to troubleshoot.

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For a smoother, the shavings tell me you're taking way too big a cut. But ... first the basics.

You can't plane well if the bench moves. The easiest way to solve that problem would be to clamp the 2x4 under the table so it extends to one side and the push everything against a solid wall, or at least a stud in the wall. Now your table is 'attached' to the wall by the 2x4 (think of a ship's bowsprit here). Plane towards the wall. That should help till you get your bench built.

For the rest, I suggest you do things in stages. If the frog is slightly misaligned that can be corrected by loosening the screws, realigning, then setting them again. Retract the blade, then slowly bring it out and use a small piece of wood which you pass over the mouth. It will catch on the protruding blade (when it does protrude). Check each side and centre. If one side catches and not the other, move the lateral adjuster towards the side that catches.

Be careful doing the other stuff, frog fettling and all, because it might be the blade. Blades bend if the plane falls to the floor - any other signs of a 'gravity check'? Chipped and repaired tote or knob, bent lateral adjuster, something like that?

Do the easy stuff first, if you don't get results, then you can get out the bigger guns.

John

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It certainly doesn't help that the board in question is riddled with knots. Grain reversal in figured wood is bad enough, but a knot gives you grain reversal plus end grain. Short of getting into exotics, it's just about as bad a planing nightmare as you'll find. Start practicing on a clearer piece of wood.

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Hi everyone,

I adjusted the depth of cut, waxed and flattened the sole, sharpened the blade again, and flattened out the cap iron a bit. I still haven't finished my workbench yet, but I recently got the chance to test out my plane on a friend's workbench, and it worked really well! Thanks for all the advice! The one thing that I did notice is that in some places it seemed to leave small pockmarks in the wood, anyone know what that's about?

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I was using construction-grade spruce, if that matters.

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That's tearout. Either you are planing in the wrong direction or more likely, the grain is reversing directions on you. THis is common in most boards, but especially so in construction grade stuff.

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That's tearout.

Thanks! Now that I know what it's called, I can Google solutions to my heart's content!

Either you are planing in the wrong direction

How does one know which direction to plane in? I had thought that provided I wasn't going sideways across the grain I was going the right way?

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Mayhew, if you will notice in the first picture you posted, there is a spot of feather grain right at the place where your plane dug in. With the flat cut of the grain you often get these areas on the face and over time the points of the arches in those areas may actually lift from the face. This is because that hard grain has been cut so that it tapers to a feather edge at the surface. When you try to plane into those points, your blade will actually tend to plunge below that hard grain until it is wedged tight. Lightly run your finger tip along the grain in each direction. If you are going with the grain you will feel a smooth surface. If you are rubbing against the grain, it will feel rougher. Some boards have the grain running in one direction on part of the board and the other direction on the rest of the board. In that case you end up planing in two differend directions in order to go with the grain. You'll pick it up after a while. Don't worry.

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How does one know which direction to plane in?

For face grain on flat sawn boards, you read a.) which way the "cathedrals" of the grain are pointing and b.) whether you're on the outside of the tree or the inside of the tree. On the side of the board that was facing the inside of the tree, plane in the direction of the cathedrals. On the side that was facing the bark, plane against the cathedrals. Chris Schwarz's handplane book has the best explanation of this (IIRC, he even credits somebody else for explaining it to him.) and it stems from the fact that trees are essentially a stack of very elongated cones.

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How does one know which direction to plane in? I had thought that provided I wasn't going sideways across the grain I was going the right way?

Not so. You need to learn to read the direction of the grain. If I have time later I'll write a more detailed response, but suffice it to say, that one direction will work well, one will not. Think about petting a dog or cat from head to tail vs. from tail to head. From head to tail, the fur lays down. That's the direction you want to plane. From tail to head, the fur pulls up. That direction is bad and causes tearout. Google reading board grain direction and you'll find a plethora of information.

Keep in mind what I said above though. In an ideal board, grain will be in the same direction for the entire length of the board. In reality, however, this is very rarely the case. Most boards have areas of reversing grain, usually around inclusions or knots, but sometimes just because the tree didn't grow arrow straight. Sometimes the grain reversals are easy to see (once you understand how to read the board). Sometimes, the grain reversals are not so easy to see. Basically it just takes practice and experience planing a lot of different boards & types of lumber and really paying attention to each board. Even when you get good at reading the board, there's always that occasional board that will just throw you for a loop and not do anything it theoretically should do.

If you are just starting out, I'd suggest picking up some better behaved wood to practice on. Go to the Home Depot or Lowes and grab a board of poplar or a piece of clear pine without any knots. Plane these boards. Plane them in both directions and see what happens. Keep the dog/cat analogy n mind and look at the boards' edges to get an idea of grain direction for the faces. You'll eventually get it.

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