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How to set up a metal bench plane?

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Bench plane staight out of the box Most planes will need setting up before first use. Even new planes straight out of the box usually need some checking and adjusting. Here’s Wonkee’s quick guide to setting up a metal bench plane to get the most out of it.
A bench plane's sole needs to be perfectly flat

Step 1 – Check and flatten sole

The sole needs to be perfectly flat and smooth for the plane to work properly.

Checking sole of bench plane for flatness See How to flatten the soles of metal and wooden planes for a step-by-step guide to checking and lapping (flattening) them.
Iron of a bench plane

Step 2 – Check iron’s shape

The shape of the iron’s cutting edge needs to be checked. It can be cambered or straight, or straight with rounded corners, depending on the type of work you want to do with it. See What is the ideal shape for plane irons? to determine which shape you need.

Shapes of hand plane iron cutting edges If the shape is incorrect for your plane and the work you want to do with it, you will need to make a new bevel on the iron, using an electrically-powered grinder, before honing – sharpening the iron – on a sharpening stone. Or you can take the blade to a specialist workshop for re-cambering.
Wonkee on having more than one iron for your plane
Check the cutting edge of the hand plane's iron

Step 3 – Check iron for sharpness

Check the sharpness of the blade. If is isn’t cutting smoothly through the surface of the wood, it probably needs sharpening.

Run a finger gently across the blade (not along it, unless you like the sight of blood!) and feel its sharpness. If it feels less than razor sharp, has chips in it, or both, again you will need to sharpen it. See How to flatten and sharpen bench plane irons for a step-by-step guide to doing this.

Lifting the cam lever of a bench plane

Step 4 – Remove iron from plane

To remove the iron from the plane:

If it’s a standard Stanley / Bailey-type plane, lift the cam lever at the top of the lever cap.

Lever cap thumbscrew of a low-angle bench plane If the lever cap has a thumbscrew rather than a cam (as on a low-angle plane), turn it anti-clockwise to release the pressure. You should now be able to lift the lever cap from under the head of the lever cap screw via the wider part of the keyhole slot.
Lifting out blade and chip breaker from Stanley Bailey-style bench plane You now have access the the chip breaker and the iron – or just the iron in the case of low-angle bench planes. Lift them, or it, out over the lever cap screw.
Bottom edge of chip breaker must fit perfectly on plane iron

Step 5 – Check chip breaker

The bottom edge of the chip breaker must sit flat and tightly on top of the cutting iron. This perfect fit allows the cap iron to curl the shavings away from the cutting edge. Even a slight gap allows shavings to become caught and cause a jam.

Checking if there's any light between bench plane chip breaker and iron To check the fit, with the chip breaker and iron fastened firmly together with the chip breaker screw, hold them up to a bright light source. If you see a sliver of light between the edge of the chip breaker and the iron, you need to flatten the edge.
Separating the chip breaker from the iron of a hand plane

Step 6 – Separate chip breaker and iron

If there is a chip breaker with the iron and you find its edge needs flattening, first separate the two parts by undoing the screw on the back of the iron.

Levelling the edge of a hand plane chip breaker

Step 7 – Flatten edge of chip breaker

Run the bottom edge of the chip breaker along an oil or water stone to quickly flatten it. Check the fit again afterwards to be sure it’s perfectly flat.

The non-bevelled side of a hand plane iron needs to be perfectly flat

Step 8 – Check iron for flatness

The non-bevelled side of the iron needs to be perfectly flat for the iron to cut correctly.

See How to flatten and sharpen bench plane irons for a step-by-step guide to doing this.

Sharpening a hand plane iron

Step 9 – Sharpen iron

If the iron needs sharpening, do it after the iron has been flattened. See How to flatten and sharpen bench plane irons for a guide to sharpening your blade.

Space between edge chip breaker and cutting edge of iron

Step 10 – Position chip breaker

There needs to be a gap of between 0.4mm (1/64”) and 3mm (1/8”) between the bottom edge of the chip breaker and the cutting edge of the blade. The actual gap set depends on the kind of planing – it should be smaller when smoothing and bigger when reducing or levelling wood.

Separating the iron and chipbreaker of a Stanley Bailey-style bench plane Screw the chip breaker and iron together with the chip breaker screw which goes from the back of the iron, through its long slot, and into the a threaded hole in the back of the chip breaker. Do not fully tighten at this stage.Position the chip breaker with the desired gap between its bottom edge and the cutting edge of the blade, then tighten the chip breaker screw.
Frog removed from Stanley Bailey-style bench plane

Step 11 – Check frog

With a Stanley-Bailey pattern plane, check the frog while the lever cap, iron and chip breaker (if there is one) are still removed from the plane.

The frog in a low-angle plane is cast with the body as one piece, so cannot be removed.

Frog securing screws in Stanley Bailey-style bench plane Remove the Stanley / Bailey frog by undoing the securing screws. In some planes – for instance, the Stanley Bed Rock series – the screws are in the back of the frog rather than the in the frog’s base.
The frog adjustment screw of a Stanley Bailey hand plane You may also need to slacken the frog adjustment screw, which is in the back of the frog. After lifting the frog from the body, check for any metal filings or other debris on the underside of the frog and the frog bed.
Cleaning the frog seating area of a bench plane's body with rag

Step 12 – Clean frog and bed

Using a rag or small brush, clear any metal filings or other debris from all sides of the frog

Cleaning the frog seating area of a bench plane Do the same with the frog seating area of the plane’s body. New planes may have metal filings left over from the milling process – when the frog and frog seating were ground by a machine for a perfect fit.
Putting a bench plane frog back into its seating

Step 13 – Replace frog

Relocate the frog on the bed, replace the securing screws but don’t tighten them completely at this stage.

Checking the mouth opening

Step 14 – Adjust mouth (Stanley / Bailey-type plane)

Replace the iron (together with the chipbreaker, which you attached to the iron in Step 10) on the frog and hold it in place while examining the gap between the cutting edge of the iron and the leading (front) edge of the mouth (Stanley/Bailey-style plane). Ensure the lug or dowel of the blade depth adjustment mechanism engages with the appropriate slot in the chip breaker.

(On a low-angle bench plane, the mouth plate can be adjusted with the iron and lever cap secured in the plane, so mouth adjustment can come later in the sequence.)

Setting the mouth opening of a Stanley Bailey-type plane To increase or reduce the gap, turn the adjustment screw located on the rear of the frog to the left of the wheel adjuster with a screwdriver. Getting exactly the right setting may take some trial and error. You may have to make more adjustments after you start planing.
Mouth adjustment of bench plane to suit thickness of shaving You need a small gap between the iron’s cutting edge and the leading edge of the mouth for making fine shavings (for instance, when smoothing wood) and a bigger gap when reducing or levelling, making thicker shavings. After adjusting the gap accordingly, remove the iron and fully tighten the frog securing screws.
Replacing the iron and chip breaker into a Stanley Bailey-style hand plane

Step 15 – Replace and adjust iron

Replace the iron, together with the chip breaker if there is one, on the bed of the frog, ensuring the lug or dowel of the blade depth adjustment mechanism engages with the appropriate slot in the chip breaker (Stanley / Bailey) or iron (low-angle plane).

Replace lever cap of a Stanley Bailey-type bench plane Replace the lever cap over the top of the blade, locking the cam or turning the lever cap thumbscrew clockwise to lever the cap against the chip breaker and/or iron.
Iron tip as seen when viewing along sole of bench plane

Step 16 – Lateral adjustment of iron

Sighting along the sole, check that the cutting edge of the iron is horizontal across the width of the sole. If it’s not…

Adjusting lateral adjustment lever of Stanley Bailey-type bench plane

Stanley / Bailey type:

…With your thumb or forefinger, move the lateral adjustment lever left or right. Moving it to the right will skew the blade to the right, and vice versa.

Lateral iron ajustment on a low-angle bench plane

Low-angle plane:

The blade depth adjustment knob or wheel also serves as the lateral adjuster. Move it to the left or right to correct the blade’s lateral angle.

Wrong lateral adjustment of iron means uneven shaving You can further check the lateral angle by planing a piece of wood and studying the resultant shaving. If it’s thicker at one edge than it is at the other, the lateral adjustment needs more attention.
Turning the wheel adjuster to advance the iron on a Stanley Bailey-type plane

Step 17 – Adjust depth of iron

Stanley / Bailey type:

Turn the wheel adjuster clockwise with the forefinger or middle finger of the dominant hand to advance the iron, and anti-clockwise to retract. Sight along the sole of the plane from front to back to see the projection of the blade through the mouth. A tiny projection is set for smoothing wood, and a larger one for reducing and straightening work.

Norris-style adjuster of low-angle bench plane

Low-angle plane

Follow a procedure similar to the above, but you will need a completely free hand to turn the Norris-style iron depth adjuster knob or wheel, which is not easily reached while gripping the tote. You may need to slacken the lever cap thumbscrew a quarter of a turn or so to enable iron depth adjustment. Tighten it again after making the adjustment.

Adjustable mouth of a low-angle bench plane

Step 18 – Adjust mouth (low-angle plane)

Mouth adjustment is easier with low-angle bench planes.

First, turn the front knob anti-clockwise.

Mouth adjustment leaver of low-angle bench plane If there is a mouth adjustment lever below the knob, turn this left or right to move the mouth adjustment plate and increase or reduce the mouth opening.If there’s no lever, move the adjustment plate backwards or forwards with pressure on the the knob until the mouth is the right size. Re-tighten the knob.
Levelling wood with a jointer plane You’re now ready to begin planing!