How to set up a wooden bench plane

 
     
     
 Shop for Woodworking Hand Planes 
     
     
 Wooden jointer planle 

Traditional wooden bench planes are generally much simpler than metal ones. 

 
     
 Taking a mallet to a wooden fore plane 

However, although there are fewer parts to contend with, adjusting them can at first seem a little fiddly.

 
     
 Lapping the sole of a wooden plane 

Some of steps involved in setting up a wooden plane are similar to those for metal planes – for instance, lapping (flattening) soles and sharpening blades.

    
 Mallet / hammer for wooden bench plane 

But adjustment of the iron, for depth and lateral position, differs greatly – we are talking mallets and hammers here!

 

A hammer and mallet combined in a single tool is ideal for adjusting the irons of wooden planes.

    
 Wooden bench plane with blade adjustment mechanism 

Of course, there are always exceptions. For instance, some wooden planes are designed, or adapted, to take Stanley / Bailey-style or Norris-type adjusters, in which case adjusting the irons is just as described in How to set up a metal bench plane.

    
   

Here, Wonkee looks at setting up a no frills, traditional wooden plane.

    
 Sole of a wooden hand plane 

Step 1 – Check and flatten sole

The sole of a plane needs to be perfectly flat for it to work accurately. You can easily check the flatness and correct it if it's found to be less than perfect.

 

See How to flatten the soles of metal and wooden planesfor a step-by-step guide to doing this.

    
 Shapes of hand plane iron cutting edges 

Step 2 – Check iron's shape

The shape of the iron's cutting edge can be cambered, straight or straight with rounded corners, depending on the type of work you want to do with it.

 

    
 Grinding a new bevel on a hand plane iron, woodworking planes 

If the shape is incorrect, you will need to make a new bevel on the blade, using an electrically-powered grinder, before honing – sharpening the blade – on a sharpening stone. Or you can take the blade to a specialist workshop for re-cambering.

    
 Plane irons with different cutting edge shapes 

See What is the ideal shape for plane irons?to determine what shape your cutting edge needs to be.

 

You might need more than one iron for your plane so that you can do different jobs without having to continually reshape the cutting edge.

    
 Mouth of wooden bench plane 

Step 3 – Check sharpness of iron

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

 

Run a finger lightly across the blade (not along it - you might cut your finger!) and feel the sharpness. If it's less than razor sharp, or has chips in it, or both, you will need to sharpen it.

    
 Tap front top of stock to release wedge and iron 

Step 4 – Remove iron from plane

Tap the top front of the stock or, if it has one, the plane's strike button with the wooden head of the mallet to release the wedge and iron. One or two fairly light taps should do the trick.

    
 Strike button of a wooden bench plane 

If there's a strike button, you'll find it on the top of the stock forward of the throat area.

    
 Iron of a wooden bench plane 

Step 5 – Check iron for flatness 

With the iron out of the plane, you can now check it for flatness. The iron needs to be perfectly flat for it to cut correctly.

 

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

    
 Sharpening a hand plane iron 

Step 6 – Sharpening iron

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

    
 Bed or frog area of a wooden bench plane 

Step 7 – Check and clean bed or frog area

Make a close inspection of the bed, or frog area, of the stock to see if it is holding any debris. If it is, clean it out with a rag or small brush, otherwise it will affect the position of the iron, and therefore the accuracy of the cutting.

    
 Replacing the iron in a wooden bench plane 

Step 8 – Replace iron

After flattening and sharpening, slide the iron back into the stock, behind the wedge stops or the wedge bar, whichever your plane has. Place a piece of flat waste wood under the plane to stop the cutting edge of the blade without damage to either worktop or iron.

    
 Replacing the wedge in a wooden bench plane 

Place the wedge on top of the iron. The wedge must be located behind the wedge stops, or the clamp bar, whichever your plane has.

    
 Wedge stope of mortises in wooden bench plane 

Wedge stops, or wedge mortises, are cut into the inner cheeks of the plane. The wedge fits behind them, tightening against the iron as it is pressed or tapped down.

    
 Clamp bar or cross pin of a wooden bench plane 

Some wooden bench planes don't have wedge stops, but are fitted with a clamp bar, also known as a cross-pin, which goes across the throat, fitting into the sides of the plane. The wedge fits behind the bar, tightening against the iron as it is pressed or tapped down.

 

Press down on the wedge but don't tighten it too much at this stage.

    
 Tapping the top of the iron to advances it 

Step 9 – Adjust iron

Lift the plane from the bench and tap the top edge of of the iron with the hammer to advance it through the mouth. Sight along the sole of the plane to see the projection of the iron.

 

    
 Iron projection of a wooden hand plane 

The projection needs to be just a whisker for smoothing planes but a little more for jacks, fores and jointers. It's difficult to measure so go with your instinct and adjust further if the plane produces shavings that are too thin or too thick.

    
 Lateral adjustment of wooden bench plane iron 

To adjust the iron laterally (to make it parallel across the width of the sole), tap the left side of the iron to increase the projection on the right and reduce it on the left, and vice versa.

    
 Tap top of wedge to secure iron of wooden bench plane 

Step 10 – Ensure iron is secure

Lightly tap the top of the wedge to ensure the iron is held firmly, but check that this hasn't altered your iron setting before starting to plane.

 

Readjust as necessary once you see the progress of the plane and the thickness of shaving it is making.

    
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