Making A Wooden Hand Plane
There is a genuine pleasure in using a finely tuned hand plane. Making your own out of wood is truly rewarding because you can create something that fits your hands and suits your needs. In this article I’ll give you an overview of how to make a smoothing plane from Purple Heart. The heart of the plane is the iron and chip breaker. A good quality high carbon tool steel will take and hold a razor sharp edge which is one of the key factors in making a plane work well. I prefer the thicker blades that are 3/16” thick because they won’t deflect or chatter even under difficult use.
Japanese water stones are an excellent choice for sharpening. Flatten the back of the blade and hone the bevel starting with an 800 grit stone then work your way up through the 1200 grit stone and finish with an 8000 grit stone. You will also need to hone and polish the chip breaker so that it fits flush with the iron. For the body of the plane, I’ve selected a piece of purpleheart which is a hard dense wood. It measures 11” long x 2 5/8” wide x 2” thick. Orient the blank so that the grain runs in the same direction that the plane will move. This will help prevent chip out at the mouth.
Next use the band saw to resaw two cheeks off the sides that are 3/8” thick. This will leave the center thick enough to house the 1 ½” wide blade. After that run all the pieces through the planer to remove any saw marks and plane the center stock to 1 9/16”, this leaves 1/16” for adjustment. Mark the center of the blank and cut it at a 45 degree angle. This is the bed angle and will support the plane iron. Opposite the 45 degree angle, measure and mark a 65 degree angle to allow room for the shavings. You can increase finger clearance by drawing a concave curve along the 65 degree angle and cut it out on the band saw.
On the 45 degree side you will need to rout a 3/8” slot to accommodate the screw on the iron. Now you can dry fit the pieces in preparation for gluing. Align the cheeks with the back of the planes ramp block and clamp them. Set the iron on the ramp and slide the opposing piece into position. You’ll want the iron’s edge to rest about 1/16” up from the bottom. After marking the pieces, apply yellow glue and clamp them. Once the glue has dried lightly joint the sole. You will need to mark and drill a hole for a 3/8” brass pin.
To locate the pin, measure up about an 1 ¼” from the sole and draw a line. Transfer the 45 degree angle of the bed to the outside cheeks then pencil the width of the iron plus chip breaker and add 3/16” for the wedge. Then add 3/16” for the radius of the pin and place a mark where it crosses the line (1 ¼”up from the sole).
After drilling the hole and installing the pin cut out the wedge on the band saw so that it is 3/16”at the base and thicker at the top. From here you’ll need to install the blade and do some fine tuning. I use the band saw and a patternmakers rasp to curve the body and edges to fit my hands.
In his book “The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking” James Krenov goes into quite a bit of detail along with photographs describing the making and tuning of a plane. I’m sure that once you’ve tried your hand at it that you will agree there’s nothing like a finely tuned hand plane to finesse your work.