Wednesday 20 April 2016

How I Mastered a Wooden Jack

The wooden jack plane I've bought a few weeks ago did not want to perform as I would like to have it.

Spending some more time with it relaxed our relationship.

Maybe you read my last posts about a wooden jack plane I found on the flea market at one of the last weekends. A great plane for little money. So I started to rehab this plane.
Unfortunately the plane did not work as I had expected. The reason for this might be the lack of my experiences with wooden planes. 
Frankly spoken, I was frustrated. I spent my rare shop time into this make over with no good result.
Surprisingly I have received a lot of feedback, which encouraged me to spend some more time with the plane rehab, setting and using.

I had some ideas what could be improved and decided to mix it with the hints I got from woodworking friends all over the world.

Let me now start with the analysis and the resulting actions.

Stage 1

Ralph from the Accidental Woodworker asked:
"How tight is the iron in the mouth at the sole? That mouth looks to be tad large which no matter what you do it will be difficult to get fluffy shavings."
I have asked myself this question and double checked it in regards of Ralph's question.

Mouth with inset iron

From my point of view this mouth is tight enough for a jack plane. My goal is to get paper fine shavings out of the plane. Not that fluffy stuff which I would expect from a smoother.

Stage 2

The second hint I wanted to follow was from Pedder.

Pedder from Old Ladies said:
"halt mal ein Lineal an die Sohle. Wahrscheinlich muss die abgerichtet werden,"
"Check the sole with a straight edge. Probably it has to be flattened."
I was 100% sure that I had checked it. Maybe it is a matter of getting older, but it seems that I hadn't.

A hump on the sole

That meant that I had to true off the sole. A few swipes with a working jack and a bit of scraper work resolved this issue.

The sole trued off

Because I wanted to know if this action had got influence on the performance I inserted the iron and gave it a try. Hmm, somehow better. I think the result was to have more uniform shaving over the blade width. And the plane was sliding better over the board.

Okay, it seemed that I am on the right track.

Stage 3

Another point which was on my list already was the cap iron. I have observed that the cap iron is sliding upwards while using the plane. I can not say if it moves while planing or due to the hammer taps for setting the iron. The screw was tight and I did not want to over tighten it. Then it came into my mind that I have bought another wooden jack last summer just for having the iron for another project. I dug it out and exchanged the cap irons.

Left the replacement cap iron, right the original

Once again, the blade back into the plane and another try. Uhh! Much better.
No clogging any longer, uniform shavings and a smoother sliding performance.
The plane is already not plowing any longer.

The first good shavings, left board width, right board edge

At this point of the journey I could smile again. And I was gripped by ambition.

Stage 4

Now then, I can produce shavings but the created board surface did not feel right.
My assumption was that I have to spent some effort into blade sharpness. So, back to the stones.
But I had a burr in just a few seconds, so the iron was not dull. But it did not feel razor sharp.
The ground bevel was 25° so I decided to establish a 30° degree micro bevel at the front and a back bevel with the ruler trick.

Stage 5

You already suspect what is coming now. Yeah, reassembly and another try.
The difference this time was that I've tried to follow Larry's advise to set the plane.

Larry Jackson wrote the following advise:
"Begin by inserting the iron into the plane so that its entire width touches the board...but just barely. Then gently install the wedge with firm hand pressure only. Make certain that the iron still barely touches the board, but will not yet produce a shaving when you push the plane. Then, with the plane at the back edge of the board, lightly touch (not even a "tap") the back of the iron with the plane hammer, and test it to see if it shaves anything. Repeat. After a few tries, you will begin to feel slight resistance between the edge of the iron and the edge of the board, and the plane will then begin to produce the quality of shavings you are looking for. Lightly tap the wedge with your hammer to keep it there"
It was very interesting for me that the plane iron is really responding to very light hammer taps. I guess I will need a lighter hammer in the future.

As I had the iron grabbing the fibers I was ready to do shavings. And with the first full stroke I must pay attention not to slide over the end of the board out.

The first shaving after tuning and setup

Yeah!!! That is what I was aiming for.
Continuous and uniform shavings along the full board length. Sliding and not plowing. Shavings, approximately as thick as the newspaper.

Shaving fun!

It was so much fun now that I have planed for a while. Just producing shavings.
The sound of planing is different from doing it with a metal plane. So is the feedback of the plane. Can't say yet what it is, but different.
As I already had cleared the deck I grabbed the plane once again and tried some other wood. Planing Meranti was nice too. Planing a piece of beech was okay. The shavings have been well. But I think the additional weight of a metal plane makes it more comfortable to plane a harder wood.


What have I learned so far?
I was focused too much on single aspects and had no holistic view on it.
Here is the working list for the next plane rehab:
  1. Disassemble the plane.
  2. Clean the plane as good as possible and as much as needed.
  3. Check the sole for hollows and humps. Get rid of it, if present.
  4. Derust the iron and cap iron.
  5. Be sure that you have polished the back of the iron.
  6. Establish a nice base bevel and add a micro bevel too.
  7. Make sure that the outside of the cap iron is flat and polished.
  8. Make sure that the inside bevel of the cap iron is sitting flat on the blade.
  9. Set your blade and your wedge with light hammer taps (detailed description see above).

Another tip from my side. If you are looking for wooden second hand planes, keep an eye out for a second one.
I was lucky enough that I could use the cap iron from another model (by the way a cheap ECE copy).
Unfortunately you can indeed buy a single spare blade  from ECE, but not a single cap iron. If you will need a replacement for this you have to buy a complete blade set. And at this point your second hand buy is not a bargain any longer.

Being busy with some other stuff I wanted to make this plane rehab to a little side project. Perhaps I have underestimated the effort or thoroughness which was necessary.
I have lost the interest pretty fast just in lack of time and on the other hand I was a tad disappointed.

With a little help from my woodworking friends I could manage it. Thanks to all of you!
Hopefully you can somehow participate from my experiences.

Oh yes, the title of this post is of course exaggerated. I'm not a master of wooden hand planes now.
I just managed to get it working. But I'm glad now and it is a good feeling not to have given up.

Stay tuned and happy shavings!



  1. Sehr schön! die geraden Späne sind die besten, die verklumpen nicht im Hobel!

    Liebe Grüße

    Congrats, the straight shavings are the best, they don't clog the mouth.

    1. Hallo Pedder,
      es war ein bisschen Weg zu gehen. Danke noch mal für den Tip.
      Viele Grüße


      It was a way to go. Thanks again for your hint.

  2. Hi Stefan,

    I'm glad you had success with your wooden plane. I'll take your working list and try to restore one of my second hand planes as soon as I find some time.

    Last weekend I started with some older saws and sharpend them mainly because it was a topic of Paul Sellers recently and I had the files on hand. This worked out quite well and was surprisingly easy. Maybe something for your next restoration project. ;-)

    Take care,


    1. Hi Jasper,
      all in all it was manageable to do it. Not rocket science at all. But you have to spend some time and patience.
      I'm glad if my working list will help you.
      Different saw projects are on my list. But as you know by yourself - time is rare.

      Talk soon,

  3. Woohooo congrats
    As you found out, it is not that difficult but there are some nuances which must be experienced in order to better understand. It is easier to do than trying to write about it.
    You may have noticed that the current generation of purpose built plane hammers are much on the small light you know why...

    Keep it up and you will achieve mastery of these surprisingly simple looking but finicky beasts :-)


    1. Hi Bob,
      thanks for your words.
      Again you are right. It is a matter of being engaged in it.
      Making experiences, feeling what went wrong. But the little hints are really valuable from time to time.
      Plane hammer should come on my list.


  4. Wow, fantastic post Stefan. What a great summary of some of the things it takes to tune up and use the woodie.

    1. Hi Matt,
      thanks for compliments.
      I would be glad if this list will help the one or the other.


  5. Hi Stefan,
    if you now venture out into getting molding planes, the same applies to them. Larry's comments are very true with molders. It surprised me how light of a tap would cause the plane to respond. Of course there are other things to consider too but that is part of the fun of learning how to use them.

    1. Hi Ralph,
      honestly I bought some last late summer. I managed to get the blades sharp, but not to set it properly. Maybe I will give it the next try now.