I’ve started work on making my second molding plane – a # 6 hollow to match the # 6 round plane I’ve been working on for the past couple of months. As promised, I’ve been taking more photos of the process and want to give a step-by-step overview of the process in case any of my readers want to follow along.
First things first – I’m far from an expert plane maker. As I mentioned above, this is the second plane I’ve made, but I’ve been happy with the results from my first attempt. I picked up everything I know about making these planes from Larry Williams’ DVD Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes. If you are interested in making some of these tools, I cannot recommend the DVD highly enough. With that out of the way, let’s get started. . .
The first step in making a plane is to select the piece of wood that will be used to make the plane body. First, what species of wood should you use? The traditional wood was beech, either European or American. Other woods that I have heard are good are maple, yellow birch, apple, pear, and cherry. Basically, you want to use a wood that doesn’t vary much in the density and size of the wood fibers between the early and late growth part of its annual growth rings. Woods that are consistent between the early and late growth are described as being diffuse porous (as contrasted with woods like oak which have notable differences, which are described as ring porous). Using diffuse porous woods will help the plane to wear better because the grain is more consistent. I was fortunate to find several 2″ x 4″ of beech that work great for making these planes, so that’s what I’m using.
Once you’ve chosen your wood species, there is one other thing that you should look for in the blank. That is, it should be quartersawn. This simply means that the growth rings should run from one face to the the other across the thickness of the blank. You can see what I mean in the picture below the paragraph after next.
Once you have your stock selected, you need to determine which side and edge will be your reference surfaces. Using reference surfaces is critical to getting accurate layout, particularly when you are milling lumber by hand. Basically, you will choose two adjacent surfaces to be your reference surfaces – one face and one edge. The reference face should be milled up as flat and free of twist as you can make it. Then, the reference edge should be milled so that it is at a right angle to the reference face and that it is as straight as possible. Once these two surfaces are prepared, the width and thickness of the blank can be marked based on these surfaces and the other faces milled up to size. All the layout is then based on the reference surfaces because you can’t assume that the blank is perfectly consistent in thickness or width. I’ll try to remember to write a post about the process sometime in the near future.
So now that you know what reference surfaces are, how should you choose which surfaces to use as references? For furniture, it typically doesn’t really matter – you would choose the face that is most visible or that logically has to mate with another piece. For plane making, however, the choice is largely driven by the blank. First off, when making moulding planes, you typically want the sole of the plane to be the edge of the blank that was closest to the outside of the tree – the grip edge will be closest to the inside core of the tree. You want the grip edge to be your reference edge. Second, based on Larry Williams’ advice in Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes, it is easier to make the plane if the grain runs downhill from the front of the plane (the toe) to the back of the plane (the heel). See the graphic below.
If we look at the plane blank in the image above, the escapement and grip would be cut out of the side facing us. This is the escapement side. The other side is called the “blind side” because you can’t see the escapement or the iron from that side. Since most of the cutting is done on the escapement side, it is more difficult to use as a reference face, so we will use the blind side as the reference. So, the blind side and grip edge will be our reference surfaces.
Once all this has been worked out, plane the surface that will be the blind side face as flat and free of twist as possible. Mark that face at the grip edge so you remember which face is your reference. Then plane the grip edge so that it is square to the blind side and as straight as possible. With this done, mark the desired thickness of the plane blank all the way around the blank (for a # 6 plane, the target you’re shooting for is 21/32″) and plane down the escapement side to that thickness. It should be said here that I’m giving instructions for doing this with muscle powered hand tools. The milling could just as easily be done with a power jointer, planer, tablesaw, and/or bandsaw.
With the blank at target thickness, mark the width of the blank which is 3 1/2″ off of the grip edge (remember, it’s our reference edge). The finished plane will actually only be 3 3/8″ when we’re all done, but you have an extra 1/8″ on the grip so that the plane can get beat up a little while we’re making it. Mill the blank to 3 1/2″ in width. I used my frame saw after starting the kerf with a back-saw. It could also be done with bandsaw if you’re cutting the blank from a thicker piece.
Once the blank is 3 1/2″ wide by 21/32″ thick, layout the length of the blank at 11″ using only the reference face and reference edges for your square so that the layout lines meet. Cut the blank to an 11″ length (later, we’ll be cutting the plane down to it’s final length of 10″, but for now we have the extra length to take a little abuse while we’re working.
Now you have a 11″ x 3 1/2″ x 21/32″ blank. The next phase of making the plane is laying everything out. More on that in the next blog post.
Until next time. . .