Introduction: So You Dropped Your No.4 Hand Plane?
Runner Up in the
Trash to Treasure Challenge
You were smoothing some wood, got a cramp, dropped your favorite hand plane on the floor and now it looks like this?
No worries, it happens to the best. You don't need to throw it in the trash just yet. Together, we'll turn it into an even better hand plane! How? By making a wooden body for it. Did you know that wood-on-wood causes less friction than metal-on-wood, resulting in more effortless planing?
Step 1: The Design
The idea for making a wooden-bodied plane isn't mine. I read it on the blog of Paul Sellers, a lifestyle woodworker who mainly uses hand tools. He also has an excellent YouTube channel, and I owe a lot of my newly acquired woodworking skills to him. Paul wanted to do a video series about making this woodbottom plane with Stanley parts, inspired by the Marples model from the 60s (see 2nd picture). For some reason, they cancelled this video series, probably because they felt other projects needed more attention.
So I picked up where they left off, and added some measurements to Paul's sketch (in mm). Most of those measurements aren't critical, but the width (53 mm or 2 3⁄32 inch) and height of the rear part (22 mm or 7/8 inch) are. For you imperial users, convert to inch by dividing by 25.4. If you take a good look at the design, it's basically 4 parts glued together: a rounded front part, 2 curved sides and the important rear part (the business end) that contains all the metal parts and a handle.
The plan is for a jack plane (equivalent to a Stanley no.5), so called because it's a jack of all trades: it can be used for taking off thin shavings (smoother) and also for heavier stock removal. Because of the longer sole, it can also joint edges of boards. The length of the sole can of course be altered to your specific needs to make either a shorter smoothing plane or a longer jointer plane. But I recommend the more versatile jack plane if this is your first build.
Step 2: Choose Your Wood
Traditionally, wooden planes were made mostly from beech (Europe) or yellow birch (US), but any hardwood will do. I dug into my wood pile and came up with a piece of beech and a darker wood which I think is meranti (not sure though).
Determine which side of your piece of wood will be the sole, and then look at the grain direction on one side (see 1st picture). It should run downhill from front to back of your plane. That way, the wood fibers won't lift up and tear out as your plane catches on something sticking out. Crosscut the piece using either a crosscut sled on your table saw, or a hand saw. Mark which sides are front and back. Now rip cut (= lengthwise) the rear piece, keeping it slightly thicker than 22mm, because we still need to plane it flat and smooth. The same goes for the other pieces: cut them a bit over-sized so you can plane them to final dimensions. Notice the push sticks on the 3rd picture. Never rip cut anything on the table saw without using those! Your fingers are more important than anything you'll ever build.
Next, cut the piece of beech lengthwise on the table saw to make the two sides. My blade isn't protruding high enough, so I flipped the piece of wood and passed it over the blade again.That worked pretty well, as you can see in the last picture. We'll cut those sides to length later.
If you don't have a table saw, you could make all the cuts with a hand saw. Stay well away from your pencil line in case you wander a bit from your line while sawing.
Step 3: Plane Your Wood
Ha, the irony. You need a hand plane to make/repair one :-)
First, I cut the beech sides a bit shorter. Then I clamped a thin piece of wood to my work bench so that I can butt my work pieces up against it when planing (1st picture). If you're not sure how to use a hand plane, I can refer you again to a video of Paul Sellers, where he explains how to sharpen the blade and how to set it up. Like in our previous step, you need to pay attention to the grain direction. You want to plane uphill to avoid tear out (see 2nd picture). Sometimes it's difficult to tell, so plane a bit and if you have a somewhat rough surface, try the other way around. If you're experienced enough, you can even hear the difference. Plane until you get full length shavings. Your surfaces should almost be smooth as glass. If not, your blade might need resharpening.
After planing the beech wood, planing the meranti was a breeze. I felt much less resistance with the same cutting depth. After planing, I checked if the pieces were straight (picture 4) and the corners were square (picture 5). If you're out of square, give the high corner one or two passes, shift your plane towards the middle of the board and take another pass, and finally take a full width shaving. Repeat if necessary. I also made sure that the front and rear piece of our plane are the same height when put on their side (see last picture).
Step 4: Cutting and Flattening the Frog
Here comes the scary part: you need to cut the 'legs' of the frog (= the metal part that beds the cutting iron). A simple hack saw will do the job, because it's made of cast iron, which is pretty soft. The plane body is cast iron too, so that's why it broke in the first place. Look at the first picture to see where you need to make the cut. Eventually, the cut surface will need to be flush with the machined surface next to it, so it's best to leave a little extra metal when making the cut.
This extra metal can easily be filed away to give you a surface like in picture 4. It's normal to have a little gullet (still painted black) between both shiny surfaces. To make sure these surfaces are absolutely dead flat, I rubbed it on a coarse piece of sandpaper stuck to a glass plate. Put some markings on it with a permanent marker to check your progress. After a few rubbings, you can see I have some low spots, as shown by the markings (picture 5). After another 5 minutes of sanding or so, you're done (see picture 6). Notice there are still 2 small low spots remaining, but there is plenty of support surface now, so I'm perfectly happy with that.
While you're at it, this would be a good time to flatten the part that contacts the cutting iron too. To do this, I changed to a medium grit sandpaper first. You can't sand the surface all at once, because the yoke (Y-shaped thingy) and lateral adjuster are in the way. Therefore, you need to rub it a couple of times crosswise first:
Then give it a few passes lengthwise, both left and right side:
You know you're done when the surface is shiny:
Notice the top part isn't really shiny, but again, it doesn't matter because there will already be plenty of support for the cutting iron.
Step 5: Cutting Slope & Installing Frog
So the reason why we prepped the frog first, is because now we can use it to mark the slope. Put the frog next to the rear piece and make a mark with a pencil (see 1st picture). Make sure it's the front of the rear piece, like I explained in step 2. Now trace the pencil line with a knife, and make a couple of passes. Then make a small step-down with a chisel. This makes it a lot easier and more accurate to saw (see 2nd picture). This is what Paul Sellers calls the knifewall method (watch it here from 2:10).
I refined the sawn surface with a file (4th picture) because I found it difficult to plane such a small surface completely flat with a no.4 plane. I used the square to put a pencil line at the top of the slope, so I wouldn't file out of square. I also set my bevel gauge to the correct slope, using the frog as my guide. After filing, I held the bevel gauge against my work piece and held it against the light, and it looked pretty good. If you see light passing through, you might take a few more moments to file. Don't rush this step, take your time, because the cutting iron needs to make good contact with both the frog and the slope.
As a final check, put the frog on your work piece and hold you square against both to see if they are inline (last picture). The bolts that normally attach the frog to the metal body are useless in wood, so you need some short, beefy wood screws. Luckily, I found some nice brass ones in my screw collection. Mark where you need to put the screws. The screw locations don't have to be super precise, because there is still some play (like with the metal plane) until you cinch the screws tight. Pre-drill your holes with a drill bit slightly smaller than the diameter of your screws, but make sure you don't drill too deep, or your plane sole will have 2 holes in it. Also make sure your screws are short enough so they don't poke through. You should have something like this now:
Step 6: Shaping the Front
If you look at the top view on the plan, you'll notice that the front is arched. So I free-handed a pencil line (1st picture) and approximated the curve with my tenon saw and took the corners off with a sharp chisel (picture 2). The top side is also arched, so repeat the process (see picture 3). In picture 4 you can see the marks for the angled cuts (using the knifewall method again). The angles are 95° and 60°, give or take. Picture 5 shows the rough cut shape.
We'll refine this shape with a no. 4 plane (see last picture). This went surprisingly well, even though most of it is end grain. The trick is to have a very sharp blade and a shallow depth of cut. I used a file to get rid off the sharp edges. You could also sand these surfaces, but you'll never get such a crisp result like this:
Step 7: Shaping the Rear & Chopping Mortise
While the frog was still attached, I put the adjusting knob back on and set the sides loosely against our work piece to test how accessible the knob is. I decided to add a little indentation around the knob with a big gouge, to make it more comfortable to turn the knob (2nd picture). The rear part also has an arched back side (see plan), so repeat the same process as in previous step i.e. sawing and planing (picture 3). You can use the front piece as a template and trace it, so you get the exact same curve.
Next I chopped the mortise to receive the handle. I used a marking gauge and knife to outline my mortise hole and used an 18 mm chisel to chop it (see 4th picture for location of mortise). If you never chopped a mortise before, I can again refer you to this video of Paul Sellers. This is my very first mortise (I probably should have practiced on a scrap piece first), so I'm very pleased with the result.
Step 8: The Handle
Remember that leftover piece from step 2, after ripping the rear part? I decided to cut it roughly in half, plane the edges and glue the two parts together (picture 1) to make a handle from it. After clamping it for about 1.5 hours, I planed both sides and traced a handle shape on it, using the handle from the broken plane as a template (picture 2). Remember to add a tenon. Why not just use the old handle you say? I wanted a handle with a tenon to fit into a mortise (see previous step) so it would never become loose. Also, this way I can keep the old handle as a spare.
After cutting it out with a jigsaw (3rd picture), I reduced the width of the tenon to 18 mm (4rd picture), to correspond to the mortise hole we chopped earlier. You can use the marking gauge for guidelines, because it still has the same setting from previous step.
At this point, I cut myself real badly with a sharp chisel because I ignored lesson 1 when working with chisels: always keep both hands behind the cutting edge! It happened because I held my work piece with my left hand instead of clamping it. It was a pretty deep cut, but no stitches needed, so it could have been worse. Anyway, lesson learned.
Before we do any further work on the handle, test fit it first (picture 5). My tenon was a bit fat on purpose, so after shaving it a bit thinner with a chisel, it fit perfectly into the mortise. Next, I shaped my handle with a wood rasp (picture 6). A half-round one does the job. Notice on the picture I also have a round one for the tight curves. Now it looks pretty rough:
After refining it with a file, and some sanding with 220 grit, our handle is done:
Step 9: The Sides
The sides are still a bit over-sized, so I placed everything loosely together and marked where the front begins and the back ends. I left a 3.5 mm distance between front and back piece (the mouth opening). Mark the 3 heights indicated in 1st picture on one of the sides. The highest point is just at the top of the slope. Now connect those 3 points with a fluent freehand line.
Clamp to 2 sides together and cut both at the same time with a jigsaw (2nd picture). This will ensure they are identical. The saw-cut was pretty smooth already, so all it needed was some light sanding.
Step 10: The Glue-up
Now it's time to glue everything together. To glue the handle in place, I made a clamping caul from a scrap piece (see 1st picture). I applied a liberal amount of wood glue in the mortise, because it's better to have too much glue than too little. Having a bit of squeeze out is therefore a good sign. You can easily clean it up using a straw. Leave it clamped for about 1.5 hours.
Before gluing the 4 pieces together, I reinstalled the frog, because it's easier now to make it flush with the slope. For the mouth opening of the plane I chose about 3.5 mm, which is slightly less than a Stanley plane, because we want to be on the safe side. You can always file it bigger later with a flat file.
Before applying wood glue, first mark the sides to know where you need to apply glue, by tracing around the front part on the inside of your plane. Now apply glue within your marked area and also on the sides of the rear part (see 2nd picture). Smear it open nice and evenly, using your finger or a spatula. Put the pieces together and rub them slightly back and forth to distribute the glue evenly.
Now put a clamp on the front and back, making sure your mouth opening stays about the same. Pay attention to any slippage that might occur. I used a scrap piece of wood and a hammer to tap every piece down so they would all be flush at the bottom. Now put on 2 more clamps, facing opposite direction for balance (3rd picture). Notice I used a glass plate to ensure a flat surface. Unfortunately, the pieces aren't perfectly flush, so the plate didn't help much. But that's okay, we'll use it in our next step. I left everything clamped up overnight.
Step 11: Final Shaping and Flattening the Sole
First, I removed some of the dried up glue with a small chisel. This would have been an easier job to do when the glue wasn't completely dry. So I suggest you do this when the glue is still 'gummy'. Next I sawed off the excess from the sides (1st picture) and trimmed it further with a chisel (2nd picture). Then I took my file again and refined the curves a bit (3rd picture). Also round over any sharp edges with your file. I added a small bevel to the sides, and for this I used a flat-bottom spokeshave (4rd picture). This is a very handy little plane that can shape curves in no time. Unlike the picture, you operate it with both hands, either pulling or pushing (depending on the grain direction and your preference).
That glass plate from previous step now comes into play. Attach a long strip of coarse grit sandpaper (around 80 grit) to it with double-sided tape at the corners (5th picture). Avoid those corners, because the tape creates bumps. Before you start sanding, assemble the entire plane, because you want that tension from the cutting iron assembly. It makes a difference for metal planes, so I played it safe by assuming it also slightly bends the wooden body. Of course you need to retract the blade fully. Now simply sand back and forth until all pieces are flush. If you want, you can check your progress with pencil lines to make sure you're sanding the entire sole. The low spots will be revealed by left-over pencil marks. Now switch to a finer grit (around 220) and repeat. When you're done, also round over any sharp corners on all 4 sides (last picture). Follow the sweep of the curve for front and back, and sand at a 45° angle for the sides.
Your sole should now look like this:
Step 12: The Moment of Truth
Here's the moment you've been waiting for. Does your plane really work? Or is it just a fancy paperweight?
My first shaving come out okay, but the next one got stuck in the mouth (see 1st picture). I filed the mouth opening slightly larger with a flat file (2nd picture) but that didn't solve it either. I didn't want to file any further, because that would leave the mouth opening larger than a Stanley, so the problem must lie elsewhere. Then I found the cause: there wasn't enough room between lever cap and the 95° slope (3rd picture), so I chiseled some of that slope away without enlarging the mouth opening (3rd picture). And tadaaaaaaa:
And here is a final shot of the plane in evening sunlight with a tung oil finish:
If you have any more questions, you can ask them in the comments.
If you liked this Instructable, please give me a vote in the 'Trash to treasure' contest!
*UPDATE: I altered the plan so that the 95° slope is shorter. So there shouldn't be any problems anymore with stuck shavings*
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