Introduction: Tuning a Hand Plane

Picture of Tuning a Hand Plane

The No.5 'Jack' hand plane can be used for a number of tasks (scrubbing, dimensioning, shooting, and smoothing, to name four) but to perform really well at all of these, most planes will need a little tuning. Here I've tuned two jacks to add to my original, allowing me to leave the set up differently in each one. However, you can tune one plane to tackle all jobs, and just keep differently shaped blades to swap in as necessary.

Most of the tips and processes here, can be used with other hand planes, perhaps focusing on the specific task(s) you want to use them for.

I hope you find it useful.

I'm entering this in the 'Before and After' contest, so I'd appreciate your support - thanks, Mitch

Step 1: Here's the Video

If you prefer video, then take a look at my YouTube video, which runs for 31 minutes. If you find it useful, then please like, comment, and share.

Step 2: Lets Clean Everything to Begin With

Picture of Lets Clean Everything to Begin With

Badly rusted planes can be soaked in white vinegar for a couple of days, which will loosen much of the rust and debris.

Strip down the plane, using WD40 for seized threads.

Use a stiff brush to remove all loose dirt.

Glue and paint are often spilt on planes (?) and can be scraped off with a card scraper, etc.

Small parts can be soaked in paraffin (kerosene).

(If the original Japaning (paint) is in a bad way, you may wish to strip it, or abrade it, and apply a new coat at this point - But that's restoration rather than tuning )

Step 3: Fit the Frog - Part 1

Picture of Fit the Frog - Part 1

To avoid buckling of the plane body, and to ensure solid working, the frog should be well fitted to the body. Smooth, flat mating surfaces are best, and can be achieved by working the milled 'pads' on a flat reference surface with 180/240 grit abrasive paper.

Step 4: Fit the Frog - Part 2

Picture of Fit the Frog - Part 2

Attach the blade set, to limit forward travel, and note frog's most forward position - there's no point doing more work than you need to!

Use a permanent marker, or engineer's blue, to mark the pads on the body.

Replace frog and move it around to mark the 'high' spots of the body pads (the marker will be removed).

These high spots need to be taken down, for which a scraper made from an old file is ideal.

Scrap the high spots, and then repeat the process of checking.

Continue until you have a large area of contact on every pad.

Step 5: Frog Face

Picture of Frog Face

A flat, smooth, frog face makes the best bed for the iron.

Unless the face is substantially out of flat, I leave the blade adjusters attached and flatten around them.

(In extreme cases, these can be removed: The lateral adjuster will need it's rivet filed down and removed, whilst the depth adjuster will need it's hinge pin driven out.)

Work the face evenly on a flat reference with abrasive. You can use permanent marker to see where you are abrading, and a straight edge to judge when the whole surface is flat.

Step 6: Check the Squareness & Flatness of the Sole & Sides

Picture of Check the Squareness & Flatness of the Sole & Sides

Use an engineer's try-square to check the squareness of the sides to the sole, and a straight edge to check the flatness of the sole. This should give an idea of where metal should be removed.

Use a marker to note these indications on the body.

Step 7: Flatten the Sole

Picture of Flatten the Sole

With even pressure, work the sole over some coarse abrasive on a flat reference.

Your initial indications should begin to fade, and you should judge whether you're applying the pressure evenly.

Mark lines right across the sole, and continue to abrade until all lines begin to fade evenly.

At this stage the sole should be flat, but rough.

Step 8: Square the Sides

Picture of Square the Sides

Re-check squareness of the sides to the flattened sole.

Now judge and remove the metal required (just from the sides) to bring each side into square with the sole.

Working once again with abrasive and a flat reference surface, square the sides, by applying pressure more on either the sole edge or wing tip, depending on where you need to remove metal.

Larger discrepancies can be tackled initially with a mill file.

Step 9: Polish the Sole

Picture of Polish the Sole

The flattened sole can be polished using finer grits of abrasive, and metal polish with '0000' steel wool.

If you take care to only just remove the flattening score marks across the entire sole, then the flatness should remain.

I take this up to a semi-gloss mirror polish, but feel free to continue as far as you want.

Step 10: Lever Cap

Picture of Lever Cap

The underside tip of the lever cap should be perfectly flat and smooth, which can be achieved on the abrasive reference surface.

It's top surface will benefit from a polish with '0000' steel wool and metal polish.

Step 11: Replace the Iron & Chipbreaker ?

Picture of Replace the Iron & Chipbreaker ?

Where you can afford it, a replacement blade set, like this one from Hock Tools, will be a worthwhile investment.

Step 12: Iron/Blade

Picture of Iron/Blade

A sharp edge is formed at the meeting point of two polished surfaces - the back of the blade, and the tip of the bevel.

Grinding marks should be removed from the blade back. I'm using a diamond whetstone here, but other sharpening systems are fine. Keep the back flat on the stone at all times, and switch to a finer grit once the grinding marks have been replace by the diamond scratches.

Remove the grinding marks on the tip of the bevel. Freehand or with a guide is fine. For cambered blades, apply pressure selectively to cover the curve, and finish with a gradual transfer of pressure to smooth it out.

Both back and bevel should be stropped to a mirror finish at the edge.

Step 13: Chip Breaker

Picture of Chip Breaker

The tip of the chip breaker should mate tightly with the iron when attached.

First prepare the underside at the tip, so that the extreme tip touches the iron first, by hanging the tail lower than the stone as you work it. Continue to work until this area is flat, for contact right across the width.

Polish the top leading edge to prevent shavings from catching.

Check for the desired 'light free' fit.

Step 14: Increase Mouth Opening ?

Picture of Increase Mouth Opening ?

If you require a wider mouth, perhaps if a replacement blade set closes it up too much, then scribe a line to work to and file back to it.

Maintain the same angle (usually 45 degrees).

Step 15: Slack in Blade Height Adjustment ?

Picture of Slack in Blade Height Adjustment ?

If the spin wheel groove is too wide for the ends of the yoke, here are two possible solutions:

Malleable iron yoke - widen the engaging discs by carefully hammering them.

Alternatively - fill excess groove space with a circlip.

If the adjuster tongue is too narrow (or chip breaker slot too wide), you can pack the gap with a clip made from sheet metal.

There is no reason why you should end up with more than a half turn of slack.

Step 16: Mouth Clogging ?

Picture of Mouth Clogging ?

To make a little more room for shavings, once they have entered the sole, it is a good idea to relieve the upper corner at the front of the mouth.

Just file carefully at an angle, ensuring you don't quite reach the underside of the sole. Finish by polishing this bevel.

Step 17: Handles

Picture of Handles

Why not take the opportunity to freshen up those rough handles.

Cracked and flaky finish can be stripped.

A good sanding to remove all sharp edges.

Then a gentle finish such as either oil or shellac applied.

Step 18: What Should You Expect?

Picture of What Should You Expect?

A highly cambered iron will take thick cross grain shavings.

A straight iron will dimension wood and shoot end-grain easily.

A very slightly cambered iron will take whisper thin smoothing shavings.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you found this interesting.

Happy woodworking, Mitch

I'm entering this in the 'Before and After' contest, so I'd appreciate your support - thanks, Mitch


blackpearlin (author)2018-01-14

Very valuable information. Thanks for sharing!

Diverjad (author)2018-01-12

Awesome Video! Thanks for the attention to details. JD.

DIY-2015 (author)2017-04-25

Can't thank you enough , complete tuning a hand plane , Thanks a lot .

BossyRangs (author)2016-03-31

Congrats on winning the second prize in the hand tool contest! You deserved it.

BeachsideHank (author)2016-02-01

Best just to live with any backlash in the blade adjuster knob, many a fine plane has been ruined by trying to bend the forks to reduce it, usually resulting in just breaking one of the fingers off. The lever cap's leading edge was used by the old timers to tighten or loosen the chip breaking cap iron adjuster screw, and as a rule of thumb the backset of the chip breaker iron from the cutting iron's edge was about 1/2 the thickness of the blade.

WOmadeOD (author)BeachsideHank2016-03-10

Poor old lever caps - that's probably caused a few shavings to trap in the mouth :-)

carlosglatzos (author)2016-02-24

Great Instructable, good video, still watching, but just want to give the thumbs up! Cheers.

WOmadeOD (author)carlosglatzos2016-02-25

Cheers Carlos

SamM16 (author)2016-02-02

it would be nice to show how to sharpen the actual blade edge using something else other than sandpaper, like ceramic stones and liquid emulsifiers.

WOmadeOD (author)SamM162016-02-03

I used diamond plates here, and you can find other methods in my sharpening videos on YouTube. I'll try to find time to do some more sharpening specific instructables in the future.

SamM16 (author)WOmadeOD2016-02-03

yeah woke up early one morning not too long ago the tv was on and got to watching a step by step sharpening of wood planes on PBS and the guy doing it was using a two step process & within a few minutes had that thing shaving wood so thin you could see through it. He used a circular method after applying some sort of white liquid to ceramic sharpening blocks and man oh man it was impressive...quick too.

Tones Shed (author)2016-02-02

Hi Mitch, Thanks for the video and detailed explanaitions, as a novice, your collective videos have helped me better understand the restoration, set up, use, and maintenance of a few different species of hand plane, from the stanley #45 to my number 5 1/2 and a few woodies also, the sweet ppfffsssstt as the blade slices that microthin waffer is a joy to behold.

For those struggeling with your handplanes, perservere, there is not much out there that compares to a well tuned plane.

Cheers, Tony

WOmadeOD (author)Tones Shed2016-02-03

Thanks Tony, I'm pleased to hear that.

alfie232 (author)2016-02-02

hi very useful and clear liked it very much

WOmadeOD (author)alfie2322016-02-03

Thank you Alfie

geeser (author)2016-02-02

Hi, thanks for the instructions. Can you please say what you mean by 'highly cambered', 'straight iron' and 'slightly cambered'? I do not understand these terms. thanks

WOmadeOD (author)geeser2016-02-03

Hi. These just relate to the amount of curvature of the blade edge. straight has no curve, and is used for shooting mainly (using the plane with a jig to accurately plane a component). slight camber has a very small amount of curvature, used for smoothing and general work. large camber is more pronounced curve of the edge and is used in scrub planing - the curve allowing thick shavings to be taken across the grain without tearout.

hansdohm (author)2016-02-02

I have some old planes and you've made want to go back at them and check for anything to improve them. Great Job! IMHO

Post a comment

WOmadeOD (author)hansdohm2016-02-03

Great news! Good luck

BossyRangs (author)2016-02-02

Hey Mitch, very clear explanation! You're very thorough, I'll give you that. You got my vote! I've learned to restore and tune a hand plane a couple months back thanks to your 2 hour video on youtube. Yes, I'm that 1 person who watched the entire video. Hahaha

WOmadeOD (author)BossyRangs2016-02-02

haha, I knew there must be someone! Thanks

BossyRangs (author)WOmadeOD2016-02-03

I'll take a good plane restoration video with a bag of popcorn over any movie ;-) Thanks for teaching me to improve a hand plane! The difference really is noticeable.

WOmadeOD (author)BossyRangs2016-02-03

Glad to have helped

JasjitM (author)2016-02-01

Thanks for such a detailed guide. Decided to give a hand plane another chance but unfortunately after a couple hours of fiddling with it my plane still keeps getting stuck in the wood. Won't move an inch. *sigh*

ptaholcomb123 (author)JasjitM2016-02-02

Try "sighting the foot". Turn the plane over (foot up) and Look down the foot plate at something in the distance. Make sure the light is right so you can see if the blade is protruding. If it is, and is doing so more than 1-3 sheets of paper your depth is to great. Either dial it back or lift the frog and adjust the blade. I learned to set the blade to zero, ie: set the blade down on, i use the marble top of my table saw, then set blade to match, tighten frog, then "sight the foot". oh and like the other guy said, check the blade maybe flipped backwards...I've done that before after 45 mins sharpening to 2000 grit. Hope this helps

Sorry not "set the blade down", set the plane down... that makes more sense :-)

DaveD17 (author)JasjitM2016-02-02

As the author has stated in his reply, try to ensure that you are cutting a tiny tiny amount. You should be able to nearly see through the shavings, which will be just a few thousandths of an inch thick (unless using a scrub plane). As long as your plane blade is sharp, this is possible to do even with a typical Stanley plane that most hardware stores sell. Also, this may sound strange but make sure that your plane's parts are installed correctly. I've seen planes on display in stores where the plane iron is upside down or some other unfortunate thing.

Planing efficiently takes practice - check out some youtube videos for additional tips.

WOmadeOD (author)DaveD172016-02-02

Good point Dave, I've never encountered a plane iron installed upside down, but I guess it's an easy mistake.

WOmadeOD (author)JasjitM2016-02-01

Oh dear. I think maybe you are asking it to cut too deeply. Try winding the blade back into the plane so that it doesn't protrude at all. Then advance it 1/8th turn on the adjuster at a time, trying to plane each time. Remember to keep the plane flat on the wood, and try planing in both directions (it's best to plane in the direction that the wood's fibres are coming out of the surface, so that they fold down rather than bend backwards. So if the fibres look like ////// plane to the right, \\\\\\ plane to the left). Once you get it working, it will be a real pleasure, so persevere. Good luck

Carmelite (author)2016-02-02

Nice guide for very demanding, but from my experience you can get great performance by just roughly flattening the sole, tuning the cap iron, sharpening the blade, and adjusting for depth and skew.
I've messed around with frog flattening but haven't noticed a difference.

One thing I also do is polish and wax the top if the cap iron so shavings slide over more easily.

WOmadeOD (author)Carmelite2016-02-02

Absolutely, this could be seen as a pick n mix of improvement ideas, where doing everything is for the person who can't abide sanding wood!

GaryH8 (author)2016-02-01

Thanks, I will try this before I turn my plane into catapult fodder!

WOmadeOD (author)GaryH82016-02-01

Cheers Gary,

Set up can often put new users off, as even a well tuned plane can fail to work if this isn't right. I'll be doing a YouTube video on that soon, followed by an instructable, so watch out for that if you're not sure how to set the plane up for different tasks.

Thanks for commenting, Mitch

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