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Building a Jack Plane

A year ago I received a selection of timbers from my Galootaclaus on the Oldtools List. A length of Ebony went to infill the Brese small smoother kit (and there is sufficient over to infill a St James Bay Thumb Plane kit). There is a block of Padauk. And there was this piece of Mesquite ...

I have been waiting to build a jack plane around a blade I bought last year. It is 2" wide and 5/16" thick D2. This is a very abrasion resistant steel and could make a super jack plane for use on Australian wood.

This is also a massively thick blade. Although only 1/16” thicker than my HNT Gordon blades, alongside it makes them look puny.

The blade came from a discussion on the Ubeaut website about a year ago. I admit that I was not enthusiastic about the choice of steel since I thought that it would be too abrasion resistant and make honing a serious deterrent. And this was indeed my experience when it came to grinding the bevel from scratch … oh man … still, it should do a terrific job as a blade for a jack. Its thickness should take the worst punishment, and its resistant to abrasion is good news for timber such as Jarrah, which are not just hard, but also contain high levels of silica (to blunt edges).

The D2 steel along with the Mesquite wood has all the ingredients to be The Ultimate Jack!

My intention in this article is to present a detailed, step-by-step pictorial. Woodwork is about planning what you need to do, and then just working carefully to the plan. Building a plane is not difficult. Just start at the beginning and follow the steps … I am certain that the pros would see the methodology here as inefficient. They have shortcuts I am not skilled enough to know or use. Still, the outcome here is likely to satisfy most.

Inspiration came from Phil Edwards and Terry Gordon, so the end design is essentially vintage English design with a little Malaysia thrown in.

This is the Jack plane I built. It has a razee body 15 1/2" long, is 2 3/4" wide, and 2" high at the mouth. This keeps the centre of gravity low. The plane weighs 1.5 Kg (3.3 lbs).

First Steps - The Body

I used the bandsaw to rip a 52mm central section with 10mm sides.

Now the bed is marked at 45° …

and crosscut on the tablesaw.

The Bed

It is essential that the bed is square in all directions. As seen here, it is a touch off.

First step in lapping is marking.

And then 120 grit sandpaper on a granite plate. I pull the piece towards myself.

Keep check with a square …

until you are spot on.

A check on the bed angle, and it is right on 45°.

The Throat

This is where all the hard work lies – shaping the throat and, later, the cheeks. You want the wedge to fit first time, to fit snugly. I am using Jarrah and this is hard – does not compress – so it must be accurate.

The design here is also a single blade one – that is, not cap iron (can you imagine how thick it would be with a cap iron?!)

The plan here is to first remove the wood area that that will be taken up by the blade and wedge. This is marked below.

Now extend the cheek end line around the body.

The other line that needs to be added is the end of the throat.

Here are the angles I used for the wedge (10°) and the throat (60°).

Once these lines are done, you can draw in the side of the cheeks.

I used the tablesaw to crosscut the cheek line (this is a 55° cut - 45° for the bed and 10° for the wedge).

We need to redraw the cheek lines.

This is what you should have. The shaded in area is the waste, and will be cut out.

Begin by kerfing the waste area.

And then chop it out.

I do not have any plane floats (that’s another project, sometime), but I put a LN joinery float to work, and it did the job very well. A rasp or file would work as well.

Just a note on any possible chip out at the mouth edge: don’t panic – a little lapping is planned here. Any chips will be removed. The size of the mouth is not a concern in this jack plane since it is planned to leave it on the wide side.

The Cheeks

The cheek area must be reduced otherwise the shaving will jamb up the mouth.

I have marked out a wedge shape on the top of the body.

Then wedges on the cheek face. I have also marked a central line on the throat. We will remove the waste and meet at this line.

Using a narrow flush cut saw, I undercut the cheek waste.

Then remove the waste using several methods … paring chisels (this works only while the grain is in your favour).

And the joinery float works well when I cannot use the chisel.

To finish the cheeks, let’s add in a small chamfer. I used a roll of blue tape to help create a curve.

Then rasp out the waste and smooth with sandpaper.

The Mouth

I decided to add a brass wear plate to the mouth as Mesquite has a reputation for chipping.

Mark out the width of the brass plate (which I have filed to length and also squared the sides).

Score the line deeply and undercut it so it may be used as a fence for a clean crosscut.

Measure the depth of the brass plate.

Transfer the depth to the mouth with the cutting gauge, saw to this depth, and then chisel a chamfer to the line. This will aid in preventing any chip out and provide a guide to the depth you need to work to.

I used a shoulder plane ...

and then a router plane to create the mortice.

Here is a dry fit. The brass plate has been drilled for brass screws. The holes are finely chamfered.

The screw holes are on the edge to use the thicker section of the throat. Here the brass wear plate has been epoxied and screwed down.

With a coarse file, remove the screw heads.

After lapping you can see that the screws disappear.

Glue Up

I glued up in two parts. First the heal section with the side pieces. Once this was dry I added the toe section. This made it easier to align the sections and to set the mouth to the size I wanted. For glue I have used Titebond III.

The mouth size was created with the blade and wedge in place as the toe section was clamped in front.

Finishing the Body

The razee was created on the bandsaw ..

The waste was removed with a carcase saw…

leaving this …

Now the bevelled end needed to be shaped into a hollow. The first step was to saw a guide line through the centre …

This made it easier to guide a coarse round file ..

And this was cleaned up by a fine rasp ..

Finally the heel was smoothed with a cabinet scraper ..

Next came the shaping of the toe. This was completed with a spokeshave.

Building The Tote

Totes are fun. I enjoy shaping the curves with rasps.

This tote is roughly Stanley-shaped but higher and thicker than standard. Stanley totes are a three-finger grip, with the fourth finger often resting on the frog. Obviously that is not possible here and so I wanted a four-finger tote. I also wanted a little more meat as I have a broadish palm. I am using Jarrah here.

Mark out the profile and include area for a tenon.

I used the drill press to take out the waste here as my bandsaw’s ½” blade will not cut such a tight curve.

The profile was bandsawed out.

Before shaping the tote I shaped the tenon.

I planned to chop a ½” mortice, and so marked a ½” tenon, and cut it out on the bandsaw. I left it slightly fat so that I could later trim it for a tight fit.

The tenon makes it easy to grip in the vise.

The most important tip here is to work to marks. I drew in lines to create chamfers as the first step to shaping a curvy tote.

I like my totes to be rounded, not square.

Shaping moves along quickly using a coarse, then a medium …

and finally a smooth rasp and sandpaper.

Now for the mortice.

This was marked out with the mortice gauge (seen earlier – thanks again Wiley for such a wonderful gift!).

The method I use is to leave a ¼” at each end of the mortice, work the centre first, then clean up the two ends last.

The first run is just to establish the outline, so I chop shallowly, and make sure I stay inside the outline.

Once I am near the desired depth, I add masking tape as a depth gauge and chop to the line. In this case I planned for a depth of ¾”

The finished mortice will receive a tenon that is ¾” deep, 1’ long, and ½” wide.

Edit: A few months later I replaced the tote. It was too long and, as a result, failed to offer sufficient support. The new tote is pictured below.

The Wedge

Like the tote, the wedge is Jarrah. This is as wide as the bed. The wedge outline is marked off at 10°, sawn on the bandsaw, and finished by lapping on sandpaper (as done with the bed).

Below – sawing out the centre waste …

Shaping with rasps …

And the final result …

Lapping the Sole

Usually I lap the sole on sandpaper glued to a glass plate. I have a 10mm thick glass plate for such occasions. This is particularly appropriate for smoothers, for which a flat sole is important. On this jack it was less important to be that precise, and so I instead chose to flatten the sole on my beltsander. I have used this method for a number of planes before, and it has worked well. The trick is to hold the sole flat on the beltsander, and only then turn on the machine.

The result was a very flat sole (as measured with a straight edge).

Grinding The Blade

I needed to add a camber to the blade which, to this point, was ground straight across.

Since I was using an 8” radius in my Stanley #5 ½ I chose to do the same here. Draw the curve on a piece of wood and cut it out to create a permanent template. Below it can be seen along with the scratched curve on the blade (I really could have done that better …).

Grinding to the line on an 8” dry grinder.

And then honed with Shaptons 1000, 5000 and 12000 grit waterstones. These appeared to have no difficulty working the D2.

And the result …microbevelled D2!

After taking first shavings with this blade, I realised that the camber was too tight for a 2” wide blade. Later it occurred to me that the Stanley #5 ½ was 2 3/8” wide. Consequently I reshaped the camber to a 10” radius. This now took a wider shaving.

Below is the 10” radius camber.

What does a 10” radius actually look like? Well, the aim was to camber the blade so that it removed 1/16” at the corners.

The Finished Plane

The jack plane is done. Here are a few images …

and a few shavings (these were taken with the 8” radius camber).

Radiata Pine was no challenge. It served to dial in the blade. The jack went through this lot like a hot knife through butter.

Hard Jarrah was the true test. The jack again planed easily. This is a comfortable plane to use. It feels nicely balanced, light in the hands. I like the way the wood appeared to absorb the impact.

The width of the Jarrah shavings was less than I expected. In part this is the nature of Jarrah. However it also alerted me to the camber being too severe for this blade, and therefore it was modified. I am sure that there will be further tuning in the weeks to come.

I hope yours turns out as satisfying as mine.

Regards from Perth


August 2009