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Setting Blades in (Adjusterless) Planes

Very few woodies are made with a blade adjuster, and I seem to come across more infill planes without adjusters as well. No matter. These planes are easily adjusted with just a hammer. With a little practice you may come to prefer them this way.

There are just two tools necessary.

The first is a plane hammer. I have two, one from Dave Anderson at Chester Toolworks. This has an 8 oz weight in brass and Lignum Vitae. Very nice!

I have also made my own version of this, slightly lighter at 7 oz, in brass and an Ebony pad.

The brass side is for tapping on the end of the steel blade. Brass is softer than steel, and so it will not damage (e.g. mushroom) the end of the blade as might a steel hammer. Brass will, however, dent wood and therefore it is preferred that a wooden wedge or wooden side of a body be tapped with a wooden face rather than the brass end.

I have experimented with a number of different hammers, and the above combination is my current preference. I have tried cork, leather and rubber ends in place of wood. None offer the direct feedback that wood provides.

Plane Setting Plate

My plane setting plate is a sheet of 10mm glass epoxied to flat hardwood. I have used a flat hardwood block, as recommended by Terry Gordon (HNT Gordon planes). This works almost as well.

I suspect that some will be concerned that the hard glass may damage the edge of a blade. But it does not do so. This may be due to the smoothness of the glass. However it is the unyielding nature of the glass that is the very reason for its choice.

When setting up a plane, the blade must not be permitted to project beyond the mouth.

It is much easier to adjust the blade outward, that is, increase projection, than to retract the plane blade. One increases projection by tapping on the back edge of the blade with a hammer. One retracts the blade by either tapping on the rear of the plane body with the hammer, or tapping on the nose of the plane (often a plane will have a button placed on the nose for this purpose).

Jack plane by Phil Edwards

The problem encountered with retracting a blade by the above method is that you will loosen the wedge as well, and this comes with the danger that the blade loses its position. On the other hand, when increasing projection, the wedge remains firm, holding the blade in position.

Below I have examples of setting up four planes, a traditional short jack with a tapered blade, a parallel bladed Spier infill smoother, a wooden HNT Gordon bevel down smoother, and a bevel up infill smoother. The method is essentially the same for each, although has a few idiosyncrasies that I will describe.

Jack Plane with Tapered Blade

  1. Parts

  2. Tapered blade

  3. Cap Iron assembly (note that I have set this about 1/8” from the end).

  4. Place plane flat on glass plate.

  5. Insert blade so that it lies flush with the glass (hold the plane flat on the glass).

  6. Oops no #6!

  7. Insert the wedge and just push it in with finger pressure. Maintain downward pressure on the body of the plane to keep it flat on the glass.

  8. Tap the wedge to firm it up.

  9. Use your fingers to feel whether the blade is square in the mouth.

  10. If you need to square up the blade, tap either one side of the blade or the other.

  11. To retract the blade, tap the heel.

  12. Shavings!

The HNT Gordon Smoother

  1. Place plane on glass setting plate.

  2. Insert blade and hold it flat against the glass. Because of the cheek design, the blade is loose and will slide down and into the mouth. This must be held in place to avoid the extra, unwanted projection.

  3. Insert wedge and continue to ensure that the blade is still flat against the glass.

  4. Firm up the wedge.

  5. At this point the plane should be set up to take fine shavings.

Spier Infill Smoother

  1. This infill smoother has a parallel blade and cap iron combination, and this is secured with a lever cap.

  2. The mortice for the head of the cap iron bolt.

  3. Place the plane on the setting plate and insert the blade.

  4. With one hand press the plane sole and edge of the blade flat against the glass.

  5. Tighten the lever cap.

  6. Feeling the blade projection with a fingertip, I can tell that there is very slightly more blade on the left side.

  7. If I took a test drive at this point it would take a shaving like this ..

  8. Correct the blade square by tapping the left side to raise it fractionally. Ordinarily, I would not need a test shaving to decide doing this.

  9. The shavings are now centred.

  10. Fine shavings ..

BU Infill Smoother

  1. Plane on setting plate.

  2. Insert blade and hold down flat on the glass.

  3. Insert hand rest and tighten lever cap screw. The plane is now ready to take a very fine shaving. No further adjustment should be needed.

  4. If increased blade projection is wanted, tap the rear of the blade. Do this with the lever cap tightened about 75%.

  5. If blade projection needs to be reduced, tap the rear of the plane body. Do this with the lever cap tightened 50%.

  6. Adjust the blade left or right by tapping the side of the blade. Do this with the lever cap tightened 100%.

  7. Fine shavings!

Regards from Perth


January 2010