How To Set A Wooden Plane

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Twat…
…nothing happens.

Twat….nothing happens.

Slightly harder twat…

…And the iron’s sticking half inch out of the sole of the plane.

Wooden planes look good.

They are good.

But they ain’t half got awkward sod written all over them.

Since hand tools became a thing again, folk have been really struggling with the setting of wooden planes.

Most people will either blame themselves or just assume that wooden planes aren’t quite the tool for them.

Nine times out of ten when I observe this, I couldn’t set their plane up either. And I’ve been setting these things all my life.

A good working plane is critical to the success of setting them.

For this post we’re going to assume your plane is a goer.

Along with learning the basics of how to set a wooden plane, I’ll go through the order and approach that will get you there the quickest.

TOO MUCH TO READ?

There’s a fair few steps here.
If you’re the sort that prefers to learn while watching, then we’ve including a ‘How To Set Your Plane’ video, covering all of this, in the Plane Build Series – SIGN UP to watch for FREE

Set For Coarse First.

I’ve always said, if you want to get quick at setting these thing, then hide your metal planes for a month or so.

Then you’ll have to get quick.

Iron cambers

Start to learn with a cambered iron (right). As your skill improves with setting the coarse iron, you’ll naturally be able to start straightening that camber off, to make finer and finer shavings.

 

A better way though is to use wooden planes for only one type of shaving.
As you get more confident, you’ll then start to use them for more and more jobs.

The type of shaving is important.

We’re going to set for medium to coarse.

The thing is, it’s the standard of the plane that determines the finesse of shavings, along with your ability to set it.

The process of setting a coarse plane and a super fine plane are exactly the same. But the level of skill differs.

Setting for a coarse shaving is the easiest

Basically, your setting skills need to be as fine as your shavings.

Always Feel (this is the most important part).

A blind man can set a plane, so long as he has a finger or two.

adjust the wooden plane using feel

To judge our setting we use feel.

This isn’t Jedi type feel, just your fingertips.

Through the whole of the setting process we’re feeling where the cutting edge is in relation to the sole.

I never like that whole flipping the plane over to sight down the sole every single adjustment.

Instead turn your eyes off, and just use feel. Particularly early on, until you get the gist of how things move.

The Tools Needed.

To make the adjustments we’re going to need a special bit of kit.

It’ll be hard to find, but you will need a medium sized claw hammer.

Without question I find these the best tool for setting wooden planes.

The metal head gives you loads of feel, and with it being slightly broader it won’t damage your plane or iron.

Smaller hammers risk missed blows, and that’s where the damage happens.
Plus they’re a lot lighter so need a bit more welly to make adjustments.

If you have a really snazzy plane and you don’t want to leave a mark on it then the trusty Thor mallet is also serviceable.

When people see me with the claw hammer they twitch.
What they don’t realise is how light you tap a plane to adjust it. We’re not trying to kill the plane, just set it.

plane adjustment hammer

A claw hammer gives great feedback with those light taps.

Setting the Bleeder – Basic Depth Adjustment.

We’re going to first set to plane the edge of some soft, easy to work wood, like pine.

We’re planing the edge because we don’t need to worry too much about lateral (or side to side) adjustment.
All we want to do here is focus on depth adjustment.

If someone pees you of when you’re driving what do you do…?

You flip them off. Give ’em the v’s.

That’s how we’re going to hold the plane.

using feel to set the wooden plane

In your naff hand (left if you’re right handed) hold the plane in such a way that you bridge the mouth with two fingers.

You want a finger at either end of the mouth.

Next slide the iron in. Gently.

It won’t cut you so don’t worry…
Well it might if you start sliding your fingers side to side, so avoid any of that.

Making the initial depth adjustment depends on how much pressure we apply to the mouth with those two fingers.

Press harder and more finger squidges into the mouth – lessening the depth of cut.

Lighter pressure allows the iron to sink further down, deepening the cut.

You can also check that the iron is protruding evenly and make adjustments, by applying more or less pressure with individual fingers at either side.

iron in wooden plane

For now set the plane so it feels like the iron is just inside the body.

Then poke the wedge in.

Give the wedge a very light tap so it just bites, but isn’t fully seated.

Then feel the iron again.

Does it feel like it’s still retracted?

If so then lightly tap the top of the iron to advance the cut.

The whole time, keep feeling.

gently tap the wedge

If you’re unsure whether it’s sticking out or not, take a test shaving.
Keep advancing the iron until you start to get a shaving.

Feel every time you adjust.
This is important, you’ll quickly get accustomed to were the iron is, just by feel.

Tap the top of the iron again if you need more depth.

Once you’re happy with your shaving thickness, fully set the wedge.

take a test shaving

Edge planing with a coarse setting.

Backing Off The Cut

releasing the plane wedge

To back the cut off you whack the top of the plane, just in front of the mortice where all the wedge and iron is. You can also whack the very back of the plane (that works best on shorter planes). The backing off method also releases the wedge. So only use this for light adjustments. If you need to back the cut off by a lot, then I prefer to just do a full reset.

Gaining Confidence.

Practice re-setting and planing the edge of a board until you start getting a bit of confidence.

Remember, it’s critical to keep feeling the iron with every setting change.

Setting The Plane – Finer Adjustments.

Now we can move onto the face of a board.

This is exactly the same, just with the added thing of lateral (side to side) adjustment.

Set the plane as before.

Set it so that you just start to get a light shaving. It’ll be a runt of a thing. Skinny because of the camber on the iron.

skinny shaving to one side

A skinny shaving that’s heavier on one side. We need to make some lateral adjustment.

Look down the throat of the plane as you take the shaving.

Is your shaving coming out towards one side of the iron?

If it is then the iron needs straightening.

If it’s coming out more to the right then twat the iron on the right side, towards the top to cant it over slightly.

lateral adjustment on the wooden plane

Feel and make another test.

Try to really acknowledge what you’re feeling before you make the adjustment.

Can you feel that it’s off to the right, as well as see it in the shaving?

Make sure to also feel it when it’s set correctly.

These initial adjustments should be made while the wedge is not fully engaged.

Once you’re happy, advance the cut until you’re getting closer to full width shavings. They’ll be fairly heavy as you’re using a cambered iron.

As you advance, you may also need to keep making small adjustments laterally (side to side).

Once you’re getting there, hammer the wedge home.
It doesn’t need wellying. Just tapping until the sound it makes changes, much like when you bottom out a peg in a joint.

After you lock the wedge you can still make adjustments, they’re just a lot finer, and heavy adjustments become much less predictable.

Full width shaving

That’s it… You can now set your wooden plane for a medium to coarse shaving.

Try to use your wooden plane whenever you are taking this type of shaving, and it will soon become second nature.

adjust for finer shavings with time

With time you’ll find you’re able to reduce the iron’s camber. As the iron’s edge becomes straighter and straighter you’ll be able to take finer and finer shavings.

The Adjustment Spots

 

Increase The Depth of Cut

Tap the top of the iron to advance the depth.

You can also tap the front of the plane on the end grain to make fine adjustments. This works best though on shorter planes.

Retract The Depth Of Cut

Tap the top front of the plane to retract the cut.

This is also used to release to iron by holding the wedge as you clump it.
Generally when you’re releasing the wedge you hit it a bit firmer.

You can also get the same effect by whacking the back of the plane, on the end grain, but again this works best on shorter planes.

Side To Side Adjustments

To make lateral (side to side) adjustments you tap either side of the iron at the top.

And of course, to lock the wedge you gracefully pummel the top of it (on a good plane, this is really just a few light taps).

And if that all seems like a lot to take in, then you can watch instead.
We’ve included a ‘How To Set Your Wooden Plane Video’ within our FREE Plane Build Mini Series. You can Sign Up to our video site HERE & watch the Plane Build today (The setting plane video will follow the build).

Plane Build Video Series

3 Responses

  1. David Paffort

    Thank you for the great tips Richard. One of my favorite woodwork books with additional tips is the Joint Book: The Complete Guide to Wood Joinery by Terrie Noll. However your blog provides excellent informations for every pro. I found in addition to that a very useful set of woodworking plans.
    Kind regards, Dave

    Reply

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