Cap Irons & Tear Out – VIDEO

by | May 8, 2015 | 45 comments


Stubborn tear out can be a huge frustration.

Particularly when you’re just getting everything smoothed off and it shows it’s ugly face.

I’m not one for faffing about with my tools, and whilst I expect my hand planes to give a perfect result, most of them look dog rough.

But getting to know the benefits of the cap iron / chip breaker, is one bit of faffing that I can highly recommend. Especially if you don’t have a dedicated smoothing plane.

The cap iron is an incredible control for tear out.

In the video above I explain why and how.

Preparing Your Cap Iron – Watch the Second Video in this Series

Setting Your Cap Iron – Watch the Third Video in this Series

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Roy

    Thank you Richard. Although I have seen it stated many times that a close set cap iron can reduce tear out, your explanation as to why is the clearest and easiest to understand. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    • Richard

      Thanks Roy, you did well I don’t think even I understood what I was saying 😉

  2. Dave

    Gnat’s nadger, should be the new official woodworking term for anything very small!

    Why not skew plane on difficult wood? I thought all that did was reduce the angle, therefore making it easier. I often find myself naturally skewing the plane as it seems easier sometimes.

    • Richard

      Gnat’s nadger… yea we’ll go with that!
      There’s nothing wrong with skewing a plane, and it does give you an advantage sometimes. But when you approach difficult grain it can often cause a bit of trouble. As you pointed out it lowers the angle and that itself makes it more prone to tearing, and also it effectively opens the mouth because you’re taking now a diagonal measurement. It might be a nice post actually.

  3. Bob V

    As always, greatly enjoy your posts. Knowledgeable. Passionate. Thanks!

    • Richard

      Knowledgeable? Passionate, yes!

      • Bob V

        All things are relative. From where I am… you are DEFINITELY Knowledgeable! 🙂

  4. David Charlesworth

    Good stuff Richard.

    I would like to have seen the two, blade capiron settings. How close would you say the close one was?

    We found it easier to see tearout with a low raking spotlight, from a lamp perhaps. Diffuse filming lights not so helpful.

    Best wishes,
    David Charlesworth

    • Richard

      Hi David,
      In hindsight it would have been a good idea to have shown both settings. How close was the close one? Well, you know me… anything smaller than 1/8″ is unmeasurable. I have it tapped as close as I feel possible by the human hand, it’s literally just a touch of light between the cutting edge and the cap iron. Any closer and I would fear I would damage the cutting edge.
      The other plane was set probably just under 1mm back.
      Trying to work with diffused filming lights is hell, I know exactly what you mean there. When I’m planning I normally just have the door open and that’s often all I need.

      Next time I see your plane and you’re not about I’m going to take it to bits… I want to see what enchantments you have going on in there!

    • Richard

      Sorry David, that end bit almost sounded threatening, not intended!

  5. jb

    I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but this video is amazing.

    A Japanese professor did a nice controlled experiment on blade angles, and chipbreakers. Absolutely amazing.

    (If you’re impatient, skip to ~4 mins.)

    • Richard

      Thank you, I’ll set to with a cup of tea!

  6. Ian M. Stewart

    Thank you Richard for the most sensible and clear presentation I have ever seen on this subject. I look forward to the next instalment, as I have been negligent in my cap iron setting.
    I have been pondering the making of a small wooden smoothing plane myself, as I have an I. Sorby 1-5/8″ double iron I don’t need, and a piece of hornbeam that is too short for most uses, but suitable for a small woody. I’m now going to wait for more insight from you.

    • Richard

      Thanks Ian,
      Making a small woody, that sounds interesting, I’ve got a thing for user made planes. I’ll rush the video out as soon as I can!

  7. Ken Haygarth

    Brilliant and Honest video. Thanks Richard

    • Richard

      Cheers Ken.

  8. David Charlesworth


    I hope to see you both at Cressing Temple show.

    All my career, I thought close was about 0.5mm or 1/32″. No one that I was aware of ever specified exactly what close was.

    So I used all the tricks of conventional wisdom. Nicely prepared C/B, fine shavings and an ultra close mouth. 0.004″.

    Since seeing the kawai Kato research video, I now strive for 4 to 6 thou setting, steeper C/B front edge, and open mouth!! This deals amazingly well with impossible stuff.

    BTW it is possible to have a cambered C/B edge and Cambered blade! I have done this.

    best wishes,

    • Richard

      Thanks David,
      I look forward to seeing you again too, it would be nice if we could have a good chat on this, I would like to get your take on how you achieve the tolerance when setting the cap iron.

      The cambered cap iron / blade combo sounds very interesting, I wonder how effective it is on the really heavy shavings? I suppose my only reservation is knowing how gruff my sharpening is, particularly on a working day basis, so I wonder how difficult it would be to keep those cambers the same.


  9. Jaime Clifton

    Thank you for this video:-
    I’m fairly new to hand tool woodworking and am struggling through, mainly via learning from online resources: said learning is difficult due to the enormous amount of conflicting views and opinions.
    One of my biggest difficulties has been trying to get my planes to perform like those of various “guru’s” on the net – I’m getting too thick a shaving, following by too thin a shaving, followed by tear out, followed by repeated head banging: I refuse to give up.
    I have been searching for some simple guidance on the very basics of how the hand plane achieves its ultimate goal and how the user accomplishes that; so thank you for helping my understanding of that…. It’s only with with the very deep and in-depth understanding of how the basics of a system works comes the steep learning curve and hence the novices quicker ascertaining of their goals.
    Keep up the good work & with thanks.

    • Richard

      Hi Jaime,
      Keep refusing to give up, anyone and everyone is capable. The conflicting info is just the internet’s thing, and I suppose it’s because there’s so many right answers! If you have a few credible sources then it’s worth trying out a handful of approaches and picking through with trial and error until you find what suits you.
      All the best.

  10. Stephen Melhuish


    what can i say but a very straight forward and beautifully put demonstration on the merit of a correctly set up cap iron.
    To understand what is happening at the cutting edge between blade and grain is everything, if you were to look at this under a microscope it would show the fibre or tubes of the wood in cell form exposing themselves at different angles to the iron as it passed over them when you have what we all call “reversing grain”…the cap iron helps the actual cutting iron to keep its edge vibration free as possible when the grain tries to disrupt its pass across it, this results in a clean steady pass that is relatively unaffected by it’s conflicting angles of tubular cells hitting the cutting edge.
    The sharpness of the blade is of course also hugely helpful in this cause.
    Well done on a simple and effective no nonsense demo.

  11. davdos

    brilliant ,I look forward to the next vid, I have always turned to a scraper to finish nasty grain ,from watching this I believe I have to much of a camber on my iron ,thanks

  12. Polly Becton

    Good plan for a smoother; works great.

    Not a good plan for a jack or for a scrub plane. My jack (set to .010-.030″ cut) is really hard to push with a really close cap iron set to less than =/- .035″ and my scrub with a 4″ radius with a matching radiused cap iron (Ron Hock Krenov-style) set to take a 1/16″ cut can’t be pushed at all (by me at least) until the cap is moved back to at least 1/8″, and it really likes more.

    I wonder if there is a “formula” or at least a “working rule of thumb” for the optimum setting relative to the depth of cut???

    When you get to the subject again, may I suggest that you might make a lot of folks happy if you quantify things a bit and talk about the other planes, not just the smoothers.

    • Richard

      Hi Polly,
      Thank you. My opinion on the cap iron for any plane other than the smoother is, like I mention at the beginning of the video, they are nothing more than a hindrance and I’d sooner not have one. Like you say they certainly don’t aid on a jack or a scrub plane, and a big part of this for me is the added time needed when sharpening.
      With regards to a formula, personally I only find them to be of benefit when set exceptionally close to the edge, so for tasks other than smoothing I’ll keep mine right up and out of the way.
      I am interested in experimenting more though, one more thing for the future.

      • Jeroen

        What they say in old books is: leave the distance of the capiron the same as the shavings thickness. So The coarser the shaving the further back the capiron should be.

        Great video Richard as always. But why then do you have a wooden smoother without a capiron?

      • David Weaver

        I’d take a different tack with the penultimate steps (thicknessing to a mark, or jointing an edge), and that is that the cap iron is exceptionally nice at that step, maybe more necessary there than with a smoother. For two reasons:
        1) you can work a thick chip right to a mark (thick being something between .005 and .01 on ash like you’re working) and have little damage to remove with a smoother. This step tortured me on less than agreeable woods when I first started dimensioning wood entirely by hand, the choice without the double iron seems either to take very thin shavings or screw around some other way, every once in a while something catastrophic happens and you blow past your marked line to get rid of it.
        2) it takes what everyone thinks are chattery planes (stock stanley planes or old woodies) and with the cap set, you can literally bring yourself to a halt before such planes will chatter. Both puzzled me as a beginner in heavy cuts, so I did what most do, I bought a lot of premium planes.

        There’s a multitude of other reasons for it at those steps, the plane cuts tearout free or minimally so with clearance, but without much sharpness, the time between sharpening is longer, the chip you can work is thicker without getting into trouble.

        I believe the penultimate step is probably what eliminated single iron planes from the market (at least for the most part, with the exception being maybe the most thrifty workers).

        I am glad to see the discussion, I hope it spreads further!!

        • Warren Mickley

          I could not agree more, David. You really want the surface in good shape after truing and not have to use the smoothing plane to remove tea rout. As Nicholson said in 1812, the smoothing plane “is used chiefly in cleaning off finished work.” If a fellow doesn’t know how to employ a double iron jack plane or trying plane I would have to think he is a novice with the double iron.

          • Richard

            Don’t worry, I left the concerns of tear out behind with puberty. As David said, this is a great topic worth further discussion, but is beyond the scope of this video and this post. I aim for clarity on subjects for my audience so try to cover one point at a time, but I have mentioned previously that I don’t simply class a plane by it’s length but how I’ve chosen to set it up for use. 90% of my work is finished off the try which is set up closely to my smoother (I don’t do any of the whispy, thin gravity defying shavings).
            If I’m hogging off material however then I won’t concern myself with the cap iron, I don’t have problems with tear out since I’ll read the wood, make judgement and alter my approach on the fly, but that’s a whole other subject. I’ll not just judge every piece of wood as being the same, I’m working it by hand so I can respond as a human.
            When I look for the positive point in what you’ve written I do find that we’re almost on the same page… almost.

  13. Kees

    Very nice explanation and good video. I always like your vids not the least because of the funny accent ( I’m from the continent so probably have a much funnier accent…)

    Regarding the coarse planes. When you are into old planes then you’d better just get used to it. Each and every one of them has a double iron blade. Maybe that should tell us a lesson. I find that a double iron cambered blade in a jack or fore plane, set as close as it goes (still fairly wide of course) helps to reduce the depth of teraout. Where a single iron plane often loves to dig really deep, the capiron helps to keep the damage near the surface making for an easier repair.

    And it is absolutely usefull in a jointer or tryplane.

  14. Matt Knights


    I have read loads on setting the chip breaker close and it was all a bit jumbly and I didn’t really get it, you explain it and everything drops into place. I tried it this morning on some gnarly kiln dried ash (just like you did, only because I sort of didn’t believe you) and its amazing even planed over a massive knot and there was nothing, the plane just laughed at it. I am now setting up a spare blade and chip breaker just for this purpose. I still cannot believe it. Thank you so much. You provide us all with a sense of reason, I for one am so glad you have decided to pass on your knowledge to the masses.

    Thanks again


  15. John Ferguson

    Hello Richard, thanks for another great video. I have a follow up question to the camber discussion. On my smoothers I have a slight camber so if I am planing anything wider than my plane I don’t get “track marks”. What do you do in this situation? Accept that the cap iron won’t be as close as you would like or go with a straight edge?



    • Richard

      Hi John, I camber my smoothers too, it will be no problem. The next video shows how I set it up so that should make it a bit clearer.

      • Dries

        Hi Richard,

        Any chance to explain briefly how one can get a cambered edge when sharpening freehand? I know you can get “wings” by lifting the sides and dropping with every pass but that doesn’t result in a continuous camber along the edge of the blade.
        A big thanks in advance and regards,


  16. Douglas Coates

    Plain English excellence. Just re-tuned a Lie No3 and tried some reverse oak. Perfect. Then retuned an 1860 Spiers coffin… same. Then took the CI up tight on my Sparks No70 which is a blinder anyway – pure silk.
    I’ve been using and tuning planes for years but this is a step-change. The Japanese video very useful indeed too. :):)

  17. Tobin Dietrich


    That did it, I had to subscribe after I saw this one.

    I’ve been casually perusing your site every now and again when Google recommends it as similar to something else I’ve read. I always enjoyed your videos and your approach generally but I thought “eh… another woodworking blog, who has time?” I’d even seen the Japanese video and heard about the magic of a fine cap iron setting, but it never became quite so clear as it did when you explained it and then demonstrated it. Many thanks.

  18. David Nighswander

    The swirling grain of a knot has always been a fascination for me. With your help I have a new weapon in the effort to achieve a smooth, tear out free, surface. I’ll have to unearth another #3 and try the new setup.
    Won’t take long to find it I’ve just been waiting for an excuse to bring it out.
    If it works with a skewed blade I wonder will it work cross grain? Always wanting more. I’m thinking if it will work with multidirectional grain than it might just improve the action in any direction of use on straight grained wood. Would such a setup work with a turning blade? Such a wonderful new arena opens with each experiment.
    I enjoyed the patiently waiting pup behind you too. My dog would be sneaking out to be chasing rabbits if I let her into the workshop.

  19. Mitchell

    Wonderful stuff, Richard. Looking forward to the followup.

    Love the pup behind you, by the way, although her look sort of says that she has heard it all before – :0)


  20. Dave

    If you want a nice long post full of debate and conflicting information, you can’t do much better than blog about plane set up, or sharpening.

    I guess for me the point is that your video explains the mechanics of the chip breaker, as to how it snaps of fibres to prevent tear out.

    It’s up to the user to put that together with mouth sizes, sharpening, camber, technique, style, preferences etc to do what’s best for them.

    That’s what I particularly like about Richard’s style, (apart from gnats nadgers and other general character elements), he focuses on one thing at a time, gives you the facts, tells you there’s some wrong ways, but more importantly, lots of right ways, and then lets you decide what to do with that information.

    Seen so many other presenters trying to say their way is right, or best etc.. this is refreshing, and I must say has been added to my wood whisperer and WW for mere mortals list of “watch ’em as soon as they’re out” videos.

    • Dave

      Apologies for the mis-spelling of “off” and for some reason changing my style from “to Richard” to “about Richard” – hope the point is clear!

  21. Matthew Platt

    Thank you Richard and Helen for an excellent video.

    I’ve been playing around with methods of achieving really close settings and found the easiest and safest way is to stand the assembled double iron, pointy end down, on a bit of leather. Loosen the screw and allow the cap iron to rest on the leather too.

    Tilt the irons slightly in the direction of the cap iron, as you would with a chisel when undercutting a joint, hold it in position, tighten the screw and away you go. About 10 degrees for a gnats, 5 degrees for half a gnats, 15 for a gigolo and so on…



  22. Tim Raleigh

    Thanks, great video.
    “Gnats nambjer” love it.

  23. Lenard Burgess

    Thank you for the concise and clear post/video.

  24. TC

    All makes sense and explains a lot, even about the width of the mouth. Have an old stanley which still seems to pick up wood in between the blade and the cap iron. Guess it needs a hell of a tune! Jap video good too, interesting to see on a microscopic level.
    The more i know, the less i know.
    Just paves the way for more questions!

  25. Barry

    Hi Richard.
    Many thanks for your guidance on the use of Cap irons and plane setting. I have struggled with this and your videos have helped tremendously to get back “on-track”. I am currently preparing some kiln dried american white ash (groan) for a tool cabinet I am building and your advice has really helped me reduce tear out and get a better finish. all the best Barry.

  26. Don Kennedy

    Hi Richard,
    I have been using bevel-up planes for a long time, but recently bought a new (old) Stanley/Bailey #5. I really struggled with it and never had anything but poor results. Considered getting rid of it. After watching your video, my planing world changed dramatically. I setup my #5 as you suggested, plus (and this was KEY to the whole thing) held my plane as you did. What a complete transformation! It is now my favourite hand plane. My expensive, new bevel-up planes are now at risk…

    Thank you so much for your explanations and videos!

    Don Kennedy, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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