When I decided to start woodworking I chose do it with wooden planes. Perhaps this was heavily influenced by what Richard felt would be a good route to take, but also because I’ve always felt a great attraction towards them.
Setting up a wooden hand plane is not intuitive. Not for me and not for the many people who I’ve seen pick one up off our bench at a woodworking show and attempt to get it to do anything (without any joy). Many times Richard has told me where to hit to release the blade and where to hit to deepen the cut, and many more times I’ve asked him to tell me again.
Hit on the front to deepen the cut,
Hit on the back to lessen the cut, hit harder to release the blade.
Tap the wedge lightly after any adjusting.
You can also go deeper by tapping the top of the blade itself (that bit can be remembered easily.)
Knowing those basic points don’t make you an expert plane setter. You can watch it being done over and over again but it doesn’t make you any good yourself. The only way to figure this out is to do it.
Every part of hand tool woodworking is about using all of your senses and never is this more true than when adjusting a wooden plane.
Being taught by Richard helps me to appreciate just how attuned these senses can become over many years of using them. He felt ridges in the wood, and heard the plane adjust when I perceived next to nothing. And that’s surprising coming from a man with little sense (& skin calluses).
The important thing at first is not getting results, but becoming attuned to what the plane is telling you. If you set it up right straight away then you will learn nothing so don’t get disheartened. Even Richard has to spend a few minutes getting to know a new plane he hasn’t used before, as they all respond fractionally differently.
Set the iron in place seated on the work surface, and insert the wedge. Tap the wedge in to place to secure. Listen carefully, once the wedge is seated the tone will deaden – I spent a long time trying to adjust a plane without any joy only for Richard to inform me that I had the wedge far too tight for my adjustments to be effective.
Sight down the bottom of the plane to see where the cutting edge is sitting. Is it protruding more at one edge than the other? Feel carefully to confirm this.
To begin I was shown how to use a thin piece of wood to help read this – taking a shaving by pulling the wood across the blade at the two edges shows how well it is set. If the shaving is too deep at both then the blade needs retracting – you will cause tracks in your work. If there’s no shaving then you need to deepen the cut. And if the shaving is uneven then you need to tip the blade over by hitting it on the side, low down with a small metal hammer.
After making any adjustments, the wedge will need a light tap to ensure everything stays locked.
The smoothing plane is the most difficult to set up just right. It has the slightest of camber and you want to ensure that you get a full width shaving that fades out at both edges so that you leave no tracks, leaving a beautifully smooth finish.
In an odd sort of sense it was the most difficult plane which Richard instructed me to perfect first of all. The idea being that if I’m going to get to grips with these things then this one is the greatest teacher.
Practice and patience are the key, and I continue to keep this just little and often because it’s surprising how much you progress when taking a break. I’m by no means an expert, but I have developed a much stronger understanding of how to correct things when they’re not right. And knowing which end to hit when is almost becoming second nature.