Workbench Day 4: Just plane fun…

I got to spend a full 2 and a half hours out in the shop today working on the bench top.

Learning to fly but I ain’t got wings…

I decided to follow the advice of Paul Sellers and try and use my hand plane to smooth out the sides of the pieces to prep for gluing up the top.  I like his simple technique of using two saw horses as a support and straddling the wood to start planning on the end.   Once you get a foot or so planed,  you simply simply push the end of the board against something rigid and using that as a planing stop.  In my case it was one of the exposed studs in the wall of my garage…and from what I can tell, the method works great!

Can set up get any easier than this? No cords, no glasses, no mask, no ear plugs…

I quickly cleaned up the faces of one of the 2x4s and was surprised at how fast the hand plane removed the rough saw marks from the mill—there was a checkered pattern impressed into the wood from something and with just a few swipes, it was erased.  Even knots and ragged cuts were easily sliced off.

That’s when trouble started.  I realized then that maybe I could plane the edge that would be the top (when glued up) instead of using my circular saw and a jig I’m planning on making in order to rip a 1/2″ slice off.  So I turned the board and started on the edge.

This seems rather daunting…

Within a few minutes, I had 2/3 of the edge planed and it came to a nice crisp corner…talk about pleased with myself!

Wow…did I do that???

I didn’t even notice I had started to develop a nice blister on my right hand (holding that little knob at the front of the plane…these things aren’t really made for bigger guys, are they?  My left hand barely fits on the handle at the rear of the plane…I have to push my pinky finger forward to get a grip).  I tried one last pass to finish the board and it jammed.  And again, and again.

Skip forward 40 minutes later and I had come to the conclusion that the blade had dulled enough that the plane started to chatter across the wood instead of slice it.  Soooo, out came the tiles, sandpaper and Windex.  I followed the premise of the Scary Sharp method, but used Mr. Seller’s sharpening technique (30 strokes, get the corners, one swipe on the bevel, move to the next grit, etc.) and within 5 minutes had a mirror finish on the blade’s bevel.  Nice.  Looks even sharper than the first time.  I used sandpaper grits of 100, 600, and 800.  I know, I know, not ideal, but as the song says, “All I could afford!”  But that got me thinking too—why would the blade already go dull after only 1 board?  I think I know the answer (and “It’s all I could afford” is the root of the problem).  Cheap steel.

So.  Two more things go on the immediate, when funds allow, purchase to save your back and blisters: a Hock 2-inch #4 bench plane replacement blade, and a good set of whetstones/Arkansas stones/Diamond stones (whatever!).  Although, if I get a Hock blade I probably won’t need to sharpen it nearly as much as I do now, which means the sandpaper method I’m using will be fine.  On the other hand, if I wanted to save money (because the blade I have will likely need to be sharpened a lot) I should get the whetstones now…hmm…yet more stuff to ponder.  While I’m sharpening…

So, freshly sharpened and ready to go, the plane hit the wood again and after a few adjustments for depth, man oh man were the shavings flying.

Oh the humanity!

In fact, they were flying a little too much.  I checked my watch and realized I spent about 15 minutes on one board (more than the other two) and when I was finally satisfied of a nice crisp top edge, I put it next to its two brothers.  And found, to my dismay, that #3, what I thought was the best of the lot so far, was heinously bowed in the middle where I took out waaaay too much wood.  When I lined up all the ends, for about a foot and a half on either end, all three planks look nice and sharp and smooth. The two of them look like that all along the edge.  #3 curves down and away from the top.   To add insult to injury, I discovered that a knot that I had planed on board #2 and thought was all nice and smooth looking, suddenly fell out when walking it across the garage.  So, that board now has a nice hollow point about  1/4″ from the top edge that will have to be cut with the saw.

It was enough to make me want to get out the circular saw…until I realized that I have the tool in my hand to fix it.  I will instead, glue up as normal, but match the centers, and then plane down the ends of the one board to match the others and create a nice top.  Whew…that was close.  Almost let impatience get me again.  I am determined to take my time and do this right.

Besides, I’ll get plenty of time on the circular saw.  There are more than a few planks that will have to have the saw cut through them because of knots that are open (I don’t feel like shaving off 1/2″ with the hand plane when I can do it in 30 seconds with the saw).  So, while the bench will definitely not be built without the use of power tools, I do want to limit it as much as possible.

Now I just hope my hand heals up over night because I’m going to be back out there tomorrow, even if I have to wear a glove.  If using other hand tools is anything like playing with—I mean working with—a hand plane, you can go ahead and count me as a rabid, foaming at the mouth Neanderthal convert.

Not too shabby for the first time “using” a hand plane, eh?

What are my takeaways from today?

— man hand tools are a workout…my clothes were drenched and I had to shower before the kids got up!

— get a Hock blade…NOW…see previous takeaway

— slow down, slow down, slow down (this is a hand plane, not a jet plane, or even a Jet plane-r)

— like weightlifting, don’t worry about maxing out right away, perfect your form first

—  a sharp blade makes for a happy plane

— don’t use the plane in the garage on a windy day (when the wind blows in the garage)

— get better saw horses (where “get”=”make”)

— a + B = c/4-(3xpi)


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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4 Responses to Workbench Day 4: Just plane fun…

  1. Gator says:

    Yikes, you make simple boring work sound VERY interesting. How do you write and work at the same time or do you wait until you are all done?
    Sounds like you are enjoying the project… makes me want to do something too, but it is way to HOT here for any garage work yet…. lol

    • No, I certainly don’t have the time to do all this at once. Usually, what I do is complete the work and take a few pics at the same time. Then, later, when the kids are down for the night, I’ll sit down and type up what happened. A few times and I’ll wait until the next morning and do the write-up before the kids get up.

  2. David says:

    Hold the plane tote with middle, ring and pinkie fingers. Index finger pointing forward resting against the iron (and available to turn the adjuster).

    • I will give that a shot. That’s just like holding a saw…never thought of that! I have read a lot about sharpening planes, bevel angles and what not, but I can’t recall too much detail about how to hold it! Thanks for the tip!

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