RJ's 19 Steps to Tuning a Handplane


  1. Clean everything
  2. Reassemble the plane and retract the iron. Now flatten the sole by lapping it on sandpaper (a 3" x 24" sanding belt works well) - the paper should be attached to a good flat surface (some people use their jointer or tablesaw for this; I prefer a piece of 1/4", or thicker, plate glass). The important areas are the nose, toe, sides and around 1" in front of and behind the throat. Start with around 80-100 grit and work up through at least 320 (I go to 600 but that may be overkill).
  3. With an accurate square check the relationship between the sole and both sides. If it's 90 degrees you're in good shape. If it isn't you can try to square it yourself, or you can have it done for a reasonable fee at a machine shop (they can flatten the sole too if you're really lazy or the sole is way out). With the sides square to the sole you can now use your plane with an "shooting board" to sweeten up your miters and square cuts - it you don't care about this you can just skip this step.
  4. Disassemble the plane and check the boss that the frog mounts upon - it should be flat with no little bumps or high spots. You can easily file this area flat and smooth.
  5. Check the bottom of the frog (the area that bears upon the boss checked in step 4. Flatten and smooth this area if necessary.
  6. Check the throat opening - it should be square to the side, with no chips or dings. File it square and smooth if necessary - don't go overboard removing material.
  7. Check the lateral adjuster for smooth operation - clean and lube if needed.
  8. Check the depth adjusting mechanism for smooth operation - clean and lube if necessary.
  9. Flatten the back of the iron and sharpen and hone the bevel using whatever sharpening method you prefer (Scary Sharp™ seems to be the method in favor right now).
  10. Lap the chip breaker so that it mates tightly with the iron - if you don't do this (very common error), the shavings will get stuck between the iron and the breaker and cause one unholy mess.
  11. Attach the breaker to the iron and set the edge of the breaker back about 1/32nd from the tip (this is the starting point).
  12. Put the frog loosely into position and lay the iron into position (hope you won't be insulted, but you mentioned a lot of chatter - the bevel faces down; if you have it facing up your plane is trying to be a scraper). Move the frog forward with the adjusting screw until the tip of the iron is within 1/32nd of the front edge of the throat opening. Tighten the frog screws, add the cap iron and lock everything down. Recheck the gap between the iron and front of the throat. If it's still 1/32nd you're in good shape. If it isn't, readjust the frog until it is. This is a starting point.
  13. Adjust the cap iron so that you can still adjust the iron depth with the cap iron locked in position (not too loose or too tight).
  14. Adjust the iron for a thin shaving (some people do this by sighting down the sole and spotting the iron - I find it easier to do by feel).
  15. Take a shaving in some type of fairly straight grained wood. You should get a nice shaving across the entire width of the iron - fuss with the lateral adjuster and depth until you get the best shaving possible.
  16. Move the breaker a little closer to the tip of the iron - the shaving should get better.
  17. Move the frog forward (smaller gap) - you should get another small improvement.
  18. Go back and forth with these two adjustments until you have them optimized.
  19. You're done

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© 2003 by Ellis Walentine by special arrangement with Wayne Miller of Badger Pond. All rights reserved.
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