Hand Tools Archive

Thoughts about Steel - and shaving thickness

david weaver
I could be accused of starting a pointless discussion, but that's most of what I do these days :b

Usually, I do a pointless rambling and it's hard to find out what point I'm trying to make, but I'll make it first. I think if the steel used in a plane is a significant concern, then the size of the shaving is probably too thin. In general for everything. I'll concede that in single iron planes or shooting, sometimes subpar steel can be a bit more of an inconvenience because single iron planes are more sensitive to dullness than double irons, but probably the statement is still the case. Shooting can partially be worked around by leaving it only for small items that you can't plane.

In the grand curiosity below about PM V11, but also more about what we want to know or not know, 5 years ago I would've been really into the technical data (I am still sort of a beginner...well, compared to rank beginners I'm not, but compared to people who do this stuff for a living) and concerned about edge holding. I've tested irons before (which turned out to be a waste of time, but it satisfied curiosity and gave me some input on what an iron feels like through various stages, from just starting to lose clearance all the way to leaving literally a fuzzy surface).

I remember being dissatisfied with the edge holding on stanley irons and all of the various modern versions of the same (softer chrome vanadium steel). And at times thought "ghee, I wish A2 would stay sharp longer".

But I don't notice longevity issues at this point with any non-defective iron, for two reasons:
1) the double iron make sit so that you don't get in trouble with an iron that is losing or has lost clearance
2) more importantly, I'd assume that the average shaving thickness 5 years ago vs now is probably x2 or x3

The former is important because you can stay out of trouble if you set the plane to a too-thick shaving by accident, the plane will just stand you still if you get too aggressive, but not ruin whatever the workpiece is. The latter because a thicker cut continues further into removal of clearance angle and just by definition, you're removing 2 or 3 times as much wood per push of the plane.

This all occurs to me because no matter what I try now, the planes that I avoided early on are the ones I go back to. Wooden planes with soft-ish (relative to the new premium stuff) and a stanley 4. Including a couple that I thought from behavior on the sharpening stones the irons couldn't ever be fit for work.

I don't often make the same thing twice, but sizing plane billets from rough has been something I've done half a dozen of on the large ones now, and it's given me a chance to form my thoughts because I have an easy relative comparison.

Another errant thought I had early on was that thick shaving means coarse inaccurate work and a chance for a lot of problem. I don't think that any longer, though it is easy to get going with a jack and overshoot a mark if you fall mentally asleep while planing. A good try plane makes removing material in the flat easy enough that you don't have to take great risks with the jack, though, working right next to the line.

I would never have come to this conclusion if using power tools to do a lot of dimensioning still, there's no need for speed comparisons when all you have to do is smooth. But what you learn dimensioning saves time even when you're doing stuff just like flushing joints or planing panels that have mouldings attached to the edges in a perpendicular direction.

If there was a spectrum about whether or not the shaving is heavy enough to be productive, I'd say that it's figuring out what steel you can plane with until you're tired and still have it working acceptably. When I started, I could plane A2 until I couldn't tolerate its dullness and still not be tired. Now I can use water hardening steel and be pretty exhausted before I need to resharpen, despite having "better planing muscles" and being heavier.

I've put this thought through the wringer first thinking that I probably wouldn't be able to work harder woods this way and still have to drop back to a "better" iron (harder like hard maple), but have had no trouble even sizing a few large cocobolo blanks from rough sawn with a *smoother* - with a stanley stock iron. sizing cocobolo blanks for a few infills 5-6 years ago is what had me high on HSS irons in muji planes, and it's not the worst thing in the world to plane, but it's bad enough and it's the endpoint of hardness of things i'm likely to plane.

Just thought I'd bring it up. I don't see a lot of stuff like this discussed on blogs (OK, admittedly, I don't really read them unless someone links to them on a forum). Feel free to curse my name and tell me that I'm totally in the weeds!!

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