Hand Tools Archive

Re: Romanillos on planes and breakers

Sgian Dubh
Derek, setting the cap iron (chipbreaker) at different distances from the cutting edge of the iron in hand planes has been standard operating procedure for as long as I've worked wood. Presumably this has been standard for a few generations, if not longer, because I learnt it from old craftsmen that in turn had learnt it from old woodworkers, and so on.

Coarse cuts call for setting the cap iron back a bit and a wider mouth to prevent clogging, fine cuts require setting the cap iron closer to the cutting edge. Wood with a significant tendency to tear out because of reversing grain, etc often means setting the cap iron as close to the cutting edge as possible, perhaps supplemented by closing up the mouth, e.g., adjusting the frog. I wasn't really aware there was much mystery to these blade/ cap iron adjustments a user might make to a plane, until messages about the subject started appearing in woodworking forums just a few years ago.

Here's quite a good way of setting the cap iron close you might try. Sharpen the blade, attach the cap iron set back a few millimetres from the cutting edge, but leave the screw slightly loose, hold the blade and cap iron together vertically, rest the cutting edge of the blade on the wide face of a piece of wood on the bench, slide the cap iron down to touch the wood, tighten up the screw. If the setback isn't enough, push the blade into the wood a little harder before adjusting the cap iron and tightening it in place, or find a softer wood species on which to rest the cutting edge. You can also affect the setback by orientating the loosely assembled blade/ cap iron combination either with the grain or across the grain, especially in wood species with distinct differences in hardness between spring growth and summer growth.

As to the precise setback measurement this technique results in, I really can't say, but it does work for those times when 'close' is required. It's possible some might wince at the idea of jabbing a cutting iron into a piece of wood, but I really can't see a legitimate objection, because the follow up to setting up is edge dulling planing. And with the cutting edge of the iron slightly buried in a piece of wood during the set up, it certainly prevents the cap iron overlapping the cutting edge and damaging it one way or another. Slainte.

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