How to tune a try plane woodie for use


It takes a lot to get me up at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. But the “Barn sale. Tools…” ad worked like three cups of coffee. Still, my lady doesn’t share my enthusiasm for rust hunting, so to entice her, I described it as an adventure. And if by “adventure” you take that to mean that I promised to buy her breakfast along with the hope of finding vintage treasure that would appeal to her, then you’d be right.

Three people entered the sale before us and damned if one of them didn’t ace me out of a Stanley #5. The very offender was looking at the woodies when I tippie-toed next to him to slip this one off a high shelf for inspection.

P01-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-Farm-Fresh-Right-Side P02-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-Farm-Fresh-Left-Side

It had a crack near the handle due to shrinkage over the last century. And the previous owner had replaced the cap-iron bolt with a brass one that was too long. So he carved a space out of the back of the wood wedge to accommodate it.

P05-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-Capiron-brass-screw-collage

Still, I figured that for $5.00, the iron alone was worth the price.

P10-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-iron

Tuning for use
The plane is 22” long, a perfect length for a try plane. I work with rough and resawn stock a lot. Since I don’t have a bandsaw, my resawn faces can be pretty rough. So after using a highly-cambered foreplane, I remove the foreplane’s scallops, and flatten the faces, with a medium-cambered try plane.

For an excellent discussion of iron camber (when to do it and how much) Bob Rozaieski’s article on the subject is a must read.

Now I could use my Stanley #7 as a try plane, but it weighs over 8 pounds versus the woodie’s 6 lbs. That adds up over the course of truing surfaces. Moreover, I’ve configured #7 as a jointer, meaning that the iron is sharpened straight across with zero camber. It won’t get as much use in its role as a joinery plane, but when I do need it, it will fit the bill. Go here to read a detailed treatise on the differences between a try plane and a jointer.

Truing the sole
Placing a straight-edge along the bottom of the sole revealed a disappointing gap of about 3/16” at the toe and heel. I was worried that I’d have to remove a lot of material to flatten the sole—nearly ¼” of an inch. If that had been the case, I would have “resoled” the bottom afterward with some beech to make up the difference.

After securing the plane upside down in a vise, I used my #7 to true the bottom. It was set for light shavings and made quick work of truing the sole without removing too much material.

P06-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-truing-sole P07-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-sole-flat

Dressing the iron bed
In order for the plane to perform properly, and free of chatter, the iron edge must be fully supported near the tip. However, when the iron was seated, I could easily slip a piece of paper between it and the supporting bed. To properly bed the iron, I followed Bob Rozaieski’s podcast tutorial.

The iron bed was so crusty, and uneven that I resorted to using a curve-cut mill-tooth file to remove it while leaving a smooth finish.

I also cleaned up the sides of the mouth with a toothbrush and mineral spirits to remove the dirt and crud.

Afterwards, my paper “feeler gauge” no longer slipped between the bed and iron.

Securing the tote
The tote was a little loose, and wobbled a bit from side to side.

P1-Crack by handle

Apparently the previous owner had the same issue because there’s a screw through the front of the handle into the plane body.

P01.5-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-Screw-secures-tote

My preference would have been to remove the screw, then reseat the handle securely using hide glue, as Bob Rozaieski suggested to me in an email response. However, the screw would not budge. So I squeezed hide glue into the open “slit” adjacent to the handle on one side and into the shrinkage crack on the other. Now the tote is secure.

A bunch of iron work
The mating between the iron and cap iron needs to be tight enough so that try-plane thickness shavings can’t get caught between them. My test fit showed light between the two surfaces. To address this, I started by flattening the back of the iron to a mirror finish. That way, any adjustments I made to the cap iron would be relative to a “flat” reference point.

Mating the iron and cap iron
To do that, I followed Ryan’s method to flatten the underside of the cap iron. And while I was at it, I filed the cap iron bolt so that it barely extends beyond the surface of the iron it mates to.

Cambering the iron
The key to flat surfaces with a try plane is a medium camber to the iron. Using an iron with zero camber will leave track marks on the face. By contrast, a medium camber will leave gouges shallow enough for a smoothing plane to remove.

To camber the iron, I mostly followed Ryan’s tutorial here.

By “mostly” I mean that I did not rig a pen on a length of string to scribe a 12.5” arc across the tip of the iron. If you’ve never done it before, I suggest that you do. If you’re going to get into cambering blades it’s essential that you get this experience under your belt. Telling you how much to camber your iron won’t guide you nearly as much as doing it yourself and experiencing the results in use.

That said, I’ve found that when I grind to a scribe line, I end up with a heavily cambered iron that is more appropriate to a foreplane/jack plane than to a try plane. So now, to get the lesser camber, I very gently freehanded it on the grinder.

So I started in the middle of the iron and pushed it towards the spinning wheel until it ever so slightly engaged it. Keeping a very light touch, I arced it to the right being careful to keep the arc shallower than my senses told me to. Then I did this to the left, and alternated to the right then left, until I had a perceptible camber. When I put the edge to a ruler, the camber was much larger than my eyes perceived it to be, but noticeably less than that of a foreplane. Perfect.

Test cut #1
After securing the iron with the wedge, I made a few adjustments and put the plane to some pine.

P09-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-Shavings-macroP08-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-Shavings-closeup

The plane definitely takes some nice shavings. However, what I thought was a secure wedge, consistently came unseated during use. Upon closer inspection, I concluded that it was not original to this plane. It’s too narrow for the throat and side abutments by a full ¼”.

P11-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-OriginalWedge-TooNarrow

Making a new wedge
Bob’s tutorial on making a new wedge made the experience easy.

I would add that while the original wedge was too narrow, its angles were correct. Meaning that the wedge did mate securely with the cap iron and abutment faces (not sides.) So I measured the angle with a protractor…

P12-Ohio-Tool-Co-Try-Plane-Protractor-Measuring-Original-Wedge-Angle

…and transferred it to the wedge blank. That worked like a charm and now the new oak wedge keeps the iron secure in use.

It was a lot of work bringing this tool back to usable shape. But I learned a lot and look forward to using my new try plane on projects. Not a bad trade for the Saturday morning sleep minutes I lost. And of course, the real treasure of a weekend breakfast with my lady.

© 2014, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

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About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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