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Tifflin' & fiddlin' & fettlin'

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Mike Garnham09/05/2008 15:44:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos

In a previous thread Planes I described owning the 2 worst planes in the whole of England. I described my philosophy of not baming tools or forever seeking bigger and better tools, and suggested that my planes were plenty good enough. I had never heard of "fettling" a plane 2 months ago, and my planes had never been touched from the day they were acquired (apart, of course, from sharpening). I said that as far as all the stuff written about planes "I didn't get it".

Just to prove that I don't have a closed mind, and out of curiosity (would it make any difference?), I decided to have a go at fettling.

First stop: Andy King's article "Plane and Simple" Plane and Simple

Next top: the local glaziers for an off-cut of 9mm plate glass.

I decided to start with the base of the planes, because I had no idea whether they were flat or not.



Top one is the block plane, and the lower pic. is the no.4 1/2 (I'm told). Both are marked up with blue crayon.

I started with some medium wet & dry adhered to the glass, and began rubbing. It soon became obvious that this was not enough! So, on the other side of the glass I stuck some 120 grit sandpaper, and carried on rubbing. And rubbing.

Mike Garnham09/05/2008 16:20:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos


Neither plane was flat.


I forgot to take a picture of the block plane mid-work, but you can see that this plane is has a hollow sole (unlike me of course.......I am simply hollow, and have no soul......although I do have 2 soles!). You might be able to make out the shiny edges, and the shininess around the aperture.

It took a while, but in the end I achieved this:



You can see that the top picture (the larger plane) shows that I haven't removed all of the hollows. There is no logic in removing all that steel to get to a section of the base that has no relevence to the performance of the plane, so I stopped.

The bottom picture shows the block plane, which really had been all over the place, now entirely flat except for the 4 corners where mis-use by some previous owner had left quite a rounded-over profile. Again, I took the view that this couldn't influence the relationship between the blade and the wood, so left it there.

Mike Garnham09/05/2008 16:20:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos


My next job was flattening the plane irons.....(I've always called them blades!). This is something I have always done on an oilstone previously, each time I sharpened the blades. Using the glass and wet & dry, (a technique the Americans seem to call "scary sharp"!!!!) showed that my previous sharpening/ flattening hadn't been perfect. I knew my oilstone was getting a bit curved, and this was obviously making it difficult to keep everything nice and square and flat.

Both blades took a while, and the main difficulty lay in keeping an even pressure. I ended up using a block of wood with a screw head strategically placed.

Having realised how good a job this sand-papering was doing in flattening steel, it seemed obvious to put an edge on the blades at the same time, and this I did. They were fabulously sharp when I had finished.

Finally, the cap irons and lever caps got the same treatment.....and in the case of the block plane, this meant using the belt-sander to remove some great gollops of braze from the underside of the lever cap. For the first time since I had owned the block the blade made full contact with the cap when I had finished.

After a bit of final cleaning and oiling, everything was re-assembled. Two hours of filthy work (WD40 mixed with ultra-fine iron filings makes a paste that is almost irremovable!) I had 2 planes which certainly looked a lot better. I couldn't think of anything else I could do to improve them further.

So, did all this effort make them perform any better?

I grabbed some off-cuts and started planing.

The big plane cut beautifully! Nice cuts across the whole width of the blade, very even and making a sweet sound...........pretty much the same as before! If I am honest, maybe a 5% improvement, and I put that almost entirely down to the ultra-sharp square edge I had achieved on the blade (sorry, iron).

The block plane had never before been permitted to work on anything wider than about 15 or I tried it on a 30mm edge, and it did a lovely job. I then tried it on the flat face of an oak board, and whilst it wouldn't be my tool-of-choice in these circumstances, it certainly planed it rather well. That would have been impossible previously. I would score this as a 20% improvement, maybe.

If you are doing a scientific experiment, you only change one variable at a time, and test to see what difference it makes. I have altered the set-up of these planes wholesale, so I couldn't say with certainty which part of the work had led to the improvements. My feeling is that the major improvement came from getting the irons sorted properly and having a great edge, and that the flat sole was of marginal benefit.

Now that I have changed the tools, I must change how I use them and learn their new "feel" and capabilities. Was it really worth the effort? With the 4 1/2, probably not. With the block plane, which was a bit of a disaster it has to be said, definitely yes.

Now, where are my chisels........

Bob09/05/2008 17:29:00
85 forum posts


I've just read the above, and appreciate the work involved;but: was it really worth it?

I used the above article to set a new Stanley No. 5 up straight from the box, and found the information invaluable; I'm sure it saved me a lot frustration and swearing, but I didn't bother with flattening the sole, as I don't do that type of work - I do bodging and repair (as cheap as possible).


Andy King09/05/2008 20:05:00
170 forum posts
8 photos
19 articles

Hi Mike,

 looking at the first flattening pic on the smoother, it looks like you have contact points at the toe and heel, plus both sides of the mouth and just starting around the periphery. Now while the purists will say that isn't enough, I'd be happy with that, the start of any cut is bedding on a flat, the area in front of the blade then tracks this as the cutter bites, followed by the flattening behind the mouth. The hollow behind is pretty irelevant as the start of any cut should have pressure  on the toe of the plane. As it progresses, the final flat at the heel comes into play, and everything is hunky dory as its bedding on all four areas. As the plane exits the cut, the weight is transfered to the heel, so it's still all aligned through the cut.

The Japanese wooden planes are usually hollowed like this, so why not a steel one? It where you have a twist, hollow or convexity that you have problems. As i said, I try 'em first, then try and see what is wrong after!



Sparky09/05/2008 20:38:00
7631 forum posts
22 photos

I think you tend to plane in a way that compensates the defaults of a plane. If you notice certain problems when planing you change the way you use it. (if you know what I mean).

Mike Riley09/05/2008 20:48:00
337 forum posts
5 photos
5 articles
Mike further improvement may be gained by flattening and polishing the leading lower edge of the chip breaker so that it sits 100% flat on the iron and also by means of a quick dab of something like autosol over the sole of the plane with some fine wire wool, you might also want to start polishing the seat of the frog. I have done none of these things to my planes, but I have tried one of David Charlesworths planes (a Stanley no 5 / jack) which has had "the treatment" (TM) and it was certainly performing streets ahead of my own unfettled jack. Having said that David C's fettling is hugely thorough and his results are arrived at through a coming together of many things. It's a road that may be more than us mere mortals can bear to tread. Cheers Mike
Mike Garnham09/05/2008 22:09:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos


yes, I completely agree. As I said at the end of my piece, I think the improvement I noticed in the bigger plane was due to the work on the blade, and not the sole.......I only finished the work on the sole only out of academic interest.

The block plane, on the other hand, was convex when viewed from the end, and so did benefit from a bit of flattening out.

I think it is really important to think .....How does this tool work in principle? What am I really doing this for?


I did flatten the chip breaker.......I just felt I had the potential to bore people to tears so didn't describe that in my text! I also cleaned up the seat of the frogs...although, to be fair, they were in pretty good order. When I reassembled I also closed down the mouth a bit. Not sure if this will make any difference.

As I have said, one day I will go and visit that nice Mr Charlesworth.....if I did, I would take my own planes along. His reaction might be interesting!

I am not familiar with Autosol. What is it? I merely dabbed a bit of 3 in 1 on the steel, smeared it around then wiped it off.



Thanks for your interest next job is to make a replacement for the broken plastic handle. I'm not sure whether to laminate it out of oak with grains runnning at right angles......or to fashion something out of a lump of 25mm ply. The first will probably break....the second will probably be ugly as a mule and give me splinters!


Mike Garnham09/05/2008 22:21:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos


you make my point for me. These planes served me well for years (in fact, I managed with only the big one until about 3 or 4 years ago when I aquired the block plane).....and you learn how to achieve what you need to achieve. Instinctively, for instance, I never plane with the blade square to the work.......I always skew. However, I tried the newly-fettled planes square-on today, because I saw that in a video of David charleswoth's students. It worked, and it would never have worked before.

As for "reading a newspaper though the shavings" or "producing shavings thinner than a gnat's whisker" ..........I just don't get it, don't care, and don't want to know! I am interested in what is left behind, not what is taken away!




do you mean "was the work on the planes worth it" or "was the work on the article worth it"?

If the former, then flattening the blades and sharpening on glass was a good lesson well learned. Flattening the sole of the smaller plane was probably worthwhile, but it is still most likely to be mainly used for chamfering edges!

If you meant the latter.......well, that is for you and others to judge!


Matthew Platt09/05/2008 23:12:00
347 forum posts
9 photos


Thin shavings are desirable for three reasons.

Firstly, they seperate from the workpiece more readily, leaving a finer surface finish with less chance of tearout - especially in tricky grain.

Second, a plane is accurate to the thickness of the shaving over the length of the sole, so the thinner the shaving and/or the longer the sole, the more accurately you can flatten a surface with it.

Last but not least, thinner shavings give you much more control - sneaking up on a knifed line to accurately thickness a board for example. 

I must admit, my first reaction to the sole of your smoother was the same as Andy's - a prime case of do nothing, but in the end you reached that conclusion too. As for the handles, why not just use solid timber? Something strong like elm or oak would work beautifully.



Mike Riley09/05/2008 23:37:00
337 forum posts
5 photos
5 articles
Autosol is a metal polish, you can buy it in most places that sell car accessories. I guess the word Autosol is probably a brand name and I'm guilty of calling a vacuum cleaner a hoover! Apologies if so, As for the read through shavings the point is that if your shaving is that fine then you can, as Matthew says, sneak up on a knife line for an precise thickness of board for example. More precise thicknessing that you will ever achieve with a machine I suspect - certainly true in my own case. Cheers Mike
Olly Parry-Jones10/05/2008 10:30:00
2776 forum posts
636 photos

Glad to hear made some real progress with the block plane at least, Mike.

You should really have a go at making a wooden handle. I don't see the need to laminate anything (unless you're lacking any offcuts in that thickness), but the grain appears to run in the same direction as the length of the sole, on my planes... Yes, you'd think this might give it a weakness but I've not snapped a handle yet! I think the other reason for this is so you don't have unsightly end-grain looking up at you and, more importanty, it's to do with drilling the hole for the screw.

You should be able to do it with a bandsaw, some abrasive paper and files or rasps (if you don't have a bobbin sander, like I do!

Mike Garnham10/05/2008 10:40:00
4114 forum posts
1 photos

Matthew, Mike,

Granted that thin shavings have their advantages, of course. Even-thickness shavings would strike me as a priority, though. The student on the David Charlesworth video who boasts of a shaving 2 one-hundredths of a mm thick is the sort of extreme I was alluding to. You simply cannot draw a line to anywhere near that accuracy on wood, so to have your plane set up so that it would take 50 passes to remove a millimetre seems a bit pointless.

As for the is the grain direction that worries me in solid timber. Whichever way you orientate the grain it looks as thought there is a thin weak-point where the handle will snap. Hence my thinking re laminating it, with the grains at right angles. 

I'll look out for Autosol. 


Doug10/05/2008 11:12:00
3415 forum posts
35 photos

Mike wrote :-

"You simply cannot draw a line to anywhere near that accuracy on wood, so to have your plane set up so that it would take 50 passes to remove a millimetre seems a bit pointless"

Surely the point is you remove the main timber with thicker shavings, then the final timber is removed with the finest shaving you can produce so minimising any sanding etc.

I haven`t seen the Charlesworth student, but if he can produce a shaving of one-hundredths of a millimetre, then i imagine the piece would be ready for finishing without any further surface preparation.

It is only the same as i do when surface planing, i set the machine to take 1 to 2 mm off, then when i`m near to my dimensions i reduce the depth of cut to a minimum. So giving the best finish possible from the machine.


Matthew Platt10/05/2008 12:00:00
347 forum posts
9 photos

Mike wrote :-

"To have your plane set up so that it would take 50 passes to remove a millimetre seems a bit pointless."

David is one of the very few Makers who teaches to exhibition standards. He expects a working tolerance of one tenth of a mm, so with a plane set to take a 2 thou shaving  you've only got four chances to get it just right and then one full length shaving to remove any marks.



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