Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trying a wooden jack plane

This old jack is still a workhorse
Even though my metal jack plane does a good job removing thick wood shavings, I have been wondering for a while if a lighter weight wooden plane might allow me to be more efficient. Last week I found myself face to face with a vast selection of vintage wooden planes at the Liberty Tool Company in Liberty, Maine. Knowing that I had a lot of stock removal waiting for me at home (on the underside of my workbench-top in-progress), I decided to give it a try. After hefting 30 or so possible choices, I found one that was just right. It had all the parts, was pretty light, and even had similar ergonomics to my metal jack (so as to work at the same workbench height. I brought it home for an incredible $21. Although I've heard that New England (where I live) is a good place to find old tools, this was my first experience seeing a large stash of good ones.
At the end of this experiment, I'll be getting rid of one jack plane. Building the Anarchist's tool chest has taught me to value my space highly, and I now own three jack planes, two of which are set up for efficient mass stock removal. So I'm paying close attention and thinking hard about my choices here.

So far, the wooden jack is looking like a potential winner, largely because of the weight (so it's good I didn't get the solid rosewood one). Like I would with any jack, I spent a few minutes cambering the blade.

However, there were a few caveats with this approach:

  1. The back of the iron wasn't perfect, so I had to swallow my perfectionist nature and use the ruler trick on the back. I'm hoping the tiny back bevel will disappear with successive sharpenings. This doesn't matter much at all.
  2. Adjusting the wooden plane takes a few minutes to get used to. For me, this was about 15 minutes. Maybe it would take longer if I was trying to be as precise as I would be for a smoothing plane, but for coarse shavings, it doesn't seem to be a big deal. Hit the toe, iron, and wedge until it sits where you want it to--no big deal if you are comfortable with any other plane.
  3. Buying used has it's pitfalls. If I wasn't paying attention I could have bought one with no wedge. I recommend paying attention to detail even if you're not spending hundreds of dollars, because of the time you can save. I looked at all the same things I would look at if I was about to tune it up--does the wedge hold the blade firmly, does the blade have some life left in it, is the tote relatively intact, etc. In the end, I probably spent an hour browsing the store, and a half-hour getting the plane tuned up.
However, none of these really amount to much compared to the fact that I just knocked about a 16th of an inch off the bottom of a 2'x7' workbench while barely breaking a sweat.
This rippled surface might give you some idea of the shavings that are coming off.
So, I think lightweight and wooden is a good way to build a jack plane. In a smoother or jointer, I appreciate the precise depth adjustments that come from typical metal versions, but with a jack plane I just want to get on with the work without making my muscles too sore. (But for the amount of wood I had to remove on the bottom of my bench, starting with a circular saw and an axe didn't hurt either.)

In conclusion, wooden planes are fun, efficient, and not scary. Cheers!

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