Once upon a time when I was new to woodworking, someone showed me how to cut my sanding time in half by using a hand-held scraper. I thought to myself, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
But it did. A few years later I was introduced to a cabinet scraper — a cast metal frame that holds a scraper at a fixed angle. This reduced my scraping chores considerably, and I thought, “It really can’t get any better than this.”
But it did. A few more years went by, and someone let me try out their old Stanley scraper plane, an adjustable holder for a scraper. A scraper plane, I quickly learned, is to a cabinet scraper what a Ferrari is to an Astrovan. “This,” I thought to myself, “is as close to heaven as I am going to get.”
And I was right. Scraper planes are not only one of the best smoothing tools ever invented, they are unfortunately as rare as hen’s teeth. The old Stanleys are a collector’s item, and they are priced accordingly. The reproductions that are beginning to appear aren’t much less expensive.
Well, if you can’t find it or you can’t afford it, you can always make it. Not so very long ago, it was common for woodworkers to make their own planes — they aren’t particularly difficult tools to make. And the scraper plane, it turns out, is one of the simplest. In fact, you can make one from scrapwood and a scraper or a worn-out plane iron.
The plane holds a scraper against a wooden support. By turning the adjustor wheels, you can change the angle of the support to compensate for the angle of the burr on the edge of the scraper to get the cut you’re after.
Building the Plane
I made this particular scraper plane from some scraps of exotic and figured woods that I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away. (Like most woodworkers, I have an overactive packrat gland.) The sole requires an extremely hard wood to be as durable as possible, so I made that from Cocobolo. But any dense wood will do — rock maple was the traditional planemakers’ choice. The other parts are made from curly maple and cherry, but any clear hardwood will work well.
Before you cut the parts, adjust the width of the plane so it’s 1/8″ wider than the scraper between the sides. I used the blade from my cabinet scraper, which is 2?” wide, making the plane 27/8″ wide. I’ve also made these planes 21/8″ wide, using 2″ plane irons as scraping blades. The plane irons work like gangbusters, by the way.
Because of the loads applied to this tool when you’re using it, several of the parts must be reinforced. I drilled a long hole through the back handle and inserted a 3/8″-diameter dowel to prevent it from splitting. I also used dowels to reinforce the ends of the cap bar and the adjustor bar. The cap bars are under considerable tension, and the steel rods will split out of the ends if they are not strengthened. I put dowels in the adjustor bar at right angles to the wood grain because screws do not hold well in end grain.
I also reinforced the joints between the soles and the sides with loose tenons because Cocobolo is an oily wood and does not form an especially strong glue bond. If I had made the soles from rock maple, the tenons would have been unnecessary.
When gluing the sides to the soles, remember that you must put the support, support pivot, coupling nut and coupling nut pivot in position as you do so. The pivot rods are captured by the sides; you cannot insert them after you assemble the plane body.
Using the Scraper Plane
Place the plane on a flat surface. Insert the scraper blade between the support and the cap and slide it down until it touches the surface. Tighten the thumbscrews to lock it in place — I adhere a piece of 100# sandpaper to the back of the support to keep the scraper from shifting in use.
Loosen the back adjustor wheel. As you make passes over a piece of wood, turn the front wheel until the blade begins to bite. Then tighten the back wheel and make another pass over the wood. The plane should be resting flat on its sole. If it’s not, or you’re not getting the cut you want, re-adjust the vertical position of the blade or the angle of the support. This takes a little futzing around until you get the hang of the tool and how it cuts. Tip: Use a rawhide mallet to tap the blade, making tiny adjustments in the vertical position. PW
Nick Engler is a contributing editor for Popular Woodworking.