21st-century Plane Wick

This adaptation of an old benchtop standby is a slick lubrication solution.
By John Walkowiak
Pages: 68-69

From the August 2007 issue #163
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Planing wood is fun – unless you have to do it to make a living. In the good old days, when every piece of wood was hand planed, it wasn’t looked upon with the esteem it is today. Brother Henry DeWitt, a member of the New Lebanon, N.Y., Shaker community, noted in his diary in March 1854: “planed the leaf over &c. &c. Expect to smooth it sometime….” I think we’ve all been there. I have this quotation hanging in my shop and gaze at it when things are not going as quickly as I think they should. Anything that makes a planing job easier has always been welcomed.

The plane wick was a tool that sat on the top of the workbench back when woodworkers used only wooden planes. It was a wood or metal container that held tightly wrapped felt that was saturated in linseed oil. Occasionally pulling the plane sole over the wick made the plane slippery, which made planing easier. This was an improvement on the grease box that required the craftsman to use his fingers to put the grease on the plane bottom to lubricate it.

When metal planes came into use, it was immediately recognized that they offered more planing resistance than the wooden ones so manufacturers tried to compensate by corrugating the bottoms to reduce resistance. The effect of the corrugations has been debated ever since. Today, woodworkers using metal planes – smooth-bottomed or corrugated – often wax the bottoms with paste wax or rub a candle stub on them to make them slide more easily. However, neither application lasts very long and it is a pain to stop planing and re-apply wax every five minutes.

From the August 2007 issue #163
Buy this issue now