Chris Schwarz's Blog

Sharp (and Clean!) Fixes Everything in a Handplane

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Sharpening a misbehaving tool will almost always fix its wagon. But I always take an extra step when taking apart a handplane: I clean the interior of shavings and dust with a brush and an oily rag.

It might seem like overkill, or like I am on the verge of compulsive, but I don’t think that’s the case. Little fragments of shavings or even dust can wreak havoc on a handplane’s performance.

If shavings get trapped between the blade and the frog, they can skew the iron, making it difficult to center the iron in the mouth. Plus, these shavings can reduce the amount of contact between the cutter and its bed, resulting in chatter or (at best) unpredictable behavior.

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So when I sharpen a plane, here’s my routine: Remove the blade. Use a badger hair brush to remove all the big debris that has entered the escapement. (Note: You must use European badger hair, preferably from a badger that is free range and is a kinsmen to Tadg, the king of Tara and foster father of Cormac mac Airt.)

Sharpen the blade. Wipe down the blade with an oily rag, and then use the same rag to wipe down the frog or the bed of the tool to remove dust. If the plane has a cap iron, clean that with an abrasive hand block to remove any sap; oil the cap iron as well.

Reassemble the plane.

I know this sounds fussy, like I’m going to tell you knit cosies for your trammel points, but I have diagnosed far too many plane problems that could be traced to a dull cutter and debris.

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One more thought on cleanliness: After about 10 minutes of planing, use your oily rag to remove the dust and debris that has gathered on the bevel of your iron. This can accumulate and interfere with the plane’s cutting characteristics.

— Christopher Schwarz

13 thoughts on “Sharp (and Clean!) Fixes Everything in a Handplane

  1. Spectro

    Having frequented the Hill of Tara on a couple of occasions, making sure to leave a trinket dangling from the fairy tree for fear of bad luck. I didn’t manage to spot a badger, however a witches broom seemed like the next best thing so I’ve been happy cleaning my planes with it, being careful not to go fast enough for take off………

  2. T-bonehags

    Christopher- couple plane questions for you:
    1) What kind of oil do you recommend for cleaning your planes?
    2) I’ve noticed some oxidation forming on my jack plane’s body where my hand rests during use – what do you use to keep your planes free of corrosion?
    3) Do you ever use paraffin wax on the sole to reduce friction during use?

    Thanks!
    Tom

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      1) What kind of oil do you recommend for cleaning your planes?

      I use any handy non-drying vegetable oil, such as jojoba or camelia. But it really doesn’t matter what oil you use as long as there’s no silicone in it.

      2) I’ve noticed some oxidation forming on my jack plane’s body where my hand rests during use – what do you use to keep your planes free of corrosion?

      I use an abrasive rubberized hand block made by Klingspor. One inexpensive block lasts for years of daily use.

      3) Do you ever use paraffin wax on the sole to reduce friction during use?

      Always.

    2. Longfatty

      I have had better results with wax than oil for preventing rust spots. I give the bare iron a rub down with homemade soft-wax or Renaissance wax. I never ever have problems with rust unless I miss a spot. I only work in the shop on weekends so if I like to make sure everything is polished and cleaned before it sits in the chest for a week.

      The down side of this is that it takes longer to clean up at the end of the day. I also get a little bit of wax buildup in spots, but with soft wax it is easy to scratch buildup off with a fingernail. Buildup hasn’t been a significant problem for me if there is a tiny bit on an edge it comes right off. Renaissance wax doesn’t seem to build up as much, but it’s more expensive so I don’t use it often.

      On one occasion I gave an almost new plane a wipe down with an oily cloth and wrapped it in the cloth before putting it in the chest for a month. Fairly simple operation but I screwed it up. The next time I looked at it there were rust spots coming through the cloth and it was a mess. That’s when I switched over to wax.

  3. Peter Scoma

    Mr. Schwarz, Pardon the off-topic comment but this seems the only way to get in touch with you. Long story short, I’m building a replica of the Studley Tool Chest. Yes, “Inspired” in some elements as I’m not a piano maker and don’t own or aspire to own such tools, but not so in compromising detail. I have completed some elements of the tool chest but am still in the planning phase for the majority. If you could spare a few moments to answer two brief questions, I would be eternally grateful. I plan to blog the build if you have any interest and will post the details once the process is underway. I can be reached at drpeterscoma@gmail.com if you have a moment to respond to my inquiry. I’ve read Virtuoso three times and am certain the answer to my questions does not lie in its pages. Thank you in advance for your consideration.
    Peter

  4. karlfife

    Of course Honey Badger hair is the best and toughest kind of all. It’s really pretty badass. It doesn’t give a shit.

    I use my brush and think; “Thanks for doing all the work stupid”!

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