Chris Schwarz's Blog

Start Handplanes on the Skew

Skew

One of the little challenges for beginning handplane users to get a clean surface at the start of the cut, particularly with a smoothing plane. They push the tool forward and it leaves little bumpy chatter marks for about 3/8” of an inch until the plane starts to settle down and cut cleanly.

The problem is particularly exacerbated in hard woods, such as white maple.

One of the reasons these chatter marks appear is that the toe of the tool has not been properly settled on the work and the user is not pushing downward on the toe with enough pressure. The result is the plane skitters a bit like a stone across a placid lake until the iron finally engages.

Sometimes when I point this out to the user, he or she cannot prevent it, even when pressing the tool down hard. Perhaps they aren’t strong, or perhaps the bench is too high to allow them to get their mass over the tool.

If that happens, I show them a trick that is worthwhile for all plane users.

At the beginning of the cut, skew the tool about 20° or so as you begin the cut. The skew reduces the effective cutting angle of the tool and reduces the the amount of force required to get the cut started smoothly. Then, when the entire body of the tool is on the board, shift the tool so it is parallel to the grain without a skew (a skew cut can sometimes exacerbate tear-out).

Skew

This trick works approximately 100 percent of the time.

— Christopher Schwarz

2 thoughts on “Start Handplanes on the Skew

  1. Mark

    Chris….the “orthodox” instruction for using a hand plane has usually been to skew the blade angle to achieve a shearing cut. This was intended to produce a smother cut with a little less effort. Are you now recommending a straight forward cut? Keep up the great work and helpful posts.

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      It all depends on the surface of the wood your plane leaves behind. Skewing the plane can result in tear-out at times because you are lowering the effective cutting angle. But if the wood isn’t tearing, skewing is fine because it makes the tool easier to push.

      If the wood is tearing, straighten the tool. Every board is different.

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