Chris Schwarz's Blog

When Your Plane Iron Won't Retract All the Way

Reason No. 50 that I dislike chipbreakers: They can prevent your iron from retracting all the way into the mouth of the tool.

Sometimes
I think chipbreakers are a cruel joke on the woodworking community.
Before chipbreakers (and the invention of pants) everyone was dandy.
Nobody had a problem with setting their breaker (or with pantslessness).

But then somebody had to go and invent the breaker/cap iron/second iron/ whatever it is you want to call it. And now we are stuck
with it in our Bailey-style bench planes.

It promotes clogging.
It adds complexity to the tool. It can interfere with the way the
plane’s adjuster works. And the problems it causes can be difficult for
beginners to diagnose.

Here’s one I ran into this weekend. I had
almost forgotten about this problem, but it happens a lot and flummoxes
even veteran woodworkers who haven’t encountered it.

Let’s say
you tighten up the mouth of your plane and then you can’t get the tool’s
cutter to retract all the way. The adjusting wheel just bottoms out
against the frog and won’t budge. It seems like you are stuck and that
it’s time to send the tool back to the maker.

Nope. The fix is easy.

The
problem is the chipbreaker is too long. You see, the chipbreaker
engages the plane’s iron assembly. If the breaker is too long it will
prevent the iron from retracting, especially when the mouth is set
tight. (There is some geometry involved here because the frog moves
forward on an inclined plane.)

So if you grind back the
chipbreaker’s leading edge, you will fix the problem instantly. Do this
on the grinder, just like you would grind the cutter. Most breakers will
intersect the iron at 25°, so that’s a good angle to begin with. With
new-, very old- and infill-style chipbreakers (a flat piece of iron),
this is just like grinding an iron. With the springy breakers on Stanley
planes, you might need to re-bend the sucker a bit before you screw it
to the cutter.

All this sounds difficult, but it’s easy work. The
steel in chipbreakers is soft, so it takes a minute at most. And you
usually have quite a bit of leeway – you can grind away about 1/8″ of
the breaker without changing the way it mates with the iron. Note that
some modern chipbreakers have a small land (flat area) on the underside. Don’t grind
all that away – that’s where it mates with the cutter.

I usually grind away about 1/16″ – that has fixed every problem so far.

Do
this before you start messing with the dog that engages the chipbreaker
or (egads) bending the yoke of the tool (which is many times made using
cast metal and will many times break).

— Christopher Schwarz

‘Handplane Essentials’
If you like this geeky kind of technical data on planes, then you will probably like my book that came out last year called “Handplane Essentials.” It’s 312 pages of printed-in-the-United-States geekery on handplanes. It’s available in our store for $34.99 plus free domestic shipping, but not on Amazon. If you don’t like this kind of writing, might I suggest you try here.

4 thoughts on “When Your Plane Iron Won't Retract All the Way

  1. tman02

    Chris –

    I know you are trying to get ready for WIA this weekend, but hope I might interrupt you for a bit of advice.

    I am trying to get a Bailey No. 7 Jointer plane ready to use and am having a problem. Whenever I tighten the lever cap it “pops” loose. I thought it might be the screw the holds the lever cap in place, but on further inspection I think it might be the chip breaker.

    When I screw it to the blade, the blade flexes A LOT. It is more than 1/16″ (closer to 1/8″) and I think this is putting too much stress on the lever cap so it pops loose.

    Anyway, I do not think the blade should bend anywhere this much (if at all). So should I bend the chip breaker so it lays more flat against the blade? Or as this post suggests grind away the chip breaker where it contacts the blade so as to accomplish the same thing?

    Thank you in advance for your help on this.

    Regards,

    Terry

  2. Richard Dawson

    Manuel’s experience with Deneb is another example of the commitment to customer service that purveyors of high quality tools demonstrate time and again. While his story is interesting and inspiring, it isn’t entirely unique, since many of us can relate similar experiences with Lie-Nielsen, as well as what is becoming a fairly long list of quality tool manufacturers.

    The recent discussion regarding the presumably wealthy ripoff artists who invade our wallets and bank accounts effectively addressed the relatively low cost of quality craftsmanship and how we benefit from it. Manuel effectively addresses the value of an ethic I’m happy to see in the woodworking community, one that I wish was more prevalent elsewhere.

    Richard

  3. Tom Holloway

    Interfere? Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are essential to the Bailey-style depth adjustment system, with its complex linkages from adjustment wheel to cutting edge and plane sole. Bailey and the Stanley folks who bought him out have been maligned for the thin blade in that system: cheaper to manufacture and easier to sharpen, but needing the cap iron to stabilize the business end. But the thinner blade also puts the hole in the cap iron, into which the upper tip of the adjustment yoke must fit, just that much closer to the pivot of the yoke, leaving more tip to engage said hole. Modern repros, with their thicker irons, may have upset the tolerances of Bailey’s system, making adjustment elsewhere necessary.

    One question I’d ask before performing surgery on the leading edge is how far from the cutting edge do you plant the edge of the chipbreaker? Another question is whether you’ve had this problem with vintage Bailey-type planes with their original iron and chipbreaker?

  4. Manuel Cardoso-Lopes

    Hi Chris,
    With a brand new premium plane, I suggest you contact the manufacturer 1st, I had exactly the same problem with a new No.2 from Lie-Nielsen, the the purchase was result of your article on the No.2 and how to handle such a small plane.

    When it arrived it had this problem… after checking the chip-breaker dimensions, Deneb felt that the problem could lay with an incorrect machined frog.

    As I live in South Africa, the option of grinding the chip-breaker was discussed & it would probably have fixed it.

    Deneb was however more comfortable sending me a new frog… when it arrived the problem was solved. It seems that the top surface of the frog had not been machined down enough, it only takes a Gnats hair breath to affect the blade retraction.

    This plane now has a 10degree back bevel & is a jewel on finishing work.

    Cheers,
    Manuel

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