Why Can't I Tame This Countertop?

Question: First off, thanks for compiling your hand plane articles into one nice volume (“Handplane Essentials”) , I’ve enjoyed reading it, and go back to it for reference.  Second, I’m not a total novice with hand planes, but I’m no pro either , I’ve successfully set up my No. 7 Record, and flattened my bench top with it, and have had great success with my garden variety Stanley low angle block plane.

I’ve toyed with other planes, and recently acquired a vintage WS No. 4 (appears that WS was eventually folded into Record), with the hopes of achieving baby butt smooth surfaces, sans sand paper.  In quick order, I figured out why this pristine tool stayed pristine , the owner never figured out how to fettle and tune it.  No problem, armed with useful info garnered from your tome, I set to put that sucker into shape.  with the frog lapped, and the iron properly sharpened, I put it to test on a scrap piece of cherry, and heavenly bliss , smooth as glass.  The light was shone upon me…¦…¦that is until the chip breaker needed attention and I realized that this thin piece of metal could be used to wrap a stick of Juicy Fruit.

Enter The Hock. With the high carbon Hock iron & chip breaker combo installed (iron sharpened to 25Ã?°), this pedestrian No. 4 created wispy shavings in mahogany that I had only seen pictures of.  Sweet.  Something possessed me to put a 30Ã?° secondary bevel on that blade, and it worked equally as well.  Call it dumb luck.  Anyway, I thought I could resurface an installed laminated maple counter top (long grain) by putting my wonderful hand planes to use.  Knocked the high spots off with the No. 7, and figured that the No. 4 could take it from there. 

Well…¦..it kinda worked, but nothing I’d post pictures of.  Aside from the plane tracks (should’ve clipped the corners of the iron better), I got some frustrating tear out.  On top of that the iron got chipped up from the wood.  I’m thinking that maybe the glue joints harmed the blade.  My saving grace was my handy low angle block plane, with which I attacked the tear out from multiple angles.  At this point, I’m thinking, “why didn’t I just use the frikking block plane all by itself on the whole top?”

So, I have to ask a couple of questions:
1. For a traditional No. 4 type plane, what angle should I sharpen the iron to for fairly good success in maple?

2. Should I entertain the idea of a back bevel?

3. Is this the time to say “screw it”, and get a 5 lb. bevel up smoother from Veritas, or Lie-Nielsen?
 
- Maurice Ungaro, Beaufort, S.C.

Answer:

1. For a traditional No. 4 type plane, what angle should I sharpen the iron to for fairly good success in maple?

Maple is a bear. Laminated maple with the grain running every direction gives me bad dreams. Add commercial resin on top of that and it’s no wonder you had a heck of a time.

Tops like that were made for abrasive sanding. Planing them is difficult. When I make a laminated top for planing I orient the grain direction in one way (reduces tearing) and I use a PVA or liquid hide glue. Plastic resin glues are bloody murder on tools.

So to plane maple, you really need a high angle plane and/or a scraping plane. Which brings us to:

2. Should I entertain the idea of a back bevel?

A back bevel will help the tearing, but the iron will still get ripped up by the adhesive. High angles really work.

3. Is this the time to say “screw it”, and get a 5 lb. bevel up smoother from Veritas, or Lie-Neilsen?

I think it’s the time to get the sander out and live to fight another day. The premium planes are nice, but it sounds like you’ve done a good job with the vintage plane. You could consider upgrading to a Hock iron, which will improve the edge life.
 
- Christopher Schwarz

5 thoughts on “Why Can't I Tame This Countertop?

  1. Chris Schwarz

    Gregg,

    With your bevel-up tool, sharpen the iron with a 50° bevel. Tighten the mouth up as tight as you can get it. Take a thin shaving.

    That should help.

    Another option: Get a toothed iron for your bevel-up tool. Remove the tearing with that. Then use the high-angle iron to finish it up.

    If all that fails. Sand.

    Chris

  2. Gregg Counts

    I am having similar problems with curly maple that I am using to build a shaker stool. I’ve tried my LN 50 degree 4 1/2 and my LN no 5 bevel up but still get tear out. Looks like I’ll have to pull out the sander.

  3. dave brown

    The top on our dining table is a big butcher block countertop from IKEA. It’s oak and the grain runs every which direction. I use two no80 cabinet scrapers to clean it up once or so a year — we have kids and run a daycare. I tried a smoother once. It didn’t work out too well. . . .

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