In Chris Schwarz Blog, Handplane Techniques, Handplanes, Schwarz on Workbenches

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Several weeks ago I was planing a piece of palm when my hand slipped, and a deep sliver of the nasty grass dove into the middle finger of my left hand.

I dug out as much of the splinter as I could. But now almost six weeks later, the foreign object (as my doctor calls it) is deep inside my soft tissue. I can wait things out, or I can see a hand surgeon (I’m a good waiter).

Wood can be nasty stuff. Rosewoods make my tongue swell up like a Ballpark Frank. Some species (redwood, especially) sting like crazy when I get a splinter. And spalted stuff can kill you dead.

But aren’t you worried about what wood can do to your tools?

On Wednesday I was slathering epoxy into the cracks of my workbench top when Megan Fitzpatrick asked me if I was worried about what the epoxy would do to the blades of my handplanes.

“I don’t really give a weevil’s (expletive deleted),” I replied.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I know how to sharpen.”

The way I see it, unless the material I’m working is going to split my tool in half, I’ll plane it. Laminated veneer lumber? Plywood? MDF? OSB? Epoxy? Plastic resin glue? Yup, I’ve planed them all. Here’s why: It’s easier to sharpen a handplane blade than it is to sharpen the blades in my electric jointer or planer. So I think a handplane is a great tool for dealing with engineered material. This is wacky chat, I know.

I too was afraid of planing odd stuff until one day in the late 1990s. We were training our fellow publishing employees in basic woodworking techniques, and each student was building a little project with our help.

We let the students pick the wood for their project, and half of the women in the class picked purpleheart. Purpleheart, I discovered, is not a wood. It’s a mineral. After two swipes, my block plane began to dull. I had to hone my block plane a lot that week, but we made it through the class.

After that experience, I stopped worrying about what I was planing and focused on becoming a faster and better sharpener. The way I see things, a dull blade is a good thing because it means two things. 1. You are working the wood and not just fondling the forgings. 2. You get to sharpen it, which makes you a better sharpener.

And now back to scraping epoxy (which cuts a lot like maple).

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 15 comments
  • Carl Cross

    If you must plane Epoxy, get out your heat gun and warm it a bit. Not to a butter, but about half way. Easy

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Heck, I’ve dovetailed plywood. Check out Charles Hayward’s books on cabinet construction and you’ll see some crazy handwork using plywood.

    They didn’t fear their tools getting dull like we do.

  • Mark Wells

    Christopher, totally agree. A hand plane makes does an amazing job on a plywood edge.

    Do you feel the same way about saws? Now that Don McConnell shamed you into sharpening your own saws, are you attacking MDF with your rip saw? (Or is that a crosscut? Hmmm.)


  • Aluminum Extrusions

    @mike… If you make that into a t-shirt, please make it available for us all. Another great post, Chris.

  • Fred L

    Once upon a time I was a glazier and I splinter went into the tip of my index finger on my left hand. I was using a paper towel on the bench and the splinter went through the paper towel into my finger. Lesson learned.

    I gingerly pulled out as much as I could, but it broke in multiple pieces on the way in. If I recall correctly, a piece or two surfaced in a year or so. I was amazed when ten years later – and out of the blue – a piece worked it’s way out on the other side of my finger, about 3/4 inch from the tip. In a month’s time I had a boil on my finger out out popped a fragment of glass.

    Thirty plus years later I still have a small fragment of glass in my finger that I rarely notice or think about.

  • Ron Boe

    I tried planing purple heart once. Caused two things. Vowed to never buy the stuff again and bought another router.

    Tell Megan sorry for the extra "a" I used in the other thread in her name. Accidently used the Canadian spelling. :p

  • Richard Dawson


    It looks like the scraper Megan mentions in her January 19th blog entry.

    For more on the scraper, check


  • Tom Cross

    Thank you. I missed Megan’s blog on that topic. I just ordered the scraper.


  • Mike Lingenfelter

    "Fondling the forgings" I love it! That needs to be on a T-shirt!


  • aaron

    i like to go over nasty rough spots of glue with a coarse scraper first before hitting it with a plane, but there is certainly no reason not to plane plastics. just take shallow cuts – there’s no silica in polycarbonate!

  • Tom Cross

    What is that scraper in the photo – brand, name, model number? I have not seen anything like it. Does it work better than other sCrapers?

  • Mike Siemsen

    Kurt Vonnegut thought so.
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers — joined in the serious business of keeping our food, shelter, clothing (planes) and loved ones from combining with oxygen.

  • Tony

    Chris, how do you sharpen the skraper’s carbide edge.

  • Bob Rozaieski

    Yep, the only thing that is not going to dull your plane irons is…well nothing I guess. Even air will dull them in time. Your purpleheart comment gave me a laugh. Wretched stuff. Like planing concrete.

  • Michael

    There is a third option for your splinter. A six pack, an end vise, and Megan with one of your sharp irons.


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