Chipbreakers were invented in 1846 by the devil.
Yes, they can eliminate tear-out when set .007” from the cutting edge of your smoothing plane. But otherwise, chipbreakers seem to cause more ulcers than they fix.
I see a lot of mucked-up chipbreakers on students’ planes. And when you are in a two-day class, you cannot say: Go order a new breaker and iron and then you’ll be fine. You have to fix the puppy right then and there.
Here are two last-ditch tricks.
Trick 1: When the breaker won’t mate. The most common chipbreaker malady is that its front edge will not fit tightly on the back of the iron. And the gaps are shaving traps – two strokes and your mouth is fouled.
The cause of the problem can be that the front edge of the breaker is mucked up. Or, even worse, the back of the iron has a big old hump on it from ham-handed sharpening.
The first thing I tell students to do is to stone the leading edge of the chipbreaker. Or, in certain cases, to file it in the middle to create complementary surfaces between the breaker and iron.
Sometimes, that isn’t enough. And so I fetch my burnisher. I screw the breaker and iron together and then run the corner of my burnisher on the leading edge of the chipbreaker. This deforms the metal on the tip of the breaker and almost always fills in any gaps.
It’s a temporary solution – the deformed metal can flake off when you remove the breaker to sharpen the iron. But it works like crazy in the field.
Note: You can also use any other super-hard pointy thing to deform the breaker, including a nail set or an awl.
Trick 2: When the iron is bent. In this new age of aftermarket irons and breakers, I have seen a new problem surface with chipbreakers. The breakers are so stout that they can bend the iron into a curve. This causes all sorts of problems. The iron doesn’t mate on the frog or bed of the plane. And, after some time, the breaker won’t mate on the back of the iron, either.
What to do? Shim the back of the breaker. I use pieces of plastic or whatever is handy to shim the breaker behind its screw. This pushes the front edge down against the iron.
You can also use this trick when the breaker is too flat after years of use and being under tension. The shim will add new spring.
As I said above, these are temporary “get it done” fixes. You might think they are a bit redneck-y and sloppy, and to that I say: Soooooooooooie pig.
— Christopher Schwarz
Find more tricks and tips for handplanes in “Handplane Essentials,” available now in paperback for less money at ShopWoodworking.com.
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