15 Woodworking Questions That Need Answers - Popular Woodworking Magazine

15 Woodworking Questions That Need Answers

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs

The handplaning jigs are packed and ready to load on the truck Thursday morning.

Only one more restless night in bed, and I’ll be headed down to our Woodworking in America conference in Berea, Ky. The entire staff of the magazine is looking forward to the show, but we also know that we’re in for a wild ride.

We’ve never put on a conference before, and we know expectations are high. And despite all the preparation we’ve done since March, we know we’ve made a few mistakes along the way. Thank you for all your patience.

For me, the most exciting thing about the conference is getting to meet all of the speakers and the attendees and to openly discuss a lot of thorny questions about hand work. I’m the moderator for several sessions with toolmakers, and so I’ve been busy scribbling questions for them. Here are just a few of them. I hope you are bringing some questions of your own.

1. Many bevel-up planes have a sliding mouth shoe to close the mouth. Why is this feature not typical on bevel-down tools?

2. Does the lack of a chipbreaker on a bevel-up plane ever hurt its performance?

3. We hear from Lee Valley customers that they want Veritas to make Bed Rock-style planes or infill planes or chisels. Are these products in the works, or what are the reasons that the Veritas line has focused more on original and new tool designs?

4. Some toolmakers use cryogenically treated irons, some don’t. Does it really offer advantages or is it more marketing?

5. What you think about Stanley re-entering the marketplace for premium planes. Do you think this will bring new customers into the market? Or will it drive out some existing makers?

6. If you were designing a handplane for function alone, do you see advantages to the hollowed-out sole of a Japanese plane? Why hasn’t this Japanese feature caught on with Western woodworkers (unlike Japanese chisels).

7. How flat should the frog of a handplane be? How can this be measured?

8. Does the iron have to contact the entire frog or only at the mouth?

9. How critical is it that the frog is square in the mouth of the tool? How can this be measured?

10. With bevel-up planes, how can bedding errors be detected at home?

11. Planes have gotten heavier overall in modern times. What does added weight do to a plane? What are the advantages and disadvantages of mass?

12. What is the best Rockwell hardness for a plane iron? Marketing copy seems to play up very hard irons. Aren’t they more brittle?

13. Exotic steels: Have they become widespread because they are better for the user or have they become widespread because there is less manufacturing waste?

14. What do you think about diamond stones? Are they appropriate for woodworking tools? What lubricants do you recommend? Are they durable enough? Do they produce a different kind of edge , it sure looks different to my eye. Are perforated or smooth stones better? Is there much of a difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline stones?

15. What is a “good saw?” That is, how do you define a perfect saw for an operation? Is it speed? Quality of cut? Ease of starting? Durability of teeth? How easy the saw is to use?

We hope to post a couple blog entries during the conference, but I can’t make any promises. Be sure to check back next week when we’ll have photos, perhaps some video and some information about our plans for next year.

– Christopher Schwarz

I swore I’d never move the Roubo workbench again. Oh well. I gotta stop swearing so much.

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Showing 15 comments
  • Christopher Schwarz


    You are discussing the clearance angle here. Usually 5° is sufficient, though softwoods can cause trouble with a 5° angle.

    You are on the right track: Raise your angle to maximize edge life.


  • David Brown

    What are the answers to the 15 questions? 😉

  • Ron Hock

    Hi Chris,

    I’m back home trying to get caught up (and that includes checking in here).

    You ask some great questions and if I’d read them before the conference I would have tried to answer the ones I can. I hope you got your answers through the course of the weekend and that you post them here when things settle down. By the way, you and all of your colleagues outdid yourselves. The first annual WIA conference will be the stuff of song and legend. I was proud to be there (and even got to have dinner with Roy…) Good work, all!

    I mentioned in my presentation (as you no doubt recall in minute detail) that cryogenic treatment converts retained austenite into martensite (the stuff we want) and that’s good. But the process also produces "eta-carbides" as well. These are very small, hard carbides dispersed through the steel matrix that contribute greatly to edge retention.

    Some steels don’t respond much to the cryo treatment but the more complex the alloy, the greater the likelihood of improvement. With our simple, high-carbon blades, we saw no real improvement but I believe the cryo helps with A2 which is prone to retaining austenite.

    I look forward to others’ reports from Berea. Perhaps you can start a new blog thread to air them. I had a great time and enjoyed meeting so many of your readers and seeing my fellow tool makers, too.

    — The Semi-Exhausted Reverend Ron

  • Mattias in Durham, NC

    Chris, thanks for moving the bench so that we could see it in person! Just about everyone I spoke with had already or was going to take a closer look at it.

    And I can add (if this is not already clear) that the show was awesome! Looking forward to seeing the Oakridge boys again next year…

    With risk of exposing my ignorance, the first question about the bevel up plane having adjustable mouth: This is not needed with a plane that has a frog, since the mouth is closed up by moving the frog. I.e. no frog = you need another way to adjust the mouth. It just happens to be that bevel up planes (usually) have no frog, so the bevel up is almost always seen together with adjustable mouth (but the relationship is not causal).

  • Julian

    A rarely addressed question is: what is the minimum relief angle for the bevel of a plane blade? Or conversely, what is the maximum possible honing angle? If you were to measure the thickness of blade parallel to the wood surface, at the sharp edge of the blade it approaches 0. Yet we want to push this edge obliquely through wood without it bending or breaking! If the bevel could be the same as the bedding angle of the blade then the full thickness of blade metal would lie behind the edge and support it. Of course one would need some relief angle or the blade wouldn’t descend into the wood, but chisels we use with only a degree or two or relief. I’m experimenting with 5 degrees of relief right now, on the theory that it should give equivalent sharpness but less chatter and a stronger edge. Or have I got it all wrong?

  • Tom

    The wear resistance of steels is a strong function of hardness. The hardness of a particular steel is dependent on the chemistry and heat history of the piece. Yes, cryo treating can increase the hardness of a part by ensuring the complete transformation to martensite, but a part that has a different chemistry could have the same hardness without being cryo treated – in which case they’d have similar wear resistance.

    So is cryo treating beneficial? As my heat treatment professor would say – "that depends".

  • Chris F

    I suspect that the adjustable mouth was introduced on bevel-up planes because the blade needs to project so much further forward for an equivalent amount of vertical projection. Because of this, a fixed mouth size becomes impractical due to the gaping maw that would be left when the blade is set for thin shavings.

  • James Watriss

    Oh, and re: moving the roubo, again…

    After moving my shop from one industrial building to another, with the aid of a pallet jack and loading docks, I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone should have a loading dock. At home, at work… grocery stores, hardware stores, even starbucks should have a way to go right out the front door to a platform. The ease of levering up a platform of stuff, and rolling it down the hall, out the door, and right onto the truck… it’s very hard to beat. No, it’s not new technology. But the genius and utility of this time-honored technique for moving things about really shows in use. Moving is so much easier now… no schlepping, no lifting, no backaches, no stairs, no more pizza parties and finding out just who your friends really are; the cool efficiency of a hydraulic lift fixes everything, and preserves those tenuous friendships with the weak-willed or spindly creatures of the world.

    So, maybe that should be another design element of future benches… the ability to lift one with a pallet jack, and roll it down the hall…

  • James Watriss

    I have a couple more.

    -What forces are at work in the tool industry that are shaping things to come?

    -What kinds of new tools do you foresee in the immediate future? More hand tools? More power tools? More niche-oriented specialty tools?

    -Given the tendency of the market to saturate pretty quickly for certain tools, what strategies are you considering to help broaden the market?

    -As the maker of these tools, in your opinion, what is the best sharpening jig on the market? What’s the worst? What’s the best sharpening jig for the budget-minded?

    -More on exotic steels: Do you recommend these for beginners who are still learning to sharpen?

    -Mr. Clinton, the world is dying to know… boxers, or briefs?

  • Dave Anderson NH

    Hi Chris,

    A bunch of your questions are pretty interesting and I’m sure the answers will be even more interesting. Other than curiosity though, I think that from a practical standpoint a few are kind of like the theological arguments that onvce reigned about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. For questions like the one about Stanley, I suspect that the number of answers will be quantifiable as the number of people present +1. Sort of like what is the best way to sharpen a …..

    Have a great conference. I wish I could have made it this year.

    Dave Anderson NH

  • Ed Efsic

    Question #4:

    Everything is marketing, but there is a real reason for the use of cryogenic quenching in heat treatment. The austenite/martensite transformation is rarely 100% complete. Retained austentite could be as much or more than 10%. Cryogenic cooling does provide for ~100% transformation. In many applications it may not make a difference, but, with plane irons where maintaining a sharp, hard edge is required, I believe that it would be of benefit.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Plans for several of the jigs we built will be published in Popular Woodworking this year. The handplaning jig is a real interesting planing board that Senior Editor Bob Lang developed.

    It allows you to work smaller parts on both faces and edges (and both with the grain and across it). And you don’t need a real bench or vises.

    Pretty cool for door parts and drawer parts.


  • Larry Wyatt

    Handplaing jigs? WHat are they used for, Chris? I’ve never seen anything like those before. Be benevolent and loving and fill us in!


  • Pat Delaney

    How about posting the specs on making one of those handplaning jigs?

  • Narayan

    See you there!

    You forgot one question you’ll probably hear a lot: "Where do I get a beer in this damn county?"

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