When I bought my first Stanley No. 5 in the mid-1990s, I regularly used the lever cap as a screwdriver to adjust the tension screw in the center of the frog and to tighten and loosen the cap iron screw.
Then one of my fellow employees dressed me down. You should never do that, they told me, because that illicit activity could chip the lever cap. This is advice repeated everywhere.
So I started using a screwdriver – for a year or so. Then I slipped back into my old habit and hid my shameful activity. When demonstrating to a class, I’d use a screwdriver. At home – lever cap. Always.
I do this on all my bench planes – even the expensive ones. And I’ve never chipped the lever cap on any of them in almost 20 years. Just lucky? I doubt it.
Also, suppose I did chip the lever cap – so what? A chip in the lever cap isn’t going to change the function of the plane – just the aesthetics. In all the planes I’ve seen – even those with chipped lever caps caused by dog-knows-what – they all worked just fine.
Could you fracture a lever cap by using it as a screwdriver? Perhaps, if your skin is green and you are prone to fits of rage.
So I’m calling bunk on this chestnut. Use your screwdriver if you like, but I’m going to continue to use my lever cap so I don’t have to find one more tool when I head to the sharpening stones.
— Christopher Schwarz
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