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What To Know About Planes – Choosing The Basic Tool Kit


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The following article first appeared in the British magazine 'The Woodworker' in July, 1939. It was part of a series of articles which would run throughout the rest of that year -- Part 1 being on the subject of choosing the basic tool kit. While I have included the introduction to the piece -- along with the short section on handplanes -- I have excluded the other sections such as saws, chisels, hammers, gauges, boring tools etc. After all, the primary focus of this site is handplanes, rather than other woodworking tools.

Although the article is merely an introduction to some of the hand planes which would normally be found in a woodworker's basic kit, some readers who are just starting out in the craft may find the article of some benefit.

What To Know About Tools

Part 1. Choosing The Tool Kit

By Craftsman

Although this series is written primarily for the benefit of the man with limited experience, it is hoped that even more advanced readers will find much that will help and interest them. Every tool will be dealt with in detail, and such points as choice, sharpening, use, and cutting action will be explained.

I must confess right at the outset that I appear to have picked on a subject about which there seems to be something scarcely practical. For how often does it happen that a man suddenly decides to take up woodwork, and, having no tools whatever, goes out to buy some? Not once in a hundred. The truth is that the man interested in woodwork always has had a certain interest in it, and invariably has a few odds and ends of tools about the house. What usually happens is that a man feels the urge to, or the necessity of, better woodwork. Possibly there is a piece of furniture he is needing; or he sees something which sets afire his constructive desire; and he is at once confronted with the obstacle of a limited kit of tools. Probably he already has a hammer (every house has some sort of a hammer, surely!) maybe a saw, and a few oddments of screwdrivers, chisels, gimlets, and so on, some or all of which may be serviceable (though it does sometimes happen that they are all doubtful), but he realises that, whilst these may have been good enough for knocking up some rough garden carpentry or for doing various odd jobs about the house, they certainly will be something of a handicap when it comes to accurate and clean work.

FIG. 1. SECTION THROUGH SMOOTHING PLANE SHOWING PARTS.
The addition of a metal mouth to a wood smoothing plane invariably improves its working qualities. It can be cut from mild steel and fixed with ordinary wood screws.

However, since no two men are likely to have the same tools, I propose to run through the complete kit on the assumption that every reader will find something on which he will appreciate a little guidance. For convenience I have selected a preliminary kit which I consider really essential, and have suggested some useful extras to be obtained later as occasion arises. In some cases there are alternatives, mainly dependent upon the class of work to be done, and here a man must be guided by what his own individual requirements are likely to be. The list does not pretend to be complete, but it contains the essentials for the general run of work.

First, a general word as to quality. A glance through a tool dealer’s catalogue will show some extraordinary divergencies in price, and a man may easily wonder why, say, a handsaw may cost anything from 2s. up to 14s., and may seriously ask whether there really is such a great difference to warrant such extremes in cost. My advice is, buy the best you can afford. Cheap tools are not really cheap. They are not accurate, they will not stand up to hard wear, and they lose their edge quickly You can't expect anything else. There is a minimum price at which good tools can be made, and if you go below this something must have suffered. A high quality precision tool may not be essential -- there are many perfectly reliable medium-priced tools -- but don't buy the cheapest. Any good tool dealer will tell you whether a tool is really suitable for serious work.

Remember that there are many factors which aiect the quality of a tool (and consequently its price) which cannot be seen in the finished article. There is the quality of the steel, and the manufacturing processes through which this passes, for instance. Things like this tell in the long run though you may not be conscious of them when you buy the tool. They exist as invisible factors and they largely account for the price.

PLANES

The choice of planes brings up an age-old bone of contention -- wood versus metal. The exponents of each hotly assert that theirs is the better tool, but I think that, after all, it is simply a matter of personal choice. For my part I always use metal planes, and on the whole I should recommend them, partly because they are so convenient in use, partly because they are easier to manipulate, but mainly because they are so handy for fine work, for trimming on the shooting board, and for end grain. However, I have given the alternative in the suggested kit. Those who prefer could interchange them, selecting, say, a metal smoothing plane (9) and a wood trying plane (8).

Probably most woodworkers start off by buying a jack plane (7), but after a short time it is generally relegated to all the rough jobs. In a school where only one plane is available, the jack plane does very well -- it certainly affords excellent practice, but, as one gets on, the necessity for other planes is felt, so that for accurate work the jointer or trying plane (8) is used, and the smoother for finishing (9), the poor old jack plane coming into service only when there is a piece of rough timber to be planed, or a lot of waste to be removed quickly.

For simple, straightforward work these planes are all that is needed, but no man does woodwork for long without feeling the necessity for rebating and grooving, and special planes for doing this work have to be obtained. One of the most useful is the metal, adjustable rebating and fillister plane (12) (the latter means that a fence is provided to enable the rebate to be worked from the edge to exactly the same width throughout). It is an invaluable plane for all sorts of jobs, and, having a depth stop as well as a fence, can be set to work any size of rebate. I should advise it in preference to the wood plane. Another tool in the same class, and extraordinarily handy for a hundred and one jobs, is the bullnose plane (11). It is hardly a necessity, but is well worth its cost.

A plough (10) is needed for grooving, and the choice here depends upon the work a man is likely to tackle. A small metal grooving plane to work grooves up to 1/4 in. can be obtained at a very low price, and for light work is perfectly reliable. For heavier jobs involving wide grooves a larger plough plane is needed, and on the whole is the better proposition. Wood or metal ploughs are obtainable; and here again I prefer the metal kind. For veneering, a toothing plane (13) is needed.

The Woodworker, Volume XLIII, Number 548 - July 1939

Last Updated: May 9, 2015 @ 11:01 pm

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