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Dovetailing Infill Planes (Part II)


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Continuing on from yesterdays article on dovetailing, today we talk about the peening side of making an infill plane.

Peening dovetails

Diagram of a former for a smoothing plane.

The easiest way I've found to peen dovetails together is to not use a vice at all. Moreso, make a "former" for the plane, like the one in the illustration, from plywood or another substrate and use it as a temporary infill. Make sure it's several inches longer than the actual plane you intend to make, and build it up to the required thickness by laminating several pieces together. Once the raw block has been cleaned up, mark out your infill holes for the pins and drill through your side plates, through the former and out again. Try to use a drill press if you can cause it's much easier to be accurate.

The former doesn't actually need to touch the soleplate at all, in fact its better that it doesn't. I have a space of anything up to 1/8th of an inch between the former and the sole of the plane to allow for various depths of dovetails and/or sole plates. It all depends on what I want and how I cut and file them at the time.

I also have the top of the former overlap the profile of the planes sides - kinda like overstuffing - but it's not necessary to do this at all. A perfectly serviceable former can be made without it. On my formers I make the plywood overstuffing fairly accurate so that it's a nice snug fit to the top profile of the plane's sides, but it doesn't really need to be. To me it just looks better. From a practical point of view the overstuffing makes it makes it a lot easier to "locate" the plates when you need to peen them, as they just "slot in" to the former. It also lets me know, at a glance, just what type of plane the former is for, rather than have to guess. On the downside though it makes the former a "single use" one insofar as I can't use, for example, the same 2-1/2" wide former for a smoother as well as a panel plane. I need to make two separate formers - one for each type of plane.

Now with the former made, holes drilled through the sides of the plane lined up with holes through the former, and all the dovetails cut on the plates - sides and sole - assemble the pieces and slide the assembly over the former. Get some snug fitting machine bolts and tap them through the holes. I usually use 1/4 inch thick bolts for this. Put nuts on the end of the bolts and then tighten. Make sure that everything is nice and square.

Several former jigs and a 13 1/2" panel plane side template pattern. Note the plywood "overstuffing".

Now you need to drill some holes in the base of the former - about half to three quarters of an inch away from the heel and the toe of the plane's sole should do it. Drill these holes all the way through and out through the top. Get a couple of pieces of thickish metal to use as hold downs. I use half inch square tube cause it's strong, yet light. Make sure they're about an inch to an inch and a half long, and drill a corresponding bolt hole through each piece.

Put a bolt through the "hold-down", then through the former itself. Put some "packing pieces" under the opposite end from the sole, a nut on the end of the bolt and tighten it all up, making sure that there's no "play" with the assembly at all.

Showing the peened dovetails before cleanup. Please excuse the rust as this was a dovetailing exercise which has been put aside and forgotten about for many many years.

Now - and this is quite important - loosen everything off again and disassemble. On the sides of the former, under the "overstuff" - basically where the inside top of the sides contact the former - glue some veneer strips or, in a pinch, put some tape there. Tape isn't as hardy and it compresses easily but it'll do if you have nothing else. These packing strips will make the sides of your plane splay outward at the top. If it's a big plane then two thicknesses of veneer are used. On a small plane one thickness is usually sufficient.

Having the top splay out is important because after you peen the plane it will "draw in" again at the top - thus ending up reasonably square. It's a bit of trial and error though. If you do end up with an out-of-square plane though you can easily make a quick little jig to straighten it up again. Once you've glued the packing pieces to the side of the former you can assemble everything up again, nice and tight and ready for peening.

It should be noted that this type of former works well with two piece soles as well, though often it's better to use a longer one-piece hold down bar spanning the entire length of the plane, rather than two shorter ones.

Dovetail cleaned up....though still rusty from neglect.

To peen the dovetails of the plane, rest the assembly on an anvil, the back of your metalworking vice or a similar lump of steel and hammer away, using lots of light hits rather than heavy ones. You only need to concentrate on the ends of each dovetail, not the middle part. Take it slowly as there's no hurry at all. Work from just inside the edge and push the metal outwards. If your joint is "gappy" you can file or cut a shallow groove just in from the edge and use a small center punch to hammer the metal away from the groove and over the bevel before hammering down flat. Make sure to push enough of the metal into the corner as well. Keep checking that the metal is filling up the void, rather than just mushrooming over it. If you're using brass or bronze you might want to stop every so often, disassemble the plane from the former and anneal the metal by running a blowtorch over it - just to stop the metal becoming too crumbly. If your plane is all steel then you don't need to worry so much

Once you're satisfied that the peening is finished you can loosen off the nuts and bolts and remove the plane from the former. It's bound to be tight so be careful. All you need to do now is clean up the peened dovetails and your plane shell is done.

PREVIOUS: Cutting Dovetails

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