Lie Nielsen No. 4 Bronze Bench Plane

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Current Rant

Next to sanding I'd always thought finishing was the worst part of woodworking. The solvent fumes from finishes I've always found disagreeable. I have a shop in my basement so just wearing a respirator didn't solve my problem. If your whole house smells like solvent, wearing a respirator while applying finish doesn't exactly help the rest of the house. I had two options, stop finishing in the house or find a different type of finish. Since I live in Wisconsin, finishing in the garage is only an option a few months of the year. I decided t try some solvent free or at least find a finish with a less toxic smelling solvent.

The best product I've found to combat the solvent smell problem has been wood finishes from Tried and True. After reading about them in an article written by Christian Becksvoort I decided to give the products a try. To my amazement, the products don't have a nasty and harmful odor, and get this, they actually work as advertised. The company is located on the web at


I have learned the hard way for the last time that there is a difference between cheap tools and good tools. Purchasing a hole saw bit.


I just attended the 2004 Remodeling Show in Chicago. Everything was just like your normal contractor's trade show. There were lots of booths, power tools and demonstrations.

As I'm walking by the Rigid booth I see this sales guy cutting a board on a Rigid contractor saw. I couldn't believe my eyes. With the way he was cutting I was amazed to see all of his digits still attached. Instead of standing behind the saw ripping the board he was on the side of the saw (blade side) pushing the wood through in a motion similar to returning the carriage on an old typewriter but using both hands. While this may sound bizarre to anyone who's used a table saw, I assure you this happened. Not only did he have to bring his hands all the way across the blade using the offcut piece to guide the wood but he had the blade about 3" high. If he was cutting a sheet of plywood it probably wouldn't be so bad, a little dumb but not too dangerous. However, this piece of wood was so narrow that his hands were less than an inch from the fully raised blade. Given the side pressure I'm sure he was exerting on the back of the blade he is lucky that board didn't kick and plunge his hands on the blade. One last thing, the blade guard wasn't installed.

The next day I walked by the booth again. I'm now watching out to make sure I don't get to close to any saws in the booth. From a distance I see the saw guy about ready to make another cut. This time I noticed a spare blade sitting on the wing of the table saw about 10 inches from the exposed spinning blade. Call me paranoid but I don't let any metal parts sit anywhere near my 3450 RPM projectile launcher. My calculations put the tip of the blade at 102.6 MPH. I don't need any metal objects, let alone a carbide saw blade hitting me at that speed. That's not even it. This time this same guy decides to rip a 1" piece without a push stick. This time he passed his right hand between the fence and the blade all the way through the cut. It made me nervous just seeing it.

I have never used a Rigid saw so I can't give any praise or otherwise pass judgment on them. However, the training program for the sales guys should include table saw safety. Either that or just display cordless drills and other less dangerous tools.

General Ranting

As a woodworker there is nothing I hate more than sawdust. Woodworkers spend countless hours setting up their shop with dust collectors and air purifiers to rid their shops of sawdust. With all that hard work you would expect a shop to be relatively dust free. That couldn't be further from the truth.

One the most effective methods for reducing dust is to use machines that produce very little dust. Planes and scrapers are great tools that create no dust and are a pleasure to use. For some reason, sanders seem to have replaced both of these fine tools. I'll admit when I first started woodworking I bought just about every powered sander available. My theory was that sanders can be used to shape wood, not just finish wood. While this works, it is not enjoyable or productive. A well tuned plane is much more efficient at fine tuning a joint or trimming the edge of an oversized board. No dust and no further sanding needed.

All right, maybe it isn't just dust I don't like, I just don't like sanding in general. The whole process of sanding is definitely the worst job in woodworking. After completing a project the next step is sanding, or should I say steps. Once you sand with 100 grit you need to sand with 120 to get the sanding marks from the 100 grit out, and so on and so forth until you get to at least 220 grit. I don't know about you, but all that sanding is not why I got into woodworking. Planes and scrapers on the other hand don't require a progression of finer grits to finish the wood. A nice smooth plane can complete most projects in the time it takes to find the sandpaper and attach it to my palm sander. Yes, a plane is a little harder to learn to use than sandpaper but I didn't get into woodworking because it was simple to learn. Anyway, if you just follow a few simple steps planes are really no harder to use than any other tool.

My first plane was a block plane that I purchased from a major home improvement retailer (big orange sign, you get the idea). What a piece of junk. I guess when you pay more for lunch than you do for a plane you have to expect it isn't going to work well. I wonder how many other people have tried those planes, only to be get discouraged and never use a plane again. Tell me the last time you were happy when you cheaped out on a woodworking tool. All right enough lecturing, back to my story. This plane was so poorly designed that out of the box it could barely cut any wood. When it did cut, the carnage it left behind could not be described as a nicely finished surface. The 60 grit sandpaper I have on my belt sander leaves a smoother finish. I thought to myself, what are these darn planes good for? Many months went by until decided to try planes again.

My second plane was a wooden soled jack plane I bought off ebay for around 10 bucks. The person claimed it was all set up to take nice fine shavings. When it arrived I was happy to see that the sole was flat and the blade was indeed sharp as he claimed. I took the tool right over to a piece of scrap maple and to my amazement it cut nice long ribbons of wood. That was a real turning point for me. I had now confirmed that it was possible to use a plane, just like the pros in the woodworking magazines. From that point on I was hooked on planes.

Why is setting up a plane considered an unknown art form?

For some reason planes don't seem to be part of the essential tools for woodworkers. If I had it my way, and I seldom do, all woodworkers would be required to use a well tuned plane at least once. Using a well tuned plane is not just a pleasure to use but it is a major time saver in woodworking. However, the plane needs to be of adequate quality and it needs to be set up properly.

For a plane to work well it needs to be sharp. This is certainly an area that every woodworker should perfect. I use waterstones but sharp edges are not the exclusive territory of waterstones. A great edge can be made with oilstones or fine sandpaper. There are many books and a few sites that have great descriptions on sharpening. If you want my two cents and you're on a budget, get a 1000/4000 water stone. This stone is enough to make your plane sing. If you have a badly nicked blade a 220 grit stone or a bench grinder will help speed up the process. The only other tool that I consider a necessity is the sharpening jig. I've used two and I really like the one that clamps the blade by the side so it keeps the in alignment.

Depth of Cut
Planes are not really intended to take a very deep cut in the wood, unless you're using a scrub plane. Considering the ideal shaving a for a smoothing plane is less than the thickness of a piece of paper it is obvious that the depth of cut will be critical to the performance of the plane. In general I try to look down the sole of the plane to set the depth of cut. However, I also feel that method requires some fine tuning. Maybe my eyes aren't what they used to be but I'm not sure if I've ever been able to determine thousandths of an inch by eye. After sighting it by eye, I just take test cuts on a flat piece of scrap to get my cutter depth to cut thin transparent shavings.

Tuning the Body To be continued...

The trick to cutting nice fine shavings is making sure the body of the plane is in good working order. Books have been written on this subject so I'm not going to tackle the whole concept here, I'll just hit the basics.

The sole of a plane needs to be flat. This can be accomplished by flattening it on a piece of wet/dry sandpaper that is taped to a piece of float glass. If your sole isn't flat don't expect to end of with a flat piece of wood.

The frog of a plane needs to be flat and adjusted properly. Using a file on the frog can help bring it back to shape. The frog must also be adjusted so it fully supports the blade.


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