Troubleshooting Planes
Popular Woodworking|November 2020
Practical solutions to common plane problems.
Tom Caspar

When a plane is working right, it can produce a silky-smooth surface that absolutely glistens. When it doesn’t work, you get an ugly surface covered with blemishes. The problem can be your sharpening, your technique, or the plane itself. Quite often, it’s the plane.

These troubleshooting tips should go a long way to clearing up how a plane works and how to tune it up. Most Stanley, Record and similar types of planes certainly require a tune-up. You’ll probably encounter every problem addressed here. Premium planes, such as a Lie-Nielsen, Veritas or Clifton, usually don’t need much tuning at all.

PROBLEM

Your plane cuts at the beginning or end of a board, but not in the middle.

CAUSE

The plane’s sole may not be flat.

SOLUTION

Rule out some similar causes first. Test the board’s flatness with a long straightedge. If it’s hollow in the middle, the problem is with the board, not your plane. Similarly, test the flatness of your bench. If it’s hollow, the board will bend as your plane. Time to flatten the bench. But if your board and bench are just fine, and this mysterious behavior persists, chances are the sole of your plane isn’t flat.

PLANE TALK

Before launching into troubleshooting, let’s identify a plane’s basic parts. I cut open one of my No. 3 Stanley planes to give you a better look at how the parts fit together. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.

• The sole is the full length of the plane’s bottom.

• The frog holds the blade assembly at a 45° angle to the sole.

• The frog adjusting screw moves the frog forwards or backwards.

• Moving the frog effectively opens or closes the plane’s mouth, the gap in front of the blade.

• The uppermost part of the blade assembly is the lever cap.

• The middle part of the blade assembly is the chip breaker (screwed to the blade).

• Pushing down on the lever clamps the blade assembly to the frog.

• This clamping pressure is regulated by the lever cap adjusting screw.

• Turning the depth-of-cut adjusting nut rocks the “Y” adjusting lever, which slides the blade and chip breaker up or down the frog.

• Pushing the lateral adjusting lever side-to-side levels the blade with the sole.

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