Hand Plane Set Up - in seven simple steps

In this video I talk about how I set up my hand planes in seven simple steps. At the end of the video I talk about my hand plane collection.

Flat sole
 
The sole of the plane needs to be as flat as you can get it. 
 
The easiest way that I have found to check for flatness is to tape down some 120 grit sandpaper to a known flat surface – you could use a piece of glass, or a tablesaw table, or even a ceramic tile for example.  In the video I use a piece of 12mm MDF.
 
Back off the iron so that it’s well clear of the throat, you don’t want to sand the cutting iron.  But it’s better to leave it in rather than taking it out because the tension of the lever cap can slightly alter the shape of the sole very slightly, so if you flatten the sole with the lever cap on, then you know it’s flat with the cutting iron in which is how you’ll be using it.
 
Draw some lines on the sole with a sharpie pen from one side to the other all the way down the length of the sole.
 
Then sand the sole and if the pen marks are visible in some areas, that means it’s not flat, so you’ll want to do some more sanding.  If it appears to be badly out of shape then you might want to start with a more aggressive paper like 80 grit which will remove material more quickly, and then when it’s flat move up to 120.
 
There’s really no need to go above 120 grit as that is plenty smooth enough but you can if you want it to look more polished.  Once the sole is flat, it’s really important to lubricate it, which I’ll talk more about a bit later.
 
 
Sharp Cutting Iron
 
A sharp cutting edge will make the plane cut cleaner and the hand plane will also be easier to use as there’ll be less resistance.
 
The method I use for sharpening is to use a honing guide like this one, I set the tip of the cutting edge to be around 35mm from the front of this honing guide which gives me an angle somewhere between 25 and 30 degrees.  Then I sharpen on a 360 grit diamond plate, using some water with a drop of washing up liquid to lubricate the stone and checking to make sure that I’m cutting along the whole length of the cutting edge.  Then I do the same again at 600 grit on the other side of the plate.  Then I use a waterstone at 1000 grit, and then the other side at 6000 grit. Then I hone the cutting edge using this green cutting compound on a piece of leather glued to a block of MDF and I do this free hand without the honing guide.  Then I remove the burr from the back of the blade with one stroke.  I test it’s sharp using a piece of paper, and when it cuts cleanly I know I’ve got a good cutting edge. 
 
Here are some links to the items I use for sharpening - all of them are inexpensive.
 
Taidea 360/600 grit diamond plate http://amzn.to/2pXfLZX (Amazon UK) or http://amzn.to/2o9cudt (Amazon US)

Japanese 1000/6000 grit whetstone http://amzn.to/2oHw3pm (Amazon UK) or http://amzn.to/2pIpzIb (Amazon US)

Green polishing compound http://amzn.to/2oHwtvW (Amazon UK) or http://amzn.to/2pIa7LQ (Amazon US)

Honing Guide http://amzn.to/2pXgLgQ (Amazon UK) or http://amzn.to/2pIiqY4 (Amazon US)
 
 
Chip breaker / Cap Iron set
 
Once your cutting iron is nice and sharp you’ll want to attach it to the cap iron, also known as chip breaker which is this piece here, and it’s job is to deflect the shavings out through the top of the plane and reduce tear out.  I like to set mine so that it is 2mm away from the tip of the cutting iron.  To adjust it, you can unscrew the thumbscrew that holds both irons together and manoeuvre it in to place being careful not to let it rub against the tip of the cutting iron as that can dull the blade, then tighten the screw to set it.  You can also flatten the tip of the cap iron to make sure it makes contact with the cutting iron from one side to the other which will help prevent chips getting caught in there.
 
 
Lever Cap setting
 
The lever cap allows you to quickly remove and re-fit the cap iron and cutting iron at the flick of a lever.  There's an adjustment screw which controls how tight the mechanism is and also how tight the blade adjustment knob is to turn, which is this part here.  Tightening the screw will make the adjustment knob and the lever mechanism tighter, and loosening it will make the knob turn and the flipping of the lever more easy and you can adjust this until you get it operating just the way you want it.  I like to set mine so that the adjustment knob can be twisted with one finger which allows me to adjust it quickly and easily.
 
 
Blade cutting depth and alignment
 
Next it’s time to set the blade cutting depth using the screw knob on the back.  To do this I hold the plane right up to one eye and hold it up towards a light, I close my other eye and I sight down the length of the sole turning the knob until I can see just the very tip of it protruding from the throat.  If one side is protruding more than the other, then I use the alignment lever to angle the blade so that it’s level and straight.  Then I back off the blade by half a turn or so and give it a try on a piece of wood advancing the blade with each pass until I get a shaving.  Then to test I first use the right hand side of the blade, and then the left and I look for both shavings to be the same thickness – and when they are, I know my blade is correctly aligned.
 
 
Mouth width / frog adjustment
 
The distance between the front of the throat and the cutting iron can be increased or decreased depending on how much material you want to remove with the plane.  I like to set mine so that the distance between the cutting edge (when it's able to take a light shaving) and front of the mouth is 2mm. 
 
If you find that shavings get caught in the throat as you’re planing, and you’re having to pull them out all the time by hand, then that’s usually a sign that the opening is too narrow, so you’ll probably want to open it up a bit.
 
To adjust it, this part of the plane is called the frog, and at the back of it you’ll find an adjustment screw at the bottom.  This can be turned clockwise to advance the frog or counter clockwise to back it off and make the opening wider.
 
 
Lubrication
 
This one is sometimes overlooked, but makes a huge difference. I regularly lubricate the sole of my plane between and during use, it makes the plane glide much easier and take a lot less effort and it also protects it from rust.  I either use some regular oil or a lubrucating wax on a cloth. For the sole of the plane though, I like to use some candle wax.
 
 
If you follow the above steps then you should get decent results.
 
Finally I thought I’d talk about my own hand planes, and I only have three.  I have a vintage Record No. 5 which I use the most, probably 90% of the time and I have this set up as a smoothing plane to take mostly thin shavings.  Then I have this unbranded No. 4 hand plane which I tend to use for rougher work with more questionable materials (in case there are nails embedded in the wood). And finally I have a Draper block plane which I tend to use predominantly for bevelling edges, or creating subtle roundover edges.