Taking down a log to a smooth surface is hard work. After the axe and drawknife have taken off the worst of it, the majority of work is done by the unsung hero of the hand tool world – the scrub plane. Scrub planes are relatively simple devices – usually with a highly cambered (curved) iron and no chipbreaker. The mouth is wide-open, and the adjustment mechanism is simple or absent. Its entire purpose for being is to rapidly remove scoops of wood to rapidly level a surface without worrying about the quality of the finish. Work leveled with a scrub plane often resembles a Ruffles potato chip, but that’s where other planes take over. On the trunk that is on its way to becoming my wing chun dummy body, the scrub plane was used to rapidly remove the residual bark and level the trunk into something that I could bring to smoothness with a belt sander.
There are only a few sources for scrub planes, with prices ranging from $85 for a wooden-bodied E.C. Emmerich to a $165 Lie-Nielsen. The wooden body of the ECE is not really durable enough for my taste for a tool that often deals with very rough wood. The Lie-Nielsen, on the other hand, will set you back a chunk of change – more than should be necessary for a tool of this simplicity. My solution was much cheaper – convert a beater No. 4 smooth plane.
Meet my scrub plane. There are many magnificent restorations of old planes to the point that they’re hard to tell from new, but this is not one of them. This was found at a flea market by the family, and given to me in the hope that I could “do something with it.” I did. I smoothed up the sole and sides to the point that they weren’t rubbing rust on anything, and cleaned the grime off of the adjustment mechanism, which fortunately functioned. The sole was reasonably flat, though I don’t think this attribute is really necessary in a scrub plane, certainly much less so than in a plane intended to produce a smooth, level surface. I then opened the throat to the point where the frog was coplanar with the rear of the mouth – this being the widest opening possible- to insure maximum chip clearance. Then I turned my attention to the iron.
The first step was to camber the iron, and I’m talking about to the point where you can SEE the curve – no need for a straightedge here. Lie-Nielsen states that their iron is ground to a 3” radius. I don’t think specifics are important – just make sure your cutting edge CURVES. I originally kept the 25 degree original bevel, but after some use and consultation, decided to raise it to 30 degrees. This gives a much tougher and longer-lasting edge, which is important when you’re blasting through rough wood and bark that may be loaded with who-knows-what. I use a Veritas MKII sharpening jig with the optional camber roller. This tapered roller converts it into something like a Dyson Ball vacuum – it can pivot from side to side. If you don’t have one, don’t despair. There are plenty of other ways to camber a blade. Just Google “camber plane iron” and browse until you find one that works for your setup. The last step is to set the chipbreaker farther back from the edge to allow for better chip clearance. The only real caveat here is not to go so far that you restrict the adjustment mechanism.
And there you have it – my answer to high plane prices. Remember, this is a scrub plane, not an infill smoother. Precision is not really one of the operational parameters here – rapid stock removal is, and this plane will deliver that in spades. So, the next time you’re at the flea market or the junk store and spot a plane that you normally wouldn’t spare a second look, give it one anyway. It might be just the (inexpensive) ticket.