Scrub Plane on the Cheap

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.

Scrub Plane on the CheapMeet 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.


9 responses to “Scrub Plane on the Cheap

  1. Good article! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice. I’m planning on doing the same thing to a #5 1/4 I acquired last year. Have you given it a good test run yet?

    • Oh yes. It’s been in the inventory for some time and is a real champ. This was one of those quick-and-dirtys where no finesse was required. Fun for a change! The heavier 5 1/4 will probably give you more oomph so that you can set it more aggressively. Let us know how it turns out.

  3. I got your Site from Lumberjocks as you left me a Comment about my Christmas Card Holder/Basket.

    I also added your Site to my Blog List and Most Visited Websites. I’ll keep coming back and watching for new post, in the mean time I’ll catch up eventually on all of your post.

    I have a few Hand Planes, not many, I picked up some I thought was pretty good on eBay, 4 of them for under 100 bucks. I’ve not had much time to tune up or anything like that cause I don’t have a Bench or a Sharpening station to flatten the souls of the planes and all incause they need it.

    It’s a GREAT Idea thou for a Low cost Scrub Plane by converting an ole Banger into one. Thanks for the Tip it will help me out when I get around to gettng my Shop all setup!


    • Thanks for the kind words, Handi. I’ll be checking out your blog as well, and posting a link to it. Glad to have you with us. As for a sharpening station, you can actually get by with a piece of MDF with sandpaper attached to flatten your plane soles for the time being. Yes, there are better ways, but this will get you started and using those planes instead of waiting for something better comes along. You can always retune later.

  4. Good article Robert. I’ve been using a No5 as a scrub for a long time and it works well. To get the most out of any given scrub, the amount of curve can be optimized without too much trouble. The recommendation of 3″ radius works for the narrow blade of the No40 but is too much for the 2″wide blade of a No4 or 5. Here is a bit I put together and includes a calculator where you can enter the dimensions of a specific plane and the depth you want to achieve and it spits out the right amount of camber
    The calculator is way down at the bottom.

    I also like the notion of thinking of the scrub plane as a ripping plane too. it is so much faster than setting up and using the table saw to rip a 1/16″or even an 1/8″ off the width of a board.

    • Hey, thanks for the tip and link! I didn’t know such a calculator existed, or that there was that much science to scrub plane cambering. I’ll repost it in an article in the next day or two for those that don’t get around to reading the comments.

  5. Hi Robert,

    I want to reuse a box of 3 1/4 red oak hardwood floor. I want to glue them face to back. So I need to remove the commercial varnish. My smoothing plane wont even scratch the finish. So I’m considering cambering the iron and widening the mouth to make a scrub plane out of it. I wish to remove the varnish then smooth it over to glue the board together.

    Do you think that such a scrub plane will do the work? (sanding being out of the question)


    • A scrub plane will remove a lot of stock, and flooring isn’t that thick. Are you sure it’s solid wood? If so, I’d try a chemical stripper first. If that doesn’t work, I’d tend towards a card scraper or cabinet scraper over a scrub plane.

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