Once the glue is dry, it’s time to turn this block of wood into a plane. This is definitely a case of all the little details coming together to determine if you have a great plane or just an okay plane. Assuming that the bed is flat and square from the previous steps, we are left with two more crucial points: the sole and the mouth.
To properly flatten the sole, the plane must be in tension, just like a metal plane. To accomplish this, I fashioned a temporary wedge with the proper slope, but thick enough to take up the space of both the wedge and plane iron assembly. I chose walnut for this, not for its esthetic color contrast, but because it was a little softer. It seemed to me that a slightly “squishier” wood would tend to hold in place better than a harder wood like the white oak of the body. With the wedge tapped firmly in place, I worked the plane sole over a strip of sandpaper attached to the top of my tablesaw. In this case, this only took a few strokes until the sole was completely flat. It was my good fortune that the sides were square to the sole, so no additional work was necessary there.
While we’re here, take a moment to note the direction of the grain in the side of the body. As you can see, it slopes slightly down toward the rear of the plane. This is the desired configuration, as opposed to a slope in the opposite direction. This tends to make for a smoother sole and reduced wear. Keep this in mind when selecting your wood.
After truing up the plane body, I made the final wedge from the temporary wedge. I scribed a line parallel to the bottom of the wedge block as shown above, and cut out the rough final wedge. This preserves the wedge angle while removing the wood that was taking the place of the plane iron assembly. There are probably as many different wedge styles as there are woodworkers, and you can shape the end of the wedge to suit you. The key point to remember is that the two faces of the wedge need to be parallel, at least in the area where contact is made with the crosspin. To check this, wedge and iron assembly in place with the iron retracted, shine a light up through the mouth of the plane, and look for gaps. Go ahead and correct this before going any further.
Once the sole is flattened, the last, crucial step in adjustment is performed – the mouth is adjusted. In theory, the mouth opening should be as small as possible, while still allowing the desired shaving to pass. This size can vary depending on the intended use of the plane. A scrub plane removes a large amount of material with each pass, and needs a large mouth opening to match. A general purpose plane will need less, and a dedicated smoother such as this one will need the smallest of all. The smaller the mouth, the more support the wood has in front of the iron, reducing tearout. However, a very fine opening will only allow very light passes. This is where you have the perfect opportunity to tune the plane for your intended use.
This is the point where you need to get comfortable, turn on some music, whatever – you don’t need to rush this. I used a fine float-type file to gradually remove material from the edge of the insert. As you can see above, I held the file at approximately 5-10 degrees and gradually removed material across the width of the opening. I kept this opening fairly blunt to increase support at the edge, and reduce the effects of wear on the mouth. I took my time and checked the fit after every few strokes. As I got close, I took the trouble to insert the wedge with the fully-sharpened iron assembly and tapped things into place. Just like truing the sole, things change when under tension. I really wanted to sneak up on this, because changes happen fast once the iron pokes through. When things looked right, I adjusted the iron and took a few shavings. The first test clogged immediately, so I removed the iron and took two light full-width strokes with the file. Perfect.
The last step was to cut the body to shape on the bandsaw. I drew a rough outline based on some of Finck’s designs, and cut it out. Then came the process of rounding over the corners with a rasp. Finck recommends sneaking up on this – remove a bit and work with it for a while. Then, remove some of what doesn’t feel right. For me, that process is still going on. Eventually, I’ll probably sand everything down, but for now I’m leaving it rough from the rasp and using it until something doesn’t feel right. Then, I remove a bit more. Yes, the wood is a bit scorched. My bandsaw blade was dull, and the replacement hadn’t come in yet. It’s OK, this is a shop tool, and most of the marks will be removed as shaping progresses.
And here we have the final product being tested on some pine. These shavings are about the thickest it will produce, and I normally use it set a bit finer. The projection of the iron is a bit higher than I anticipated, and my hand is having to reach around it. I may get a shorter iron to replace it, and use this iron on a shooting board plane I plan on making in the near future. Since this photo was taken, the body has been rounded some more, and the shaping goes on yet. It’s not a pretty plane, but I take comfort in the fact that most of James Krenov’s planes were “ugly as a mud fence”. However, the proof is in the pudding:
This plane has proven to be a real workhorse for large-scale smoothing. However, a wooden-body plane with a 2″ iron is a real handful to grip, and not something I’d recommend for anything but flat panel-type work. For work where you really need to hold the plane rather than just push, I suggest a narrower iron. Considering the cost of construction, I plan on making several of these in different widths, customized for particular tasks. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when I do.