Making a Lignum Vitae Smoother (Plane), Part I

I have never worked with Lignum Vitae before, but have read about it and talked to other woodworkers who have. Nothing could have prepared me for actually working with it though. Let me tell you, it lives up to its nickname of Ironwood.

I am building a smoother plane and started with a 4″ wide x 24″ long piece of 4/4 lignum vitae. To make a thicker body, I planned to cut it in half lengthwise and laminate the two halves together. Cutting it on the miter saw was simple and not noticeably different from any other cut. I went over to the jointer to flatten the faces.

My 8″ Delta is set up well and has not given me any trouble so far. But when I ran this wood over the jointer, it felt like it was being hammered upwards every time the knives hit the wood, probably much like an impact driver hits a screw. The resulting surface was flat, but not smooth. That is, it was slightly wash board-like with points touching across it’s length. Not extreme waviness, but enough to need more work.

So I went inside to the bench room and clamped it in my vise and grabbed my LA block plane because it was handy. Set to a fine cut, I figured that it would clean up the surface nicely. Nothing. It just would not take a shaving. Now the blade was not as sharp as it could be and I know better than to expect a low angle plane to cut well in a hardwood. But I was experimenting. So enough of that. I grabbed my #4-1/2 with a freshly sharpened blade (mostly because I hardly use it). Same result. Nothing. LA jack with a 50 degree blade, same result. Scrapers were my saviour. Slow, but sure.

Once I achieved a good fit, I wiped down the surfaces with methyl hydrate and laminated them together with Titebond III. I used 14 clamps. Overkill? Perhaps, perhaps not. We’ll see when the clamps come off and the edge is jointed.


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