Wood shavings are cool. They are fun to make. They are fun to play with. That is part of why I enjoy working with handplanes so much. It’s not just because of the beautiful, polished surface they leave behind. It’s because of the fashion in which they remove wood.
I’ve found that different types of shavings can be produced by skewing the plane, adjusting the mouth opening, depth of cut, and the effective cutting angle (the angle at which the blade enters the wood, measured from the bevel of a low-angle plane or the face of a bench plane blade to the sole of the plane). Also, controlling how the shaving exits the plane has an effect on the shape of the shaving.
First of all, a straight-grained piece of softwood is the best material to use when experimenting, as it’s the easiest to plane. And sharp blades are really a must, too. I have found that shavings are a great attention getter – at woodshows, everyone not so interested in the hand planes gravitates towards the shavings. They’re just so fascinating!
If you take a bench plane set for a fine cut and push the plane straight over the wood, without skewing it, you will create a tight spiraled shaving. By skewing the plane, the shaving ejects at an angle, creating a long cylindrical shaving, called a spill. The more you skew the plane, the longer the spill you can produce with a given length of wood.
I’ve found that I can take the heaviest cut with a low-angle plane equipped with a 25-degree blade. With the throat opened up fully, I can take a full 1/16″ shaving. The force required to take such a cut is quite a lot – sometimes more than my momentum can provide. For starters, try the edge of a 1/2″ or 3/4″ thick board. I’ve done 1-1/2″ and it ain’t easy. Rather than make these gargantuan shavings on the push stroke, I turn the plane around and pull. Somehow, I feel that I get more control and more power on the pull stroke. Maybe it’s because I have no fear of falling into the workpiece. Anyhow, these shavings make neat bracelets.
Another way to alter the type of shaving produced is to control how it is ejected from the plane. Uninhibited, the shaving out of a bench plane comes out in a curl. But if you put a finger in the mouth (from above), effectively preventing the shaving from ejecting cleanly, you will end up with a wrinkled shaving. A similar shaving can be produced by using a plane with a high effective cutting angle. You can get a similar effect using a shoulder plane, whose body impedes the clean ejection of shavings.