Live-Edge Birch Smoothing Plane

When I was breaking down yellow birch for the last production of moulding planes for Time Warp Tool Works, I ended up with one block about 3 inches square and 10 inches long, with a partial live edge along one surface.  It was too small to use as a moulding plane and it seemed to fit nicely in my hand, so I set it aside with the idea of making it into a hand plane.

This was the result.

Live-Edge Smoother, Right

Some experimentation was required to make the back of the plane comfortable to hold.  I swept the sidewalls in behind the blade on both sides and rounded over the top of the heel.  I wasn’t concerned with the checking seen in the heel.

Live-Edge Smoother, Left Low

I carved the bed and escapement from the solid blank and fit the wedge and a Veritas PM-V11 blade.  Although I have worked a little with this new powdered steel, this is the first piece of it that I have owned.

Live-Edge Smoother, HighI used West Systems epoxy to attach a lignum vitae sole for smooth planing and a hard-wearing surface.  (I first tried a PVA glue after wiping the Lignum vitae with mineral spirits, but the bond wasn’t very strong and I was able to peel the sole off the body.)

Live-Edge Smoother, Right Low

I’m interested to know what you think of this plane.  Do you like the look?  Let me know in the comments section.


Sanding vs. Planing

One of the questions I am frequently asked is how I achieve such smooth, even surfaces.

Planing and sanding are two methods of removing material and smoothing surfaces. Each technique is completely valid and has its advantages and disadvantages.  When deciding which to use, consider the following.


Plane when:

  1. you want to achieve a flat surface and crisp edges;
  2. you are using a wood with varying densities and you want it to feel flat and even;
  3. the material tends to clog or quickly dull sandpaper, making sanding impractical; or
  4. the most perfect surface is desired.


Sand when:

  1. the flatness of the surface isn’t critical or you need to blend curves or surfaces;
  2. you are using softwood and want the surface to simulate wear or create undulations;
  3. the material is too soft or difficult to work with a plane; or
  4. it is undesirable to have cleanly cut fibres and a highly polished, bare wood surface (e.g. to reduce the sheen).

The Scrub Plane Build-Off

One night last week, fellow planemaker Scott Meek and I were discussing scrub planes.  Neither of us had ever built one and so we began a Scrub Plane Build-Off right then and there.

Scott’s plane was resawn, then laminated back together, the same way he makes the rest of his hand planes.  Here are the specs for his plane:

  • Body:  old-growth white oak
  • Length:  8″
  • Width:  2.5″
  • Weight:  1 lb – 10.5 oz (753 grams)
  • Blade width:  1-3/4″
  • Radius of blade: 4″
Scott Meek Scrub Plane2

Photo by Scott Meek

Scott Meek Scrub Plane1

Photo by Scott Meek

I opted for a hand-tool oriented approach, mortising the body with chisels.  I knew that my scrub plane would see considerable hard use so I incorporated a lignum vitae sole.

  • Body:  yellow birch with lignum vitae sole
  • Length:  7″
  • Width:  2.5″
  • Weight:  1 lb-4 oz (567 grams)
  • Blade width:  1-3/4″
  • Radius of blade: 3″

Scrub Plane

I documented my progress live on Twitter using hashtags #FlairWW and #ScrubPlaneBuildOff (follow me @FlairWoodworks) which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  I compiled the photos and Tweets into a video (duration – 4:14).

Veritas Inset Plane

I was asked to make a wooden body for a Veritas Inset Plane for demonstration purposes at Lee Valley’s Coquitlam showroom.  Along with a basic instruction sheet, this is what was in the box.

Inset Plane

Completing the plane was a neat project that only required a few hours, so I took the opportunity to do a Tweet-Along as I built a wooden chamfering body for the Inset Plane.

Chamfer Plane

I documented my progress live on Twitter using hashtag #FlairWW (follow me @FlairWoodworks) which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  I compiled the photos and Tweets into a video (duration – 5:55).

Small Ash Side Table

At 11:45 am on Saturday, December 17, I decided that I would make a small table as a Christmas gift.  I documented my process live on Twitter and what you see below are the updates.  This was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.

(If you are not familiar with the format used on Twitter, the @ symbol indicates a username.  Every update, or “tweet” below starts with a username and they are the author of that tweet.  Sometimes, you will see two or more usernames in a tweet.  The second (and third, etc) usernames are people the author is talking to.  The other symbol you will see is #, which serves as a category.  I tried to remember to categorize all my tweets pertaining to this project under #flairww.)

Saturday, December 17:  5-1/2 hours

  • @FlairWoodworks: I’m going to try to design and build a table today, starting right now. Follow along with hash tag #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 11:48 am
  • @FlairWoodworks: The first step will be to find some cool wood. #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 11:48 am
  • @FlairWoodworks: This odd piece looks to be the right height for legs. I’m thinking pedestal. #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 11:51 am
  • @gvmcmillan: @FlairWoodworks Good luck cutting that safely!
    December 17, 2011, 11:54 am
  • @FlairWoodworks: Smoothing the power-carved surfaces with a hand plane.
    December 17, 2011, 12:24 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: I’d like to use this piece for the base and top of the table. #flairww (I later changed my mind and used the part marked “BASE” for the top and vise-versa.)
    December 17, 2011, 12:46 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: You didn’t think this was going to be just another table, did you? #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 12:48 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: I cut a clean surface on the end of the leg with my sliding tablesaw. How would you do this? #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 1:07 pm
  • @Tumblewood: @FlairWoodworks I’d have done something similar with my Excalibur sliding table. #Flairww
    December 17, 2011, 1:15 pm
  • @BobbyHagstrom: @FlairWoodworks Probably with a sled as I don’t have a sliding T-saw :( hehe… I’ve done stuff like that freehand-lots o’ clean up #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 1:20 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: I need to glue two pieces together to make a wide, more stable base. Note the chalk alignment lines.
    December 17, 2011, 1:32 pm
  • @Tumblewood: @FlairWoodworks Nice grain alignment. #Flairww
    December 17, 2011, 1:37 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Come on, glue. Hurry up and dry! #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 1:48 pm
  • @MansFineFurn: @FlairWoodworks ash?
    December 17, 2011, 1:51 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: @MansFineFurn Ash!
    December 17, 2011, 1:51 pm
  • @gvmcmillan: @FlairWoodworks Without a sliding table saw, I would have used my compound miter chop saw. #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 1:53 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Lunchtime! The glue ought to be dry enough to continue work when I return. #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 2:21 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Any questions so far? #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 2:24 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Lunch is done and the glue dry enough to flatten the table’s base.
    December 17, 2011, 3:03 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: I need to cut a notch in the upright (leg) to receive the top. This is probably the most challenging part.
    December 17, 2011, 3:48 pm
  • @MansFineFurn: @FlairWoodworks are you winging it or do you have a design?
    December 17, 2011, 3:51 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: With a saw cut to establish each shoulder, I use a chisel and mallet to clear the waste.
    December 17, 2011, 3:53 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: @MansFineFurn I’m designing it as I build. This is fun! #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 3:54 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: I used my side rabbet plane to clean up the sawed surfaces and adjust the angle.
    December 17, 2011, 4:00 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: That’s a good fit! #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 4:12 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Here’s the other side of the joint. #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 4:13 pm
  • @TheGravedigger: @FlairWoodworks That did well.
    December 17, 2011, 4:14 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: The top looks too thick so I’m going to taper it out towards the edge. I tilted my bandsaw table for this cut.
    December 17, 2011, 4:22 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: The bandsawn surface is pretty flat. The burn marks are from when I hesitated feeding the board.
    December 17, 2011, 4:25 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: A few minutes with a handplane removed the milling and burn marks and reestablished a flat top.
    December 17, 2011, 4:28 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: The upright is secured to the upright with a pair of long lag bolts.
    December 17, 2011, 4:43 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Sorry I’ve been forgetting to add the #flairww tag.
    December 17, 2011, 4:44 pm
  • @sharpendwood: @FlairWoodworks Cool idea, enjoying watching your progress.
    December 17, 2011, 4:57 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: @sharpendwood Well, sculpting is the next step. I will wait until daylight before using my angle grinder to carve the upright. #flairww
    December 17, 2011, 5:13 pm

Sunday December 18:  3-1/2 hours

  • @FlairWoodworks: After I finish lunch, I’ll be back in the shop working on the table I started yesterday. Follow along with #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 11:55 am
  • @FlairWoodworks: I’m using my angle grinder to sculpt the table’s upright. #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 12:20 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Smoothing out the rough-carved surface is going quickly with 80-grit on my Mirka CEROS random orbit sander.
    December 18, 2011, 8:44 pm
  • @ArtsConnectBC: RT @flairwoodworks: After I finish lunch, I’ll be back in the shop working on the table I started yesterday. Follow along with #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 1:02 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Preliminary sanding with 80-grit is done. Now on to fine grits. #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 1:02 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: The upright has been sanded to 180-grit. I’ll finish sand the top now.
    December 18, 2011, 9:21 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Here’s the table assembled. I just need to shape the base. #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 2:01 pm
  • @woodbard: @FlairWoodworks Right, Chris. I look forward to *yours*, though. I like what I see, but cannot imagine what the hole’s function is.
    December 18, 2011, 2:12 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: @woodbard hole? You mean the pencil holder? :) (It’s actually just a knot hole.)
    December 18, 2011, 2:13 pm
  • @woodbard: @FlairWoodworks I knew the hole would be a critical part of that table. Thanks!
    December 18, 2011, 2:23 pm
  • @Tumblewood: @FlairWoodworks Pretty darn cool, Chris!!
    December 18, 2011, 2:29 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: In classic Chris fashion, I carved the edges of the base to follow the grain. #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 2:43 pm
  • @DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks looks good, Chris.
    December 18, 2011, 10:53 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: I plugged the screw holes. Can you see them? #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 3:06 pm
  • @woodbard: @FlairWoodworks Juuuussssttt barely, and ONLY with image blown up,Chris. Wonderful job matching the grain with the plugs!!! #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 3:09 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Time for a final inspection before the application of the finish. #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 3:11 pm
  • @JC_McGrath: @FlairWoodworks barely for sure, excellent match
    December 18, 2011, 3:12 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Here is the table with one coat of lacquer. I’ll give it a light sanding followed by a couple more coats. #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 3:27 pm
  • @ed_elizondo: @FlairWoodworks That durn good work.
    December 18, 2011, 3:31 pm
  • @FlairWoodworks: Lacquer and shellac are my two preferences when I need a quick-drying finish. #flairww
    December 18, 2011, 3:31 pm
  • @DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks just faintly. Would have missed them if I wasn’t specifically looking. Well done.
    December 18, 2011, 3:52 pm
  • @HighRockWW: @FlairWoodworks cool table Chris, I like it.
    December 19, 2011, 4:37 pm
  • @Tooltutor: @FlairWoodworks that’s a sweet table! Can’t even see the plugs.
    December 19, 2011, 6:38 pm

Some Pictures of the Completed Table

Your Feedback is Appreciated!

What did you think of this Tweet Along?  Would you like to see more?  Please leave your thoughts about the project, process, and method of documentation below in the comments section.

The Problem with Hand Planes Today

Hand planes can be divided several ways. One of the more common ways is by length. There are of course block planes, which are the shortest, at around 6-7″. Then come smooth planes, which typically measure 9-10″. They are followed by jack (fore) planes at 14-15″ and finally jointer (try) planes which are about 18-22″ long, though they can reach up to 30″ long.

These sizes and associated names have been passed on through generations, however the use of one particular plane, the jack, has not fared so well.We still use block planes like block planes and jointers like jointers. And for the most, we still use smoothers like smoothers. However, I feel that somewhere along the way, the proper use of a jack plane has been lost. When preparing stock from a rough board, this is the traditional sequence of steps:

  1. Use a scrub plane to get the board roughly flat by planing down the high points as shown with a straight edge as well as winding sticks. The narrow blade, about 1-1/2″ wide, with a tight radius takes a narrow chip, about 3/8″-3/4″ wide. This makes it easy to take deep cuts, quickly removing high points. However, the curvature of the blade leaves severe scallops which are usually undesirable;
  2. Next comes the jack plane, which is used to reduce the scallops left by the scrub plane. The length of the sole helps keep the work flat. The jack plane traditionally had a moderately cambered, or curved blade installed to make the job go quickly. Like the scrub plane, it was not expected to leave a finished surface, but the jack does leave a more refined surface than the scrub. If the work were really large, say, a table top, the jointer plane would be used before the jack to make it easier to achieve a flat surface. I like to start working almost perpendicular to the grain, working from one end to the other, then work back going diagonal, diagonal the opposite way, and finally with the grain. This procedure helps eliminate creating any valleys or missing any hills; and then
  3. Finally comes the smoothing stage. The blade in the smoothing plane may have a slight camber in it or a straight edge with the corners taken off. Either profile eliminates plane tracks – tell-tale grooves left in the work by the corners of the blade. A smooth plane is set at a fine cut to take the final shavings off. It is short because the work is already flat and having a longer sole only means more weight to move. I believe that having a shorter sole also allows the user to exert more PSI with the plane against the wood, preventing the plane from skipping. Therefore, it is easier to make a difficult cut.

You may have noticed that when I talked about the jack plane blade, I used the word “traditionally”. Traditionally, a moderately curved blade was used to produce a cut between the scrub plane and smooth plane, because that’s when it was used. It is not designed to be as coarse as a scrub – it is longer than is practical to do so and has an overly wide blade (around 1-3/4″), nor is it designed to work as a smooth plane, because it is more unwieldy than it needs to be thanks to its length and is would be slower too, thanks to the narrow blade.

Now let’s talk present. Do some research into the different types of planes and their uses. Most sources will talk about the length of the sole, and how the longer soled planes are better than short ones because the ride over the valleys and remove material only from the peaks until the peaks are even with the valleys. Wonderful. It really is.

But it also leads the reader to believe that the longer the plane, the better it is – so why not just get one really long plane and call it a general purpose tool. There are two issues with that theory. One, do you really want to use a 2-foot long, 10 lb plane all day? I didn’t think so. Secondly, you may recall that each of the three stages used a different profile of blade, starting with a tight radius, then a moderate radius, and finally a slightly curved or flat blade.

I think that the loss of this practice is due in a large part to the advent of the power jointer and planer. These two tools which are now common in small shops have largely replaced the jack plane. There is still use for a block plane for trimming. And for most of us, there is still need for a smoother plane to produce that nice, smooth, almost polished surface that we can’t trust the machines to do. Jointer planes are handy for times when it is easier to bring the tool to the work, rather than the work to the tool as the jointer and planer both require. Like when straightening the edge of a 12′ board in your 16′ long shop.

But where hand tools really shine is when working with wood beyond the capacities of these machines. Table tops and natural slabs come to mind. That’s when my hand planes get a real work out, and I would not want to be without them.