Squirrel-Tail Palm Plane

I have many hand planes, but this Squirrel-Tail Palm Plane is among my most-used.

Squirrel-Tail Palm Plane

This plane is a very simple tool.  The investment-cast steel body incorporates a squirrel-tail handle that nestles in my palm and a divot on the toe where I can set my index finger.  The mouth width is non-adjustable.  Both the plane’s sole and blade’s back are lapped flat, making set-up of the tool easy.  Adjustments to the projection and skew of the blade are best done with light hammer taps and it is secured with a cogwheel screw.

I use this plane exclusively for rounding over and chamfering edges, so I set the blade of this plane much like I do for my spokeshave when working on rounded parts.  Instead of setting the blade so that it projects evenly on each side, I intentionally skew the blade, giving me a variable depth of cut.  This way, I can quickly begin to establish the round-over or chamfer using the left side of the blade.  Then, by simply sliding the plane sideways to engage the other edge of the blade, I can fine-tune the shape.  No adjustments are required.

I chose this plane for the task because it is small and lightweight, which allows an easy, one-handed grip.  This is how I grip the plane.

Having a small plane dedicated to chamfering and rounding over edges is certainly not necessary, but it is very convenient.

Hand Planes

First, some more woodworking poetry.  Pretty soon, I’ll have enough to fill a book!

One plane, two planes,
Three planes, four.
I work until
My arms are sore.

Today, I spent a good part of the day at Coquitlam Lee Valley showroom (where I work part-time) for their Plane Days event.  I talked to lots of interesting people and made lots of shavings.  The day went by quickly but I didn’t have enough time to flatten the 5′-long slab of maple I brought into the shop.  Oh well.  I’ve got two more days to work on it!  Besides, that’s not why I’m there.

I thought I’d share a couple basic tips to get the most out of your hand planes.

  1. Learn how to sharpen and keep the blades sharp!  Don’t overcomplicate sharpening.  Sharp is sharp.  (And dull is dull.)
  2. Check your bench height.  If your bench is too high, you will have a hard time providing sufficient downwards pressure on the plane to get a good cut.  And you will get tired quickly.  Too low, and your back will let you know the next day.
  3. Use your whole body – not just your arms.
  4. Find a way to secure the stock to the bench.  Dogs, clamps, planing stops and vises all work.  Also, make sure your bench is sturdy enough that you don’t have to chase it around either.
  5. If your work rocks on the bench, use a wedge to keep it steady while you flatten one face.  If your bench rocks, shim it.
  6. Be mindful of the sharp edges created while planing.  Two freshly-planed surfaces make a sharp point that can easily cut you!
  7. Watch the grain!  If you are unsure of which direction to plane, set the plane for a light cut and try a test pass.  You will be able to feel when you are going with the grain and when you are going against it.  You can often avoid severe tearout by planing diagonally or across the grain, but you won’t get as smooth a cut as going with the grain either.
  8. Know when to stop.  Don’t get carried away and plane until you are left with a toothpick.  Also, don’t plane into the bench.  My coworkers often warn me of this.
  9. Lower cutting angles are easier to push.  Higher cutting angles are less likely to cause tearout.  A plane with a sharp blade, tight mouth and light cut will produce a good surface in most situations.
  10. Keep your blades sharp.  That’s important.