Flat

I have sandpaper in my kitchen sink.

While this sounds like an example of why computer language translation isn’t quite perfect yet (as per: My hovercraft is full of eels), it is instead merely a statement of fact.

I’ve gone through a considerable amount of wet/dry sandpaper recently, due to a confluence of several things:

a)  I really hate sanding things

b)  I’ve needed to sand things recently

c)  There seems to be a bit of a renaissance in the use of hand planes to smooth wood.

d)  As a result, there are numerous guides to cleaning up/truing old planes.

Since planes aren’t used much now due to the proliferation of power sanders, there’s zillions of old ones floating around on eBay, at garage sales, and between collectors.  Some are quite beautiful.  I thought I should get a plane.  However, I didn’t want to drop $80 on one, and while I like the work of Bridge City Tools and Sauer and Steiner, I really can’t afford to spend computer money on one of their fine products.  So, as many do, I purchased a cheap Stanley block plane:

As with most hand tools that have been superceded by power tools, there are many different sorts of planes, from itty-bitty little luthier planes for guitar making up to giant jointing planes that are over two feet of iron.

This one is a basic, non-adjustable, $20 plane for trimming end grain (low-angle blade) and other cleanup work.  Being $20, it isn’t as smooth as, say, a $200 Veritas.  The way to improve a cheap/old/corroded plane is to plonk some wet/dry sandpaper onto a really flat surface, wet it, and move the plane over it, using progressively finer grit.  You can then do the blade the same way, as per the Scary Sharp method.  An interesting question arises, though: what do most people own that is really flat?  Flatter than all wood that you’ll use the plane on.  Flatter than sheet metal that might be dinged or heat expanded.  Well, if you have a granite countertop and a tolerance for iron dust on your food preparation surface, you can use that (Hey, Iron has an RDA!).  If you have an iron table saw table, and aren’t worried about it rusting, you can use that.  But most houses have some spare plate glass somewhere, even if you have to pull it out of a picture frame.  Because of the way it’s made, glass is really flat, and has only the minor downside of wanting to cut you if you aren’t careful.  (As an aside, I always hated cutting glass when working at the hardware store.  I always expected it to burst out of the vertical cutting jig.)

Plane sole from the factory

The sole is smoother than it looks because it was milled in the direction of travel, that is, fore and aft, so the little bits of “tear-out” are in line with the usual direction of movement.  Note too the jagged casting inside the slot.  I cleaned this up with a file.

Plane blade - before

It’s hard to take pictures of shiny metal when hoping to show that it becomes shinier later.

So, after some work:

Blade in progress

This is kind of a dirty job.  Iron/steel dust floats all over the place in the water, and behaves more like dark, magnetic dirt than anything else.

sole in progress

One of the interesting things about this is that you can see where the sole was cast high or low.  For example, there’s what looks like milling “snipe” just before the slot, and the top right corner of the sole was cast high.

Several hours and maybe $6 worth of sand paper later, I was willing to call it done.  I should have started with 150 grit, since the sole needed more metal removed than my 200-320-400-600 pattern could do.  I eventually ran out of paper.

Sole - "done"

It’s a lot smoother now.  The high spots are all flattened, and the hollows are much shallower.

Blade - done

The blade is pretty sharp now.  I’m insufficiently hardcore to work my way to 2000 grit on the blade.

This was interesting work; I like jobs where you take something cheap and make it (cheaply!) obviously better.  Progress is easily observed.

Now I need to work on my planing technique.  Fortunately, I think there’s a podcast about it…

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