Building a hand plane
Funny how you think that there are things in life that you’ll never do. Did I think that I would ever become a wood turner? No. But, then I actually tried woodturning and loved it. Did I think that I would ever build my own hand plane? Not likely. Well, once again I was wrong. I just completed my first hand plane: a Shepherd Smoother.
I originally met Doug Evans and Ben Knebel of the Shepherd Tool Company at a woodworking show where they were selling their infill plane kits. The finished planes were beautiful and, if the crowd around their booth was any indication, many other woodworkers thought so too. However, even though I was impressed with the looks of the kits and the finished products, I still felt that building one myself was out of the question.
I had read about such hand plane classics in Garret Hack’s “The Hand Plane Book” (see book review in Oct/Nov ‘99 issue), but I figured that such styles of planes were all on mantle shelves or the display cases of collectors. I never imagined that I would ever use one. I figured that the finished product was too expensive and I wasn’t inclined to make one myself.
However, after talking to Doug and Ben, I soon realized that building my own was not as daunting as I first imagined, and the savings would be substantial. I was still feeling less than confident about trying something like this for the first time, but I was convinced when they offered me the use of their shop to work on my first one. But how long would it take me to build one? I wondered.
The plane kit (Spiers Smoother #7) came with: all the parts required; a well-documented set of instructions detailing the infill plane history; the history of Shepherd Tools; the building process; the tools required; and a set of step-by-step instructions that even I could follow.
The first steps involved fitting together the side walls and the plane sole. They are held together by what can be described as compound dovetails.
After some filing these were fitted together and secured over a wood form. Next they are peined on a steel plate, following the peining sequence defined in the instructions. So far I’ve spent ½ hour and I’m all ready to file the base and sides.
Next I drilled out the throat plate and peined it to the sole. Dan filed off the pins that held it in place. There was a good amount of filing involved throughout the entire process, but the filing is quite simple.
After the throat plate is in place it’s time to fit and glue in the pre-cut cocobolo (the type of wood used in the kits). I used Excel Poly Glue. To this point, I had been working about 3 ½ hours I clamped them up and put it aside to set up for about an hour.
Next I filed the throat plate, infill and throat opening to a 45 degree opening. Getting the throat opening just right is surprisingly easy, yet critical for the proper functioning of the plane.
It’s very important to open the mouth to just the point that an iron would barely pass through. This tightness is what makes this plane a set finishing plane.
After sanding and shape fitting the kit’s handle I glued it into the plane and drilled the ¼” through holes for the infill pins.
Next there is pinning the handle and infills, sanding off the excess metal and more sanding and filing to deburr and smooth the edges. At this point I’ve worked on the plane for about 6 ½ hours. Now there is only sanding, some more shaping and final finishing to go.
To finish it off, I spent 2 hours final shaping the handle and finishing the metal to a 600 finish. Then I applied a coat of boiled linseed oil. It’s a good idea to wait a day or so and then put on a coat of wax.
Now you can start to fine-tune the plane: sharpening the iron and flattening the sole.
The process, from beginning to finished plane ready for tuning, took me 6-½ hours. I spent another 2 hours sanding at home, so it took me a total of 8 ½ hours. Not bad for my first one.
After building this plane and using it, my over all impressions are very positive. The quality of the product parts and the detail of the instructions are excellent. As I built the kit and fit the parts together the quality of this kit became increasingly obvious. The Shepherd Smoother kit was a pleasure to build and a delight to use. I will definitely do it again and perhaps shave an hour or so off of my time, now that I know what I’m doing.
So, if you have seen these beautiful hand planes and thought that you would never use or build one yourself, think again. It is surprisingly simple and extremely rewarding to make the very tools that you use in your woodworking.