A metal sole on a wooden plane?

I saw this picture on an Aussie forum I regularly visit, and this plane was up for sale. What struck me about it was the metal sole. I understand the reasoning behind it, but it’s a dumb move and a poor job of attaching the metal to wood.

The attraction of a wooden bodied plane is that it leaves the surface polished because of the wood on wood burnish effect. By adding a metal sole to it, the owner has essentially stripped the plane of this quality and made it unattractive, especially with those countless screws you see in the picture. The surface it will leave behind may still be smooth and somewhat polished, but it won’t be the same if it was entirely wooden.

There is a small learning curve in using a wooden plane in terms of adjustment. There is no depth adjusting knob, no lateral adjusting lever, and no lever cap to release the blade. These 3 elements people struggle with the most, yet they are very simple to learn.

Follow these basic steps on how to adjust a wooden bodied plane.

Upon inserting the iron place your forefinger and middle finger into the mouth from the sole of the plane to stop the iron from falling through out of the mouth. No, you won’t cut yourself unless you’re really unlucky. Tap the wedge lightly to lock the iron in.

Sight down the sole and tap the iron with a hammer until you see a black line. That’s the iron protruding. Now tap the iron in either direction until you make it parallel with the sole.

Tip: To see the iron clearly place a white piece of paper in the background. This is why I make my benches from light coloured woods.

NOTE: If you sharpened the iron out of square you will struggle to get the iron parallel to the sole because you don’t have the same amount of leverage in side-to-side movement as you do with a metal plane.

Not much lateral clearance for side to side adjusting

Because I camber all my blades, I use the Charlesworth trick of using a piece of thin wood to make passes on both sides of the blade. I hold the plane in my hand and with the other I stroke the thin piece of wood on the ends of the blade. This will quickly tell me what the eye cannot pick up if you want to take really fine shavings which side is protruding more.

I normally use a longer thin piece, I just couldn’t find it and broke off a piece for demonstration purposes.

After centering the iron, tap on the wedge with one firm tap. DO NOT tap the wedge hard, it will make it super hard to release. Just use enough force to wedge it in place somewhere between light and medium should be enough.

If you want to take a deeper cut, tap the nose of the plane or the top end. If you want to take a lighter shaving, then tap at the heel of the plane, which is the back. Always tap the wedge afterwards.

Using a Warrington hammer is heavier enough to have an effect. Anything lighter will leave unnecessary marring on the plane without having any effect.

To release the wedge to take out the iron, tap with a decisive blow, preferably with a mallet on the heel or flip the plane upside down and whack the top front of the plane on your bench. This method works for all moulding planes as well because they are wooden planes with a profile.

Wooden planes don’t rust, but they move as wood does and gets out of whack and therefore you need to regularly check your planes and flatten when necessary. This also includes moulding planes. People make the mistake when buying vintage moulding planes thinking that they’re ready to use out of the box. Yes, they would be if they were new but not when they’re 50+ years old. You need to check for flatness and flatten them. Don’t think if it’s flat next to the iron, she’ll be right. She needs to be flat from heel to toe, and then you need to reshape the profile if you took off too much. Remember, the sole shape of the plane must match the profile. Therefore it’s best to buy new moulding planes over the used ones on the antique marketplace if you can afford it or even better make them yourselves. I’ve written extensively long articles in the magazine about this. I made an entire set for myself.

Jack Plane sole is flat. You need to check for humps as well.
Moulding plane sole is flat. No light visible.

Always check the sole with the iron inserted but not protruding. The same applies to metal planes, new or old.

When they make metal planes they never insert the iron and then flatten the sole. They just mill the sole on a milling machine, tell you it’s flat within so many thou. But when you insert the blade into the plane it’s not truly flat because the iron creates a small hump from the pressure. I learned this from David Charlesworth in an old LN video.

There is more moulding planes on top of the cabinet and behind the metal planes.

With Covid creating dilemma in the world with production ceased , it only makes sense to build your own planes if you don’t have any. Wooden planes are just as high quality premium planes as any metal bodied premium plane like LN or Veritas.

10 thoughts on “A metal sole on a wooden plane?

  1. I made a wooden fore plane a few years ago because I had a Lee Valley blade kit. I used scrap wood. It’s nothing fancy. It works exceptionally well. I’ve been tempted to make a jack and smoother out of wood for some of the reasons you mentioned above. I’ve also seen YouTube videos of folks taking irons and frogs from metal planes and adapting them to a wooden plane. That way you’d have the ease of adjustment from a metal plane in a home made wooden body. Of course, the transitional planes are made that way and used to be fairly inexpensive to,purchase. All good options. Not that I need any more hand planes mind you.

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    1. If I were to make anymore planes I would do so out of the pleasure of making one. The transitional planes you’re referring too were not worth much up until a couple of months ago. When they were first introduced by Stanley there wasn’t much enthusiasm for them. Cabinet makers were happy with their wooden planes and saw no reason to make the switch to a metal plane, plus they were ridiculously expensive then. Eventually after Stanley made full metal planes more and more woodworkers made the switch. There’s nothing wrong with the transitional planes, but there’s nothing great about them either. The prices for them have sky rocketed in the last couple of months for whatever reason. Maybe there are too many newcomers who are over paying for their tools. I remember 10 years ago hand saws and planes made in the 50’s nobody would touch because they were crap. Nowadays their sought after and God forbid you say anything negative about them. Well, they were crap then and they’re still crap now.

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  2. Thanks for this excellent piece of advice. As a newbie woodworker, I am still experimenting and contrary my initial expectations, I find metal planes to be quite fiddly for my taste. I am considering to switch to wooden planes for most of my needs. However, one advantage of metal planes seems to be the ability to set and forget them, whereas wooden planes need to be relaxed for storage (ie the iron and wedge released and set in with gentle hand pressure). My ideal setup thus seems to evolve into a wooden smoother and jointer that I can pull out and set when they are needed, while keeping a metal jack ready for whenever I just need to grab a plane for some strokes.

    The advice to increase cutting depth by hitting the front of the plane is genius – I use to strike the top of the blade, but hitting the plane body appears to allow for finer adjustments. Wonder why I never thought of that, it seems to be logical since striking the heel retracts the blade.

    As to your recommendation to use a Warrington hammer – how many grams is that, approximately? I use a 115g hammer and sometimes feel that I need to strike the plane body very hard to produce any effect. Is this what you refer to in the article?

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    1. If you have metal planes then stick to them, there’s no need to make the swap.

      There’s no such thing as set it and forget it. You can set either plane and if you hit or thump it slightly hard on the bench you will send the iron out of parallel tot he sole.
      When you first set the iron you do so by tapping the iron to make protrude from the sole. It’s only whilst you’re using it you tap on the toe and heel for micro adjustments.

      My hammer is 16oz or 453g. I hope I haven’t missed anything.

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    1. The body of their planes are all metal i.e. the sides and the sole. The handle and knob are all wooden just like any other metal plane though shaped differently. Most modern versions have depth adjusters. I wouldn’t and couldn’t put an infill plane in the same category as an all wooden plane. Infill planes would definitely fall under the Rolls Royce of metal planes.

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  3. Why do you think the metal sole you show is done badly? Screws allow some relative movement between the metal and the wood with environmental changes. The only minor issue I can see is that the maker used matching screws to the countersink so the turn screw slots are open to catch muck. If the countersink were smaller than the screw head then the heads would stick out and can be filed level eliminating the slots.

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    1. That’s exactly why I said it was badly done. Those screw will catch bits of shavings and the plane will skip rather than being in full contact with the board. A better method of attaching metal to wood would be to use fish glue, that is the ancient method. A modern method would be to use epoxy however, a better method of them all is to use Locktite AA30 in combination with the activator SF7387. I can understand in one or two aspects why one would attach a metal sole to a wooden plane, but on the other you are destroying that wood to wood burnishing effect that wooden plane are so famous for.

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