When finishing highly
figured wood, I generally prefer panel surfaces to be planed and not
sanded. There’s a crispness to a planed and scraped surface
that brings out the best in the wood. My power jointer and
thickness planer are indispensable, but they are risky when used to
surface wood with swirled and twisted grain because even with sharp
blades and slow feeds, they like to take a chunk occasionally…
usually on my most important piece.
woodworking lore are the heavy Norris and Spiers smoothers of a
generation ago… the thick blades, hand-lapped soles and some with
50-degree blade beds are said to be far superior to their less
expensive Stanley competitors with thin, cap-ironed blades and
45-degree frogs… especially when used on highly figured wood.
Next winter I have a job
that involves 30 or so cabinet panels of Birdseye maple currently
stacked in the bolle in my drying yard, and this renews my interest
in trying a 50-degree plane. The old British smoothers are
coveted collector items, many worth more than my work truck.
Lie Nielsen makes a lovely Bedrock-style 4 ½ in 50 degrees, but they
are very expensive, and are still basically a Stanley design.
As I have some experience tuning old Stanley planes for comparable
performance, I decide to convert a Stanley to 50 degrees and tune it
for my purpose.
As in most of my articles,
I’ll purposely use only tools readily accessible to beginners,
foregoing milling machines and the like… and all the work done in a
crude, temporary 12’ by 12’ shop. My intent is to provide a
model for you newcomers to the craft who will benefit greatly from
acquiring older but high-quality tools in need of a hug for very
little money… and putting them back into service without a lot of
machines and fancy gizmos you don’t have yet.
enough practice rehabbing old tools, making new ones like in other
articles I’ve written, and practicing traditional joinery for your
workbenches and other shop necessities… by the time you create for
yourself a nice workshop and are ready for furniture, you may find
you no longer feel a need for all the trendy doodads being marketed
at you weekly. I’m not saying that all those expensive tools
and jigs aren’t useful or don’t have a place, I’m merely trying to
provide you something to help set your acquisition priorities and
encourage the practice of time-tested traditional joinery.
I’ve had a Stanley 4 ½C Type 11 parts plane for some
time…. with missing tote and knob, a chipped lever cap
and a hairline crack in one corner of its mouth. I
don’t remember what I paid for it, but it wasn’t much,
and similar defective 4 ½’s can be had today for less
than 40 dollars.
crack turns out to be of no consequence, so I leave it,
and turn my attention to how I will change the iron’s
bed from 45 to 50 degrees.
Laying out the desired 50-degree blade angle against the
45-degree angle on the frog’s bed, I have three choices.
I could build up and re-machine the entire blade-side
face of the frog, I can re-machine the frog’s bed as
shown by my drawn line, or I can make and install shims
for both the frog’s bed and also the screw washers so as
to keep the screws plumb when mounted.
A large shim the size of the frog’s face would preclude
the use of the blade adjustments without a lot of
additional work. Cast iron is soft and easily
worked, but it also cracks easily and filing the frog’s
bed to 50 degrees would encourage that by making the
remaining web to the screw cutouts too thin. I
decide to make shims, which have the additional
advantage of being reversible should I find I don’t like
the 50-degree blade.
I measure the shim thickness I need with dividers,
select a piece of mild steel strapping scrap to match in
thickness and width…
… square one rolled edge, and scribe it in place for
cutting. I leave the stock over long because I
will also take the screw washer shims from it. I
could have also used brass, but this was on hand and the
thickness is perfect.