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Restoring Planes: Metal and Wooden


The Care and Feeding of the Wooden Plow Plane by Zach Dillinger

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The wooden plow plane is truly the workhorse joinery plane of the hand tool or hybrid shop.

Zach Dillinger

It cuts grooves for a panel door faster than you can set up a router table. It can be used to cut rabbets by burying the iron in the plane fence, rather like setting up a sacrificial fence on a table saw. It can be used to mark out, and even begin a long and accurate rip saw cut, whether you make the cut by hand or band saw.

Even if you arenít committed to working entirely by hand, a vintage wooden plow can be a great fit for your shop and a complement to your power tools. Here's how to make sure you buy a good one.

Skating By

The first, and most difficult to correct thing to check is the skates. Like an NHL defenseman, a plow needs a good pair of skates. These are the strips of metal that protrude out of the bottom of the plane. They are usually two to three inches tall and sometimes feature brass trim.

Like an ice skate, this is the bearing surface of the plane, meaning that this is what actually touches the wood. It is vital to the operation of the plane that these two skates are straight and lined up with each other.

Over the years, the wood in the plane body moves with the seasons and can cause these skates to go out of alignment, sometimes quite severely. Check this with a straightedge before you buy the plane. The skates should be aligned, both along the wide side of the skate and the bottom. They should also be at a right angle to the bottom of the wooden plane body. If they fail these tests, leave this one be and hunt for another plow.

However, if it is just the bottom edges of the skates that aren't lined up, and you aren't working on a historic plow with real value, you can file the bottoms until they line up.

Work slowly and carefully until the edges line up with each other and are parallel to the bottom of the wooden body of the plow. This will be easier if you remove the fence from the body and hold the body in your preferred vise.

Learn how. Discover why. Build better.
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