Friday, January 11, 2013

Horned Smoother Part II

Before cutting up the chunk of cherry that I'm using for the horned smoothing plane, I consulted Philip Edwards of Philly Planes about grain orientation.

I had read that it's best to put the sapwood on the sole and the heartwood on top, but I wanted an expert's opinion.

Philly confirmed that he orients his planes this way, although he has seen antiques that were made heart-side-down and which seem to work fine.

First, the best wood is quartersawn. I did not use the correct section of the log in the photos (I used the flatsawn portion), so my plane will move across the width. When looking at the end of a plane (the heel or toe), the grain should be horizontal, not vertical. With seasonal movement, it's okay for the plane to get taller or shorter, but thinner in width can be a problem because the blade can become locked into the body of the plane. There may be other reasons for running the grain horizontally, but this is the one I know.*

In order to get the optimal grain orientation for my plane, the blank had to be sawn from the cherry at an angle.

I removed adjacent corners with an axe to create 90º angles, and cleaned up the faces with scrub and smoothing planes.

After that—just to be sure the blank was dead-on square—I used my power jointer and planer.

*A reader contacted me to let me know that this paragraph is incorrect—I did not say that your wood should be quartersawn in order to minimize seasonal movement (I've since added that bit). But just to avoid any misinformation, please have a look at the Old Street Tool site (formerly Clark & Williams) where they explain grain direction. 


Sean Wisniewski said...

Too cool, Kari. I love watching your projects take shape. This is sure to be another beautiful piece.

Dyami Plotke said...

I second Sean. That's a wonderful plane taking shape, Kari. Well done.

Ben Lowery said...

Love it. The end grain is smiling at me.

Jamie Bacon said...

Great start Kari. With your artistic flair, I can't wait to see how this turns out. I'm kind of on a hewing hatchet kick lately, what is the hatchet you are using in the picture?

Kari Hultman said...

I hope so, Sean and Dyami. I've always loved these carved planes. Hope I can pull it off.

Ben, you're right!

Thanks, Jamie. I'm using a Gransfors Bruks hewing axe in the photos that I got from Highland Woodworking. It's awesome. I believe it's listed as
Swedish Carving Axe" on their site. I have another one that I bought from ebay that's pretty decent, but the GB axe is superb.

Howard in Wales said...


Grain orientation in planes is an interesting subject, now that you raise the question.

Traditionally in the UK, where it is plentiful and areas of Western Europe where it also grows, Beech is the timber of choice for wooden planes for its consistent straight growth patterns and resistance to wear. Even so, some modern German manufacturers substitute a harder timber for the sole. English makers used Boxwood for the best planes for the same reason.

I believe that the plane-makers’ blocks were riven, (therefore quarter-section), from well-dried stock. In a riven, quarter-billet, shrinkage that results from drying will, if anything, tend to produce a key-stone shape. However movement in use was all but eliminated by careful owners who valued expensive planes by frequent oiling.

Old plane blanks were sometimes laid down like wine and air-seasoned for decades. We don’t have decades to spare these days!

The grain direction, viewed from the side of the plane, appears horizontal; therefore, you would expect that the sole would consist of side grain for most of its length.


Looking closely at some wooden planes I have dating from the mid-19th C, I have noted a slight, almost imperceptible, forward cant in the orientation of the billet, heel to toe, so that the sole presents steeply angled end-grain for much of its length – not much slope in it from the horizontal, just a degree or two at most, but it can have an effect on oil penetration and wear of the sole.
On all the wooden planes that I have, and can see the growth pattern, it appears that the sole is orientated toward the sap side, or outside of the tree.

Food for thought, as they say..

All best from Wales

Kari Hultman said...

Howard, thank you for weighing in and for mentioning the forward cant of the grain from heel to toe (which at first seems counter-intuitive).

I took a couple classes with a planemaker (Tod Herrli) who explained that orienting the grain that way (downward from heel to toe) provides longer grain behind the blade at the mouth. If the grain runs downward from toe to heel, you have short grain in that area. I have seen some old planes with lots of chipping on the mouth behind the blade and I'm wondering if they oriented the grain that way.

Howard in Wales said...


Tear-out behind the mouth is a give-away during or after stroking the plane heel-to-toe, when doctoring a plane sole; a bit like stroking the cat the wrong way!

You will also find the same approach with boxed planes. The boxing was usually cut from the billet on the slope and oriented so that end grain was inclined forward. Boxed planes often show shrinkage in the boxed part when compared to the body which (in British planes) is Beech.

A good fruit-wood for contact-wear – if you can get it – is Apple wood. British millwrights used it for the replaceable gear teeth in mills.

All best from Wales

Kees said...

Oh, and when you look at old planes, you see all kinds of "faulty" grain direction, and they all seem to work just fine. So I wouldn't fret too much about it.

Kees said...

Hmm, my other comment seems to be lost. I said, have a look at the website from old street tools. They have a very good article about grain direction.

Kari Hultman said...

I'm glad that Howard and Kees checked me on the grain direction. Obviously, I remembered incorrectly from the class I had taken. I checked in with Larry Williams (Old Street Tool) who confirmed that the grain should slope downward from toe to heel. I asked if it was more important that the front of the mouth or the back of the mouth be intact, and he said the front. The chunk of cherry I'm using has grain running perfectly horizontal, so it's not an issue here, but I don't want to give misinformation for those wanting to make their own.