Handplaning with precision
Bob Van Dyke uses his smoothing plane for more than just smoothing.
Synopsis: A handplane is useful for much more than smoothing. In fact, Bob Van Dyke uses his No. 4 to create perfect edge joints on panel glue-ups, fix an uneven reveal around a door frame, correct gaps in mortise-and-tenon joinery, adjust miter joints, and flatten cupped, bowed, or twisted boards.
It was not until I started working with Will Neptune years ago that I began to appreciate the value of a systematic approach to working with a handplane. Until then, I had used one for smoothing and making pretty shavings, and completely missed the level of precision possible. By approaching planing tasks, including joinery, systematically, I’ve been able to work more accurately using just a single plane, my No. 4, whose small size lets me target specific areas effectively.
The key is to plan and count your strokes. Most plane shavings are around 1–3 thousandths of an inch thick—the average piece of paper is 3 thousandths of an inch thick—making the handplane an incredibly precise tool for adjustment. By mapping out and counting the strokes, you can predict and control your results. This means precision doesn’t come from taking a heavier or lighter cut, but by keeping track of how many passes you have made—and where you’ve made them.
Better edge joints
One of the most useful and rewarding tasks with a handplane is creating spring joints. This traditional technique is used to edge-glue two boards together, and it allows you to easily align boards that are at their final thickness. Thus, the technique is extremely useful when gluing up tabletops or panels that will be wider than the capacity of your thickness planer. The idea of the spring joint is to create a small hollow in the middle of the joint that gradually tapers to nothing at the ends. This is done with overlapping cuts, beginning in the middle and working outward. I find the technique easiest on boards shorter than 4 ft.
Orient the boards as they’ll go together in the final panel and close them like a book. Clamp them together near the edges you’ll glue. Plane both boards along their full length until they are flush. Then visually divide the edges into four or five sections.
Begin with one full-width shaving over the middle section. Now take a full-width shaving across the second section as well as the first. Repeat along the length of the board. The short sole on the No. 4 allows the plane to follow the diving cut as you form the hollow. The last pass should be twin continuous shavings the length of both boards.
From Fine Woodworking #287
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