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Making shoulder/rebate planes

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IWW

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Close enough to 40 years ago, I first became aware of the lovely infill shoulder/rebate planes of the latter 19th century & immediately lusted after one, but such beauties were well beyond my financial reach at the time. After much thought, heavily influenced by my limited budget, tool kit & skills, I figured out how I might make something vaguely similar.

Brass bar & plate comes in sizes that are very convenient for such a project; one inch thick bar for the core, and 1/8” plate for the sides, conveniently added up to 1 ¼”, a perfect match for the Record 073 replacement blade I’d picked up cheaply. The pieces were cut out with a hacksaw & filed & sanded to shape, then sweated together using lead solder, except for the nose piece, which was my first (rather inept ) attempt at metal dovetailing ( I filled in the gaps with more solder).
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The front infill is simply epoxied in place. There is no bridge for the wedge, instead, the wedge-cum-lever-cap is pivoted on screws. The thumbscrew stud was initially threaded into the wood, but I later added a threaded bras insert. The adjuster was another ‘refinement’ added some time later when I had access to a small metal lathe.

It was a very long time ago, so I honestly can’t remember why I decided to make an adjustable toe, but I suspect it was partly because I doubted my ability to get a fine mouth if I had fixed the toe in place. The experience of accidentally banging my block plane into firm objects & jamming its toe-piece against the blade edge had left its mark, so I made the front piece of the SP extend to the sole, to prevent such mishaps. Being able to slide the toe forward makes it possible to remove the blade through the mouth. Here is an 'exploded' view of the gubbins:
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My plane would not win any beauty contest, but it worked remarkably well considering my limited understanding of plane mechanics at the time. In the years that followed, I learned more about planes & what makes them tick, & was able to finesse it a bit to end up with a pretty good user that has served me well. It’s hard to beat heft & a low blade angle when it comes to fine-tuning a bit of end-grain!

Fast forward 30years or so, when I decided I would like to have a baby version of my SP. But the old 60/40 lead solder is virtually extinct nowadays, and some preliminary trials with leadless plumbing solder quickly convinced me that I was going to have a real battle to get a good & reliable join with that stuff! So what to do? I was considering doing a dovetailed body (I’d made several dovetailed infill bench planes by this stage & lost my fear of them), but by a fortunate coincidence, Peter McBride posted a brief WIP of a small rebate plane he’d made on our Aussie Woodwork forum, on which he had riveted sides to a solid core. Peter has made some superb planes and his site is well worth a visit if you like infills & have some time to browse: [http://www.petermcbride.com/metal_plane_making/ ]

One of the advantages of this solid-core style of construction is that you prepare the blade-bed as a single piece of metal and it is an integral part of the chassis, no mucking about fitting a wooden bed as you need to do with a dovetailed sole body.

Brass is a good choice of material for this method of fabrication; it’s readily available in sizes that can be used to make up plane bodies for ½”, ¾”, 1” and 1 ¼” blades, which are readily available in each of those widths. It’s strong & tough, but can be easily worked with simple hand tools like hacksaw & jewellers’ saw (I recommend #6 or #8 blades for the latter), & files & sands easily. If you have a drill-press, it will make life easier, of course, but it’s not essential, a battery drill will do the job. Mild steel is also an option, but quite a bit harder to work with than brass.

There is no ‘standard’ design for shoulder planes, they come in all shapes & sizes. Blade bed angles range from a very low 12 degrees to around 20 degrees for bevel-up types, & I recommend this configuration if trimming end-grain is your end-game. There are mechanical limits to how low you can go with blade angles, the tip of the blade bed becomes very thin below 12 degrees, and with a brass sole, I would not be tempted to go below 15 degrees, for fear the pointy end of the bed would flex too much under pressure. When designing your side profile, pay attention to the mouth & throat: the throat needs to be generous to allow shavings to accumulate & escape without clogging. The mouth should be quite fine, and you only get one go at it. With bevel-up blades, you cannot close the mouth by simply using a thicker blade as you can with bevel-down planes.

The blade you choose to use will determine the length of the bed, so begin by obtaining or making that. For my baby SP, I used a ½” replacement blade for a small Mujingfang SP. Sides of 1/8” brass are riveted to a ¼” core to give the required width. Such a narrow core allows very little lateral adjustment because the tang is almost as wide as the bed, so I need to be pretty accurate with my blade grinding, but I can live with that. Here are the parts (for a ¾” model) cut out & ready to assemble. The bridge block (at rear), will be shaped to match the top curve after it is fixed in place:
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When preparing the parts, I take particular care with the blade bed, making sure it is lapped dead flat & straight, so it will need no more attention once attached to the sides (it’s extremely difficult to get a file in such a confined space & not cause damage, otherwise). The wedge-shaped extensions of the sides that attach to the end of the blade bed are filed to just a teeny fraction above the scribe lines, so that they can be brought into line with the blade bed with minimal filing, after the sides have been attached.

The trickiest part of the assembly is keeping the parts aligned accurately. The solution I evolved is to carefully clamp the three pieces together on a flat surface, then silver-solder the tip of the bed to the sides. This section is too thin to rivet, so this is the most practical way of fixing them. Once that’s done, you can go ahead & drill for rivets & set them without angst. My aim is to have the bed & sides matched as closely as possible to minimise the amount of filing & levelling of the sides to the blade bed. This is the heart of your shoulder plane, and you want it to be as close to perfect as possible.

I cut my ‘rivets’ from 1/8” brass rod, but the only brass I can readily obtain where I live is an alloy formulated primarily for machining (385), & though rated ok for cold-working, it really isn’t as ductile as I’d like, so I’ve learnt a couple of ways to reduce the chances of splitting & flaking when peening. The first is to keep the counter-sink into which you peen the rivet fairly small – it doesn’t take a very big ‘collar’ to hold securely, & if you doubt their holding power, just add more rivets. You can make the counter-sinks with a rose bit, but the 60 degree angle of these means you get a wide counter-sink compared with its depth. This takes a lot of peening to fill properly & that increases the risk of the rivet head splitting & flaking before it’s properly set.

I made a very simple tool from an old triangular file ground to a 3-cornered point of something more like 75-80 degrees. It takes 6-8 twists of this to produce a neat recess, with a diameter about a mm or so more than the rivet hole & plenty deep enough for purpose (in brass, that is; it takes about 4 times as many twists & much more pressure to cut the same sized recess in mild steel).
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My second 'discovery' was not to leave too much rivet proud of the surface. For a 1/8” diameter rivet, about 1.5mm protrusion should give you plenty of metal to fill the counter-sink, and you’ll get it there without too much danger of splitting & flaking. If you have too much protrusion, it’s much harder to control the flow of metal into the counter sink, and to see when you’ve got it filled properly. I strongly advise doing a few practice runs with scrap, to get the feel of how the metal moves. File the set heads flush & check that you really have filled the recess solidly with metal – the rivet should ‘disappear’ when filed flush. You’ll quickly get the hang of it.

Another ‘tip’ is to use a decent quality ball-peen hammer of a comfortable size & weight (an 8 oz. is my choice for this job, but mileages vary). The cheap & cheerful hardware store versions tend to come with a flat & irregular ball, which makes accurate peening very difficult. Hold the handle up closer to the head than you would for driving a nail, so that you can strike accurately, and use lots of moderate strikes. And needless to say, good lighting helps! Watch the impact points and with a bit of practice, you should get 99% of blows to fall just where you want. A few small mis-hits will sand out easily enough at clean-up time, but major dings may remain as an embarrassing legacy that you just have to live with. I’ve seen recommendations to put duct tape or similar around the rivet holes, but it can get in your way, and doesn’t prevent marring all that well, so I think it’s better to simply concentrate on striking accurately.

Lastly, use a good solid anvil of some sort. Mine is just a 200mm length of steel, 60mm square, that came from a scrap bin. I place it on my bench & sit on a high stool that puts me at a good height. It pays to get yourself comfy, you may be hammering for a good half-hour or more if you have 15 to 20 rivets to set.
I sit some off-cuts of the same thickness as the core between the upper sides, to ensure the sides don’t close up off-parallel. It’s a low risk if your core pieces are square & parallel-sided, but it never hurts to add a bit of insurance.

Here is the body for my ½” plane riveted together, and with infill for the nose glued in, ready for clean-up. Note the toe-piece has been set protruding into the mouth, & touching the end of the blade bed:
5.jpg


The clean-up begins with a file to bring the rivet heads down close to flush (new, sharp files are recommended, dull files end to skate on brass) followed by lapping on sandpaper stretched over a flat surface. I usually start with 120 grit, which very quickly brings the rivet heads flush – it’s most satisfying to see them disappear entirely when you’ve done a good job:
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If all goes according to plan, the sides of the mouth will be above the bed by just a teeny fraction, which can be carefully filed away until the bed is level. But before doing that, lap the sole & get it straight & square to the sides.
7.jpg


Opening & refining the mouth can give you some anxious moments, it’s painfully easy to over-do it, so proceed with care. It’s not the end of the world if you do end up with a wider mouth, it doesn’t affect performance all that much on end-grain.
7a.jpg


At this point the plane is essentially finished, it remains only to make & fit the wedge. I am spoilt for choice where I live, there are numerous hard, dense woods that are suitable for infills & wedges. My favourites are some of the dry-country Acacias like Mulga (Acacia aneura) and Gidgee (A. cambagei) but there are many more and it takes very small pieces, so you can use something rare & exotic without having to re-mortgage your house.

I like to spend some time polishing the wood, and you can go as high as you like with sanding & polishing the metal, but if it’s a working tool, 800 wet & dry gives a nice satin sheen that stands wear & tear better than high polish .
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So that’s all there is to making a basic but very serviceable shoulder plane…. 8)
Cheers,
IW
 

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IWW

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While I maintain that screw adjusters aren’t really necessary on this type of plane, especially as you tend to set them once between sharpenings, I accept that many folks feel lost without them, particularly early in their planing career. Learning to tap-set a plane is just one more distraction when you are struggling to make it perform for you, so out of consideration for future generations, I decided to add screw adjusters to my rebates. This isn’t too difficult when the blades come with a set of ready-made adjuster slots .

If you have access to a lathe, or a friend you can cajole/bribe into making a thumbscrew for you, adding the adjuster is quite straightforward. My knob runs on an M6 stud screwed into the back of the blade bed. M6 has a pitch of 0.1mm which gives you reasonably fine control of blade movement. The only tricky bit is getting the hole for the stud the right distance from, & parallel with, the blade bed – this is where a drill-press with a good vise is almost mandatory. I turned the knobs from 19mm brass rod in order to get a disc of sufficient diameter to engage the blade slots, and allow a few mm of clearance for the knurled section.
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Of course, using a simple wedge doesn’t marry well with this type of screw adjusters. It’s not a good idea at all to force a locked-down blade with the adjuster, & backing off & re-tightening a wedge would become very tedious, very quickly. The solution is to use a wedge-cum-lever cap arrangement. A screw through the bridge applies the necessary pressure to the wedge.

I drilled & tapped a hole (M5 in this case) through the bridge for the clamping screw, and set a small plug of brass in the wedge for it to bear on. I scrape a very shallow bow in the bottom of the wedge to give it a bit of ‘spring’ and the screw pressure is quite adequate to hold the blade firmly. (I dreamed this up independently & thought I was very clever, until I found at least a couple of other people had beaten me by decades!
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This is how it all looks on a ¾” example (“Ringed” Gidgee infil):
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The construction described lends itself to just about any style of rebate plane, for example, how about a bullnose? In this case, to make the front & toe as stiff as possible, I riveted a solid core of brass in the front and along the top of the throat to form the bridge, the wood infill (Another Acacia sp.) is quite shallow:
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So that’s a brief chronicle of my rebate-plane making journey. Be warned, it’s an addictive pastime - I started out intending to make a single, small ½” plane & have ended up making more than a dozen out of curiosity & by request…..
13.jpg

(hammer)
Cheers,
IW
 

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IWW

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Messages
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Location
Brisbane
:eek:
I guess you'd call it convergent evolution, Pete, I swear I hadn't seen your post before ! Interesting that you used brazing rod for rivets, I tried that too, but like you, found it was much too hard. Brass rod is far more forgiving, depending on the alloy. You can get 260 brass fairly easily over your way, I believe, which is more ductile than the 380 I use.
I commend your consumate care in putting collars around the rivets through the infill - nice touch.

Actually, we are both late on the scene, the original user-made rebate that sparked P. Mc's plane, from which I pinched the idea, was made early last century, so we are all safe - I reckon the patent has expired by now... :wink:

Cheers,
Ian
 
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