I just started building a wooden bodied plane out of David Finck’s book “Making and Mastering Wood Planes.”  An acquaintance of mine let me try his out one day and it worked really well.  I was shocked at how easily it moved across the wood and took off a curly shaving – certainly none of my iron planes will do that. But to build a wood plane, you need a block plane that works well to begin with.  Mine is a Record low-angle that I bought new and which works poorly. I’ve tried doing end grain with it and gotten nowhere.

I had to conclude that it’s just time to tune it up.  I know that should be obvious – it’s everywhere on the net that you have to tune up planes even when they’re new (unless you pay a lot of money for the best ones) but I guess I’m just lazy.   My first task was to flatten the sole.  I drew some marks on the sole with a Sharpie and then started scooting it on a piece of 120 grit sandpaper stuck to a marble floor tile.  I was surprised to find that it was quite out of flat.  There was a hollow right behind the mouth.  Deep down inside, I had sort of thought that flatness was over rated but Mr. Finck says otherwise.  I kept going with finer grits of sandpaper and now the sole is flat and almost shiny. I waxed it up (Boeshield T-9 actually) and called that part done.  I’m actually surprised at the amount of metal dust generated.

I had recently sharpened the iron but figured it was a good time to touch that up so I did.

I then had a go at the wooden plane blank.  THUNK!  Nothing.  I tried this and that, up to and including, gripping differently, tinkering with the depth, pushing harder, pushing harder still until I heard something in my elbow go *POP*, angling the plane, holding my arm against my body and using only my legs, and I don’t know what all.  It never got any easier until I became exhausted.  I finally relaxed my death grip, focused on holding it steady and putting a little weight on the proper end depending on where I was on the work, and just pushing. I was thinking “just one more shaving and then I’ll go to bed.” Then it just started working; not necessarily easy but doable.  I started peeling little shavings off – not end grain but 45 degree grain.  I kept checking for flatness and squareness like Finck suggests and eventually got it right. 

I’m still not sure what happened; I was too tired to do any more and so went inside.  And of course, the plane blank was as it should be so no need to mess with it further but I need to go cut off another angled piece or get a piece with some end grain and try that again.  I need to capture that moment again and commit that to muscle memory.  My arm aches today but I may have stumbled onto “The Technique” at long last.  I didn’t think there was anything more to it than pushing hard.  It would seem that I am wrong.

What surprised me most in all of my hand-tool explorations is how much the little things matter.  I had assumed in the beginning that one simply sharpened an edge and then bashed away with a mallet until done.  Watching Roy Underhill with a drawknife or a morticing chisel would lead you to that conclusion.

Maybe I’ve crossed the threshold.

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