Jim Davey - Woodworking Hand Tools
Frighteningly Sharp Planes, Hand Tools and Sharpening Equipment

Sharpening Notes

Plane Tuning Notes

Restoration - Stanley #10 Blade

Restoration - Stanley #62

Restoration - Stanley Bedrock #602
Plane Tuning Notes

Old Bedrock #602 prior to Tune Up

(with Crack in side)

Plane Fettling                                                          


Any reasonably well-made Plane can be Fettled (tuned) to produce those lovely thin shavings we hear about, shavings less than 1 thou. (thousandth of an inch) or 25micron, thin.

Fettling will not be as effective unless the Plane is clean.  Shavings and dust stuck under the Frog can distort the Base.


Pull it apart, remove any rust, clean the threads and lubricate

clean the machined areas on the Base which the Frog contacts

clean the machined areas under the Frog which contact the Base

Dress the upper surface of the Frog on abrasive paper glued to a flat plate.  This does not have to be perfect as Irons are rarely absolutely flat.

Clean the Base, sides and sole ready for flattening.

Mount the Frog on the Base, align the upper face of the Frog with the back of the mouth.

Make any repairs to the Tote ‘n Knob, refinish with shellac or varnish as required.


The Big Three Essentials in Tuning a Plane: Blade, Sole, Back Iron

Must do all 3 to get a Plane to work.  Other “Points of Fettle” (see later in text) will improve performance slightly but are not essential for general purpose planning.

Start by cleaning the Plane.  Take it apart, remove Frog and clean any waste.  Clean threads of screws.  Clean machined mating surfaces and reassemble the Frog firmly but not over tight.  Add the Iron and Lever at normal operating tension.  Wind the Iron back.

  1. Blade (aka: Iron, Cutter)

-Clean & Debur

Old Blades- Clean and debur.  New Blades- Remove “varnish” coating and debur.  Make sure there are no burs in the Slot.  Do not assume that a new Blade is perfect.

-Check for straight/flat

The Blade should be flat – many old Blades are bent or twisted.  Check that the Bevel-side of the Blade is flat,  if it has a hump, it will not bed flat on the Frog and can be distorted when the Lever Cap is locked down resulting in a convex cut (the Plane will cut deeper on the outside of the cut).

The lower 40mm of the Iron must be flat or hollow – it must not have a hump.  There must be a few mm of flat polished area right across the width of the Iron.  If not, the Blade won’t get perfectly sharp and, the Back Iron may not meet perfectly right across the width of the Blade and shavings can jam in the gap resulting in the Mouth of the Plane clogging.

If it has a hump, use a very coarse stone or lightly grind with a Die Grinder or Dremel.  If using a Dremel, work on the high spot a little, check by rubbing on a coarse stone, Dremel more, test again – repeat until the Hump is gone.  Don’t work too much with the Dremel without checking to avoid damage, stay away from the tip – work at least 1mm back from the tip of the Blade.

It doesn’t matter if the Iron has a hollow Face but it must not have a hump.

-Polish the Face

There must be a few mm of polished area at the tip of the Blade.  Work through the grits of your stones until the finest produces a polish with no rogue scratches.

Technique: 45-45-90  Hold the Blade flat on the Stone with a comfortable grip, hook a little finger under the Blade to stop it from dropping but make sure not to let this finger lift the Blade- if so, the Blade won’t be flat anymore.  With the lower 40mm on the stone at 45o, rub with constant pressure using the full length of the Stone – this will help with consistent wear of the Stone and so not develop a hollow (very important for the softer Japanese Waterstones).  Rub 20-30 strokes and change sides – alternate back and forth until the area at the tip is polishing all the way across.  Before progressing to the next finest Stone, give 5-10 rubs at 90o to create a set of sideways scratches instead of those at 45o.  These are Indicators.  Progress to the next grit repeating the 45o – 45o procedure until the 90o Indicators are all gone.  This will ensure that the deeper scratches from the previous grit are all replaced by finer scratches of the current grit.  Work at 90o to create a new set of Indicators and change to the next finest grit.  Repeat through to the finest Stone you have – 6,000#, 8,000#, 10,000#.  This process will ensure that there are no rogue scratches left at the end and it should be a mirror finish.

-Grind at 25 o

Flat grind on a wheel or by hand on an extra coarse or Hollow grind on a wheel – but not less than 8”/200mm dia. as it will create too much of a hollow and reduce strength at the tip.

Make sure the tip is square to the sides of the Blade, especially with Low-angle Block Planes.

Usually grind straight across the tip but make a slight curve if required for a Smoother Plane (#2,3,4) or for a Jointer (#7,8) if planning edges for a “rub” joint.  Grind a heavier curve for a Scrub Plane (#40) or any “roughing” Blade.

Sometimes relieve the corners on a straight-ground Smoother Plane Blade so that a step is not left when planing a wide board.

-Hone at 30 o

The larger the hone area, the longer it takes to hone – so we don’t want to hone the full depth of the grind area, all that is needed is 1/2mm of highly polished area at the tip.  Freehand honing is fine but guides give the same angle all the time giving repeatability each time thus eliminating errors encountered by many recreational woodworkers without freehand experience.  Start on a fairly fine stone and finish on the finest – 6,000#, 8,000# or 10,000# if you have it.  Flip it over and polish the Face, back to the Bevel – repeat a few times until the wire edge is gone from the tip.  After all this, the result should be: two polished faces meeting at the tip – and it WILL be sharp.  If relieving the corners (best done with a honing guide) raising one side while honing until about 5mm off the stone then down again, do the same for the other side.  If honing a light curve, apply extra pressure to one side then over to the other as honing.  For heavier curves, probably best to hone freehand sideways on the stone.

-Back Bevels

There are occasions when a Back Bevel is required:

1.    Bench Plane.  Increase the Approach Angle of the Plane from normal 45o to 50o or even 55o when working difficult cranky grain.

2.    Block Plane.  Reduce the main bevel from 25o to 15o and add a 10o Back Bevel.  In a regular angle (22o) Block, this will lower the approach angle from 52o to 42o (assuming 15o grind and 20o hone) without reducing strength at the tip.  Do the same with a Low Angle Block (12o) will reduce the approach angle to 32o.

3.    Damaged Face.  Useful if the Face of an old Blade is pitted – adding a 2o – 5o Back Bevel will provide a polished face at the tip – only needs to be 1mm deep.

For low Back Bevels, use a thin Rub Strip on the side of the fine honing stone to raise the Blade – at 50mm projection, 1mm height will give 1o Back Bevel, 2mm for 2o etc.

For larger Back Bevels of 5o – 10o a honing guide is recommended, e.g. Veritas Mk. II.  Doing this freehand is risky – very easy to damage the stone if not done correctly.

-The 4 “R”’s

Ready – to prepare a new Blade

Refresh – rehone the Blade during use

Regrind – when the honed area gets too deep, it takes too long to refresh (maybe ½ the depth of the grind) – this is the time to regrind.  Unless the tip is damaged with a chip, there is no need to grind right up to the tip but leave it at 1/2mm from the tip – there is no need to create a new bur which will then take extra time to remove.

Restore – a Blade with a chip, neglected or abused Blade.


The Blade must be sharp, if not, any other Tuning will be wasted.


Stanley and Record Blades are adequate but better quality steel Blades are even better and give longer time between honing.  The harder steel can need faster cutting diamond plates for the rougher part of sharpening.



  1. Sole, including the Mouth

-Dismantle, clean

Glue abrasive paper to a flat surface using spray contact adhesive, e.g. craft glue.  Use anything between #60 - #220 depending on how bad it is, how fast you want to work and the surface finish you want to achieve.  The surface should be flat but if is cupped or bowed, use the other side.  i.e. have the convex side up.

Flattening the sole must be done with the Plane fully assembled at normal tensions of screws and Lever Cap.  The Base will distort during assembly so the flattening must be done after assembly, not before.


Hold the plane low – grip it as low as you can, don’t use a normal grip at top of Tote and Knob as the Plane will rock and cause uneven abrasion.

Use even downward pressure all the time.  Especially on the backstroke.

Use the entire abrasive surface so a hollow doesn’t develop in the middle as the abrasive particles wear down.  Regularly use a brush to whisk away the dust.  Wear a mask if you don’t like cast iron dust.

Check with a Straight Edge.

Only use Bearing Blue or Texta if the Abrasive Surface is flat.  Don’t totally rely on this method unless technique is perfect – check with the Straight Edge.

Turn the Plane around from time to time.

The Sole doesn’t have to be dead true for the entire length but it should be flat across the Sole in the area of the Mouth and it needs to be flat at the tip, around the mouth (especially at the front) and at the rear.  It doesn’t matter if there is a hollow between tip and mouth or mouth and rear but it can’t be convex between those points.

Do not use Belt or Disc Sanders, Surface Grinders or Milling Machines if you want the Sole to be flat.

Take extra care with #10 series Rebate Planes as they can distort during the flattening process due to too much pressure in the one place.  Remember: keep the grip low and change the grip now and then.


  1. Back Iron (aka: Cap Iron, Chipbreaker)

-Clean & Debur


The Back Iron should be flat but the Tip should protrude about 2mm from lower side.  This will ensure that, when the Screw is tightened, there is perfect tight contact up near the Tip of the Blade so shavings cannot get underneath and clog the Mouth.  New Back Irons usually have 4 – 5mm of Set which will bend the Iron so that it won’t contact the Frog which can result in Chatter and the Plane hops along the board.

-Undercut front edge

To ensure the Tip of the Back Iron, we undercut the front edge by rubbing on a medium grit stone which is a few mm higher than the Rub Strip.  Aim at 1-2mm right across which must reach the Tip.


-Polish the nose from tip to top



The Back Iron has 2 purposes.  Firstly to give strength to the Iron so there is less opportunity for vibration.  Vibration results in shatter, poor finish and the Blade may dull quicker than normal.  New Back Irons usually have 3-4 mm of set at the tip which will bend

the Iron when tightening the screw resulting in the Iron not being seated flat on the Frog.  1-2 mm is all that is needed to keep the tip of the Cap Iron seated firmly on the back of the Iron.  The front tip must seat on the back of the Iron otherwise dust and shavings can get in-between and clog the flow from the mouth of the Plane.  Using a medium grit stone, dress the under front edge so that it has 5-10 degrees of undercut and is flat all the way across the tip.  When tightening, set the tip of the Back Iron 1-2 mm back from the tip of the Iron.

The second function is chip-breaking.  The front curved face of the Back Iron acts as a Chip-breaker by curling and creating cracks across the width of the shaving.  Polish the front edge of the Back Iron to help.

Make sure the nose of the Back Iron is flat across the width, especially where the underside of the Lever Cap contacts the Back Iron.  If there is a hollow, the Blade can distort when the Lever Cap is tightened resulting in a lighter cut in the middle.



Even though you can get great results from the above – it’s a good idea to make sure the Tote and Knob are tight, file the mouth and treat the plane with a light clean.


Other points of Fettle:

These points will not dramatically improve the performance like the Three Essentials but will make the plane work a little better.

  1. Mouth - File the mouth at 70-80 degrees sloping forward, down to 1mm from sole.
  2. Frog should be flat, especially across the width in the lower section
  3. Lateral Adjuster – should be straight, not too loose or too tight.
  4. Depth Adjusting Knob – should be free to spin
  5. Lever Cap


  1. Stanley (and all the other USA Plane Makers) used their own non-standard threads.  (Except for the Back Iron Screw which is 5/16 – 18 tpi).  Australian Plane makers such as Turner, Falcon and (I think) Carter used the same screw sizes and threads.  Front Tote Screws (#4 ½ - #8) from early Stanleys were 7/32 – 20 tpi (#12-20) but later screws had a finer thread and the early ones are not available any more.  However, the screws from a “Junker” Aussie will fit – as well as the Frog Screws from Falcons which had a round head same as the Tote screw – may be a bit longer but that is no problem to an enthusiast.  Or, if you haven’t got a “junker” take a new Stanley Frog screw, convert the “cheese” head to a round head, deepen the slot and you have something very similar to the original.  A rusty old “junker” is worth a few dollars, (maybe up to 10), just for the screws which are often missing in other, worthwhile purchases.
  2. Keep the Knob and Tote screws firmly tight otherwise there are undue stresses on the wood which will crack.  Align the grain of the Knob to the length of the plane, not sideways – to lessen the risk of chips at the base.
  3. Don’t force the Plane.  Don’t try to take too heavy cuts as this puts undue stress at the mouth of the Plane and can cause cracks – particularly so for Low-angle Block Planes,
  4. Keep the Irons sharp.

Same Bedrock #602 with Clean Up, Welded Cheek and change-over Tote and Knob

Jim Davey 2015

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