Sunday, 16 March 2014

Lee Valley Wooden Plane Kit - Sort of a Review

Just before Christmas Lee Valley came out with this hardware kit for a wooden plane.  As soon as I saw the adjuster I knew I had to build it.  I waited 'til Christmas for my usual Lee Valley gift cards and took them over to the store to pick up the kit.

Unfortunately I went on a pen turning binge before I got to building the plane and then the cold set in again and kept me out of the shop for a while. In the mean time though, I made a close examination of the one part that really intrigued me, the adjuster.

If you look closely at the picture you will see that the larger thread is right handed and the smaller thread is left handed.  What this means is that when you turn the knob one full turn the traveler, which moves the blade, will move the sum of the two thread pitches.  I measured the travel for 1 turn and found it to be 1/8th of an inch.  I was bored (too cold to go in the shop) so I did the math (way too cold) and calculated that in order to change the depth of cut 1/1000th of an inch, which is that magic standard for shaving thickness, you turn the knob 4.09 degrees.  The knob is 3/4" in diameter, so to turn it 4.09 degrees the lateral movement is .027", or less than 1/32nd.  That is pretty fine motor skills for a klutz like me.

The threads on the adjuster of my block plane look similar at first glance, but upon closer examination you see that both threads are right handed.  This way the traveler movement is the difference between the two thread pitches, or in this case, 1/32nd for a full turn of the knob.  The block plane also benefits from a 12 degree bed angle compared to the 45 degree angle of the wooden plane.  The result is that you have to turn the knob 55 degrees to change the depth of cut by .001".  The knob is also larger (1" diameter) which translates to almost 1/2 inch of lateral motion.  Much easier for clumsy fingers.

Finally the weather improved enough for me to get out to the shop without risk of severe frostbite.  The wood I chose was a block of cocobolo that I had received for Christmas a couple of years earlier.  You have to be careful when working with cocobolo because it can cause strong allergic reactions and can create sensitivity to other woods as well.

This is me in my cocobolo protection gear.  Actually this is the way I look all the time I'm in the shop in the winter.  Even with the heater going, I don't think it ever gets to be much above freezing in there.  The cocobolo is dark enough that pencil marks and knife lines don't show up very well, so I stole my son's white pencil crayon to help.  I sharpened it to a chisel tip and went over the knife lines to increase visibility.

The instructions were pretty straightforward, although sparse (If you want to read them you can get to them through the link above).  It really is a pretty simple build, overall.  It's just the tricky little details that that aren't in the instructions, like flattening the blade bed and setting the throat opening.  These are the things that can be the difference between a plane that works and a plane you want to work with.  Fortunately I had read Making and Mastering Wood Planes, by David Finck, which helped me to fill in the blanks.

I'm not going to rehash the entire build, as I mostly just followed the instructions, but I do have a few tips for you if you are thinking about getting this kit to build a plane.  My first piece of advice is that if this would be your first plane, get the book I mentioned above.  I think that would be a big help in understanding what is important and how to make sure you get it right.  I don't fault Lee Valley for not making the instructions more detailed, because in order to do that they would pretty much have to include a copy of this book with every kit.

My second tip is that you might want to put the adjuster a little higher up the blade bed than the instructions tell you to.  I say this to prevent the near disaster that happened to me.  After the plane body was assembled and the glue had cured I made a couple of light passes over the jointer to make sure the bottom was flat.  I then put some 220 sandpaper on the jointer bed and sanded the jointer marks off the bottom of the plane.  Once I had the throat opened up enough for the blade to pass through I put the adjuster in.  With the blade retracted as far as possible this is what I got.

In case you can't tell the blade is sticking through the bottom about 1/16th".  That's a pretty big error.  Fortunately the cup that holds the adjuster fits into a round hole in the plane body.  My solution was to turn a plug from the waste from the centre section of the plane to fill the hole and then drill a new hole about an eighth of an inch up.

My next tip is to be very careful about where you drill the hole for the cross pin.  I thought I was, but when I tried to install the lever cap it wouldn't fit.  It was a simple matter to plane down the lever cap so it fit, but I just found it odd.  Probably my fault.

Lastly, the lever cap they show in the instructions is butt ugly.  Do something about that.  My solution was to trace the shape of the blade on the lever cap and shape it to match.  I don't know if it is the best solution but it is a huge improvement.

The lever cap turned out to be my favorite part of the build.  It is a lot simpler than trying to fit a wedge.  I'll need to spend some more time with this plane to see if it holds as well.  I barely got this plane done in time to get it to the Sienna Gallery for the show. I did take a few shavings from a piece of curly maple.  It planed without any tear-out, but I couldn't get those fine, fluffy shavings I had hoped for.  For now, I'm blaming it on the adjuster.  When I get the plane back I'll try it with and without the adjuster to see which way works better.

All in all, this was a fun project, and a fairly easy build if you don't goof it up like I did.  I thought the adjuster would be my favorite part, but it turned out to be the lever cap.  If it can hold as well as the wedge I may have to use the idea again.  For my next plane I hope to get away from the Krenov style and make something with a tote.