A Woodworker’s Notebook
Jeff Gorman
Fettling a Cast-Iron Plane

It is possible to pay a great deal of money for a new plane that is produced with greater care than the well-known makes of mass produced planes. Some of the work outlined below will be unnecessary. There will be some cosmetic improvements, yet by putting something of yourself into an existing decently-made plane, it can be made to be pleasant to handle and as far as planing is concerned, to function just as well.


If dealing with a very cheap new plane, carefully check the area in just front of the mouth. Some very poor ones are ground in such a way that this area is depressed below the rest of the sole. Take it back or use it as a door stop. Restoring the sole to flatness will require too much effort. Some old or new planes might have a bump behind the mouth. You should be able to cope with this.

If at this stage, you want to get serious about the condition of the sole, first consultJoin the Flat Sole Brigadeand its successors.

Cap Iron

The Cap Iron has probably been stamped from a large sheet, leaving rough sheared edges. Draw file the sides and the top edges by holding a fine file at a right-angle to the face of the cap iron and drawing the file along the edge. Finish with a 0.8mm (1/32in) 45deg chamfer on the upper surfaces starting and finishing at the curved section.

It is essential that the underside of the curved edge fits absolutely perfectly against the face of the iron otherwise the shavings will find the gap and clog the plane. Work with a fine file until this gap is completely closed.

Firstly check with 0.04mm (1.5 thou) mechanics feeler gauge, then try to see whether any light peeks through the interface.Make sure that the fit is checked with the cap iron screwed down onto the blade.

You could try clamping a cigarette paper against the blade. If it can be withdrawn, the gap is too great.

You could slightly crown the sharp edge to match the camber you give to the blade. For camber, seeHow To Plane A Square Edge.

A grotty surface can be improved with a light passage of a fine rotary steel brush. Take care not to round the arrises and avoid the curved area (see below). Also avoid catching the brush in the yoke aperture and over-rounding the arrises. Use safety glasses when wire brushing.

The front edge of the deflector must be quite sharp and at right-angles to the sides. If there is even a minute flat, the leading edge of a shaving as it climbs the face of the blade can strike this flat, crush itself into a zig-zag and eventually clog the plane. I don't know whether it really makes much difference, but if the curved face is given a high polish, it should ease the passage of tissue-thin shavings which might otherwise catch on any tiny rough patches.

Using a needle file, and without enlarging the actual aperture, remove any roughness from the arises of the yoke aperture.


The edges of the blade are also likely to have just the sheared finish. To smooth the arises, a diamond hone or stick-mounted silicon carbide (emery) paper will be needed.

Lever Cap

The chromium finish usually means that this part has been fairly carefully finished by the maker. If the face of the lever cam is rough, this will affect the feel and general convenience when re-assembling the cutter after sharpening. However this will be difficult to get at, so the best plan is to charge with some stiff grease the space between the lever cap body. and the spring.

As the plane is adjusted, the cap iron needs to slide under the leading edge of the lever cap. Ensure that this does not contain any roughness that might impair the ease of adjustment. Incidentally this is why any slack between the two sections of the 'Stayset' type of cap iron can be a nuisance.

For sixty-odd years I've been getting away with using the lever cap as a screwdriver for the cap iron screw, but don't let me encourage you to take your lever cap's life in your hands.

Knob and Toat

Unless yours is plastic, or you have one of those posh rosewood ones, these parts are likely to be made of stained European beech, coated with a thick glossy and un-absorbent gunge, the idea being to imitate the rosewood used in bygone years.

A paint stripper should remove the coating. If you then finished with several coats of boiled linseed oil, handling will eventually burnish to a 'hand polish' which is much nicer to handle, especially if your hands are likely to perspire.

Handle Repairs

Toat repairs can be tricky, depending on where the fracture occurs.

Recent breaks, or those that have not been clumsily repaired can be re-glued. Examine the faces of the break; use tweezers to pick off any loose splinters that might hinder a close fit, and re-glue. With a bit of luck, being sticky, an epoxy glue such as Araldite should hold the parts together without need for an elaborate cramping jig. Alternatively you could try a cryano-acrylate glue followed by an accelerator to immediately fix the bond.

If you have a coping saw or bandsaw and some wood files, new toats are not difficult to make, though you'll need a long drill for the hole through the toat. The screw on the rod is a non-standard 'rolled' thread by the way.

Front Lip of the Mouth

This is the most important section of the plane - please seeCoping With Gnarly Grain. The plane manufacturer machine-files the face of this lip so that it is at right-angles to the sole. If the face is slightly angled towards the knob the shaving has an easier passage and is less likely to catch and jam. Don't overdo it. Cast iron will not bear acute edges.Taking great care to keep the face dead straight and at right-angles to the plane's flanks, and maintaining a sharp arris with the sole, smooth this face so that tissue-thin shavings have nothing to catch against.

Frog Bosses

Two screws secure the frog to the sole casting. The frog is supported by machined bosses near these screws and a similar strip behind the rear lip of the mouth.

Check the fit of the frog by removing the screws, pressing fairly firmly downwards and checking for any wobble. If this happens, you'll need to either undertake the tricky job of levelling the bosses or returning a new plane to the maker.

For the ordinary user, the best course is to use engineer's blue to locate the high spots and scrape them until a good fit is achieved.


The linkCoping With Gnarly Grainwill reveal the importance to fine woodworkers of a closely set shaving aperture.

Loosen the two screws only just enough to allow the frog to move without wobbling. Underneath the brass adjuster knob there is a screw that is intended to move the frog. To close the shaving aperture, turn the screw forwards, gently tighten the screws, re-fit the blade and lever cap and adjust the set.

You'll be lucky if it works first time, so perform this rigmarole until the gap is between 0.08mm (3thou) and 0.5mm (20thou) and the cutting edge is perfectly parallel to (or if you want to be fussy, symmetrically disposed to) the front lip.

To get the edge parallel, insert a screwdriver between the side of the plane and the frog and twist appropriately.

There are one or two possible snags:The washers underneath the two screws can bind against their recesses in the frog casting. To remedy, file part of the circumference of the washers. The frog-feed adjustment screw might have 'bottomed', ie it might not be able to feed any further forward. In this case put a washer under the yoke that locates with this screw.

Unless you have a battery of planes, it can be a good idea to set the shaving aperture to about 20thou and buy a thicker blade for special jobs. The thicker blade will automatically close the aperture without any more fuss.

Believe it or not, 3thou is a reasonable setting for very careful work with a smoothing plane, (though the cap iron might need to be set a little further back from the edge than you might expect).To measure the gap, use a feeler gauge from a set available fairly cheaply from motor accessory shops.


A ding on an edge of a metal plane will plough a groove into your wood, so check the arrises of the sole. Remove with a fine file.

Your hand can blister through rubbing against the upper edge of the flank near the front knob. Generously round the arrises in this area. Use a fine half-round file.

If you intend to use the plane on a shooting board, you might think it vital to ensure that the right-hand flank (for right-hand users) is at right-angles to the sole. However, if you follow the advice atA Versatile Shooting Boardit will be apparent that this is strictly not necessary, though it does help of course.You will need to be pretty handy with a file to rectify a seriously out of square flank

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