Making the Plane Body
Now it’s time to rummage through your scrap bin and fish out that block of fancy-grained hardwood that was too small to use and yet too elegant to throw away. My plane is constructed from just such a block of hard maple, but almost any close-grained hardwood will do the job. If possible, use quartersawn wood and position it so the annular rings are parallel to the sole of the plane.
A plane is just one rung up the evolutionary ladder from a chisel — and in its essence is nothing more than a chisel held in a way that makes it easier to control. So, as long as all the parts go together, few of the dimensions except the 45° frog angle and the distance between the blade stay and the plane iron are critical. Building a plane is a bit like cooking biscuits — once you figure out the basics, the finished product becomes a matter of taste and feel.
Cutting all the pieces from a single block of wood is relatively easy, if the cuts are performed in the right order.
Begin with a blank that is at least 1-3⁄4″ x 1-3⁄8″ by 6″ long. The blank must be properly squared up, all opposing faces parallel and adjacent planes at 90° to each other. Start by drilling the 1/4″ hole for the blade stay. Next, mark up the top of your piece for the sides and middle (nose and frog). In my finger plane they’re 7/8″ wide, but you can adjust for your own plane blade dimension.
Saw on the outside of your layout lines with the band saw to remove the two sides (pieces 5). Be sure to use a fine-cutting band saw blade for this operation. (Note: If you don’t have a band saw, I suggest that you lap-joint and glue a piece of scrap material to the end of the 7/8″ thick slab, to make it safer to handle on a table saw.) If you do use the band saw, be sure to carefully sand down the saw marks on the faces of the sides and center piece. Once that’s done, you can cut the frog and nose (pieces 6 and 7) to size. I used a miter gauge on my table saw with an auxiliary fence attached.
Step over to your drill press, tilt its table to 45° and bore the 9/16″ stopped hole in the face of the frog. Carefully tap the striker plate into the counterbore. Avoid split-out by clamping the frog between two scrap pieces while tapping the striker plate into place. Now get a couple of small clamps ready to go and set up for gluing the sides to the frog and nose.
The plane body should be assembled on a flat surface, and you’ll want to complete the dry-assembly described below to ensure that everything fits as intended.
Start by fitting the blade stay into the pre-drilled holes and carefully position the frog between the sides. Slide the iron between the blade stay and the frog, and adjust the position of the frog so the iron can move freely. Make a witness mark on both sides to mark the position of the frog. Now, move the nose into position so the mouth — the gap between the nose and the iron — is between 1/16″ and 3/16″; once again make witness marks so you’ll know where to line it up on glue-up. With the dry fit completed, remove the nose, iron and frog, apply glue to the wooden parts, reassemble, and clamp, as shown in the bottom photo. Use a wet cloth or sponge to remove excess glue.
After the glue has hardened, tape a sheet of 100-grit sandpaper to a dead-flat surface, and sand the sole until it is perfectly flat. Now you can shape the completed plane body to your individual taste with rasps, files and sandpaper. Finish the wood with a few coats of hand-rubbed tung oil, and rub a thin coat of paraffin on the sole, for lubrication.
Use typing paper and a flat surface to set the iron to proper cut depth. Typing paper is about .004″ thick. Lay two thicknesses of paper on a flat surface, position the plane with the frog end on the paper, slide the blade down into position and tighten the clamp screw. (Note that the edge bevel is the reverse of the usual plane iron orientation — that is, the bevel is to the front — a setup necessitated by the thickness of the chisel blade iron.) Once the blade is clamped, it can be adjusted side-to-side or for a heavier cut with light hammer taps on the top end of the iron.
There you have it, a high quality shop-made finger plane. If you are like me, you will find it extremely useful … and it will be the first of many!