Making Metal Planes – A Manual for Beginners by Ian Wilkie
Making Metal Planes - A Manual for Beginners is a comprehensive guide authored by Brisbane-based woodworker and toolmaker Ian Wilkie.
It is provided free-of-charge by Ian Wilkie from the download links below on the basis that his authorship and copyright will be acknowledged and disclosed when and where any public commentary is made.
Ian Wilkie in his Brisbane workshop with his tool chest that holds mostly tools he has made himself. Photo: Raf Nathan
Foreword by Ian Wilkie
I made my first metal plane in the early 1980s (a brass shoulder plane) and was immensely pleased with it at the time. It worked well, though in later years I decided it looked rather amateurish. I made a few ‘hybrid’ planes of metal and wood over the next 20 years or so, but became a bit more serious about plane making around 2,000.
At that time there was not a lot of available information on types and sources of material in Australia. I struggled a lot with my first plane, making blunders and putting it aside for long intervals while I worked out my next move. It took several years to complete, and was almost abandoned a couple of times, but eventually I finished it. Remarkably, the plane worked tolerably well, but I went through a very steep learning curve, which would have been made a lot easier had I known a few things in advance.
Since then I have made quite a few more planes of multiple types and made a few more mistakes as I learnt about the materials and the processes involved in making planes in a backyard shed with basic hand tools. After being asked numerous times, ‘Where do you get this?’ or ‘How did you do that?’, I started writing what was intended to be some basic instructions and a short list of sources that would be helpful to others starting out from scratch.
Like my plane-making, that project got a little out of hand, and I ended up with what amounts to a ‘manual’ on making metal planes. The first edition was a bit disorganised and definitely long-winded in places as I strove to cover every aspect in (too much) detail. So I have completely revised it to bring a little more order to the chaos, reduce repetition, and (I hope), make a few explanations clearer.
Of course there are bound to be omissions and errors, but I hope what follows is helpful for beginners and sufficient to encourage anyone considering making a plane to go ahead and give it their best shot. The shoulder planes described in Chapter 2 are relatively simple but can be very elegant and useful tools, so you don’t have to begin with any of the more complex types. Even if you have never done much toolmaking before, I think that making a good plane is within the abilities of anyone prepared to make the effort.
My main aim is to show that making a metal plane does not require machinery or great expertise, all you really need is some appropriate hand tools and persistence. Most home workshops probably already have the majority of the tools required.
There is far more information available on plane-making now than when I began; almost too much! Handplane Central has a section devoted to plane making which is worth perusing because reading different descriptions of a process often helps to make it clearer. In particular, Cameron Miller, who made infills commercially in Melbourne for a while, has written several articles, including one with his recommendations for tools. These are similar to my suggestions but there are a few differences, so follow whichever you find most logical. Personal preferences and what you have on hand usually dictate exactly which tools we choose to work with and this is particularly so with files, which are made in a wider range of types and sizes than any other hand tool.
With care, anyone of average ability can make a plane that not only works very well, but is highly pleasing aesthetically. And as I always say, making tools is the best way to develop a deeper understanding of what makes them tick and helps you get the most out of them.
Ian Wilkie’s manual may be downloaded in chapters from the following links:
Ian Wilkie has written many articles for Australian Wood Review on toolmaking and on native timber species. Several of his articles are republished on this website and may be found by searching on his name.