The Fine Points

Sharpening the Iron
A plane won't cut properly unless the blade is razor sharp. Even a new plane needs to be honed before you use it. You don't need fancy tools to get an acceptable edge; a sharpening stone or sandpaper will do. The part that takes a little practice is holding the iron steady at a consistent 25- to 30-degree angle without rocking it, maintaining firm, downward pressure right over the bevel. (If all this is beyond you, buy a honing guide, which clamps the blade at the perfect angle.)

Sharpen first on a wet medium-grit water or oil stone or on 220-grit wet/dry sandpaper placed on a dead-flat surface, such as glass or marble tile. Repeat the process on a fine stone or a finer-grit sandpaper. Stroke with a circular motion until you feel a burr on the back of the edge, then flip the iron over to remove the burr by rubbing the back flat on the stone, leaving a clean, sharp edge. Finally, keep the iron sharp when not in use by storing the plane on its side and cleaning off resin from softwoods with a rag that's been dipped in turpentine or paint thinner.

Adjusting the Plane
Taking too big a bite with a plane will jam the tool or tear out the grain. Start with the iron set for a shallow cut and gradually increase the depth of cut until you can produce a continuous, unbroken shaving.

To set the cutting depth, turn the depth adjustment wheel (1) until the cutting edge of the iron (2) protrudes slightly below the sole (3). (If the wheel is too tight, back off slightly on the screw (4) that holds the lever cap (5) and cap iron (6) in place. Use the lateral adjustment lever (7) to position the cutting edge parallel with the mouth.

Some block planes have a mouth adjustment knob to vary the width of the mouth opening. A narrow opening produces a thinner shaving and is best for fine finishing. A wider opening allows for a deeper bite and faster wood removal, but increases the chance of tearing the grain.
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