Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes

Sometimes the threads of my interest and focus are a scary thing.

For example, I recently got Matt Bickford’s book Mouldings in Practice from Lost Art Press.  I’ve read the first 4 or 5 chapters word-for-word, but now I’m itching to get a set of hollows and rounds and experiment with making mouldings.  I’ve been watching for Hollows and Rounds on eBay for months, basically ever since I learned about the upcoming Bickford book.  I was trying to avoid the Schwarz Effect where even a mention of a specific old tool will send the prices through the ceiling.  So far, I haven’t found the right set, and now that the book is out I expect to see prices skyrocket.

Instead I decided to order Larry Williams’ DVD on Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes.  The DVD is also available from Lie-Nielsen, who also sells floats (more later) and tapered moulding iron blanks.

The DVD came in the mail this week and after watching it I highly recommend it.  Larry Williams makes traditional wood planes through his business, Old Street Tool, and in this DVD he shows every step in making a matched set of #10 hollow and round planes.  He talks about stock preparation, layout, making the escapement, chopping the mortise, making and fitting the wedge, shaping and heat treating the iron, and shows every other step along the way to a finished pair of planes.  Even if you don’t want to make your own side escapement planes this is worth buying and watching in my opinion.

Here is a snippet from the video where Larry demonstrates how to sharpen plane floats.

Wait, what’s a plane float?  It’s essentially a coarse file with sharp cutting edges that shear off the wood and leave a flat, crisp surface.  Lie-Nielsen sells them in a variety of styles, prices range from $40 to $60 each.  You can also make your own plane floats as shown here and here.  From watching Larry’s video it appears that you need at least one edge float and one side float.  Larry also recommends a 1/10″ chisel.

I looked on eBay for floats of course, but there were just antique/expensive items there.  I particularly like this one, I like how the shape just flows from end to end.

Antique float from eBay

The teeth on a float are shaped in the same way you would sharpen a rip saw.  The instructions I linked to above show filing the teeth directly into the float blank.  I wonder how long this would take?  The edge float would be fast, it’s basically a tiny rip saw.  The side float perhaps not so fast.  I could also see a blacksmith cutting these teeth with a canted chisel, and if I had to make more than one I’d almost certainly set it up on the mill.

Float Teeth

I also ordered Todd Herrli’s video on Making Hollows and Rounds, it hasn’t arrived yet or I’d be watching that instead of blathering on here.

So to recap, in order to experiment with sticking some mouldings I need to get a few hollow and round planes.  Bickford suggests at least two pair.  I think it would be fun to make my own H&R planes, but first I need a few special tools.  Like floats and a tiny chisel.  I’ll need to get some tapered iron blanks from Lie-Nielsen, and quartersawn Beech or Cherry stock for the plane bodies.

It’s a 3 day weekend.  I need to weld a few oil tanks, program the CNC (unrelated to anything else in this post) and then I think I’ll see what I can do about making a float.



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3 thoughts on “Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes

  1. Filing the floats goes pretty simply, after doing an edge and cheek by hand I fixtured up the mill to rough the teeth on the side float out. I didn’t HT them, and the stress on the side float prompted me to buy the LN, I still make my edge floats because they are too easy. I’ll have to work on another set for skewed irons. I also highly recommend the 1/10th chisel either LN or one ground from 3/32 thick steel. Now all of my blanks have really tight mouths. I’m building a quater set and a slew of other moulding planes. Toted stick and rabbet to come…

    • I just finished filing the side float. It was not fast, but I didn’t have good (or even the right) files. I only had 4″ double extra slim, and an off brand that goes dull after a few teeth. The edge float is going _much_ faster of course.

      If I need to make more I may resort to machining them. I’ll order the right files and see how that goes.

  2. Daniel Holliday

    I just attended a class with Matt Bickford at Lie-Nielsen on making a rabbet plane.
    Matt’s a heck of a nice guy and is very helpful.
    At his request LN will be making a pull side float to better work with the grain of the wood.
    The floats are all hardened to ~ 50-55 much like a saw.
    Matt uses Dykem Steel Red to help show where the float needs the sharpening.
    Denab P. from Lie-Nielsen (Also a heck of a nice guy and a wealth of info) suggests counting strokes so as to minimze the need for Jointing the floats as often.

    If you can’t get quarter sawn Beech or Cherry, Larry Williams has said in other threads that Maple is a good choice. He does say in the video that Maple is a bit more difficult to work with. (Hard!)
    I asked Matt about boxing, and he said that his first boxing was out of Ash. “Worked OK but kind of splintery.”

    Best of luck everybody! Enjoy

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