Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stanley #3 Smoother

Last fall I finally finished the walnut dining table I had been working on for the last couple of years.

The main reason I got hung up with this project, is the stock that I had chosen for the top had crazy reversing grain and produced tear out when it was just looked at wrong.

I tried everything I could think of.  I sharpened my blade on LV bevel up jack plane.

No go.

I tried the 37 degree blade in that plane.

No go.

I tried the 50 degree blade, which resulted in a 62 degree effective angle on that plane, which should be enough to tame the worst wood.

No go.

I tried my #80 scraping plane.

No go.

I finally used a hand scraper over the entire top to get a top that had no tear out.  The only problem with this is the table now didn't look flat.

I hated this look.

Don't get me wrong, I am extremely proud of this table, it looks gorgeous -

- In the right light.

It is difficult to photograph, but in the wrong light, it looks a lot like the following picture:
Crazy scraper bumps.  Believe me, it looks a lot worse in real life.
This is the only project I have done in the last couple of years that I couldn't smooth satisfactorily with the tools I had - i.e. my BU jack.

I therefore paid close attention when Christopher Schwarz announced he was going to use a #2 smoother for a year, and Richard Maguire started a series on cap irons and tear out with his #3 smoother.

I decided I needed to find a small smoother with a cap iron rather than one with a high angle and a tight mouth.  After striking out on eBay, I found the perfect plane at Handworks in Amana.  A Stanley type 10 #3.

Planing this table top isn't the catastrophic extremity that you might think.  The finish is just burnished bee's wax.  That's it.  If I decide to leave half of the table the way it was, the wax finish should theoretically be able to be re-applied to the table with none the worse for wear.  Time to get my new secret weapon out.

I monkeyed with my new plane the other day, sharpening the iron and setting up the cap iron like the Schwarz and Richard Maguire said.  Tonight, I decided to go for it and try it out on our dining table.

The first couple swipes showed how not-flat the table is.  However, I was astounded that this plane worked easily where so many of my previous attempts failed.

The secret is the cap iron being set as close to the cutting edge as humanly possible.  I was getting absolutely no tear out, going either with the grain or against it.

Just to prove it, here is a photo of how wide I have the mouth set on this plane:
This is about how far I usually set the mouth back on my jack plane for rough work.
This was utterly amazing to me.  I would say that I am getting to the point in my woodworking that it is getting hard to utterly amaze me, but there you have it.
About 20 minutes work.
I do have to admit that I have very little experience with a bevel down smoother.  One of the reasons I haven't got one, is that with bevel down planes, I think you probably need three:  a jointer a jack and a smoother.  I can do a lot of these tasks only with my BU jack.  I haven't ever run across a wood that I couldn't smooth with that plane.

Until this project.

I decided that this project was worth the investment in a new vintage tool - if it worked.  Boy am I glad I did.

I have a feeling that every once in a while a dedicated smoother is required, so I think that this one will be it.

The only problems I came across is that after a while, a shaving got caught under the chipbreaker.  This was expected, as I couldn't quite get the chipbreaker to fully close up to the original iron.

I also found out that this table top requires the blade to be super-hyper-freaking sharp in order to work well.  I did wind up with some microscopic tear out toward the end of my planing session that wasn't there at the beginning.  Unfortunately I don't have my sharpening stones here, so I'll have to finish this task up another day.

I like the steel on this iron, and I have no problem with using the original thin iron.  The only problem is there is only about 1/4" on the iron left until I run in to some pitting, and the cap iron isn't quite what it used to be.  I am a bit undecided at what to do to remedy this.  I could buy a new cap iron and blade from a company like Lee Valley or Hock, but I could also get a vintage replacement.  I think a vintage Swedish blade and chipbreaker would be cool.  I could also spend some time and research rehabbing the one that is original to this plane.

Anyway, here is some vintage tool porn:
I really like the look of this old plane with the low front knob.

The type 10 was manufactured between 1907 and 1909, according to the internet.  There are some real neat features from this time period.

You can tell it is a type 10 because it has two patent dates (unlike the type 11 which has three), and there is no frog adjustment screw.

The frog adjustment screw would be nice, but I figure once the frog is set, there shouldn't be much need to muck with it on a dedicated smoother.  Plus, my intention is to keep the mouth relatively open.
I thought it was neat that this was a model #3C.  That means the bottom has the corrugations.  I don't think they do much other than look cool.  But hey!  It is cool to look cool.
Just look at the frog:
The money shot.
I think the blade says, "STANLEY - PAT. 4/19/92."  I mistakenly thought that this was a later blade, but it turns out it is from the time that this plane was made, so my guess is it is original.  If it was in good shape, it would be worth as much as I paid for the whole plane all by itself!  I like the steel, it sharpens up nicely.
Overall I am extremely pleased with the plane and it's performance.  The walnut on this project was extremely frustrating to deal with, and this little smoother seems to be capable of taming it nicely.

My plan is to smooth the top until it looks good enough, then re-finish it.


  1. I love my #3. But even it won't tame all grain - it will do a lot of it but not all.

    1. Hi Ralph,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I've only been playing with this new toy for a couple days, and this tool seems to work really well. This table top is the most difficult grain I've run into so far, and things look promising. It will be fun to really get to know this tool to see how far it can be pushed.

  2. That is a type 9. The 9 was the last to have no frog adjustment screw and had two dates. The type 10 had the two dates, plus the screw. The third date on the type 11 is the patent for the adjustment screw itself, though they started using it two years before the patent was actually granted :) Millers Falls did the same thing with their jointed lever cap.

    That #3 matches my #5 and #7!

    1. Thanks, G! I stand corrected.

      The type 9 was made between 1902 and 1907.

    2. No prob! Great looking table, btw. That's a lot of walnut!

    3. Thanks!

      Believe it or not, American walnut is cheaper at the lumberyard I go to in Munich than it is in Ohio!

  3. Nice post and beautiful plane Brian! That walnut is gorgeous!

  4. Nice plane, and glad to see a tool purchase solving a problem. I have likewise been enamored with the way my corian 1-1/2"x 7" plane cuts, I had assumed it was related to the higher bed angle, but it is probably a lot from the chip breaker. I'm planning on eventually remaking in wood w/o a cap iron so I guess I'll see how it compares. I really like the small smoother size, and it seems a good idea to have a bigger difference in size than going from #5 to #4 maybe like a 3,5,7 or 2,4,6 or a 4,6,8 combo depending on scale of work and individual size. Would the ruler trick or back beveling the iron get you out of the pitting?

    1. Hi Jeremy, Thanks for the comment.

      Usually my first instinct when I run into a problem is to buy a new tool, so I am surprised I haven't bought something like this sooner!

      I agree with your thought that bigger difference in size can be a good thing. I think I used to think a bigger smoother must be a better idea, because you could smooth more and faster. I think this is probably flawed thinking.

      The #4 is an awfully popular plane, and I think it is because it is a bit more versatile than the #3. However, I didn't need a smoother that you could do rough work or joint with, as I already have a good plane to do those things with. I only needed a smoother, so a dedicated plane here makes sense to me.

      We'll see how it works out over time.

  5. Hi Brian

    The frog looks awesome. There is all the contact and support a plane iron could ever wish for.
    I like the photo that shows how not flat the table top is. It is incredible how a finely tuned plane can reveal stuff like that.


  6. I've always wondered why it is called a frog.

    Nice looking plane, Brian. Great job on dealing with the tearout. It was great to meet you in person at Amana!

    1. Thanks, Ethan! Likewise.

      I think it is called a frog becaues "thingie that holds the blade to the bed" was too hard to typeset in the marketing literature.