How I make small mitre planes, part 1: Design

I dislike large mitre planes, the ergonomics are horrible, especially the one with cap irons. Small wedged mitres, on the other hand, are wonderful: they look good, feel good in hand and work well as block planes or for mitering stock up to about 3/8″ thick. By small, I mean less then six inches long and less than one and one half inches wide.

I find these to be quite comfortable to use, either with one hand or two (my preference)

The planes shown here are general purpose bevel up smoothing planes with the following characteristics:

  • Bed angle: 20 degrees. With a bevel angle of around 30º, the cutting angle is 50ish degrees, a good all around angle for North American hard and soft woods.
  • A thin blade can be used, such as cut down old bench plane blades. As long as it is held firmly to the bed, the cutting stresses push it even harder against the bed making for chatter free planing.
  • To avoid issues with wood movement, the plane is almost entirely steel, just like metal block planes.
  • I really dislike the idea of a split sole (where the sole is two pieces to facilitate cutting the ramp while still having a fine mouth) and this plane is too small for an adjustable mouth, so I’ve devised a way to mill the ramp while leaving the sole in one piece.
  • Cheap materials cost and expensive tools. I raided the scrape bins for this project, my materials cost was probably less than $10 for both planes. Cheap if you have the tools.

I’m a form-follows-function kind of guy: first, the plane has to work well and feel good. After that, anything goes. Adding decoration to the plane is what I enjoy the most. You can add flourishes almost anywhere, although I tend to work the edges (I don’t engrave).

  • Change the shape of the heel and toe. Use circles of different diameters, ellipses, squared off heels and rounded toes (on the shell).
  • Dissimilar metals. I have made a plane with the shell being brass on one side and steel on the other.
  • Bluing. Polishing and then applying gun bluing gives metal a “ghetto” black chrome finish. Very nice for contrasting with areas left polished and hides things like scratches that are magnified by polishing.
  • Polish. Easy to overdue but nice when used in conjunction with other elements.
  • Chamfers are easy and really add pizazz. Normally, the are done flat but I have a hard time making them that way so I crown them. Whichever works for you, just make them consistent (use raking light to see if the chamher is one plane).
  • Lamb’s tongues. I just love these at the ends of chamfers.
  • I use cupids bows on these planes.
  • Transitions: curves, swooping sides, etc. A run of the mill mitre plane has all of three curves (toe and heel of the sole and the heel of the shell). Bland. A sole wider then the shell provides a nice canvas to work some magic.
  • Shape the end of the blade. It is hanging way out there, it might as well be interesting to look at. As you can see from the photos, that extra length makes a nice hand rest.
  • Cutouts in the sides. I haven’t tried this yet but …

This image may help clarify these ideas. A basic boring plane has been “glamorized” in the following ways:

  • A two color scheme is used: polished and black. The black provides a backdrop that highlights the polished parts.
  • A hammered texture was applied to the sides, which also provides visual interest. In addition, the tops of the dimples are polished to add depth (rubbed with steel wool after bluing) .
  • The chamfer on the toe is much more interesting than a sharp corner.
  • Chamfers, stopped with lamps tongues, are used. A small detail that acts as a transition.
  •  The bun is proud of the sides, which is [somewhat] functional as the rounded surface is more comfortable than steel. But, being proud, it also provides a nice backdrop for the cupids bow front.
  • The sole is wider than the shell, strictly decorative. But it adds a break to the sides, a pseudo base molding.
  • In the background, you can see a bronze rivet on the side of the other plane. It really breaks up the monotony of all that flat surface.

To fabricate these planes, I have approached it as metal working project, using metal working methods to make metal planes. The tools involved include:

  • TIG welder and oxy/acetylene welder (for brazing). Instead of the traditional double dovetails and to attach parts.
  • A [vertical] milling machine. This is a critical tool for this work.
  • A collet chuck. This allows me to machine in tight places that my mill can not normally access.
  • Metal bending. I fake this as I do not have the proper tooling.
  • Lots and lots of files, medium and small (needle) sized.
  • Vises. I use about five different ones, some because I have them, others because they are necessary and one because it is super handy. You’ll see these in the photos.
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One Response to How I make small mitre planes, part 1: Design

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