Great pleasure can be found in planing wood by hand. Chronos now sell amazing Veritas Planes at less than Internet prices! Stepping back after taking a final stroke to view the flawless panel you have just finished is a truly satisfying experience. However, one needs a certain amount of skill and a solid understanding of how a plane works before success is to be realized. In spite of its importance, one aspect of planing that is often overlooked is blade profile. The right blade profile will greatly improve the quality of the cut.
Not including molding or combination planes, there are four basic plane blade profiles: straight, round, crowned, and rounded corners. Which to use depends on the type of plane used and the planing task at hand.
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Straight for jointer, rabbet or shoulder planes. Without a straight cutting edge when using a jointer or shoulder plane, it is almost impossible to get a satisfactory glue line. While some distortion may sometimes be acceptable in a rabbet, the main objective is to achieve two perpendicular surfaces with a sharp intersection. A straight edge is one of the easiest profiles for blade manufacturers to produce, but it’s a challenge for woodworkers to maintain without an investment in dedicated equipment. Nonetheless, a bit of practice, freshly trued stones and a good honing guide will usually produce a satisfactory edge.
Round this blade profile is desired when planing rough-sawn lumber by hand. Scrub planes are made specifically for this job, equipped as they are with a generously rounded blade profile. It is also quite practical to grind the required profile on a jack plane blade. A spare blade will typically cost much less than a dedicated plane.
Crowned mostly for smooth planes, this profile may also be useful in a jack or fore plane when flattening a panel that is wider than the blade. The goal is to conceal overlapping strokes on a wide surface by having the middle portion of the blade project from the sole while the corners are safely out of the way. The resultant surface will have a series of broad, shallow, parallel flutes, but the panel will appear to be flat to all but the most careful observer. The degree of crown will depend on the width of the blade. While a similar depth of the curve will be desired, the same radius is not suitable for both a #4-1/2 heavy smoother (with a 2-3/8 wide blade) and a #3 small smoother (with a 1-3/4 wide blade). Ideally, the height of the crown will be slightly more than the intended shaving thickness (e.g., for fine smoothing this may be as little as 0.0015). This profile is usually the easiest for a woodworker to produce since most stones (especially water stones) that have not been freshly trued will naturally produce a crowned blade. When working on a hard, flat, oil stone, the crown can still be achieved by alternately applying more pressure on the corners.
Rounded Corners According to many authorities on the subject, this is the best all-purpose profile for smoothing and jack planes because it ensures the maximum width of cut, allows overlapping strokes on a wide surface, and can still be used to dress the edge of a board for lamination. It is, however, a bit of a challenge to do well. All the requirements to sharpen a straight edge must be met, plus a smoothly rounded transition needs to be ground and honed on each corner or the edges of the blade will leave lines in the workpiece. There are no jigs sold for this process, so a bit of practice freehand grinding and honing is needed to get the profile just right.