Option 1: Sharpen a Back Bevel on a Plane Iron:
The easiest and most affordable option for handplaning figured wood is to simply buy a second handplane iron and chip breaker (often called a “cap iron”), and modify it for planing difficult wood grain.
Normal smoothing planes have the plane iron oriented bevel-down, usually with a 25 to 30 degree primary angle bevel. But for bevel-down planes, you can ignore the bevel angle for determining cutting angle. Since bevel-down plane irons sit flat against the “frog” (a movable bed for the blade), the blade cuts the wood at a 45 degree angle, which is the exact angle of the plane frog.
But by honing a 5-10 degree back bevel on the back of the blade (which is the leading edge, or cutting edge), the 45 degree angle of attack is raised to 50-55 degrees, relative to the wood surface, which is better for planing difficult grain and reducing tearout. It actually approaches a scraping cut rather than a pure shearing cut.
Changing the primary bevel from 25 to 30 degrees doesn’t have any effect on the angle that the blade cuts the wood. However, sharpening the primary bevel to 30 degrees will give the edge greater strength to withstand the added stress of planing with the new 5-10 degree back bevel. Or rather than changing the whole primary bevel to 30 degrees, you could instead add a secondary bevel of 30 degrees to the primary bevel. Hope that doesn’t confuse you!
So to clarify, for example, you could start with a normal plane iron that has a 25 degree primary bevel, then hone a 5 degree secondary bevel (for added strength), which would take the primary bevel up to 30 degrees. Then hone a 10 degree back bevel to raise the cutting angle to 55 degrees for planing the figured wood.
Where to Buy Replacement Handplane Blades?
You can easily find vintage hand plane irons with chip breakers for your handplane on Ebay:
You can also buy aftermarket hand plane irons made for old Stanley and Record handplanes (often sold as “Stanley replacement blades” or “Record replacement blades”). If you can afford it, this option is better, since some newer plane irons and chip breakers are thicker and more rigid than the original vintage plane irons and chip breakers. The cheap ones are worse than the vintage plane irons and chip breakers. If you’re on a budget and can only afford one new plane iron and chip breaker, then I’d recommend that you purchase it as your primary planing iron setup, and then modify your old plane iron and chip breaker for planing figured wood, since you won’t use it quite as often. But if you can afford it, then go ahead and buy two new plane irons and chip breakers. Here are a couple options for nice, new, and thick replacement Stanley handplane irons:
- Highland Woodworking has the largest variety of higher-quality replacement handplane blades, which you can find here. They carry Hock blades, Lie-Nielsen blades, and a few other brands.
- Ron Hock was one of the first companies to develop replacement blades for old Stanley and Record handplanes, and they are very popular still. You can find his selection of replacement plane irons at the Highland Woodworking link above, or on the Hock Amazon store here.
- Lee Valley / Veritas sells nice plane irons and matching chip breakers for antique Stanley handplanes. You can find them here.