Long story short: the cap iron (or chip-breaker, if you prefer). I put in a Lie-Nielsen cap iron and it’s function was greatly enhanced.
Ok, so I’m new to woodworking. In the past I got a few cheap tools and started learning to make a few basic joints. I’ve made a more serious attempt at woodworking just more recently. I still only have 1 bench plane — a really cheap one I got in the past from one of the big-box stores. I think it used to sell for $35, brand is Buck Bros., but I don’t see it on their website anymore although I’ve seen some still in stores.
I only recently realized the immense importance of good planing skills in woodworking (yes, as I said, I’m a noob, but I’m learning). I could get only limited good results with my plane, sometimes I could do some decent work, but there was a lot of inconsistency. Then, I found Paul Sellers. I’d already known about tuning up a plane, but learned a few tips from Paul that I hadn’t known before — e.g. feathering the edges of the sole — and these definitely helped.
At one point, after doing quite a bit of metal shaving to get the sole/body/frog pretty pristine, and still not getting great results, I thought to get a new blade; then I thought I might as well try a cap iron with it. And I remembered in one of Paul’s videos he very briefly mentions that the difference in quality between one set of planes and another likely has more to do with the cap iron than other things people think are important.
Well, I got a LN blade and cap iron. Put together in my plane, they did indeed fit; however the foot of the adjustment mechanism (the part that fits through the slot in the blade and cap iron) was too short for the thicker LN blade and cap iron. I was disappointed. Then I tried just the LN cap iron with the old blade that comes with the plane. BOOM! Success! I’ve tried out a bit of face-planing, edge jointing, and even end grain planing, and all are *much* improved from what I was getting before — less chatter (almost none), glass-like cuts, more even cuts, the works. Turns out, I’d tuned up the tool and sharpened the blade well-enough, but the cap iron was the weak link for me.
I’ve been looking at old Stanleys on ebay, trying to decide between everything from a new Bailey to a new LN or Veritas. I’m still likely to get 1 or more LN’s (No 62 low angle jack; router) and possibly Veritas (maybe router; just ordered their combination plane :- ) , but I think I’m pretty set for now on a smoothing plane.
To recap — a $20 replacement cap iron helped make my hopelessly sub-par planing skills with a sub-par No 4 plane go to being actually quite decent smooth-planing abilities with a fairly decent plane.
Next step: build a Paul Sellers shooting board 🙂 … I hope this tidbit of info will be useful to someone else in my position.
You may be able to use the thick blade too. I had the same problem with a hock blade that replaced a pitted #8: The blade was too thick to let the pin reach the cap iron. I cut a small piece of wood that fit into the slot in the blade and was bored to let the cap iron pass through. It was sized to give a bearing surface for the blade advancement pin to register against. I thought it would fail because the bore is so big vs. the width, but it has worked so far.
Here are some photos. In, from the bolt head side, shows the notch in the cap that is supposed to catch the pin, but which cannot be reached. Assemble your iron and cap and (next photo) look at it from the other side. The notch in the cap tells you where you want your insert to end. You can see the wooden insert that I made ends right at the notch edge.
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It’d be interesting to see, now you know that it makes a big difference, if you could get the same result from the original cap iron. I.e. would careful flattening of the edge that bears down on the plane blade do the same thing?
I suspect it would. Probably important to ensure the angle is fine enough (ie it’s blade like enough) that the contact is at the leading edge too.
I restored a Bailey 4 1/2 and struggled for a couple of months. After attacking the cap iron a second time with diamond plates and persistence it’s now my favourite plane.
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