Stanley Drills


Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better. - Christopher Schwarz


Rotary Lapping Machines by Christopher Schwarz
Copyright 2007. Originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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A surprising advancement in making hand tools
ready to work right out of the box.


While many users are wowed by the fact that the Bridge City VP60 plane has a variable-pitch frog, what also is impressive is the iron itself.  Itís lapped to an optical flat finish.  In other words: Take the tool out of the box, sharpen the bevel, chase the burr off the back.  Go to work.  No lapping of the face of the iron is necessary.  In fact, you will only scratch up the perfect mirror on the face.


One of the first rules in setting up hand tools (and in medicine, I think) is this: First, do no harm.  But this is also one of the first rules to be broken because of ignorance, ham-handedness or just bad luck.

Iíve taught a fair number of people to sharpen their edge tools during the last 13 years, and I see the same problems among most beginners.  They donít know what ďsharpĒ really is.  And they donít know how to get to ďsharp.Ē And so they do all the activities that resemble sharpening Ė itís a bit like seeing the monkeys imitate the visitors at the zoo.

They rub both sides of the tool (the bevel and the flat side) on the stones vigorously. They examine their progress (sometimes after hours of work).

The result is that most edges from beginners look like they have been sharpened by, well, a monkey. Of course, I should talk, my first edges looked just as bad. But thatís little consolation when I tell that story to a beginning sharpener who has just ruined a perfectly fine steel tool.

The problem is, in part, technique. But the other part of the problem is in the manufacture of modern edge tools. Knowledge of metallurgy and heat-treating has been discarded by some manufacturers. As a result, some new tools can be almost impossible to sharpen.

Not only did Lee Valley lap the face of the iron, but employees also lapped
the sole of the tool. The result is a little block plane that is made in Canada,
costs less than a bottle of whisky and performs like a tool that costs as much
as a bottle of single-malt scotch.

Now I know I will take some grief for that statement, but I have set up hundreds and hundreds of new and vintage edge tools as an editor at Popular Woodworking magazine.  Not a week goes by that someone doesnít send me something for evaluation that has to be sharpened, set up and used.  I have lapped more brand new chisel backs than I care to remember.

The defect I find in edge tools is related to the problem I see beginners struggle with, and thatís in truing up the unbeveled surface of an edge tool, which is sometimes called the face or the back of the tool.  (For this article, Iíll call the bevel the bevel and the unbeveled side the face.) 

So itís the face thatís messed up. The steel is bowed or twisted into such a banana shape that it would take hours (perhaps days) to true up the edge enough to actually sharpen the darn thing.

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Stanley Planes

Block Planes


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