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Tool Talk with Bill Rittner

  Setting up a Cap Iron by Bill Rittner 1 of 2  


When fettling a plane for the first time a lot of attention is usually paid to the iron, or blade, and rightfully so.


 It's because no matter what else you do to a plane if the iron is not sharp the plane wonít function at its best.

The next most important part in the process is the cap iron, commonly known as the chip breaker.

This part must fit the back of the iron perfectly with absolutely no gaps between it and the iron. The slightest gap between the back of the iron and the cap iron will catch a shaving eventually choking the plane mouth. The next operation on the cap iron is honing the face where it meets the back of the iron. Until recently I always honed this angle to 45 degrees, but I have learned differently, and in a moment I will share what I have learned.

When I first began using hand planes I experimented with mouth openings and cap iron settings. It is widely accepted that to avoid tear out we need a very tight mouth and I tried this. What I found was that if you have a tight mouth and a tightly set cap iron you will inevitably experience choking. So either the cap iron setting or the mouth opening had to be changed. After trying a tight mouth with a wide cap iron setting I tried a wide mouth with a tight set cap iron and that almost eliminated tear out. Then I was introduced to this video. If you havenít already seen this video I advise you to watch it.


This video confirmed what I had already learned. A tight mouth is not necessary for tear out free planing on all but the most difficult woods. The majority of our planing can be accomplished virtually tear out free using a sharp blade and a properly setup cap iron with an open mouth. No more adjusting the mouth every time you change the thickness of your shaving, which with a Bailey style plane can be time-consuming.

This is the method I use to hone the front face of the cap iron to 80 degrees. The steel block is only to hold up the block for the photograph.

A close shot showing the cap iron face on the honing plate.

Here you can see the clearance in the 80 degree block
for the bend in the cap iron.

1 of 2  


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