"A properly set hand plane should be able to plane in any direction."
That's how Graham Blackburn started up his discussion on hand planes.
Well, wait a second... that's not right! Doesn't he know you should figure out the grain direction, then plane WITH the grain? You pet a cat one way, and you plane one way. You don't want to raise the hairs on a cat's back just like you don't want to push your plane blade into the fibers of the wood. He proceeded to talk about the myth of what I was just thinking - that you should always plane with the grain.
Then he paused. And he asked us if we thought, 200 years ago or 400 years ago, woodworkers always planed with the grain.
"What about curly grained wood, like maple or mahogany? What about crotch walnut and birds-eye maple or wood where the grain changes directions? And then changes directions again? Do you think people back then planed a little one way, then a little the other, then a little the fist way again, all the way across the board?"
No, they didn't. They set their planes up properly, they clamped their wood in their bench, and then they started planing!
To further illustrate his point, he pulled out a slab of Indian walnut and clamped it into the bench. It was several inches thick, with one live edge, some curly figure, a few knots, straight grain, ribboned grain - you name it, it was on this board.
And he pulled out a Lie-Nielsen smoothing plane, made sure it was set properly, then went left, right, up, down, and sideways on the board, taking smooth, tear-out free shavings each time.
Then he showed us how he does it.
Rule #1: You need to have a sharp plane blade. Don't bother sharpening above a 12,000 grit waterstone. Your basic set should include the 400 grit, for shaping, the 2000-3,000 grit, for rough polishing, the 8000 grit for getting a really good edge, and then a 12,000 for the final mirror-like polish you need to get on the leading 1/8" of the face of your blade and on the bezel if you're going to be working with exotic woods. Most of the time, however, you will be working with just the first three (400, 2000-3000, and 8000 grit stones).
(Note: The face of the blade is the side without the bezel)
Rule #2: You need to get the cap iron (sometimes erroneously called the "chip breaker", as per Graham) fit tightly to the blade. That is, you should not be able to see even a slight bit of light between the face of the blade and the cap iron edge. So when you're sharpening your blade, you should work the cap iron, as well, to make sure the edge seats properly on the blade.
Rule #3: There were two parts to this rule...
One is that you should set the cap iron as close to the edge of the plane blade as the thickness of the shaving you want. For a smoothing plane, that's really, REALLY close. It isn't as close for a jack plane or a jointer plane.
The other is that you should adjust your plane to have the tightest mouth you can give it.
That is a simplified version, but... honestly, that's about it!
Hey, that doesn't seem too hard. If I could accomplish that, I'd be a pretty happy man!
This evening, I was in the basement with a bit of free time on my hands, and I thought I would give it a try. So I pulled out my #604.5, not without some trepidation, and grabbed a turnscrew. The blade was already sharp, so I just needed to set the cap iron properly and make a minor adjustment to my frog and then I could give it a go!
I choked up on the cap iron, moved my frog forward a millimeter or two, and then dug through some boxes to find something that I might not have attempted before. In this case, it was a chunk of curly mahogany I was saving for a tool handle.
I cleared a spot on my small bench (not an easy task, with the mess my basement is in), pushed the wood up against a stop (without checking for grain direction - not that it mattered much with this wood), and took a couple of swipes with the tuned-up plane.
Hey, that looked pretty nice! So I flipped the wood around to plane it from the other direction and watched as one thou shavings (and anodda thou... and anodda thou) piled up behind the knob of the plane.
Wow! It works! I went back upstairs to grab my camera, grinning from ear to ear.
Thanks, Graham! I'm looking forward to trying out all of the other tricks you showed us in class!
Oh, and now I also need to work on getting some of my other planes set up the same way...