With the resurgence in hand-tool woodworking, there have been many articles written to explain and describe how to set up and use handplanes. Along with that deluge of information, however, are a few articles that include inaccurate or extreme guidelines; with some of them, you’re told do it this way or you’ll not be able to _________ (fill in the blank).
Chipbreakers – additional parts added to a plane’s interior that is positioned on top of the irons – are an area in which inaccurate information was often handed down. It’s time to set the record straight.
Handplanes work without having the chipbreakers set with feeler gauges or micrometers (those two instruments did not exist 250 years ago). Plus, there is no one measurement, be it .003” or .009”, that is best. What is best is to dial in your chipbreaker to work with the wood you’re working. Here’s why.
If you set your plane with its chipbreaker farther back from the cutting edge, you get a scrolled shaving off the plane. If you set it tight to the cutting edge, the shavings come off the plane collapsed. That’s because a chipbreaker is suppose to break the fibers as they travel up the blade; that’s its job. (Fig. 1)
We all know that woods are different. Planing a piece of poplar is different from working with a piece of gnarly white oak. If how woods work varies, doesn’t it hold that how you setup your plane will vary?
In addition to the discussion on chipbreakers in the video below, I spend time talking about cambering the plane iron. Plus there’s a quick look at a gauge plane, which reinforces the idea that a chipbreaker does not need to be exactly positioned to get a plane to work. (Fig. 2)