Monday, March 6, 2017

Making Picture Frames, Part 2: Conquering the Rabbets

What a difference a day makes.  There was a lot of effort expended in making the rabbets for the four frame members of the first frame.  I probably spent six hours on them, using several different methods and feeling a bit of frustration.  Today I got the four rabbets done for the second frame in about two hours.  Still a long time, but hey, these are big rabbets.

I used a combination of the comments I got on the last post, some research on my own, and some hard thinking to make things far, far better.

I re-read the section on rabbet planes in Garrett Hack's "The Handplane Book" and checked out a few things on my plane.  Hack noted that the iron should be slightly tapered in width so that it doesn't scrape the side of the rabbet as it gets deeper.
Side tapered - check 
It's about 1.537" wide at the business end ...
... and about 1.526" wide an inch back from the end
Hack also said that many of the typical things you do to tune up a metal bench plane also apply to a metal rabbet plane.  So I looked at how the cap iron mated with the blade and was appalled!  The front edge of the cap iron was not just blunt, but was squared off at the end!
Wait ... what?
Are you kiddin' me?
I can only imaging that when a shaving comes off the wood, slides up the iron and contacts that blunt end, it would scream in horror.  Given the problems I've had with shavings jamming in the throat, I decided to do something about it.

The first thing was to flatten the bottom of the leading edge and this was done quickly on a diamond stone.
Almost done - a little more on the stone had this flat across the length
Any tool collectors may want to step away from the blog or risk having a seizure here.  I needed to remedy that blunt edge, so I got out a small file and scraped away some paint and metal to smooth it.
Leading edge after some filing and sanding
I also waxed the cap iron so the shavings would slide over it easier.  BTW, that hump on the side of the cap iron is supposed to help steer the shavings out to the left side of the plane.  Maybe now that the shavings can get past the previously blunted end, this hump will actually help.

The next thing I did was to make an auxiliary fence for the plane.  Without the added wooden fence, the original fence is only about 1/2" tall.  The new auxiliary fence is about 1" tall.
Auxiliary fence added
Well, those things were about the tool.  Now for technique.  Bob Demers (The Valley Woodworker) commented that I should be aware of where my left hand is when planing.  I didn't think I was keeping the shavings from ejecting, but it turns out I was.
Here's how I was holding with my left hand
A picture from above
And another
You can easily see that I'm covering the escapement area to varying degrees.  It felt like such a natural place to hold the plane.  And I didn't really feel the shavings hitting my hand, but they were. So I experimented with alternate positions that still allowed me to apply pressure laterally, keeping the fence tight against the side of the workpiece.
First alternate grip
This worked better, but still didn't feel right.  The web between thumb and first finger was tight to the fence rod.  Now here's what worked the best.
The grip that worked
My thumb is on the top of the plane, first finger is pressing the fence to the work, next finger riding on the fence or on the work just below the fence, and last two fingers curled around the fence rod.  Here's a couple more views.
View from right side
View from directly above - note there is no obstruction of the escapement
View from above and to the left
It took only a short while to get used to this new position.  The combination of fettling the plane and adjusting the holding technique really made a difference.  I won't say I made quick work of the rabbets, but it was MUCH quicker than last time.
The victorious Record #778 rabbet plane and conquered shavings
A great lesson learned.


  1. Hi Matt,

    You could also try using a plough plane with a narrow blade to cut two parallel grooves to the required depth, then finish up with the 778.

    Martin McColl.

    1. Thanks for the comment Martin. I once did that using two perpendicular 1/4" grooves, but I can see how two parallel grooves could work, too. I thought about doing this again, as I just purchased a 1/8" plow plane iron. I'll try that some other time. For now, I'm glad I took the extra time and got the rabbet plane working better.

  2. Glad to see you have it working. That cap iron was a mess!

    1. You got that right, Greg. I should never assume a plane is going to work right without fully looking it over and doing some fettling. The blue paint on this plane has a very rough texture. I'm sure the rough paint on the cap iron doesn't help shavings slide by. I thought briefly about getting rid of all the paint on the cap iron, but I'm glad it didn't come to that.

  3. Congrats you conquered the beast... :-)

    1. Probably still much practice before getting it perfect, but much better. Thanks for your tips.