Planemaker's float set -- Completed set

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
Seems @Scott H and I had the same idea of making our own floats. I just completed my set. I posted previously on making the handles. Here I'll describe my process for making a set of four floats -- two edge floats and two side floats. The difference in each pair is that one cuts on the pull stroke and the other on the push stroke. I'm not sure how important this will be for the side floats. However, there is a change in grain direction between floating the bed versus breast angle. Having both kinds of floats means you can always cut with the grain and (hopefully) eliminate tear out.

These are the completed floats, sharpened and ready to work. The blades are 7" long, give or take. I kept the angles at 10 degrees or less so that they would fit in the wedge slot. All come to a point that will allow them to work right up to the mouth.
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I began by ordering a 3' section of 3/16" x 1" O1 tool steel from McMaster-Carr (part number 9516K65). That was enough to make all four floats with about 14" left over. While it takes a fair amount of time making these the good news is that for less than the price of a single, new float you have four. I started with the edge floats since these are the easiest to file. First step is to cut the two blanks. The overlap in the angle means you can almost get two for the same length as one, saving a considerable amount of material.

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Smooth up the sawn edges, cover with Dykem and layout the teeth. Mine are 3/16" apart. It just a matter of filing the teeth at that point. I have no idea what rake angle I used. These are cut with a standard triangular file. Make sure to have a slightly negative angle for the rake as these work like a file rather than a saw. Here, I'm just cutting/shaping the teeth. Before installing the handle I joint and sharpen the blade as the final step.

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The side floats call for a little more thought in the planning stage. Had I separated these before filing the teeth it would have been difficult to clamp the triangular blade in the vise for filing. Instead, I laid these out as a pair and filed the teeth before cutting them apart. This requires a slight angle to the teeth rather than perpendicular to the side. Another benefit is that not only do you teeth both floats at the same time, but you get one push and one pull as well (b/c the layout has them facing each other). It's helpful to use a layout ruler that has 3/16" graduations.

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Filing the teeth on these removes a lot of steel in comparison to the edge floats. It takes patience, a good set of files, and a hacksaw. I began by making a guide block with the angle matching the teeth. I pushed this against the steel bar as a guide for the hacksaw. Saw a notch about 1/32" deep to guide the file. I found I could cut about 4 teeth before moving the steel in the vise.

Next step was to use a square file with one scratch free side. Angle the file and run the scratch free side against one edge of the saw slot (i.e., what will be the tooth edge). With a coarse file I could remove the bulk of the material in a matter of 10-15 strokes. After this the final shaping is done with a standard triangular file. The Dykem acts as a guide to help keep you filing straight and true, and let you know when to stop.

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A few words about files. Don't bother with the ones you find in hardware or big box stores. These aren't worth the money. Quality new files will cost you money, or you can keep your eye out at estate sales. I have purchased most of the files I use for around $2 each by looking for old files at these sales which still have a bite -- as most do. Purchase a file card and clean the files frequently as you work. I also keep a small whisk brush nearby to sweep away the filings as I work. These can clog the file or cause it to cut unevenly. Here are the files I used in this project.

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Another piece of advice to "file" away is that wives, children and some animals absolutely cannot stand the sound of metal scraping agains metal (DAMHIKT). I plan my heaviest filing (and hacksawing) when I have the house to myself as my shop is in the basement.

As with the edge floats the final step before installing the handles is to joint and sharpen each. For the side floats I use a #400 diamond stone. A few passes over this evened the teeth. Apply a coat of Dykem and then use the triangular file to sharpen each tooth until the Dykem just disappears. With these wider teeth it's likely that a high spot is in the center of the blade. Careful, slow, steady passes allows you to sneak up on a straight, even tooth. File so that the Dykem disappears evenly across the tooth and stop when it's gone. That's about it.

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Finally, I can get back to making the planes that started me on this side project.
 

Scott H

Scott
User
Thank you for posting this, I really like the idea of filing both the push and pull side floats at once. They look like they came out very nicely!

I am considering making the next one in the style of yours, and just using a bought file handle. It is definitely more economical with the steel and probably lighter in the hand. Are they just friction fit in the handles? I was pondering whether that would be enough for the pull floats or whether you'd need epoxy or something.

Make sure to have a slightly negative angle for the rake as these work like a file rather than a saw.
Hmm. I always get confused with which direction is positive and negative. I cut my push edge float at an approximately 10 degree rake in the direction pictured, which is more like a saw. (I.e., teeth are not undercut.) I guess I will see how it works once I give it a final sharpen. Hopefully only a difference in aggressiveness.

If anyone has the L-N floats on hand, I would be interested to confirm what sort of rake angle they do before I file another 3+ of these things.
 

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creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
Are they just friction fit in the handles? I was pondering whether that would be enough for the pull floats or whether you'd need epoxy or something.
For now they are just friction fit. I meant to comment on the tang. The tang is tapered in both directions. These work something like the square cut nails you find in old construction. The square, wedged shape of the tang gives a lot of surface area to grip the wood along it's entire length. I file the tang at a right angle to the length with a coarse file, leaving the tang quite rough as compared to the blade. This also increases the grip. Wish I'd taken a picture before inserting them.

I haven't used them yet so I can't say for certain if there will be enough grip over time. My backup plan is to epoxy these in place should they eventually slip. So far they seem very tight.
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
I cut my push edge float at an approximately 10 degree rake in the direction pictured, which is more like a saw. (I.e., teeth are not undercut.) I guess I will see how it works once I give it a final sharpen. Hopefully only a difference in aggressiveness.
This article suggests 90 degrees for the rake. I'm guessing that 90 plus/minus 10 degrees is a good range. It's changing how aggressive the cut will be. We'll have to compare notes once we've had a change to use them, proper.
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
I completed the final two floats in my set (on the left). These are the smaller, cheek floats made from 3/4" x 1/8" O1 bar stock. The teeth are filed at 1/8" rather than the 3/16" spacing on the others. One is push cut and the other pull, like their larger cousins. Handles are slightly smaller as well. I had just enough of the original holly to make these (note the knots).

I used the larger ones on a set of snipe bill planes I'm making and was pleasantly surprised at how well they worked to excavate and square up the mortise. @Scott H Have you had a chance to use your set on a project yet?

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Scott H

Scott
User
No I haven't yet, I took a trip to the lumber yard today but I am struggling to find decent quarter sawn material for molding planes.

I am still only halfway done with my set, I still need to do a pull cheek float and the side floats. The pull edge float and the push cheek float are now O1 instead of just precision ground structural steel and have the more aggressive rake like we discussed above.

I did learn that the undercut teeth requires almost 50% less material to be removed for a certain TPI (see fusion 360 screenshot) so it was a lot faster to cut the teeth on my cheek float and pull edge float that way. It also leaves more of the steel in place beneath which is important since mine are 1/8" thick.

Other "fun" details...
  • I started filing the pull edge float "backwards" (aka push teeth) out of pure muscle memory and had to grind off those teeth, luckily it was on the heel not the tip of the blade I still have a good 5" of teeth or so.
  • I designed the cheek float based off a photo of the LN cheek float on someone's bench, and then later found out that there have been design changes (or that one was modified?), so I might do my 2nd cheek float so it comes to a finer tip relatively speaking.
  • The cheek float is not full tang like the other ones because I mis-drilled some holes in my O1 and had to figure out a way to use the scrap.
 

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Scott H

Scott
User
Scott, you might want to check out Red Rose Reproductions, they stock European beech billets for making planes.
Thank you, I am aware of them and they seem like a great source but currently they are sold out of everything except 1/2" thick molding plane billets :/
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
@Scott H Thanks for sharing the details about how the rake angle affects the amount of material that is removed. Makes perfect sense when I see the diagram, but hadn't stopped to think about it before.

I ordered a couple of billets from Red Rose Reproductions a few months ago. I am planning to do a make of side rounds out of these billets as one of my next projects. For the snipe bills I used QS cherry with persimmon boxing. Cherry is often used in moulding planes though beech is considered the best choice. What size of billets are you looking for?
 

Scott H

Scott
User
What size of billets are you looking for?
For molding planes I am thinking of starting with a pair of either #4, #6, #8 or #10 hollows + rounds. Not sure which size yet. That would be somewhere between 9/16" and 15/16" finished thickness depending on which one. I am fine doing them out of QS cherry if I can find some, or birch or even hard maple. I understand that Matt Bickford made his planes out of cherry initially.

I'm also considering doing the stop chamfer plane out of John Whelan's book which needs to finish out to something like 2-1/2" x 2-1/4", ideally at least 10-12" long to get the wedge and stop out of it too.

I found some "SA Mahogany" turning blanks at Capitol City Lumber for the stop chamfer plane that has the right ring orientation structure but I don't know anything about mahogany for plane making or mahogany in general and wanted to do some research first. I mostly only know about domestic woods.
 
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Lhloy

Larry
Senior User
Jim, awesome job! Thanks for sharing. Did you harden/anneal your floats after finishing all the filing? Not familiar with O1 tool steel, perhaps that's good for wood as is?
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
Did you harden/anneal your floats after finishing all the filing?
Thanks, Larry. I did not harden the steel in these. You need to be able to file them since they will need to be resharpened from time to time. There are different degrees of tempering (as defined in the Rockwell scale). I could have hardened the steel a bit, staying below the upper range so it could still be filed. However, the O1 seems to hold it's edge well enough as is.

A side note to this is I purchased an antique float some time back at a tool meet that had been hardened. It was dull and needed to be sharpened. Problem was the file would only cut up to about an inch above the handle. To get around this I removed the blade from the handle and heated it until the temper was removed. After that I resharpened it and it works great now.
 

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