FLAT, EH?

THURSDAY, JULY 16, 2009
Getting a new hand plane is often a double-edged sword. On one hand, you are excited about the prospect of a new hand tool – on the other, the dread of having to flatten yet another iron. Recently, I picked up two new planes: a Veritas DX60 block plane and a Veritas Low-angle smoother. The folks at Lee Valley told me that they now 'flatten' the backs of their irons to minimize the amount of work to be done by the consumer. As with everything in life, I approached this with some scepticism. Flat, eh? I'll decide.

I took the blade out of the package and preformed a visual inspection – it looked pretty flat. But for me, the proof would be in pudding. I flattened my 8000 grit water stone and started to work. I gave the blade back 20 strokes thinking that should be enough if the blade was already flat. I have to admit, I had this thought with the cursory sarcastic snicker. But to my surprise, after looking at the back after only 20 strokes, I saw that about 50% of the blade was polished to a mirror shine. I then got more excited and placed the blade down on the stone for another 20 strokes. All in all, it took approximately 50 strokes to get the back of the iron to an acceptable polish. It really was flat.

Now I'm not really a numbers guy. Some woodworkers would be able to tell you about how flat the iron was to .0001". I don't work for NASA, so I don't care to concern myself with that type of indulgent data. How flat was the iron? Flat enough. I like to spend my time in the shop actually building stuff – not pontificating about numbers. The proof was on the iron – 50 strokes on an 8000 grit stone and I was done. Admittedly, being a sceptic, I thought that maybe it's a fluke. So I grabbed the other blade and gave it the same treatment. To my utter amazement, it too was flat. It felt like Christmas! No more mixed feelings about getting a new edge tool.

So here is the summary:

· Two new planes

· Two irons to prepare, one of which was a big honkin' 2 1/4 incher

· 50 strokes each

· 10 minutes in total to flatten the backs and hone the bevels


Does it get any better that this? Perhaps if they included a professional sharpener to live in your shop...