Getting into the Spring of Things

A Veritas jointer fence, or something like it, can be helpful at keeping a plane at 90° to a board’s face.

Q: I have a question about using a handplane to make a spring joint.

I am using a No. 8 Stanley that I reconditioned, meaning that I flattened the bottom as best I could on float glass and sandpaper and installed a new Hock blade sharpened straight.  I am using it to make a joint 7′ long for a dining room tabletop.  I am using my No. 8 because it is the widest plane I have and the top is 1-1/8″ making the edge 2-1/4″ wide when folded over.  

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My question is why does it feel like I am hitting and missing along the length of the cut? I apply all the pressure I can on the knob at the beginning and on the tote at the end of the pass. To make the gap in the middle, I take a short cut in the middle, then a slightly longer cut in the middle, then another etc. But every pass, the plane cuts in some places along the length and not in others. Some hits and misses are approximately in the same places, but not always. Also, even though I apply pressure in the beginning, I usually get a couple of inches of a gap, maybe 0.003″, along the start of the joint instead of being tight there when the boards are stacked before clamping. Clamping does not close the gap.  

I have made two passable joints out of the five I need to make, and they took several tries, so I am a little frustrated. I think I have read every article in Fine Woodworking, Popular Woodworking and Woodwork on spring joints, but there they are making short joints.

The No. 95 (aka “edge-trimming plane”) makes it pretty easy to cut successfully at 90°.

A: Without watching you work and seeing the edges in person, it’s difficult to diagnose the problem…but know that a perfect 7′-long glue joint by hand would be difficult for me, too. That’s a big one.

My best guesses, however, are:
• You are applying a LOT of pressure at the beginning of the cut but not as much pressure as you move farther onto the edge, then a LOT of pressure again at the end. That’s a pretty common problem, because one thinks about transferring pressure at the beginning and end when part of the plane sole is off the board, but in the middle, not as much. So concentrate on keeping constant pressure through the whole cut.

• You might be tipping left and right slightly as you move down the board – this would explain why the hits and misses aren’t always in the same place – you’re tipping differently with every pass. To address this, attach a fence of some kind to help you keep the plane at 90° (like this one

• And if you haven’t attempted it already, clamp the two board together tightly, but in opposite directions, e.g. match planing. If you can plane them together well, minor errors can cancel each other out. (I find a long match-planing job pretty difficult, though, FWIW.)

Honestly, on a joint this long, I’d probably both reach for a No. 95 plane were one handy (e.g. or, then use the jointer just for the spring joint only.

— Fitz


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