Planing with oil


I may have missed something.  Most of the 80’s, for instance, and I still don’t own a smartphone.  If we were going to draw a line at owning something smarter than ourselves, where would that line be?  Not far out of reach, I should think.  That slab of walnut was giving me fits.  It took the edge off my plane blades in just a few strokes, and I was spending more time sharpening than planing.  So, I got out the linseed oil.


Planing timbers is a bit different from planing lumber.  Oak distorts all to hell for one thing, and after a few years it’s harder than Chinese algebra.  Power planers will, after a fashion, flatten the surface of a timber, but letting a big Mafell dictate where you stop planing can result in a huge pile of shavings and a much smaller timber.  And, where you pass over a knot, it will always tear out on the downhill side.

I found an old wooden smoother and shaped a rocker in the sole and a crown in the blade (what the English call a ‘scudding plane’), using it at first to just clean up what the planer had left rough.  Circling the knot, the timber doesn’t actually have to be flat, just uniformly smooth.  Wooden smoothers can be a bit tricky to adjust, transitional smoothers will do the same thing.  Maybe Lie-Nielsen will wake up someday and start making transitional planes.  Maybe they will make them without lateral levers.  Maybe monkeys will fly…


Later, as I became more confident with hand planing, carpal tunnel and tinnitus having set in for the duration, I discovered that oiling the timber before beginning eased the labor of planing, and not surprisingly I was spending less time sharpening.  I have never found this mentioned in any book, nor has anyone else ever told me that it would work (although I have long suspected that there are quite a few trade secrets I’m not privy to…).  This is the quickest way I have found to get a decent finish, and it beats the hell out of power-sanding.

Raw linseed oil: I have hand-planed lots of yellow pine timbers. Found that I got more consistent results by applying several coats of RAW linseed oil mixed 1/1 with turpentine (or mineral spirit) before planing. Enough oil penetrates and remains in the surface to protect against dirt and moisture, not enough to gel (it will also resist the absorption of excess glue). Raw linseed oil does not contribute to spontaneous combustion, is generally non-toxic, and won’t leave a mess of semi-hardened varnish inside planes that are left overnight. It will polymerize if given sufficient time to react with oxygen. Linseed oil finishes have no UV filter, and darken perceptibly.  You can add stain to the oil/turps mix and let it penetrate before planing off.

About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
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